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Archive for July, 2010

Recently, I have been practicing the Japanese art of goshiki, and trying to employ all of the colors of the rainbow into our meals. The Japanese believe that the color balance is necessary for a well-balanced — and aesthetically pleasing — meal.

Tonight, I whipped up some chicken dinosaurs (they were out of breasts at the store, so we went frozen) and dumplings (both brown), paired with a cheery salad of ripe tomatoes (red) and bright bell peppers (yellow) drizzled with balsamic vinegar (purple), next to cheese slices (orange) and laver (green). ROY G BIV is here to stay!

To those who know me, my obsession for cooking, food and all things realted is no secret. I love to spend hours in the kitchen, slowly trying out new foods, stirring sauces, listening to food crackle in hot oil. It’s my personal therapy, tranquil time when I am left alone with my thoughts.

Aside from being a food fanatic, I am an avid art fan. I studied art history in college, and even attempted a physical class or two — but my paintbrush swipes lack finesse, and I seem to have missed out on the Paradise musical genes. I’ve always been envious of my friends to whom creating art is a second nature, but I feel like I may finally have found an appropriate outlet that combines my interests in delectable nibblies and beautiful creations.

A few years ago, my sister Betsy gave me a book called “The Vegan Lunchbox,” a collection of photos and recipes a woman took of her son’s lunch, which she packed into a bento-style box. Since then — most recently in the past year or so — I have scoured the internet in hopes of finding more information about these magical little creations called bentos.

In Japan, mothers consider bento-boxing an art form, a reflection of your mothering skills. I remember reading an article about it in my Anthropology of Food class at UCSB and being fascinated by the competition between these ladies to have the most elaborately decorated food for their toddlers.

I challenge anyone who has searched for images of bento boxes to argue that these are not exquisite forms of edible art. I’m a firm believer in the fact that children will grow to love and appreciate food they have a hand in creating, or that looks inviting, which is something these boxes provide.

Since I am childless for now, the decorating of bentos is something I would do for kicks. The box sizes also provide wonderful portion-control, and will cut down on the calories as long as you provide enough variety in every packed meal.

There are bento blogs that I regard as required reading now, including Lunch in a Box, Just Bento, Bento for Beginners and Latin ConFusion, among others. These bloggers are informative, creative and provide a real foundation for the bento beginners.

Since we have lunch provided for us here, I have decided to hold off until we get back to San Francisco to delve deeper into this path — but that won’t stop me from trying to find stores with bento boxes and accessories during our trip to Tokyo next week.

Wish me luck — Japantown in SF apparently has a wonderful selection of boxes and accessories, but nothing could beat the real deal, straight from the home country itself.

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I love Fridays. For elementary students, that usually means a vocabulary test and a word search, but for kindergarten it means arts and crafts! Every week I get to dream up a craft based on the week’s theme, and sometimes I try to go above and beyond. This was one of those weeks!

For the past seven days, my students and I have been exploring the “Aquatic World” — animals and plants that call the freshwater and saltwater communities home. I decided we would make rainbow fish this week, so I cut out fish shapes out of poster board and made little strips of colored paper and tin foil to make “scales” for our underwater buddies.

No surprise, this craft was based on the beloved children’s story “Rainbow Fish,” about a gorgeous, glittering fish who overcame his vanity, shared his shiny scales and was forgiven by his fellow flounders.

I was always hypnotized by the iridescent scales as a child, and hoped the tinfoil could have the same affect on my kids. My awe with the artwork helped me jump straight into the words, and get lost in the story. I’ve always loved just melting into a good book, just like the rest of my family of “greedy readies” (as my parents called us).

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After months of waiting, the 2010 Boryeong Mud Festival — Korea’s answer to Spring Break —  finally arrived last weekend. Ev, Smiley, Matt, Kristie and I hopped on a bus early Saturday morning, ready for our dirty weekend.

It is tradition for it to rain at the festival, and this year proved to be no exception. There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts across the street from the bus terminal in Jeonju, and I really wanted a cup of black coffee. Usually, we drink instant coffee — the real stuff you need to get in coffee shops. I made the mistake of ordering an Espresso instead of an Americano, and ended up with this:

No matter though — Evan and I listened to mellow music during our hour-and-a-half bus ride to Daechon Beach, drifting in and out of sleep.

When we arrived to the “bus station” — an outdoor shack with a convenience store and a tin roof — it was pouring outside. Really spitting it down. Not wanting to be foiled by the weather, Ev and I threw on our ponchos we got for Fuji Rock (thanks Mom and Dad!) and braved the rain, while the others struggled with umbrellas. We may have looked like blue whales, but we stayed dry!

Despite the rain, the festival was already going off by the time we arrived. We finally managed to flag a cab, who took us to our hotel — booked by our friend Chris’ Korean girlfriend, Ja Yeon. Our room wasn’t ready, so we — backpacks, ponchos and all — went hunting for a proper lunch.

We found the perfect place a couple blocks from our hotel. Within a half-hour we were warm, somewhat dry, sipping on various fruit juices and munching on delicious fried chicken. Normally, you don’t get side dishes with chicken here, but they brought us a bowl of fresh toast — with whipped cream to top it with! Odd, but the creamy/crunchy combination really worked.

Once lunch was over, we finally got into our hotel room, changed into our swimwear, and tossed back some Hite, Cass and Soju while playing card games. After wetting our whistles, we put on cheapo ponchos we picked up at GS Mart and headed for the beach!

One end of Daechon was picturesque, simply beautiful.

The other end looked like Spring Break in Cancun — and we could not wait to join the party! We hurried over to the festival, which was full of mud pits, mud slides, mud art installations — basically everything mud-related you could think of — and lots of people.

The festival even has mascots — these people who had “mud faces” on. Annnd they looked a lot like black face. Eesh.

After jumping in a mud pit, we headed toward a huge water slide. Naturally, we decided to race in pairs up to the top. Smiley beat out Mike, and I, of course, beat Evan to the top. He hurried past me in the beginning, then slipped and fell the whole way down. Slow and steady wins the race people!

Next, we headed to the mud prison. In jail, people literally hose you down with mud. We went from sprinkled with mud to absolutely drenched. It was fantastic.

We weren’t the only ones soaked. When we headed to the GS Mart on-site, the line was out the door and the store was literally covered in mud from its inebriated patrons. At least they must have made a ton of money to cover clean up expenses!

We met up with our buddies Mark and Hae Yeon, who were still clean. Naturally, they had to be dirtied up to fit in with the masses!

We stayed at the beach until the sun began to set. We all headed back to the hotel to shower, tired and happy, only to find that the water in the room stopped working after one shower. Just one. So Mike and Evan haggled with the hotel owner, who eventually gave us all our money back and W10,000 extra. Mike and Hae Yeon helped us book a room at their hotel, which worked out perfectly because it was about a million times nicer than our original one.

After we washed up and changed, we headed out toward the beach for a dinner of seafood and sam gyeupsal. They were shooting off fireworks down there, and crowds of people huddled under umbrellas to watch.

The beach boardwalk was bustling with out-of-towners looking for fun. We gobbled up dinner — which was excellent — then had a beer before turning in for the night.

All in all, a top-notch weekend. :)

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Since moving to Korea three-and-a-half months ago, Evan and I have not only fallen in love with the meal-time food, but with all of the yummy munchies as well!

One of our current favorites is laver, which is a green-tea seasoned seaweed roasted with sesame oil. Deeeeelish. We mostly munch on this when we’re lazing around, watching TV and in need of something crunchy. Makes a good chip substitute if you’re watching the waistline!

They have some pretty delectable beef jerky over here as well — I usually wrap a piece up in laver and eat it like that.

For breakfast in the morning, I like to put a dollop of peanut butter on top of a rice cake. These rice cakes — made with machines that shoot them out with a big POP! — are lighter and airier than their U.S. counterparts.

During field trips, when everyone eats homemade lunches, the kids have introduced Evan and me to some pretty delicious little crunchies. One in particular was a spicy, hard mini-rice cake. I spent like a month looking for it and finally found it at the GS Mart by our place. Nom nom nom.

GS Mart also carries Pringles. Ummmm hello favorite highly-processed chip-like goodness!

The GS Mart is pretty much our go-to place when we have a snack attack — mostly because it is basically downstairs from our place! We roll over there, sometimes in our pajamas, when we’re dying for a bite to eat. It’s expensive, but worth not walking all the way to E-Mart.

Speaking of E-Mart, last time we were there I spotted PEPPER JACK CHEESE! My favorite! Plus, the blocks of cheese, hidden in the wine section, were on sale for 3,000 won (a little under $3) when they’re usually 9,000 won. Naturally, we bought some blocks and have been snacking on those too.

Anju — snacks you get at bars with your beer — have also fallen into the “favorites” category. I’ve actually been quite spoiled by freebies at bars — if too much time passes, I’ll call over a waiter and say, “anju, juseyo?” That helps move things along. Most places serve these tiny cracker-like, circular munchies made out of rice. They’re delish.

We have just returned from a crazy, muddy weekend at the beach, so I must shut off the Mac Book for a little shut-eye. Talk soon!

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There is a traditional Korean village in the middle of Jeonju called Hanok Village, and it is well-known as one of the most amazing attractions South Korea has to offer. We decided to visit for the first time this past weekend, and it felt like we were transported to another world.

The village, enclosed within tall white walls, was full of traditional Korean buildings housing different art, crafts and traditional cuisine. When we first arrived, we took a slow stroll down a pedestrian walkway filled with tables and merchants selling their homemade goods.

Aside from the goods on the tables, the cobblestone road was also home to many art galleries. I didn’t come prepared with money to spend, since we’re saving for Japan at the end of the month, but this is certainly a place I will revisit to find some unique, Korean-made trinkets to bring home with us.

The streets bustled with fellow tourists, but there were many small alleys that deviated from the main drag, giving you a glimpse at what the quiet lives of the Korean elite may have looked like hundreds of years ago. The homes and the streets were impeccable and silent, almost soothing, away from the cars, noise, and skyscrapers that make up much of the city.

After roaming for a bit, we went on the hunt for a place that served traditional Jeonju bibimbap, a rice dish made with vegetables, meat, egg and spicy bean paste. The region is known for its version of the dish, and we were eager to try it out in the Village, which has some of the best food in Jeonju.

After speaking with a local artist selling jewelry on the road, we headed in the direction of a restaurant that served tteok galbi, patties made with a combination of rice cakes and rib meat that you grill at the table. The restaurant also offered a smaller version of the meat dish that came with a small bowl of bibimbap. Two for the price of one!

The meat sizzled away with a pile of garlic (you won’t find one meal without garlic here — positively delicious) while we dug into our bibimbap and banchan, or side dishes.

The bibimbap, seen in the lower left corner, was delicious but not warm enough for my taste. The colors of the rice, red pepper paste, colorful vegetables and bright yellow egg make the dish aesthetically pleasing. It reminds me of the Japanese concept of goshiki, or creating dishes with five colors, carried out by mothers who create colorful and balanced obento boxes for their children (more on my bento box obsession later — suffice to say I spend hours a week scouring bento blogs for inspiration).

Back to the meal — I prefer dolsot bibimbap to regular, because this kind of mixed rice is served in a hot stone bowl, sizzling and crisping up at your table. Our meal also came with at least 10 different banchan, or side dishes, ranging from marinated mushrooms and scallion pancakes to potatoes and pickled spring onions.

After putting down as much food as possible (you can never finish with the constant refills of banchan) we waddled out of the restaurant and toward a lush green park.

The grassy area was filled with couples lazing in the grass, families slurping ice cream cones and people huddling in the shade under large trees to beat the heat. It also had a gorgeous walkway lined with bamboo taller than a one-story building.

The park sat next to an area sectioned off, where the traditional buildings were restored and preserved.

In another area of Hanok, tourists are offered the unique experience of living like the old days. The Korean Traditional Life Experience allows guests to stay in rustic rooms, eat the food of their ancestors and take in a traditional performance.

After wandering around all day, we were exhausted and headed home to regroup before class on Monday. I was glad that Tim’s visit ultimately forced us to finally visit Hanok, since it was something I wanted to do for awhile and just never got around to! I will certainly be back.

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Feeling like a second-class citizen gets really old sometimes.

Today, I am homesick.

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Twelve weeks have now passed since Evan and I said goodbye to our family, friends and lives in the States to begin our journey in Korea.

I am simultaneously shocked at how quickly time has passed, and feel like I’ve been here in this life for years. Each day’s activities have become etched into a comfortable pattern, filled with school, kids, food, working out, friends, and nightlife. I feel so blessed to have this life, and we grow closer every day because of our expatriate situation.

My life has done a complete 180. In the City of Angels, I’d wake up at 6 AM (before that, 4 AM), already thinking of the tasks ahead of me at work. My days were filled with meetings and crazy deadlines, and my fast-paced job — which I did love — was one I could not ever turn away from. There was no shutting off the BlackBerry, no stopping the e-mails. At times I miss the writing and deadlines, but I never miss the stress of realizing I’ve forgotten my phone, or toting my beloved Mac Book from place to place.

I have discovered a tranquility here that I haven’t felt in a long time. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares about dropping the ball on assignments, but dream about people and places I love from home. I open my eyes next to my favorite person every morning, spend my days talking to and playing with children and my evenings cooking, eating, running and talking. When I’m lucky I squeeze in reading and writing.

As a writer, I feel like being in a new place with new experiences and a new perspective has gotten me out of the rut I’ve been in for awhile — it is hard to feel creative motivation when you’re writing for a living! I’ve been trying to set aside time to devote completely to writing. My inspiration is coming back :)

I miss home like crazy, but I know when I go back it will be as a person a bit closer to who I want to be because of this journey.

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