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Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

Thanks to the lovely Christmas care packages we received from our siblings, Evan and I had more than enough supplies to plan a stellar Mexican food night, and just in time too because it had been so long…

I started the process by cooking up a few chicken breasts with some diced green chilies from California. Yum!

Next, I warmed up some refried beans — the first I’ve had in eight months. They were perfect, smooth and creamy. The buttery texture paired nicely with the chicken. My happy orange spoon helped keep them from sticking to the sides of the pan :)

For toppings, I kept it simple with sliced pepper jack cheese and diced cherry tomatoes. Ole!

Last, everything was wrapped up in a soft, warm flour tortilla. The final product was truly a taste of home — and comforting after a long day at school and the gym.

Speaking of which, I ran three miles without stopping for the first time this weekend. I brag only because eight months ago, I was terrified of treadmills, and avoided them at all costs. It may have taken twenty-five years, but I’m finally starting to like running! I’ve even started reading fitness/well-being blogs like the (never home)maker for motivation to keep moving in the increasingly cold weather. Who knew I would take such a priceless gift home with me from Korea?

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On Friday, we got to relive the gluttonous ecstasy of our turkey dinner for two at our friend Jenny’s 26th birthday party, where she decided to host a Thanksgiving potluck. We brought cheese, salad, wine and soju to the apartment, which was filled from friends from the soccer team.

Here’s the fabulous birthday girl!

We gussied ourselves up for the party, but you won’t see my shoes in any of the pictures. The only downside to house parties in Korea is that they are footwear-free. I totally respect it, of course, since shoes are taboo in our home — it’s just funny to see girls in fancy dresses running around in their nylons and ankle socks. I felt like Carrie Bradshaw in A Woman’s Right to Shoes when she said, “Good thing I wore my party socks… If I’d known I was gonna be shoeless, I would have compensated with a big hat or something.” Classic line.

The party was sans turkey, but that was more than made up for with the delicious selection of meat, side dishes, desserts and alcohol available. I gotta say, it was so nice to have wine time, because we don’t usually buy it (bottles can be pricey here). It’s my poison of choice.

The food couldn’t come soon enough — Flynn looks ready to take a bite of Evan here :)

Here is my end plate, not including the pumpkin pie, roast beef and samosas I scarfed before they touched the plate (oops). I have mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallow, a roll (that I crammed full of brie, weee), the pear/blue cheese/walnut salad I made, olives, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole and some cheese/crackers (hidden under the salad). Needless to say, I went to work on the buffet.

We feasted like kings, drank and got silly with all of our pals until the wee hours of the morning. Here is Sasia doing the clap-hop dance while I sang a song about the 50 states…in alphabetical order. It’s a hidden talent.

Here’s Sasia again, photo bombed by Evan, and Rachel enjoying a mini pumpkin pie made by the hostess with the mostess!

Glen and Sven, an obvious rhyming combo (had to do it).

Beautiful ladies, Ashley and Fadila.

Greg and Evan getting hyphy.

Sasia and Priscilla beaming.

Rineet and Jeff toasting.

A fabulous affair to remember!

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This year, I was feeling a bit bummed to be away from my family on what is probably our biggest holiday — so to put ourselves in the holiday mood, Evan and I decided to celebrate with two dinners.

The first meal we had on Thursday, actual Turkey Day, and it was an intimate affair. We headed to E-Mart after school to pick up the essentials that would make our dinner comforting and delicious, all while keeping up with the holiday theme.

I drooled over the cheese section for a bit, before picking out some for our friend’s birthday party.

Soju was also a must for the holiday weekend.

Since turkey wasn’t available, we opted for a pre-roasted chicken that we have been meaning to try for weeks. To go with the bird, we picked up some potatoes, butter, cream, carrots, bread and of course, some PIE (with freshly whipped cream).

We also picked up some firm, Asian pears on the street.

Once we got home from the store, Evan went to work on slicing and boiling the sweet potatoes, while I worked out what to do with the pears. My father has previously made a mouth-watering dish of squash, onions and apples that I would have liked to replicate, but I was sans squash. So after pondering over my ingredients, I threw a white onion in a pan over low heat to caramelize, and got to work dicing the pears.

After the onions were becoming translucent, I added balsamic vinegar, which created a sort of glaze. Then, in went the pears and more vinegar, to simmer into a chunky almost-sauce.

The taters mashed up nicely with lots of butter and cream.

We nibbled on the loaf of bread while we worked, singing along to Miike Snow and the new Arcade Fire CD. We tossed the carrots with rosemary and olive oil, roasting them until they were soft and fragrant. The bird went in to our tiny toaster oven next to warm up. Cluck, cluck!

I was quite impressed with our final plates. The buttery, creamy potatoes were balanced perfectly with the tangy, fruity onion/pear compote, and I could not stop eating them together until I was nearly licking the plate. The chicken had a hearty flavor from the roasting, the carrots were wonderfully herby, and the soft bread sopped up nearly a bottle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Heavenly.

We curled up on the couch, thankful for our lives together, and watched television until we were able to shove down some of the spicy walnut pie topped with fresh cream. It was our first Thanksgiving alone together, and who better to share that with than the person I am most thankful for?

Plus, we got to celebrate my favorite of gluttonous holidays again at our friend Jenny’s birthday the next day!

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Yesterday, I read this terrifying article in the New York Times about how Americans refuse to change their anti-vegetable ways, and it got me thinking about what is in our fridge. Bad timing too, since then I remembered Evan and I have nothing in the fridge after our sweet potato/egg/everything in the fridge hash for dinner last night.

So then, being who I am, convinced myself I would die of malnutrition or some nutrient-deficient disease before the age of 30 unless I bought fresh fare TODAY on my lunch break. So that’s exactly what I did. Less than a block away from mega-chain “everything” store E-Mart, Jeonju locals set up tents on the sidewalk to sell the veggies and fruits of their labor. This produce is straight-from-the-garden fresh, in season, cheap and delicious. We have our very own Farmer’s Market Street!

I have frequently strolled down this street, fascinated at the selection of fruits and vegetables, both foreign and familiar, and grown in plot community gardens around the city.

This farm fare is usually sold by ajummas, or middle-aged women, perched carefully on upside down crates, peeling garlic or washing carrots, watching you as you eye their goods.

Since the BF goes crazy for itty-bitty cherry tomatoes, and I’ve been having a hankering to invent a autumnlicious dish with crisp apples, squash and onions, those fruits and veggies were on the top of my shopping list. No squash in sight, but I did find a large bowl of red apples for W 5,000, alongside a blue bowl bursting with tomatoey goodness for W 3,000. Perfection!

I would have gone crazy picking up more fall favorites, but I only had W 10,000 on my person — damn you financial constraints! Still, I wanted to give you a taste of our convenient option as a way of supporting local farmers in the area. Plus, most vendors stay open until about 9 PM every day, so we really don’t have any excuse to be one of those Americans who consider their french fries (considered a “vegetable” in some circles, what a joke) a decent alternative to healthy food.

After school, we hit the ATM then the friendly neighborhood monster-store to pick up a few more essentials. We got beautiful green peppers and a few onions to complete our daily salads:

We also got chicken breasts (protein), green olives (deliciousness), lettuce (base veggie), eggs (protein), and sweet potatoes (beta carotene!)

Worry absolved, dilemma averted.

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Starting today, Koreans around the country will pack their bags, leave their offices and return to their roots to spend time with their families for Chu Seok, the country’s largest holiday that celebrates the fall equinox. During the holiday, it is common for people to visit the graves of their ancestors, and make wishes to the full moon.

My kids and I have been discussing the upcoming festivities at length for days, and when Friday came around, I knew that I wanted my students to make hats that celebrated the season for their craft.

I cut up brown construction paper into strips for the base of their hat, then found pictures of Koreans in hanboks (traditional clothing), fall harvest fruits and leaves for them to color and decorate their hats with. The craft took longer than the time allotted, so I ended up eating lunch with the kiddies to help them finish. When everything was colored, we cut out the pictures and taped them to pipe cleaners to make a sort of antennae-type head gear.

They were a scream!

Yesterday, we had a Chu Seok celebration with our kindergarten classes, who all wore their hanboks to school. They looked so precious! After doing our reading and writing for one hour, each foreign teacher had the opportunity to make songpyeon with their class — traditional rice cakes filled with a variation of sweet fillings, which could be anything from honey and sesame seeds or red bean paste to chestnuts. We filled ours with a type of roasted bean, which was delicious, then gently folded them into different shapes.

My class got really creative :)

After a lunchtime feast, it was time to play organized games with the children. First, they started by competing in a sort of relay-race, where they had to pop a balloon, crawl through a tunnel, do a somersault, go down a slide, and hop over a series of blocks before the next person on their team could go.

Now, this game would have been a little easier had these girls not been in full dresses. They scurried around the room in their elaborate hanboks, struggling to complete the maze. It was hysterical.

After a failed attempt at a sort of hackey-sack game, the kids moved on to “chicken fighting,” which here is basically hopping on one foot, attempting to knock down your opponent who is also on one foot. Of course, we needed to demonstrate just how to do this by “fighting” Greg and Rachel, as the kids screamed in the background. It was like they were watching a UFC match!

I wish I could share more of the millions of pictures and videos I took during the celebration, but I would like to keep the children relatively anonymous in the photos, out of respect for their parents.

All in all, the day was a really nice way to start the week, and a good transition into a THREE DAY HOLIDAY! As I write this, I’m curled up on the couch with pink fuzzy, wondering what I should eat for breakfast (it’s 11 AM). Ah, the good life :)

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Since we have said goodbye to a number of our friends since returning from Japan, Evan and I have either gone out to dinner with our pals or made simple salads at home. Well, one night Evan got the genius idea to make burgers at home, complete with cheese and caramelized, balsamic onions. Um, DONE.

Since we wanted to get the onions just right, I started them early, dicing them up and throwing them into an oiled pan on low, low heat. I tend to burn onions when I want to caramelize them, so for me I always play it safe by doing a long time with a light flame.

Once the onions began to soften and turn translucent, I seasoned them and poured in some balsamic vinegar, stirring frequently until a lot of the liquid had burned off. I added water, and continued to let the onions cook.

After multiple times of adding vinegar, burning it off, and doing the same thing with water, our onions had a melt-in-your-mouth consistency and were a nice brown/purple color. Basically, they were perfect!

While I tended to that, Evan got to work on the meat (man stuff, obvi). We decided not to splurge on beef, but went with pork burgers instead. No matter, because the were still excellent! He tossed together the meat with garlic salt, pepper, and an egg to bind the ingredients.

Into a hot pan they go!

Once the burgers began to brown and cook through, we added thin slivers of creamy farmhouse cheddar on top, which we had splurged on at E-Mart. We needed something gourmet! The cheese had a nice bite, and went well with the bowl of cherry tomatoes we snacked on as a side dish.

We purchased what we thought were rolls to fill with our hard work, but instead they turned out to be cream-filled and sweet. I can’t wait to be able to read labels at the grocery store once again.

The final product was ah-ma-zing. It was the perfect amount of food, and delectably decadent. I’m sure that if we had made this with the high-quality beef in this country, there would be no stopping this burger. I would have it every night, licking the plate clean when I was done.

A. Definite. Repeat.

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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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