Thursday, December 03, 2009

Cold Weather Huddle

My family cracks me up.

If the four of us are together in the summer, we're either sitting in an air-conditioned restaurant or sitting in separate rooms in the house, each doing something solitary and sedentary. When the weather's in the 90's, nobody wants to touch or even talk- all the breath, it just creates more heat.

In the winter (erm, autumn?), the four of us congregate and huddle for warmth. Instead of sitting at the dining room table, like proper Americans, we choose to sit on the floor around a small round table, knee-to-knee.

Here in the states, we don't have heated floors (ondol, 온돌). So we use electric heating blankets ... but they're not really blankets, they're more like mattress covers- heavy duty, not very flexible, and huge. We have one in the living room off the kitchen (there's another living room off the front hallway), just in front of the couch.

Rather than sitting on the couch, we'll sit on the heated rug and lean against the couch. A small table is kept near the rug at all times for things like books or mugs of tea or the glasses of the person napping on the warm floor (there is a pillow kept beside the couch for precisely this use).

This small table is re-purposed for mealtimes when everyone is loathe to leave the heated comfort of that rectangular piece of real estate. The weekend before Thanksgiving, we had such a meal. My sister hadn't yet come down from L.A., so my mom and I perused the fridge and decided that we were going to eat kimchi jjigae, one of the most warming and comforting things to eat during the colder months.

As usual, it was a hodge-podge affair. The last of a batch of kimchi that my mother had made a few weeks earlier, the last of a bag of frozen gyoza (these were chives and noodles), a brick of tofu, and some bean sprouts. My dad, if I haven't mentioned this before, LOVES bean sprouts. We had a giant bagful, so a big bunch of that went in, too.

Along with the usual seasonings (gochujang, a splash of fish sauce), the entire mess was brought to a boil, then simmered for a bit until everything's cooked and nicely heated. (Gyoza, or potstickers, should be added after the first boil once the stew's on a simmer, since they will fall apart if in a rollicking boil.)

Then the whole thing, pot and all, were transported to the small table on the heated rug, along with just a few side dishes- in this case, gim (김, seaweed), some sort of octopus thing (I don't eat that), Korean chili peppers marinated to be sweet and salty, and pickled daikon (neon yellow!). Along with rice and soy sauce (with red chili pepper flakes and sesame oil) for the seaweed- my family generally eats unseasoned gim that has only been lightly toasted. Usually, Koreans love their seaweed toasted, then brushed with sesame oil, then sprinkled with salt. It's really good, but not as healthy as plain ol' gim (and not as seaweed-y and delicious).

We scootched around the table and sat in a triangle, spooning up hot soup and getting drips of it into our rice bowls. My mom and I ate the gyoza (Dad doesn't really like them unless they're fried) while my dad ate all the marinated peppers. It was warm, filling, and perfect for a small family staying warm in the frigid winters of L.A.

And posting this has made me want kimchi jjigae. My cold / flu / death warble has eased into a cough and a stuffy nose, which is much more manageable. I may survive it after all. But I'm constantly cold and I want warm drinks (mmm, hot toddy) and piping hot food. Kimchi jjigae would be so great right now- too bad I'm at work and have no access to a goodly amount of homemade kimchi. 

I'm trying to make do with a rather unseemly amount of Morinaga milk caramels- if you can get your hands on some, do it, they're my absolute favorite caramels- insanely good, so good that I can almost overlook my depressing lack of kimchi.