Thursday, August 26, 2010

Moving & Grooving

I have had a realization and I think the resulting decision will change my life. Definitely for the better!

Since my move to Albuquerque, I've rarely had a weekend that I spend lazing about, not doing anything. I have so many things to do, so many places to visit, so many pictures to take. There are national monuments to see, farmer's markets to visit, lightning storms to gawk at, New Mexican food to consume, and wine tastings to attend. There's so much to do that I have lists of things, by month, depending on the optimal season for each event.

This sense of urgency and activity is not normal for me. I like to plan slowly and methodically, then figure out every aspect of every trip, making sure I have contingency plans, escape routes, and a list of everything I will be packing to take along. Yes, I'm insane.

Since my move to Albuquerque, it's been different. I throw bottles of water and whatever nibbles I have at home into an icebox, trust that my phone will know how to get to my destination, and take off. I feel like I'm going to miss something in my year here if I don't just go, do, see.

While slightly scary at first, I now really enjoy this freedom. I love not having a ton of stuff packed up. I don't need to take band-aids and Neosporin with me when I go places- I haven't injured myself yet, and such precautions are just energy wasters. The only do-ahead tasks that I still complete before going anywhere: charge my camera and pack a hat and sunscreen.

This sense of adventure kicked in early this year, after my whirlwind San Francisco-Korea-Hawaii trips, but there's more to that. I know that my time in this state is limited (unless I decide to stay here for another movie after this one, which I don't think I will be doing) and I want to get everything that New Mexico has to offer.

The time constraint puts a different tinge on things- "this is the only summer I will have here" and "this is the only monsoon season I will see here" and "that festival only happens once a year" and so on. It makes me want to do things that I would normally put off.

In LA, going to the annual Grilled Cheese Fest gets put off because it's in Downtown and I can always go next year. Here, the annual Hatch Chili Festival is only once a year, and I cannot go next year, so I need to go this year. There are a lot of things that I think of in this new fashion. When people invite me out, I tend to just say yes, because it may be the only time that I can see these people, and they're going to take me to this place that I've never been to and may never go to again.

I think this is just what I needed. I was so complacent and settled in LA. I needed this kick to get me out the door, out of doors, trying new things, meeting new people, and generally just being more exploratory. (Tangent: I feel like 'explorative' should be a word, and it totally isn't. How unfair.) The fact that there is a deadline for me to find out all that I can about this new place is fuel for the fire, an extra push when I'm feeling lazy. There is no complacency to be had here, and after an entire life spent in LA, I am glad for it.

Once I am done with this movie, I would like to move somewhere new. Somewhere I've never been, maybe, like Vancouver or Sydney. Or somewhere I've been and love, like London or San Francisco. Whatever happens, I am so happy that I now have the knowledge that I can move without having any friends to rely on, that I won't get lonely being alone, and that I can live in such a different setting without going off the rails.

I can't wait for the next adventure.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mandoo (만두)

Mandoo, or mandu (만두), are the Korean equivalent of postickers, gyoza, dumplings, whatever you want to call them.

I learned to make mandoo when I was a small child, practically at my mother's knee. My sister and I loved making mandoo- we were rather girly girls that enjoyed sitting inside, drawing, reading, talking, and cooking. It was kind of a "Little House on the Prairie" childhood, idyllic and calm. We never broke any bones, we rarely got scratches or bruises, and we didn't fight with one another.

Making mandoo, I think, is one of those things (like making jeon) that brought my mother, sister, and me together. We talked, we laughed, we watched animated movies or Korean dramas, and we made mandoo.

We almost always made the dumplings with tofu filling, no meat. I loved them, but asked my mother one day why we didn't use meat. She told me that it was because she didn't want to have to worry about undercooked meat, and I still use that logic today. Plus, since I am alone out here, it takes me three times as long to make mandoo- I don't want to leave raw meat just sitting there while I'm making the dumplings.

I've always used pre-packaged gyoza skins, because they're very convenient and easy. They taste just fine and they're already rolled out and cut into perfect circles- what could be better?

This past weekend, I was at home, sick, and decided that I wanted to make mandoo. I didn't want to leave the house, I was miserably sick, and the urge to make mandoo was overwhelming. So I did what any other insane sick person would do: I made my own mandoo skins. Yes, totally insane.
I prepped the filling first- tofu, Korean chili, and kimchi. The chili and kimchi needs to be minced fine, the tofu needs to be strained and mashed. I threw some fish sauce, soy sauce, and a little sesame oil into the mix, along with a few cloves of minced garlic. (If the vegetables aren't minced fine, they'll poke through the dumpling skins.)
Then came the dough. Easiest thing to do: flour and warm water. Add some water to some flour and stir (I used long chopsticks, but I assume forks or spoons or whatever would work). Keep adding water, a little at a time, until the dough clumps together, as above.
I rolled the dough into logs, snipped the logs into pieces, and then smushed the pieces down to form discs.
The pieces get rolled out thin with a rolling pin. They don't have to be perfect circles, and really, they won't be. The shaping of the dumplings is where the shape comes in handy- some of my skins were oblong, some were almost squarish, but they mostly looked uniform after I had made the dumplings.
I used a wooden spoon to thin out the edges of the roundish shape- the edges get crimped and stuck together, so they should be thinner than the middle. I love this wooden spoon. I have two of them- one in my coffee jar, one for odds and ends like this one. My mother let me bring these spoons to Albuquerque with me.
Since I learned to make potstickers as a kid, it's pretty much second nature to me. These skins are totally foreign to me. Pre-packaged gyoza wrappers have no stretch or give AT ALL. These floury things were loose, stretchy, pliable, and totally freaked me out. After about four or five, I got the hang of it. I found that it's easier to crimp just one side of the dumpling (with pre-packaged wrappers, I crimp both sides) and to use the stretch in my favor.
The bottoms get dusted with flour before going onto a sheet tray lined with parchment and heading to the freezer.
A few of the mandoos were destined to be my dinner. I like to pan fry the dumplings all the way around, on all three sides, rather than the more typical method of frying the bottom then steaming. This is also where the no-raw-meat comes in handy, because I can fry all three sides and eat the things without wondering if the meat in the very center has cooked completely or not.

They were delicious. I didn't make very many (maybe 40?), but now that I know how very easy it is to make my own wrappers, this may become a more regular thing that I do (when I have time).

The kimchi filling is really very good if you start with good kimchi. This is important, because kimchi that gets heated up tastes more like itself than it does while cold. Starting with bad kimchi (read: store-bought) just makes it even worse, so I would never do that (I wouldn't buy kimchi in a store anyway).

Being sick really just makes me want to lie in bed and watch crappy movies, so I'm glad that I did something while I was sick. I'm still not feeling great, but better. Work is distracting me- I was at work for 12 hours yesterday, and will probably end up here late tonight, too.

There are photos to post, things to whine about, but no time to do it all. I'll get there, at some point.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Funny 'Cause It's True

Scary how true it is!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beauty in the Beast

This broke my heart today.

It's an advice column, written by the anonymous Sugar, with letters coming in from all over the place. This letter is from a man who signed "Beast With a Limp":

Dear Sugar,

I’m an average 26-year-old man, exceptional only in that I’m writing to an Internet advice columnist and that I’m incredibly ugly. I don’t hate myself, and I don’t have body dysmorphia. I was born with a rare blood disorder that has had its way with my body from a young age. It has left me with physical deformities and joint abnormalities. One side of my body is puny and atrophied compared to the other.

I would not have been a beauty even without this illness, but it’s impossible to remedy the situation with normal exercise and physical therapy. I’m also overweight, which I admit I should be able to fix. I’m not an unhealthy eater, but like anyone, I could consume less. I’m not ugly in a mysterious or interesting way, like a number of popular actors. I look like what I am: a broken man.

My problem—and my problem with most advice-outlets—is that there’s not much of a resource for people like me. In movies, ugly characters are redeemed by being made beautiful in time to catch the eye of their love interest, or else their ugliness is a joke (Ugly Betty is NOT ugly). In practical life, we’re taught that personality matters more than physicality, but there are plenty of attractive (or at least normal-looking) people who are also decent human beings.

What is there for people like me who will never be remotely attractive and who are just average on the inside?

I’m a happy person and have a very fulfilling life and good friends. I have a flexible job that allows me enough free time to pursue my hobbies, with employers who understand when I have to miss work for health reasons. But when it comes to romance, I’m left out in the cold. I don’t want my entire life to pass without knowing that type of love.

Is it better to close off that part of myself and devote my time and energies to the aspects of my life that work, or should I try some novel approaches to matchmaking? My appearance makes online dating an absolute no-go. In person, people react well to my outgoing personality, but would not consider me a romantic option. I’m looking for new ideas, or if you think it’s a lost cause, permission to give up. Thanks for your help.

Beast With a Limp

Is that not the most painful and poignant letter? What a beautiful writer. I'm rather fascinated with advice columns, because it seems like such a naked thing to do. Asking a total stranger for help in a public forum! No matter how anonymous, it is still laying your soul bare before someone that does not know you at all.

Most advice columns have flippant, silly questions. How do I get him to like me? Why aren't I getting the promotion? What color is best for me? 

This is one of the rare, the few, the exquisite letters that grabbed my attention and forced me to think using my whole brain, rather than just the half that I regularly use for reading fluff. I pondered. What would this person look like, scrunched over their keyboard, picking out words to convey his emotions accurately to a stranger?

Then I read the reply, from Sugar:
Dear Beast With a Limp,

Once upon a time I had a friend who was severely burned over most of his body. Six weeks after his 25th birthday, he didn’t realize that there was a gas leak in the stove in his apartment, so he lit a match and his entire kitchen blew up. He barely survived. When he got out of the hospital four months later, his nose and fingers and ears were burnt nubs and his skin was more hide than flesh, like that of a pink lizard with mean streaks of white glazed over the top. I’ll call him Ian.

“I’m a fire-breathing monster!” he roared to my kids the Thanksgiving before last, crouched beneath them near the edge of the bed. They shrieked with joy and fake fear, screaming, “Monster! Monster!” Ian looked at me and then he looked at the man who has taken up permanent residence in the Sugar Shack and together we laughed and laughed.

You know why? Because he was a fire-breathing monster.

My kids had never known him any other way and neither had their dad and I. I think it’s true that Ian didn’t know who he was before he was burned, either. He was a man made by the fire.

A rich man, thanks to the accident, having received a settlement from the gas company. He’d grown up lower middle class, but by the time I met him — when I was 27 and he was 31 — he reveled in being a bit of a snob. He bought exquisite food and outrageously overpriced booze. He collected art and hung it in a series of hip and tony lofts. He wore impeccable clothes and drove around in fancy cars. He loved having money. He often said that being burned was the best thing that had ever happened to him. That if he could travel back in time he would not unlight that match. To unlight the match would be to lose the money that had brought him so much happiness. He had an incredible life, he said, and he was grateful for it.

But there was one thing. One tiny thing. He was sorry he couldn’t have love. Romantic love. Sexual love. Love love. Love.

“But you can!” I insisted, though it’s true that when I first met him I was skittish about holding his gaze because he was, in fact, a ghastly sight, his body a rough yet tender landscape of the excruciatingly painful and the distorted familiar. I met him when I was a waitress at a swank French bar where he was a regular. He sat near the place where I had to go to order and collect my drinks at the bar and as I worked I took him in bit by bit, looking at him only peripherally. We chatted about books and art and shoes as he drank twenty-dollar shots of tequila and ate plates of meticulously-constructed pâté and I zipped from the bar to the table and back to the bar, delivering things.

After a while, he became more than a customer I had to be nice to. He became my friend. By then, I’d forgotten that he looked like a monster. It was the strangest thing, but it was true, how profoundly my vision of Ian changed once I knew him. How his burnt face became instead his bright blue eyes, his scarred and stumpy hands, the sound of his voice.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t see his monstrosity anymore. It was still there in all its grotesque glory. But alongside it there was something else, something more ferocious: his beauty.

I wasn’t the only one who saw it. There were so many people who loved Ian. And we all insisted over and over again that our love was proof that someday someone would love him. Not in the way we loved him — not just as a friend—but in that way.

Ian would not hear a word of it. To so much as contemplate the possibility of a boyfriend was unbearable to him. He’d made the decision to close himself off to romantic love way back when he was still in the hospital. No one would love a man as ugly as him, he thought. When I argued with him, he said that I had no idea about the importance of looks in gay culture. When I told him I thought there were surely a few men on the planet willing to love a burned man, he said he would make do with the occasional services of a prostitute. When I said I thought that his refusal to open himself up to romantic love was based on fear and conquering that fear was the last thing he had to heal from the trauma of his accident, he said the discussion was over.

And so it was.

One night after I got off work, Ian and I went to another bar to have a drink. When we sat down he told me it was the anniversary of his accident and I asked him if he would tell me the entire story of that morning and he did. He said he’d just woken up and that he was gazing absently at a sleeve of saltine crackers on the counter the moment his kitchen flashed into blue flame. He was amazed to see the crackers and the sleeve disintegrate and disappear in an instant. It seemed to him a beautiful, almost magical occurrence, and then, in the next moment, he realized that he was engulfed in the blue flame and disintegrating too. He told me about falling down onto the floor and moaning and how his roommate had awakened but been too afraid to come to him, so instead he yelled words of comfort to Ian from another room. It was the people who’d been on the sidewalk down below and seen the windows blow out of his apartment who’d been the first to call 911. He told me about how the paramedics talked to him kindly as they carried him down the stairs on a stretcher and how one of them told him that he might die and how he cried out at the thought of that and how the way he sounded to himself in that cry was the last thing he remembered before he lost consciousness for weeks.

He would never have a lover.

He would be happy. He would be sad. He would be petty and kind. He would be manipulative and generous. He would be cutting and sweet. He would move from one cool loft to another and change all the color schemes. He would drink and stop drinking and start drinking again. He would get a strange kind of slow-growing cancer and a particular breed of dog. He would make a load of money in real estate and lose another load of it on a business endeavor. He would reconcile with people he loved and estrange himself from others. He would not return my phone calls and he would read my book and send me the nicest note. He would give my son a snappy pair of ridiculously expensive baby trousers and sigh and say he loathed children when I told him I was pregnant with my daughter. He would roar at Thanksgiving. He would crouch beneath the bed and say that he was a fire-breathing monster and he would laugh with all the grown ups who got the joke.

And not even a month later — a week before Christmas, when he was 44 — he would kill himself. He wouldn’t even leave a note.

I’ve thought many times about why Ian committed suicide and I thought about it again when I read your letter, Beast. It would be so easy to trace Ian’s death back to that match, the one he said he would not unlight if he could. The one that made him appear to be a monster and therefore unfit for romantic love, while also making him rich and therefore happy. That match is so temptingly symbolic, like something hard and golden in a fairy tale that exacts a price equal to its power.

But I don’t think his death can be traced back to that. I think it goes back to his decision to close himself off to romantic love, to refuse to allow himself even the possibility of something so very essential because of something so superficial as the way he looked. And your question to me — the very core of it — is circling around the same thing. It’s not will I ever find someone who will love me romantically? — (though in fact that question is there and it’s one I will get to) — but rather am I capable of letting someone do so?

This, sweet pea, is where we must dig.

You will never have my permission to close yourself off to love and give up. Never. You must do everything you can to get what you want and need, to find “that type of love.” It’s there for you. I know it’s arrogant of me to say so, because what the hell do I know about looking like a monster or a beast? Not a thing. But I do know that we are here, all of us — beasts and monsters and beauties and wallflowers alike — to do the best we can. And every last one of us can do better than give up.

Especially you. Anyone who has lived in the world for 26 years looking like what he is — “a broken man” — is not “just average on the inside.” Because of that, the journey you take to find love isn’t going to be average either. You’re going to have to be brave. You’re going to have to walk into the darkest woods without a stick. You aren’t conventionally attractive or even, as you say, “normal-looking,” and as you know already, a lot of people will immediately X you out as a romantic partner for this reason. That’s okay. You don’t need those people. By stepping aside, they’ve done you a favor. Because what you’ve got left after the fools have departed are the old souls and the true hearts. Those are the uber-cool sparkle rocket mind blowers we’re after. Those are the people worthy of your love.

And you, my dear, are worthy of them. By way of offering up evidence of your didn’t-even-get-started defeat, you mentioned movies in which “the ugly characters are redeemed by being made beautiful in time to catch the eye of their love interest,” but that’s not a story I buy, hon. We are way more ancient than that. We have better, truer stories. You know that fairy tale called Beauty and the Beast? Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont abridged Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original La Belle et la Bête in 1756 and it is her version that most of us know today. There are many details that I’ll omit here, but the story goes roughly like this:

A beautiful young woman named Belle lives with a beast in a castle. Belle is touched by the beast’s grace and generosity and compelled by his sensitive intelligence, but each night when the beast asks Belle to marry him, she declines because she’s repulsed by his appearance. One day she leaves the beast to visit her family. She and the beast agree that she’ll return in a week, but when she doesn’t the beast is bereft. In sorrow, he goes into the rose garden and collapses. That is how Belle finds him when she returns, half-dead from heartbreak. Seeing him in this state, she realizes that she truly loves him. Not just as a friend, but in that way, and so she professes her love and weeps. When her tears fall onto the beast, he is transformed into a handsome prince.

What I want you to note is that Belle loved the beast when he was still a beast — not a handsome prince. It is only once she loved him that he was transformed. You will be likewise transformed, the same as love transforms us all. But you have to be fearless enough to let it transform you.

I’m not convinced you are just yet. You say that people like you, but don’t consider you a “romantic option.” How do you know that? Have you made overtures and been rebuffed or are you projecting your own fears and insecurities onto others? Are you closing yourself off from the possibility of romance before anyone has the chance to feel romantically toward you? Who are you interested in? Have you ever asked anyone out on a date or to kiss you or to put his or her hands down your pants?

I can tell by your (articulate, honest, sad, strong) letter that you are one cool cat. I’m pretty certain based on your letter alone that a number of people would consider putting their hands down your pants. Would you let one of them? If the answer is yes, how would you respond once he or she got there? I don’t mean to be a dirty smart ass (though I am, in fact, a dirty smart ass). I mean to inquire — without diminishing the absolute reality that many people will disregard you as a romantic possibility based soley on your appearance — about whether you’ve asked yourself if the biggest barrier between you and the romantic hot monkey love that’s possible between you and the people who will — yes! without question! — be interested in you is not your ugly exterior, but your beautifully vulnerable interior. What do you need to do to convince yourself that someone might see you as a lover instead of a friend? How might you shut down your impulse to shut down?

These questions are key to your ability to find love, sweet pea. You asked me for practical matchmaking solutions, but I believe once you allow yourself to be psychologically ready to give and receive love, your best course is to do what everyone who is looking for love does: put your best self out there with as much transparence and sincerity and humor as possible. Both online and in person. With strangers and among your circle of friends. Inhabit the beauty that lives in your beastly body and strive to see the beauty in all the other beasts. Walk without a stick into the darkest woods. Believe that the fairy tale is true.

And my heart broke all over again, this time for Ian.

I admit (grudgingly) that I was (and still am) a very sensitive person. As a child, I could burst into tears at the slightest provocation. (I've gotten better with that, I promise.) I took offense to every single comment, no matter how flip. I agonized constantly. My insides were always twisting and knotting, then unfurling and relaxing, only to seize up again the second someone looked at me.

My sister asked me earlier this year "imagine what it was like to live with you back then!" while we were having a conversation about a very sensitive person that I had lost my patience with. My immediate reaction was hurt, then anger, but then (through forceful concentration and willpower), I realized that she was right. I was able to live as the painfully shy introvert because my sister was a bit of a tomboy, brash and fearless. I had more than enough fear for both of us, so we balanced each other out. I would not have been able to survive with a sister that was just like me- all we would done all day was cry, read, draw, giggle, and then cry some more.

I remember being ten or eleven and wondering why I wasn't "normal," why I wasn't brave, why I couldn't speak to people, why I just stared at everyone running around while I stayed frozen. Even at that age, the idea of oblivion seemed perfect. I didn't know what drunkenness was, and I certainly had never heard of drugs, but I had heard of suicide. I knew it was a sin, and I knew that I shouldn't think about it, but it fascinated me, this idea of ending myself.

I carried around this vague, childish idea of suicide for a long time, all through my school years. I don't think I would have ever committed suicide; a naive little girl might think dark thoughts, but however would I have carried out such a deed? Bleeding is so messy, and my mother would have had to clean the carpet for ages. Taking pills might be an agonizingly slow and painful death. Drowning is pretty much impossible for someone to inflict upon themselves. Being dark is all well and good, but being practical saved me from any attempts at suicide.

I was such a depressed and depressing kid, when I think back on it.

Once I started working, living on my own, and taking care of myself, I realized how childish I had been. I realized how much denial I had cloaked myself with. I forced myself out of my bad habits, mostly. One big thing I learned was to ask myself what I was feeling whenever I got that hot, burning sensation in my chest. Was I angry? Sad? Upset? Depressed? Confused? Reversing denial is tedious and frustrating, but it's something I've been working on for years, and it gets easier every year. I talk to myself, like a total loon, when I can't figure it out, and that helps at times.

I express my anger more now; I'm much less passive-aggressive, though I still have quite a big streak of it. I get along with my sister better than when we were in high school and college, because I'm not afraid to tell her what I think. I used to think that if I told her off, she would hate me, and that fear made me incapable of just telling her what I really thought. So rather than being openly hostile (which she had no problem doing, even as a very small child), I was passive-aggressive and snarky. That was so detrimental to our relationship, because someone sensitive refuses to understand someone bold, and vice versa. We're in a good place now, open and argumentative and loving and sisterly. Very different from our high school and college years.

This whole advice column took me back to my childhood in an almost disorientingly fast whoosh. I remember that feeling, I remembered the wallpaper in the bathroom that I used to sit and cry in. I remember the taste of those hysterical tears. I remember everything, because remembering is what makes me less likely to slide back into that sort of tailspin.

But I also remember how alone I felt, like no one could possibly be going through what I was going through. That I was the only person to ever feel that way. It's all hogwash, of course, but it's so real at the time. Now, when I slide into a bleak place, I know that I'm just feeling sorry for myself, and I can usually snap myself out of it after a couple days of wallowing. I am so glad for that awareness, because it makes things easier.

I remember what it was like when I thought I was Beast. I remember what it was like when I thought I was Ian. My heart breaks for them both because I had the appropriate people around me to help me, even when they were exasperated (my ever-loving sister) or totally thrown off by my crazy mood swings (my poor father) or even sympathetic but without the words to comfort me (my dear mother). I always had these people, and I went through this time in my life while relatively young, when I lived with these people. I went through my nervous breakdown over the course of my pre-teen and teenage years, under the watchful eyes of people that would never let any harm come to me. I am eternally grateful and incredibly lucky.

I know that Beast will find love. He is a gifted writer and obviously sees the world with very clear eyes. Those characteristics go so far in life, I think. I cannot wait for him to experience the full range of emotions he has missed out on.

I am so sorry for Ian. He was stoic and moody, like a lot of depressed people, and ultimately couldn't live inside his own head anymore. That is a very sad thing, the only redeeming quality being that life is so much better after the lows.

One of my best friends was telling me how she was in a dark spot once. She has had many dark spots, and will continue to have many dark spots. I told her that life is like playing connect-the-dots. If you don't have the dark spots, there's nothing to connect.

Some people really need those dark spots to keep them on track. I think I went through so many dark spots as a kid that I've been lucky as an adult, and know where my path leads. I stay the course pretty well nowadays, without too many of those dark spots to guide me.

All I would wish for anyone is that they find their paths and are able to walk them without too many of those dark spots interfering. I hope Beast gets there.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Vodka Tomato Sauce

I've never had chicken noodle soup when I don't feel well. Generally, if I'm sick, my mother makes me juk (or jook- 죽), this rice porridge-type dish. I like my juk cooked with egg, and I add soy sauce in little dribbles as I eat.

But since my mother is not here, I was on my own. I didn't feel like going shopping for any food, certainly, and I wasn't about to get food delivered (the choices in Albuquerque are not good- pizza and Chinese food, I think), so I looked through my refrigerator and the pantry staples I had around the house. All I could come up with were the ingredients for vodka sauce, that lovely, deceptively simple-looking tomato sauce that works well with strand pasta.

Normally, this sauce is made with cream. Since I only had half-and-half, I heated up the stuff and reduced it by about half, which I reasoned had doubled the fat in the half-and-half, making it pretty close to heavy cream (my logic is flawed, but at least I am able to justify things to myself). I reduced the half-and-half with salt and coarsely cracked pepper in it, figuring that I might as well season it since I was going to be heating it up.

Easy sauce, it takes about half an hour from start to finish (including the chopping of the onion and garlic, and I have pretty terrible knife skills).

Vodka Tomato Sauce
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 small to medium onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup vodka
1 can (28 ounces) tomatoes (chopped or crushed or diced)
1/2 cup heavy cream (or my reduced half-and-half method)

Heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add onions, season with salt, and let the onions soften. Once the onions soften a bit, add the garlic. Do not brown the onions or garlic; they should get soft and fragrant. It should take 5 - 10 minutes.

Turn up the heat to medium-high and dump in the vodka, letting it cook out until just a little bit of liquid remains. It should only take about 3 - 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and bring up to a bubble, then lower the heat and simmer. After the heat is lowered, blend in a blender or with an immersion blender.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour in the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Sauce is done!

I combine the sauce and cooked pasta, then grate some cheese (usually Parmiggiano, but I only had Pecorino in the house, so I used that) over the whole thing, toss it together, and chuck it all into a bowl.
I use an immersion blender because that's all I have (I have no large kitchen appliances here) and I don't blend it until it's totally smooth. I leave little chunks of tomatoes (I had used chopped tomatoes here, though diced or crushed work equally well) so that I can get a little bit of texture.

Small shavings of cheese (not big, long curls of cheese) bring a lovely, salty bite to punctuate. I love Pecorino.

I really, really love tomato-based pasta sauces with kimchi. I know, it's a little weird- but they work really well together. Yum.

This particular batch of sauce will probably feed me for five or six meals. I don't like a ton of sauce on my pasta, though (the photos above show a lot more sauce that I like; I figured the pictures for this post need to really show the sauce, since that's what I'm talking about), so it may feed a "normal" person only three or four times.

I feel a little better now. Perhaps something about the vodka in the sauce helped me? Oh- and a note about the vodka: I only have citrus infused vodka in my freezer right now, so that's what I used. I couldn't detect any weirdness about the finished sauce, though it smelled fragrantly lemon-y when the vodka was simmering away (vodka and butter smell delicious together). I also have to be honest- I probably used a little more than half a cup of vodka, since I glugged it into the saucepan.

Since I live at a higher altitude, I have to use a slightly higher heat and cook things for a couple extra minutes to get food just about right. At some point, I'll write another post about that- the weird issues of having to cook at a mile high. Another time, after I'm done with this entire pot full of vodka tomato sauce.


Thursday, August 12, 2010



Albuquerque, NM (via Brian Arnold, creative commons license)
From switchboard

Universe and Rainbow are two streets in Albuquerque.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jangjorim (장조림)

It has been a completely nutty week so far. Work is ... chaotic. This always happens right when filming ends, and filming just ended. So now is when things change and adjust and go crazy before everything settles back down.

I cannot wait for things to settle down.

Plus, there is this person at work ... oy gevalt! I touched on this briefly before, but it's getting worse. I can't even look at this particular co-worker anymore, it's making me that crazy. When faced with incompetence and someone with an inability to even realize that they are incompetent, I just stop talking to that person. They're not doing their job anyway, what do I have to discuss with them? All they want to talk about is their personal life or their plans for this weekend or whatever. I have no time for that nonsense, I have business to attend to.

Mean, yes. But very, very true, especially in a business where time is (literally) money. I don't tolerate fools or laziness well.

Sorry, tangent- I needed to vent. Onward!

A couple weeks ago, I was craving jangjorim (장조림), which I would consider a braise. "Jang (장)" is, I think, representative of "ganjang" 간장)," which is the Korean word for soy sauce. And "jorim (조림)" means braise or simmer or whatever. So it's a method of cooking, not really this specific dish.

I've seen jangjorim with peppers (small green Korean chilies, usually), without eggs, without meat, in an endless variety. Some people make their jangjorim quite sweet, while others make theirs quite salty, and yet others make theirs very mild.

I'm of the "salty" and "strong" persuasion. My mother's jangjorim is not quite as strongly salty, and she usually adds chilies. I cannot find Korean chilies here, so my compromise was to add lotus root (연근), which is traditionally made in a slightly sweeter version than this.

Jangjorim generally refers to a side dish (banchan, 반찬) of meat and eggs, simmered until the connective tissues of the meat (usually a tough cut) melt into mush, and the meat falls apart in slivers, like pot roast. I usually add garlic, but didn't this time because I was lazy. This is a very forgiving dish, it doesn't mind a little push and pull.

Soak the meat (in this case, 1 pound of lean stew meat purchased at Keller's, my local family-owned butcher shop and grocery store) in cold water. I do this in the pot that I will be cooking the dish in, and I change the water after ten minutes. I leave for another ten minutes, then pour out the water, refill with fresh water, and bring to a simmer.

Soaking the meat will cause the blood to come out of the meat and ... I don't know, soften it? Those "ten minute" estimates are just estimates. I am generally doing other things- cleaning, working, watching TV, something- and I change the water when I remember to. I don't use a timer or anything.
Boil the eggs. My method to boiling eggs is simple: eggs into pot, cover with cold water (as you can see, I didn't cover the eggs all the way, because if I did, they would float), bring to boil over medium-high heat (not high heat!). As soon as the eggs come to a boil, I put the lid on the pot and turn off the heat. Leaving the eggs for about 4 - 8 minutes would yield soft yolks. I leave mine for 10 - 15 minutes, or until I remember them.

I like boiling eggs this way because the yolks don't get that gray band around them, they stay nice and yellow. Much more appetizing that way.

Run the eggs under cold water to cool them, then peel off their little shells. I had issues getting the peels off cleanly, which my dad says is because I didn't completely cool the eggs. I'll try getting them totally cooled before I peel next time; hopefully, that will help.

I peeled the eggs, then added them to the pot with the beef and water.
I saw packs of lotus roots at the Korean market the last time I went, and I couldn't resist them. Because I never see Korean food here, I have odd cravings. I've taken Korean food for granted all my life, and I can't do that here. These seemed so very Korean, I had to get them, even though I've never cooked with them before.

Lotus roots are generally cooked in jorims in Korean cooking, but a little sweeter than jangjorim. I was fully prepared to make them the traditional way, but when I started making jangjorim, the lotus roots peered at me from the refrigerator. I decided to just throw 'em in (well, half the package, anyway).
Rinse the lotus roots. I leave them to drain a bit, but extra water doesn't hurt this dish, so it doesn't really matter. Add to the pot.
Once the beef, eggs, lotus roots, and water are at a simmer, I added soy sauce (maybe around 1/3 cup?), a little dash of fish sauce, and a shot of vinegar (I used apple vinegar, for fun). A word about the vinegar- I add it because I like tang and kick. If you wanted very dark eggs and lotus roots, opt away from the vinegar, as it tends to inhibit color bleeding. (This is a good trick for black clothing, which I own a lot of- a soak in water with a bit of white distilled vinegar will keep clothes blacker for longer).

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Doing this over high heat makes everything too volatile- the eggs crack, the beef and lotus roots break apart- so a lower heat is better, I think.

Even with the lean beef, there will be scum (see it, above?). I skim off the scum, trying not to take away too much of the water.
Skimmed. See how sad my eggs are? I am a bad hard-boiled egg peeler, I guess. I simmer the heck out of this pot. I'll put a lid on it, but slightly askew, so that there's a way for the steam to escape, then simmer simmer simmer.

I think I simmered this particular batch for about three hours at quite low heat. Yes, I am not kidding about the simmering. I taste as I go, because the beef and lotus roots will flavor the liquid. Once the liquid's nice and beefy and rooty, I'm done simmering. This time, it took three hours. If the liquid level drops too much, add more water (I probably added a little bit of water twice).

I like to cook jangjorim to death because I want that soy sauce flavor to go all through the eggs and meat. Japanese soy sauce eggs have very white whites because they are simmered for a very short time. That's all well and fine, but I want the whites of my eggs to be quite brown, then blend slowly into white.

I really like packing jangjorim for lunch, when I take my lunch to work, and that means that I don't take any of the liquid along- I just put an egg, some beef, and a few slices of lotus root on top of my rice. If everything's not very well flavored, I'll end up eating a very bland lunch, and who wants that?
There's still quite a lot of grease in the post, as you can see from the pretty shiny circles on the surface of the liquid. From experience, I have to say that this isn't the type of grease that will congeal when it cools. It just stays. I don't have one of those fat separator things, so I tried something I never tried before.

First, I fished out the beef, eggs, and lotus roots and put them into a smaller pot. Then I whipped out some crazy replacements for cheesecloth.
This blue and white thing is my coffee dripper contraption. My mother's youngest brother, who is an artist in Korea, made it. I kidnapped it when I was there earlier this year, and it is my best friend when I am in caffeine withdrawal mode. Obviously, it has a rather small base, so I propped it up on chopsticks to hold it in place.

I poured the liquid through the coffee filter, and it worked pretty well! Some scummy stuff and some of the oil stayed stuck to the filter, and the liquid that made it into the pot was pretty much clear. (See my sad broken eggs?)

I like this trick, as it's easy to clean up (washing cheesecloth is horrible). I heated up this smaller pot, just for safety's sake, and then let it cool before throwing everything into containers and refrigerating.
I rather love jangjorim. I always have, ever since I was a kid. The beef becomes string-cheese-y, falling into strips, and I love that texture. I eat string cheese one string at a time (yes, I am totally that person), and jangjorim is just the same.

The lotus roots were surprisingly good like this. When braised like this, they have a texture somewhere between a radish and a potato, with a nice briny flavor. I found that my ratios were not quite right- I needed one or two more eggs and probably the entire package of lotus roots- but that's always a tough thing to estimate.

I especially love jangjorim cold. It's one of those things that can be eaten in the summer, refreshingly cold, with a little rice, some kimchi, and some mook (or muk, 묵), which is dipped into the chilly, salty liquid of the jangjorim. That's been my dinner for the past few nights, and it makes me nostalgic for my family, for Koreatown, and for having Koreans around me.

I'll be making jangjorim again soon, I'm sure. With less mutilated eggs from now on!


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Family Fun

I've been gone a long time!

Not deliberately, really- my parents are in town, and as they are staying with me, I am a bit busier than usual. Plus, work is starting to pick up.

So I don't really have much news or anything, and my brain isn't full of ideas to write about. Instead, I have a picture of what my lovely mother made last night:

I took this photo on my phone, because it was convenient and I just wanted to eat these jun or jeon (전), which is the name for so-called Korean pancakes.

At the left are zucchini jeon, which are sliced, dusted with flour, dipped in beaten egg, and then pan fried.

In the middle are fish jeon, pieces of fish that are also dusted with flour, dipped in beaten egg, and then pan fried.

And around the top are tofu jeon,which are one of my all-time favorite foods.

Dinner was yummy- I miss Korean food, and I miss my mother's cooking!

It's great to have them here, and I plan to enjoy my time with them. I'll be back to regularly scheduled blogging once the parents leave (this weekend).