When will I ever learn?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

South Korea is known (with varying degrees of fondness) by many expats as "the land of not-quite-right." American culture has had a large influence on Koreans, but they tend to put their own spin on things, like food. You would think that after many disappointments, I would learn not to get my hopes up, but apparently I'm still...


easily deceived or duped
(for example, see picture at left)

Fool me once: Baked Potato w/ "sour cream"

A new restaurant called "Joys" (part of a Korean chain) opened in Sokcho the first time we were here. They had baked potatoes on the menu with what looked like sour cream. Not so much. Try sweetened whipped cream. So I scraped that off and asked for butter. The waitress brought me honey butter, since that's what they serve with bread.

Fool me twice: Nachos

Mexican food just has not caught on here. Taco Bell is one of the only American major fast-food chains that has not set up franchises in South Korea. So I really should have known better than to order nachos and quesadillas at "Miller Time," a bar in Sokcho's restaurant district.

The quesadillas were passing good, but they contained no cheese. That's right; they were just dillas. The nachos, which were picture-perfectly arranged, were topped with cheese, honey-mustard sauce (same color as the cheese), sliced jalapenos, corn, probably some other random vegetables, and maraschino cherries. (Apparently, someone had seen a picture of nachos with diced tomatoes on top and thought they were cherries.) They were inedible.

Fool me three times, I'm just an idiot: clam chowder

Our friend Kelsey showed us a flier for a little place called "Edelweiss" down the beach a ways. According to the limited amount of English on the flier (and the pictures), they serve clam chowder (in a real bowl with three slices of crisp garlic bread on the side) and sell "real chocolate" and have some sort of "Sound of Music" theme.

Since we rented a car for the weekend and were driving back up the coast with friends, we decided to stop there for a light supper. The place is tiny, think small gift shop with one table and a mini-kitchen, but the proprietor said he had clam chowder and showed us a large take-out paper bowl when we asked what size the chowder was. We thought it was a decent deal (for Korea) at W6,000 (about $6 at normal exchange rates), so all five of us ordered bowls.

I was mostly supervising Liam so that he didn't break any of the souvenirs for sale. But our friends were able to see that he was opening cans of Campbell's clam chowder, and not even the chunky kind that we have to order from Costco in Seoul, but the original concentrated kind that we can buy for about W2,500 per can at the local grocery store. He heated it in the microwave, with less milk than normal, but didn't stir it very well. The large paper bowls he had shown us were only half-full of soup, which was served with semi-sweet crackers and a sliced dill pickle (which is hard to find in Korea). Oh, and he put on the soundtrack from "The Sound of Music" while we ate. Now, that's atmosphere.

It was edible, but definitely not worth the price. But, then, why did I expect anything else?

gettin' domestic

Friday, October 24, 2008

If you know me very well, you know that I'm a very sarcastic person. The name of this blog is pretty tongue-in-cheek. Not that I'm not a happily married, happy mother, but I don't know that I live in a state of bliss (especially if ignorance must accompany it). And I'm not really all that domestic. I like to knit, cook and bake, and there ends my domestic skill. My mother and husband will both tell you that I'm horrible at cleaning. I don't "use enough elbow grease," according to them. Whatever. Martha does not scrub her own pans.

With that disclaimer, I've been wanting to add a touch of domesticity to this blog. My friends here keep asking me for recipes, since Matthew and I definitely prepare food more than the average waygook. My loyal readers outside Korea (Hi, Sumi, Sara & Sue ; ) will hopefully be entertained by the lengths to which I must go just to recreate some of my favorite foods.

This is my stove. There are three gas burners on top, and a small gas oven on the bottom.

By small, I mean that the opening measures 12x6". Due to all the weird shelves, the largest baking dish that fits measures 6x8" at the bottom. It's a Pyrex dish that's wider at the top. I can make recipes that are supposed to fit in a 8 or 9" square pan. However, if I fill the pan too full and the contents rise to the rim, some of it will inevitably stick to the top element.

These are the controls. (Oven control is on the bottom right.) No temperature, just handy little pictures (featuring fish & bread) that vaguely indicate which elements are in operation. We've gone through a lot of trial and error to figure out which settings work for different recipes. The first time I made pineapple upside-down cake, it took forever to bake because I had the oven on too low. The second time, it was Cajun-style. (Sorry, no photo documentation on that.)

I should mention that I'm "lucky" because most Koreans (and foreign teachers in Korea) do not have ovens of any kind. Some of our friends here have toaster ovens. Others of the more permanently-settled type (i.e. married to a Korean) have normal-sized ovens. Traditional Korean cooking does not include baking and most Koreans prefer to buy baked goods from the store.

Here is baking lesson #1: meatballs

I don't actually use a recipe, but here's basically what I put in the batch I made today:
3 slices of bread
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
half of a medium-sized white onion, chopped
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried basil }
2 teaspoons dried oregano } All herb amounts are guestimations;
2 teaspoons dried thyme } I just dumped them in.
salt and pepper to taste
400 grams ground beef
400 grams ground pork

Soak the bread in the milk until it's soggy, then squish all the excess milk out and crumble the bread into a mixing bowl. (This is a great alternative since I don't have a blender and haven't found prepared bread crumbs here.) Add the eggs and all the seasoning. Mix well with a fork. Dump in the meat and mix it all together with your hands. Yummy ; )

Shape the mixture into balls about 1 1/2 inches wide and place on some type of broiler or grill sheet.

Bake with the upper element partially on and the bottom element fully on. (This would be known as broiling in a normal oven.) Keep a close eye on them, because burnt meatballs suck and stink up your whole apartment. You'll need to cook them 5-10 minutes on the first side and 2-5 on the second side. Maybe. If the back of your oven is hotter, like mine is, you'll probably need to rotate the pan one during the first side's baking time.

When the meatballs are done (NOT pink in the middle), move them to a paper-towel-lined plate to cool. Once they're cool, you can store them in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to add them to spaghetti, sweet-n-sour sauce, etc. The batch I made today yielded about 5 dozen meatballs.

Follow that with cooking lesson #1: creamy carrot soup

1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 1/2 cups sliced carrots (1/4 inch thick)
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
2 cans (14.5 oz each) chicken broth*
1 tsp ground ginger**
2 cups heavy cream (make sure you get the unsweetened kind!)
1 tsp crushed dried rosemary***
salt & pepper to taste

In a large pot, saute onion in butter until tender. Add carrots, potato, broth, and ginger. Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or until vegetable are tender. Cool for 15 minutes.
Puree in small batches in a blender or food processor (thank you, Kelsey, for letting me borrow yours) until smooth. Return to the pot, add cream, rosemary, salt & pepper. Cook over low heat until heated through.
Makes 6-8 servings.

*Broth: You can also use vegetable broth. We make our own. To make vegetable broth, chop up some vegetables (onions, carrots, leeks, zucchini, garlic, etc. -- whatever you want to use) and add some herbs (fresh or dried) and a lot of water. Bring to a boil and then leave it to simmer for several hours. Strain everything chunky out and (voila!) you have vegetable broth. Chicken broth is basically the same, but with chicken. Matthew has discovered that he can get a chicken carcass at the local grocery store for W500 (usually about 50 cents, but currently closer to 35 cents with the horrible exchange rate) if he just asks for it.
**Ginger: We brought dried ginger with us, because we packed the entire contents of our spice shelf. Fresh ginger is actually easier to find here and would probably work great. You would probably want to use more than the recipe calls for, since dried herbs are more intense. Grate it as finely as you can.
***Rosemary: I used fresh rosemary when I made this recipe here. Rosemary plants are very easy to find in Korea, although it's not commonly used for cooking. Koreans just like the aroma. I probably used between 2 tsp and 1 tbsp of fresh, chopped rosemary. (I broke off 2 or 3 sprigs, rinsed it, pulled off the leaves and chopped those up.)

a few high-lights of my in-laws' visit

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I have been a negligent blogger. I could blame it on my in-laws visiting, but they were only here for 10 days. I've just been lazy.

We had a great time while they were here. Not trying to see or do too much, made it a relaxing and enjoyable visit for everyone (I think).

All of us at the top of the Mt. Seorak cable car. It was a beautiful, clear day!

Liam plays peek-a-boo with Grandma on the bus ride down to Gangneung.

Matthew (w/ Liam aloft) and his mom explore Ojukheon grounds in Gangneung. Ojukheon was the home of a really famous mother & son. She was an artist whose artwork is already featured on the W5,000 bill and her portrait will be on the upcoming W20,000 or 50,000 bill. Her son was a scholar and advisor to the king.

Matthew takes a picture of the rest of us enjoying a fabulous meal of dolsot bap (hot pot rice) and a plethora of side dishes. Liam likes the rice best.

Matthew and his dad grub down on free noodles at Naksan temple. Mashisayo! (Delicious!) Isn't it cute that they're color-coordinated? (So very Korean of them!)

things that make me chuckle

1. Yes, that's "ROCK THE OTE" (downtown clothing boutique)

2. Advertisement in children's boutique window

3. "I Did Blow with Kate moss And all i Got Was this Lousy T-shirt." (This is actually one of Matthew's students. She still wears the shirt, even after he explained the meaning to her.)

4. From our mattress: "Glaring sunshine is deeply sprayed at room which is cotton. Dreaming a romantic vision, awaken life by freshing morning air. Feel the comfortable Bed-room culture which can feel own mood."

5. I'll let you read it for yourself. This was the back of a jacket prominently displayed at a vendor booth at the Yang-yang Pine Mushroom festival. The vendor showed me that it came in another color, too. After I asked to take a picture, Matthew tried to explain the meaning to her. She didn't seem very shocked. Huh...
Domestic Bliss in South Korea. Citrus Pink Blogger Theme Design By LawnyDesignz Powered by Blogger