Crab, Kimchi, and Gochujung Lettuce Wraps

 

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This Fourth of July Weekend, I hit the beach with my friend Joann, her husband Kris, and a few of Kris’ friends. We came equipped with the usual beach-going gear. You know, buckets, coolers, butterfly nets, those little pinchy things people use to pick up trash, a roll of twine…right? Isn’t that one of your beach necessities? Twine? To tie the cooler full of ice to your waist as you wade around for a couple hours thigh-deep in the frigid Puget Sound through sea grass and kelp?

No? Not your idea of a summer beach excursion? This might be one of those, “You might be Asian-raised if” moments. You might be Asian-raised if your attitude toward a day at the beach is: The beach was NOT fun. It was work. When we went to the beach, it meant we were looking for food. And if we didn’t limit, we were shamed and guilt-tripped by our Asian parent(s) for this failure. The words “huge disappointment” and “lazy” were used several times. There was a lot of tongue clicking. And in the case of Korean parents, a lot of “ai-goo”‘s.

My Korean mom raised my sister and me in Willapa Bay, which really was a foraging Asian parent’s paradise. It provided miles and miles and miles of very isolated estuary and saltwater shoreline. We didn’t have a lot of sand at the beaches we frequented. We had all-encompassing, human-swallowing mudflats that took hostage and kept a couple pairs of my childhood waders, one of which was my precious Smurf pair of boots. My mom had brought them back for me from her last trip to Korea. They were the envy of all my friends. It hurt, leaving that pair behind, after I’d gone too far into the bay and got stuck in the mud and was dragged screaming and crying out of the mud by my sister and our friends. (I’m sure my mom would have helped. But she was fishing. I have complete respect for her priorities.) They pleaded with me, “Leave them behind! Leave the Smurfs behind! It’s the only way to get out of the mud!” I regretfully did so. If there’s a bright side to this, I guess it’s that I didn’t drown in the incoming tide. I guess.

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Sunhui scoring some oysters on Willapa Bay.

We went to the beach all the time when I was growing up, but likely not the way you went to the beach. My mom would tell my sister and me (and whatever friends we’d totally suckered into joining us for a “fun day at the beach”) to go comb the beach and tide for shrimp that she would use for bait to fish for sea perch off jetties in Grayland and Westport. We would also hit low tide to walk around barefoot in the mud feeling for butter clams. Sometimes we went rogue and looked for oysters down random roads off Highway 101 that took us closer to the bay.

My mom collected other non-fishy things as well. Seaweed, glasswort, pumice stones leftover from Mt. St. Helens erupting in 1980. (She used the pumice to exfoliate her children). And of course – there was razor clam season. 4 AM, 5 AM, 10 PM, she lured me out to the beach with Hostess powdered doughnuts with the raspberry jelly filling in the middle. I can’t go to any stretch of Washington coast without thinking of those bribe doughnuts. I don’t even have a sweet tooth anymore and still crave them when I smell low tide. Which smells like farts. So that’s a weird association.

When Joann (second generation Taiwanese, raised in Olympia, WA) told me about how she and her husband went crabbing, it just sounded natural. Like something my mom would have made me do when I was eight years old. My mom absolutely would have tied a cooler to me and sent me out into the surf to forage for crabs. I mean, I’m sure she would have sprung for a buoy to attach to me just to play it safe. Although bouys aren’t cheap…so maybe not…

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A lot of other people (I would say most people) use boats and crab pots. They boat out, drop a pot full of chicken and cat food, and then wait for the crab to crawl into the traps. But if you don’t have the time or storage space or funds for all that, you wade at low tide. We went out this weekend with butterfly nets and pinchers and coolers tied to our waists as we poked through eel grass and kelp looking for rock crab. When we found a crab, we stepped on and then went after it with the pinchers and nets.

Dungeness were a long shot since the farthest we went in was waist-deep. They are usually out a little further. We came up with four rock crab this first outing. Not an impressive catch at all (I’ll blame my newbie status). But it’s the beginning of the season. So there is more wading in my future. And, in the meantime, I’ll make the most of this catch.

Crab, Gochujung Sauce and Rice Lettuce Wraps (around six wraps total)

burritoIngredients
2 rock crab or 1 dungeness crab (1 cup of crab meat)
6 large lettuce leaves
1 cup of rice
3-4 tablespoons of gochujung out of the jar/tub
2 tablespoons of warm water
2 teaspoons of white vinegar
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
Pinch of sugar
At least ½ cup of kimchi

Directions

1.Go out into the Puget Sound and get yourself some crab.
2. Make gochujung sauce: mix with a fork or egg beater the gochujung, water, white vinegar, sesame oil and pinch of sugar.
3. Open a lettuce leaf, scoop on a spoonful of rice, add some crab and kimchi, drizzle/dollop on some gochujung sauce.
4. Eat ‘er up!

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Sunhui scoring some clams on Willapa Bay.

Elk and Greens Ramen

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I know you’ve heard my struggle-is-real story before — I’m second generation Asian American, hapa, raised in a Washington state coastal rural timber and fishing town where no one had heard of Korea when my mom moved there (despite the war…). You’ve heard all this before, I know. Blah, blah, blah, walked between two worlds every day, the struggle is real, yadda yadda yadda. ‘

But the struggle was kind of real for my sister and me as kids, so dammit, I’ll keep writing about it. Inside the home we had this strict-ass, tongue clicking, hair-pulling, head smacking, maniacally protective, practical joker, Korean cursing, kimchi pushing Tiger Mom who screamed and hit just as hard when she was overjoyed as when she was mad.

Outside the home, was, well, Pacific County and the Willapa Hills and the bay. “Washington state’s own Ozarks,” I’m quoting a friend who grew up with me here. My mom was different than the other moms. Than all the other moms. All of them. That was just a fact. My peers, for instance, had huggy parents who backed their kids up, took their side, told them they did nothing wrong, it would all be okay, no matter what.

P1020868Asian moms don’t tell you they love you. And they do not back you up. They avoid that unspeakable “I love you” nonsense by instead feeding you. My mom never said anything like, “You tried your hardest, darling sweetheart.” She said, “You failed because you didn’t work hard enough. Your brain is so weak. I’ll strengthen you.” Then she would go dig up some roots and greens in her garden and make me soup and tell me to clean my room – it was obvious my mind was cluttered because my room was cluttered.

Other Pacific County moms did not react this way to a “could talk more” comment for show and tell on a second grade report card.

For all of my childhood and most of my teen aged years, even the hard ones, my Korean mom fed me three meals a day with the tastiest, healthiest, most natural food she could possibly create within the confines of her garden and whatever markets she had access to. This was how she showed her love. She wasn’t about to raise a brat with all that spoken love nonsense. That’s Asian Mom logic.

Food was another divider between how things were done in my home versus all others. My friends’ kitchens were stocked with Kool Aid. Hostess. Casseroles. Potatoes. Vanilla ice cream. Schwann Man. Pop tarts. Wonder Bread. Hungry Man. Doritos. Mac and cheese. Fanta. Pepsi. Diet Coke. Candy bars. Food was either Technicolor or pure white at my friends’ houses. I practically foamed at the mouth when I went to my friends’ homes. Compare this to my fridge, containing the largest supply within county lines of completely unprocessed foods and all things, plant and animal and especially sea life, foraged.

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The one food stock I had in common with my friends was Top Ramen. But the noodles are where the commonality ended. Entirely. Dead halt. This came to a memorable reality for me at my friend Lori’s house one day when I was around nine years old, just catching on that I was “the Asian friend”.

Her mom asked us what we wanted as a snack and I pointed to the Top Ramen.

“May we have lamien, please?” I asked.

“What was that? What are you saying?” Said Lori’s very kind mom, the one everyone in my class actually came to refer to as ‘Mom’.

I pointed to it. I could already taste the greens, the scallions, the chewy mushrooms and meat. I knew there was no kimchi here. But that was fine, because most exciting, I could already taste the creamy yolk of the perfectly poached egg.

“Top Ramen?” She said. She had this quizzical expression on her face. “Does your mom say ‘Lamen’?” She asked. Lori snickered. My mom had an Asian accent that Lori’s mom was trying to copy in order to communicate with me. Her motivations were entirely unoffensive, but it made my cheeks burn. It sounded ridiculous when she said ‘Lamen’.

“It’s called ‘lamien’”, I said. I was going to help her out. “Lom-ee-en. That’s how you say it.” Three syllables blended together.

My friend’s mom struggled through my insistence and just brought a pot of water to a boil and dropped in the Ramen and the seasoning. All of it.

“You’re only supposed to use a couple pinches of that,” I told her, as I’d seen my mom do. “Because of the saltiness.”

“Okay, sweetie,” Lori’s mom said, stirring in the full packet. She stirred for a couple more minutes and then announced it was finished.

Maybe they don’t have any vegetables or meat, I thought but didn’t say because I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad. The packet advice obviously didn’t take. But at least add the egg!

“What about the egg?” I asked.

They gave me blank stares, two carbon copies of one another, mother and daughter. “How do we add an egg to Ramen?” Lori asked.

“You crack it in and let it cook halfway. Then it’s done.”

Lori looked at her mom and her mom at this point looked distressed. I nodded my full-cheeked beady-eyed expression at them expectantly. I was very short so I imagine I looked like a chubby, hungry baby bird.

The poached egg was my favorite part. I wasn’t giving in on this, those fools.

Her mom grabbed an egg from the fridge and cracked in in the pot. It plunked down, raw and runny. The soup wasn’t boiling anymore. The raw egg sat there. It didn’t set, like when my mom made it.

“Now what?” Lori’s mom asked.

How would I know? I thought. Come on, Lori’s Mom, you’re the freaking mom. Get a grip and learn how to make some freaking lamien.

“I don’t know,” my nine-year old self admitted. “Maybe stir it?”

As it turns out, this was the wrong thing to do in this household because mother and daughter broke down into a fit of hoots about how it looked like “diarrhea ramen”.

“Haha,” I gave them. “Heh, hoo hoo, ha ha, diarrhea! Oh, you two!”

I left that day feeling as bad for them as the other party ate crap every day. But only one of us was right. (Me. I was right.)

And when I went home and told my mom, she probably made me proper lamien with fresh vegetables she picked out of her garden and protein and a poached egg that night. And then told me to do 10 sit ups to remember what pain feels like so I didn’t get too comfortable feeling taken care of.

And so is life when you walk between two worlds. Constantly balancing, being a diplomat, hearing you’re not representative enough of someone’s stereotype of your race but being way too real for others. Learning to maneuver around others who grew up hearing they were A-OK and secure all the time. Learning that others didn’t have moms who showed their love by growing Asian pear trees, mugwort, chives, peppers, spinach, lettuce greens, garlic, green onions, bellflower roots, and so much more so that they were positive they could feed you every day you were alive.

Throughout our childhood and teen aged years, even during the worst years, my sister and I were just as maniacally protective of my mom as she was of us. I don’t know if she knows that, but we were and still are today, and I will be until I die and then into the afterlife.

The Food

The ingredients are based on what I had on hand and in garden. My friends Joann and Kris gave me so much elk meat I cried a little when I packed it in my freezer and then sat back and stared at it. And it is truly an early spring here so far. My mustard greens, kale and chives are already alive and kicking. But really, just add any meat and fresh greens to ramen and you’ve got a really good meal. Avoid that packet of seasoning. Just use gochujung and kimchi (and miso if you have it). And for the sake of all that is right with the world, poach an egg in it.

Ingredients: two hearty servings
1 package of ramen noodles (frozen or dry)
1 tablespoon gochujung
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 finely chopped green onions
2 cups of water
1 cup of blanched nettles (this was about half a pound of fresh nettles boiled down for 3 minutes)
2 cups of chopped chard
2 cups chopped mustard greens
1 cup dried mushrooms (I used lobster)
½ cup of mugwort (fresh, not dried)
1 cup (or more) of kimchi, juice included
2 teaspoons oil (I used grape seed)
1 elk steak at room temperature (try to get details)
1 egg
¼ cup chopped chives

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The half cooked meat will cook in the soup and give it flavor.

Directions
1. Take an egg out of the fridge and let it cool to room temp.
2. Heat a cast iron pan on high and pour in oil, distributing evenly.
3. When it’s hot, drop the steak in and cook for 50-60 seconds on each side. Remove it and wrap in tin foil. Set aside.
4. Bring the two cups of water to a boil and drop in the dried mushrooms. Let them boil for 2-3 minutes, on high.
5. Add gochujung, soy sauce, sesame oil and green onions. Let this all cook together for 1-2 minutes.
6. Crack the noodles in half, drop them in the broth and bring the heat down to medium. The noodles should be fully submerged in the broth. If they aren’t, add more water.
7. Let them cook for five minutes, breaking the noodles up and stirring around.
8. Drop in the chard and mustard greens and stir around.
9. Unwrap your elk steak and slice up into bite size-ish pieces. It will still be red and will bleed a lot. You want it this way. Save those juices. DON’T WASTE THE BLOOD.
10. Next drop in the blanched nettles and stir around.
11. Drop in the sliced elk steak and juices, letting it cook in the soup.
12. Add the kimchi and juice and stir.
13. Turn off the heat and then add the mugwort. Submerge and stir so it cooks in the soup.
14. You have two choices with the egg. Poach it in a different pot or just crack it right in the soup, move some hot broth over it, cover the pan and let it poach in the soup. The latter is what I recommend.
15. Finally, when the egg is poached to your liking, sprinkle in the chopped chives and serve.

I usually eat one half for dinner and bring the other half to lunch the next day. Add water to leftovers and heat up (nuke or stove top) because all the broth will have been sucked up by the noodles. If you are cooking for two people, you will want to poach two eggs.

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Spicy Elk Stew

P1020774Ingredients
1 cup of ground elk meat
¾ cup of chicken stock
1 cup of water
1 tablespoon of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
2 tablespoons of sesame oil
3 green onions – finely chop the white parts, leave the green parts for later
2 minced cloves of garlic
10-15 Brussels sprouts, chopped into quarters
5 large mustard leaves (or another hearty winter green)

Optional: handful of raw cranberries

Directions
1. Heat a pot on medium high and add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.
2. When it’s hot, add the chopped white parts of the green onions and the minced garlic. Mix around and let it sizzle for a minute.
3. Add the chicken stock and water and bring to a boil, then turn down heat to medium.
4. Add the gochujang (the heat will cut its pasty texture).
5. Add the ground elk meat and stir it around, cutting it up, so it gets chunky and fills in the soup in a stew consistency.
6. After the meat has cooked enough to not clump up without you stirring and cutting it up, add the Brussels sprouts and cover the pot to let it simmer for 5-6 minutes, until Brussels sprouts are soft.
7. Turn the heat off and remove the pot from heat, then stir in the mustard greens, green onion tops and the cranberries.
8. Let it sit and cool down. Pour over rice.

My mom will be the first to tell you that I didn’t always appreciate what her Korean heritage brought to the table. Those junior high and high school years were some hard ones for us. We just didn’t get each other. I mean, any kid is going to say that about their parents regarding that age. But when you’re a second-generation kid balancing your mom’s Asian world and customs at home and that of the very white, very rural one outside the front door, very harsh words are exchanged. On my mom’s side, there was just a lack of understanding. On my side, there was a complete, self-absorbed lack of appreciation.

P1020768I think about writing my mom’s story, but just for myself, as a redemption of sorts for the way I ignored my Korean heritage during the Pacific County years.

I was so desperate at that time to fit in with a culture of county fairs and country music songs about blue eyes, blonde hair, beers and Dairy Queens. A culture that, based on physical attributes alone, I’d never be a part of. The social scene was a bit Friday Night Lights meets River’s Edge (a good movie, if you haven’t seen it). Athletics was everything, which wasn’t super easy if you were a piddly Asian girl working on breaking five feet and 100 pounds in high school. Parties in the woods were a big deal. Piling in a car to hang out in Aberdeen 30 miles up Highway 101 was our good time. I wore old t-shirts, boxers for shorts, flannel and my grandpa’s hickory shirts from his logging days. This was before grunge. This was just how we dressed in Pacific County. I took pride in how sloppy I was, how little I cared about anything.

My Korean mother, a ballerina and math wizard, had to watch all this happen and wonder how, if, I’d ever become anything other than an Asian girl who was trying so hard to be small-town white. If she would ever understand me, or if I would just keep talking back, eating greasy food, listening to Alabama and Skid Row and not giving a shit about being Korean. Not even bringing up that I was Korean because I hated the way people said it here, “core-REE’n’”.

My mom survived a war on and in her country. As a toddler, she witnessed her father being taken away from home at gunpoint, and she never saw him again. As a child, she accompanied her mom to check piles of bodies to look for missing relatives, including her dad. When the war was at its worst, her mom sent her away from Seoul to live with her grandparents in the countryside where she learned about subsistence agriculture, old-school Korean style.

In her early twenties, she lost her oldest sister, the one who always looked out for her. She left her country in her mid-twenties and moved to South Bend, Washington, in the middle of the woods, where she knew nobody but my dad and his family – half of them also were immigrants from Sweden and Finland. Her English was spotty, and she had this in common with my grandpa’s side of the family. She had two daughters and for them she assimilated and stayed.

I had one friend all throughout elementary and high school who identified with this background. And although we never explicitly spoke of it and our conversations were more about things like cheerleading, boys we were crushing on and Boys II Men dance moves, I know we both knew things were different in our homes than our other friends’ homes. She was first generation. Her dad was tough. I simultaneously lived in fear of and loved her dad for how strict he was because it meant I wasn’t the only one in the entire school with a crazy strict Asian parent. I don’t know if we were friends because we actually liked each other’s company or if it was because everyone just expected us to be friends because we were both Asian. In any case, we had each other’s backs for a good long time.

As I get older, I know I’m doing things that are definitely signs I’m turning into my mom. I habitually click my tongue and narrow my eyes when I’m annoyed (as the occasional “ai-goo!” will slip out). The amount of time I spend in the Asian squat is increasing exponentially, because, newsflash, it’s seriously more comfortable to squat, folks. Not feeling comfortable at a dinner table if I can’t sit in my chair in lotus position or at least half lotus is now a thing. Refusing to use a credit card unless I can pay off the balance immediately after I’ve used it, after those Macy’s credits have kicked in, is pretty standard. And my nightly facial moisturizing and eye cream regimen is definitely my mom’s.

It’s this joke in western culture that the last thing in the world any woman wants is to turn into their mother. Whereas some of us who are second generation from an eastern culture — no matter how much we resented our teen-aged years and so badly wanted our Asian physical attributes and upbringing to fade so that we could be like all the other kids – hope we become our mothers as we grow older. That we have their knowledge, intelligence and talents, their stories from the old country, their secret to eternal youthfulness and most of all their strength. I sincerely know that should be so lucky to become my mom. Although I don’t think I’ll even come close.

The Food

There’s a stew my mom made that to my knowledge doesn’t really have a name. The base is water, gochujang, soy sauce, garlic, green onions and sesame oil. Then she would usually throw in a chopped zucchini, mushrooms and tofu. If she had some winter greens in her garden, those went in, too. On the very rare occasions she was out of kimchi, and I would come home screaming that I needed kimchi stat (me — “STAT, MOM! I NEED KIMCHI STAT!” My mom — “What does ‘stat’ mean?!”), she would immediately boil this up and it always quelled the kimchi beast.

I’m currently out of kimchi, and out of money until that direct deposit comes through. As usual. In my state of hunger today, I discovered primo elk meat in my freezer I’d bartered kimchi for this summer and then forgotten about because it was so damn hot this summer no one was thinking about venison, as well as chicken broth from god knows when. I boiled it all up in my mom’s comfort-stew broth recipe. Added some cranberries for sunshine vitamins. Picked greens from my garden. Thought about how grateful I was to have a Korean mom who emphasized growing things, bartering and cooking healthy food.

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Swedish Sandwich Cake

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A rare food hybrid of Swedish, Korean and Bulgarian influence.

The Bulgarian Savory Cake stands out in my head like the proverbial one that got away, the one who never really leaves your psyche. I met the cake at a Super Bowl party in Olympia several years ago. At this point I had watched a grand total of perhaps ten football games from beginning to end in all my life, all ten of which were games I’d been forced to sit through during my illustrious high school pep band career. (I could really make that flute sing “Proud Mary”! But that’s another story for another time.)

I only mention my complete lack of interest in football because it was odd that I’d been invited to the party in the first place and even stranger that I’d accepted the invitation. Of course, now I know that I was summoned that day. There was a higher calling situation happening. Fate rang my doorbell, invited me down to Olympia, and I said yes to fate. And then fate introduced me to the savory Bulgarian chicken and potato cake.

P1020758I arrived with my friends and a stack of books to get me through the game to a crowded den where guests had already strategically picked their seats and were awaiting the thing that happens that starts the game, wherein a ball is kicked. I looked at those poor suckers, trapped in their seats, and made a bee-line straight for the buffet that I had all to myself. (“Haha, suckers!” I chortled.) All the regulars were there. Chicken wings, Doritos, salsa, bacon, back-up bacon, pasta salads, chili – and then I saw it.

It was a clean, white, round cakey fixture amidst the fat-glistening, brown and bright orange, mad cacophony of all the other artery-clogging dishes. There were two soft-colored layers to it and a tippy-top layer that mimicked frosting. Both lower layers were chunky and were held in place with some sort of creamy dressing. The top was made up of shavings, shiny white and green in color.

“What is this?” I demanded to know.

“It’s a family recipe,” the Bulgarian hostess said. She appeared out of nowhere and was fairy-like in stature. “The layers are chicken salad here,” she pointed to the upper layer. “And potatoes here,” she said pointing to the lower layer.

“What’s this?” I asked, pointing to the very top layer, about a quarter of an inch thick, a bunch of little white squiggle shapes polka-dotted with shiny green gems here and there. The white stuff looked suspiciously like my extreme arch nemesis, soft white cow cheese, in shavings form. I was leery.

“Grated hard-boiled egg whites and pickles,” she said.

Not cheese, but, in fact, my go-to protein food, the hard-boiled egg? WITH PICKLES? I circled the savory cake like a hawk circles its prey, forcing the Bulgarian fairy to move out of my way as I shoved her back with my jabby elbows. I made my way around the table keeping my eye on that savory, dessert-shaped prize.

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“Sour cream in the dressing?” I said. I moved in for a closer look, peering at the chicken layer and sniffed at it.

“No, just some mayonnaise,” she said. “Maybe not poke at it with your nose?”

“Cow milk? Cream cheese? Cottage cheese? Brie cheese? Crème fraiche? Ranch dressing?” I listed everything that evilly sneaks its way into party foods and causes me to spend half the party hollering through the bathroom door if anyone can ask the host where they keep the Pepto Bismal and extra toilet paper.

“None of those,” she answered. “I really have to get something out of the oven now.”

“NO lactose?” I yelled at her retreating figure. “ZERO lactose? Hey, can I get an affirmative that that’s a negative on the lactose?”

She made a bunch of clanking pots and pans sounds to indicate the conversation was over.

The sorceress fairy had left, and I was now alone with the cake. I looked at it. It looked at me. I did what I needed to do. What I’d been summoned to this home by this cake to do. I cut myself a slice that wasn’t so much a slice as much as it was half the cake, and slid it onto a plate. I sighed, I think I cried a little and said a prayer to my gods, and then I devoured it.

After finishing, I promptly fell into a deep, deep slumber in a crowded room of screaming fans. Because that’s the power of the Bulgarian potato and chicken cake. (It’s also the power of a football game over this girl.)

I awoke hours later as my friends jostled me.

“What happened?” I said. “Who took my cake?”

“You have mayonnaise all over your face. Car’s running, let’s go,” they said. They ignored my cake inquiry. It was all so cruel.

I began wondering if I’d imagined it all. There was no evidence of the cake in the kitchen as I did a quick scan on my way out. Sure, I had dried mayo and chicken all over my face and shirt, but maybe there had been a sandwich fight while I’d slept and I’d been used as a human shield?

I was about to dismiss the entire afternoon as just another food fantasy dream when our hostess ran up to me as I was leaving and hurriedly pushed a pink slip of paper in my hand.

“Here is the potion for the cake, my friend. Do not abuse this power, use it wisely or the cake will turn on you,” she told me with solemn eyes and a slow, controlled nod.

Okay, fine. She said, “I wrote the potato cake recipe down for you because you ate half of it. So it seemed like you enjoyed it. Do you know you have mayonnaise all over your face?”

And that’s how I knew the Bulgarian chicken and potato cake had really happened.

Believe me, I tried to make the cake on several occasions, but it would never keep its form. The layers fell into one another, I couldn’t grate my egg whites correctly, the chicken layer was bland. I finally decided that you need to be Bulgarian to pull this magic off.

I did some digging in my cookbooks and the internet and found a similar food concept that perhaps my bloodline would lend itself to making – the Swedish Smörgåstårta, or the (very aptly named) Sandwich Cake. If I couldn’t have the Bulgarian chicken and potato cake, this creation was a very, very fine stand in! And being a quarter Swede, I couldn’t and didn’t fail.

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The traditional Swedish Sandwich Cake is unapologetically rich in flavor and calories and campishly (which Word is telling me is not a word) 1960s smorgasbord-esque. It’s over the top. It consists of rye bread, shrimp, sour cream, smoked salmon, dill, cream cheese, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, butter, caviar, hard-boiled eggs, patè and cold cuts. All of those things. In one cake. One slice alone of a traditional Swedish Sandwich Cake sounds like it would weigh 10 pounds.

With the creamy lightness of the Bulgarian cake in mind and some pro-biotic foods, herbs and fruit that aid in digestion, I made my own version. And I think it’s just about right. Bulgaria, Sweden and Korea for the win!

This makes four hearty servings or six appetizer-sized servings.

“Cake” Ingredients
1 round loaf of bread (I used a white rosemary loaf from Essential Baking Company)P1020752

“Frosting” Ingredients
1 cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of low-fat mayonnaise
¼ cup of softened chevre

Filling Ingredients
1 can of Trader Joe’s chicken, which is 12.5 oz (about 1 ½ cups) (I always rinse my canned chicken to get the preservatives taste off of it)
½ cup of nonfat plain Greek Yogurt
10 finely chopped perilla leaves (good for digestion; use mint as a substitute)
¼ finely chopped red onion
½ finely chopped Asian pear (no skin)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon of capers
Salt and pepper to taste (capers were enough for me on the salt front)

Cake Toppings
Quail eggs, halved
Sliced cherry tomatoes
Chopped dill

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Directions
1. Cut the bread into two layers, each about an inch thick (or to your liking).
2. Whip together the Greek yogurt, mayo and chevre and put it in the fridge to keep cold.
3. Fork the canned chicken into small chunks and mix with yogurt, Asian pear, perilla leaves (or mint), red onions, lemon juice, capers and salt and pepper.
4. Spread the canned chicken mix on top of the bottom bread layer, and place the other layer on top (like a big round sandwich).
5. Spread the frosting mix evenly around the sides and top.
6. Garnish/decorate the top: sprinkle chopped dill and then decorate with quail egg halves and tomato slices.
7. To serve, cut as you would a cake, with a bread knife.

I’m out of kimchi (the horror!!), or I would definitely garnish my slice with kimchi for further digestive pleasure.

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Kimchi Crab Pie

photo(30) Two months ago I got a job in Chinatown for a community development organization. And this has brought me back to where I, in a way, started out as a minority who recognized the value that community brings to help a kid (and an adult) not feel so alone, so different from everyone else.

My mom was the first Korean (or at least one of the first) to move to the rural coastal Washington county in which I was raised, Pacific County. In the early days, we drove to Seattle’s Chinatown, where I work now, to grocery shop maybe three times a year because in the 1980s when I was a kid this was the only place short of Vancouver BC or Los Angeles that my mom could find the groceries she needed to cook the Korean food she wanted to eat.

photo(32)After three hours up rural highways and I-5 in a hatchback Chevette, we would pull into the Uwajimaya lot (in the old location) and my sister and I would leap out of the car and run upstairs (when there was an upstairs) and look for origami paper and Hello Kitty trinkets and rice candy while my mom could shop. And she would know what she was looking at rather than try and get by in our tiny, white hometown grocery store, mistaking Tabasco for Crisco (a mistake which I’m told made for one crazy apple pie).

At Uwajimaya, she went into the zone. She would load up on red pepper flakes, Asian chives, garlic in bulk, nappa cabbage, sesame oil and seeds, fresh fish, tiny, frozen brine shrimp, seaweed, dried squid, everything that felt familiar to her, to get her through until the next trip.

This place, Chinatown, was a place where my mom, sister and I felt okay feeling Asian. No laughing off the slant-eye jokes, the dog-eater Chink jokes, no ongoing apologizing here about how we did things differently than the rest of the town we lived in, how funky the inside of our fridge smelled from kimchi. And, bonus, everyone here in Chinatown had actually heard of Korea!

My sister and I loved the trips to Chinatown, most likely because they made my mom so happy. (Also because of all the Hello Kitty.)

So it feels like a homecoming for me, working here every day. I feel like my mom, when she zeroed in on all the Asian produce and seafood and spices and flavoring in Chinatown in the 80s and got that insanely focused look in her eye, when she felt fine feeling Asian. After the last 12 years of square pegging through my 9-5 life (another story for another blog post — and it will happen), maybe I have found the zone.

canton alleyThe Food

Look, here’s the deal. It’s too hot for me to take pictures of food. I can’t handle it. There is pet hair floating in the air around here, I can’t keep any surfaces clean, and I’m constantly a sweaty cranky mess in this Hades we used to know as sweet, sweet coastal, rainy Seattle. Also, my computer is just ancient. Before you judge, I want to let you know that you have no idea how slow (and painfully HOT) this laptop is. The rainbow wheel…it happens every 10 seconds. And it never stops spinning. So there are no pictures of food. Just a recipe. And pictures from my phone.

The story behind the food is that I was bemoaning at lunch with my co-workers one day how my Dunge crab hook-up moved to California so now, like a schmuck, I have to pay through the nose for the stuff I used to slave over for minimum wage in the canneries when I was a teen-aged day laborer. The injustice! But then one of my co-workers (oh, Katie, you are a sunbeam!) said, “My dad has more crab than he knows what to do with, and he LOVES kimchi.” And sure enough, her dad gave me four crabs, cleaned, halved, frozen, for a couple jars of kimchi. And also, sure enough, that man LOVES kimchi.

The zone, people. The zone.

PS: I’m also not really into the whole “foodie” food blogging thing, per se, as much as I am into just writing, so deal with the non-specifics. Just go with it. Or don’t. Do what you need to do.

PPS: That last PS took me five minutes to write because of the rainbow wheel.

Ingredients

Pie crust (I got a frozen one from Trader Joe’s)
Cup of Dungeness crab
6-8 eggs
1 cup of FRESHLY MADE kimchi, within the last couple days (new so the flavor doesn’t overpower the crab)
½ cup Parmesan cheese
2 cups arugula

Directions

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees if you have a really non-powerful oven like mine.
2. Deal with your pie crust. Make it from scratch, or thaw it and smush it into pie pan, whatevs you need to do.
3. Beat the eggs.
4. Mix into the eggs the crab, kimchi, cheese and arugula in a bowl.
5. Pour into pie crust.
5. Bake for an hour.

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Korean Seafood and Garden Greens Pancakes

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Gilman Gardens

Five years ago, in the late summer of 2010, I kicked off two significant life transformations. Without my knowing it at the time, I’d just entered into what was going to be around four years give or take some months of tumultuousness and turmoil in several aspects of life – relationships, friendships, family, work, financial security, my home – everything, really, except my steady-as-she-goes health (knock on wood).

Also, I became a gardener. Not a good gardener by any means (even after five years), but over time as I temporarily lost my footing in other parts of my life, I became a very, very grateful gardener. Maybe gratefulness was the transformative factor.

In 2010 when I was out for a walk, I came upon a community garden that seemed to spring up overnight (although I’m sure the volunteers who helped create it would say it took more like a couple months). It had been an empty grassy lot where everyone took their dogs to do their business. It was about half a block long and around 15 feet wide. Volunteer elbow grease and goodwill transformed it into terraced garden plots with cedar chip pathways, rain barrels and newly planted fruit trees. It was beautiful.

IMG_6215I walked through it in silent admiration. Two tall, large willowy trees had been adorned with wind chimes and they rang soft and tinkly over my head. In one of the plots was a scruffy, blonde man in sunglasses, shorts and a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He was holding a beer in one hand and was weeding with the other.

I approached him on cat paws. “Excuse me?” I said. He made a startled sound and then looked up at me, standing over him blocking his sunlight. “What is this?” I asked him.

“Oh, this?” He said. “We got a city grant and turned this dog piss station into a community garden.” The guy was Charlie, and he was the leader of the garden project known as Gilman Gardens. He had gotten the grant, organized the community work parties and created this space that now had the potential to host as many as 30 individual garden spaces.

“Is it a P-Patch?” I asked, referring to a community gardening system structured by the City of Seattle. “I’ve been on the waiting list for the Interbay P-Patch, but I just don’t see that coming through in my lifetime.”

IMG_6748“Nope. Not a P-Patch. You want this spot?” He asked pointing to the garden he was weeding. It was about four by four feet in size and was overflowing with tomatillos, cherry and heirloom tomatoes, strawberries, herbs and salad greens. “The people who started it last spring had to move. You can take it over.”

“Really? How much is it?” I asked. (Always my first question. Always.)

“It’s yours. It’s free, just take care of it,” he said. “Welcome to the garden.”

I thanked him, thanked my luck, and for the rest of the summer I took care of the little plot.

But it really was the other way around for the following years. That garden took care of me.

This time has passed, but there was a time when I felt negatively judged, ridiculed and harassed by people I’d trusted and loved, some for a lifetime. People I’d gone to great lengths to help out, to make them laugh, to show them I cared, to have their backs. They said things to me and about me that stunned me on the spot, left me shell shocked thinking, “Have you all this time, all these years, truly disliked me that much?” There really was no other explanation.

At the same time, others became even closer to me and they, like the garden, satiated and sustained me. There was no judgment. I loved them for this. I vowed to always be there for them if they were ever to need me the way I had needed them. At the time, I had very little to offer besides free pet-sitting or maybe a kidney. So I gave IMG_6217them what I could grow in my garden.

For one good friend in particular, my garden was a place we went together so I could show off to him what I was growing and he could show to me his admiration. For several years running in the summer months when the water barrel supply was low, we loaded up gallons of jugs of water at my place and walked them out there under moonlight to water my garden and tell stories and eat strawberries. And most importantly, together we would avoid thinking about the challenges we each had to face when the sun came up and the wine buzz was long gone.

You don’t know it while you’re going through it but you do know it once you’ve gotten past it that you are going through hard times. Those particular years I classify in life as the Shit Show. I don’t resent them or hide from them or pretend they never happened, because that would be a waste of five years that taught me how to be humble, taught me what I need to feel happy and instilled in me what kind of person I want to be in the world.

Throughout this time, the garden helped me make ends meet emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. It gave me something to nurture and work on. It provided me goods to give back to those who helped me out.

Spring is my favorite time of year because of that little square patch of dirt. I love it when the chives come back, the garlic bulbs incubate below the soil as they shoot up their flavorful greens and the raspberries, rhubarb and strawberries start blooming and showing their potential. I go to my garden every single day, and I watch it all make its comeback this time of year. I watch my garden find a way to grow the good stuff and offer this to the world because that is what gardens do. And it inspires me to try and do the same.

P1020590The Food

Garlic shoots/greens are superb. Don’t waste these if you have them growing in your garden. Pick them, chop them, use them in marinade, on salads, in guacamole, salsa, kimchi, whatever you’d use minced garlic cloves in. The chives I used are Korean chives that my mom gave me a couple years back for my garden. They are much wider and stronger in flavor than the chives you’ll find in an American grocery store. But you can use those chives, I’d just use more of them for the sake of flavor.

The objective of the batter in these pancakes is to fill in the space between the fish and veggies. In other words, it’s not like the batter is the main attraction as it is in a traditional pancake. It just serves the purpose of holding everything together. So don’t skimp on the fish and greens. That’s the good stuff, after all.

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Not the prettiest picture, but it shows how chunky with seafood and greens the batter is.

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There are many kind s of Korean pancake mix. This is one of them.

Ingredients
2 cups of Korean pancake mix (this specific mix makes for a crispier pancake, I think)
2 cups water
2 eggs
Some kind of oil on hand (I used grape seed oil but sesame is also delicious)
1 cup chopped Korean chives
1 cup chopped garlic greens
2-4 chopped leaves of rainbow chard (kale will work, too)
4 chopped green onions
1 can tuna fish
½ pound of baked white fish chunks (I used sole this time, have used cod before)
Pinch of salt

Directions
1. Beat together the flour mix, water and eggs.
2. Evenly stir in the chopped chives, garlic greens, tuna and white fish. If using the kimchi add it, too.
3. Heat a frying pan on medium heat.
4. When it’s hot, drop a teaspoon of oil in and roll it around to distribute evenly.
5. Pour half a cup at a time of the batter into the pan, evening it out as it settles to be round and sort of chunky.
6. Like a regular pancake, watch for the outer edges to cook and bubbles to form before flipping.
7. Flip back and forth until cooked through.

Garnish with kimchi. Tartar sauce is also good.

Note: A lot of restaurants use a lot of oil, which make these crispier on the outside than this recipe. My mom didn’t use a lot of oil, so this recipe has much more of a pancake consistency and less of a deep-fried consistency, which my stomach and my taste buds prefer.

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Willapa Bay Seafood Salad

Inspired by the Pickled Fish in Long Beach, WA

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Ingredients, two servings
1 cup Willapa Bay razor clam meat
½ cup shrimp (mine were canned in South Bend, WA, on Willapa Bay)
¼ cup Dungeness crab meat (or more, but it’s spendy!)
1 tomato cut into wedges
1 hard-boiled egg cut into quarters
1 head of chopped butter lettuce
2 cups of watercress

For Dressing
Pulp of ½ avocadoP1020556
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cloves of garlic
Juice of ½ lemon
½ cup of fresh dill
1 tablespoon of plain yogurt
1 tablespoon grape seed oil (or olive oil)
Optional: 2 teaspoons soy sauce

Directions for salad
1. Bring pot of water to boil and drop razor clam meat in the pot. Boil for no longer than a minute. Remove from heat, let them cool down and cut into small chunks.
2. Toss in a large bowl the clams,shrimp and crab meat with the dressing, dollaping in and mixing as you go along. It’s a heavy dressing, so be careful you don’t use too much and weigh down the greens.
3. Add the watercress and lettuce and mix. Serve with hard boiled egg wedges.

Directions for dressing
Put everything in a food processor and puree.

Personal note: I would love to shove this salad into a hoagie roll and eat as a sandwich – that would be ideal. But I’m sadly watching the carbs these days. If you aren’t, do so with wild abandon!

Day Tripping on the Long Beach Peninsula

Last weekend with temperature predictions in the upper sixties and gas prices still pretty low, I kicked a particularly nasty February to the curb by hitting the road and heading to the beach with my dog, Elli. Destination: Long Beach Peninsula. Goal: After a challenging February, to achieve dog and human zen.

P1020489 Nature Zen
Aside from a tiny strip of go-cart and cotton candy kitsch that stretches two blocks, nature abounds and is the star attraction of the Long Beach Peninsula. From the mouth of the Columbia to 26 miles up to the very northern end of the pencil-thin peninsula at Leadbetter Point, wildlife, brackish ecosystems teeming with muddy organisms and sweet-smelling forests follow one after the other and are in this area as easily accessible as a rest stop off a freeway. Pull over, park, you’ve arrived. Biking, kayaking, trail running, hiking, foraging for bivalves and fauna opportunities present themselves everywhere.

The entire peninsula is a long and skinny overgrown sandbar with a coastal rainforest growing down its middle. There is ocean beach on the west side and no more than five miles across the peninsula, there is a tidal marshland on the east side. Salt-washed, weather-beaten fishing villages and beach towns — Chinook, Ilwaco, Seaview, Long Beach, Ocean Park, Nahcotta and finally Oysterville at the northern end — stand one after the other as towns with different identities and historical significance. Most of them have populations under 1,000, some less than 300. They remind you you’ve entered a part of the world that above all else values its lifelong independence and identity and its ongoing resilience no matter which way the tide turns.

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Couple of eagles survey the bay.

Leadbetter State Park was Elli’s and my first stop. Leadbetter Point nods off at the top of the peninsula like the tip of a hemlock . It is surrounded by Willapa Bay mud and islands on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. All the trails can be done in one day or less, unless you’re bird-watching in which case you may want to set aside three months to a year to the rest of your life. Some of the trails that take you onto the beach and tidelands are only accessible during low-tide, so time your hike well because you can’t get back the way you came in if the tide comes in. And when you’re out on the beach, don’t forget to look way up or you’ll miss the eagles, hawks and herons.

The wooded trails are soft and quiet. Your soundtrack is a mix of songbirds and the ocean. The only non-natural sound you may hear out here is an oyster boat. The ground is carpeted in moss, and the trail paths are spongy and springy. I don’t know why this is, but forests near sea level in Willapa Bay are the only places I’ve felt this bounce in my step. And you’re literally at sea level. If you were any more at sea level, you’d be a razor clam. There are no hills, there is no rapid elevation gain of any kind, there are zero switchbacks at Leadbetter.

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Mossy trails at Leadbetter State Park.

Elli and I filled up on solitude at Leadbetter and then moved onto our next stop, the popular Discovery Trail that stretches along the Pacific Ocean side of the peninsula for eight miles. It is part paved and part boardwalk and has some soft sloping ups and downs but again, as it’s a beach, no hills. The trail is accessible at many points up and down the peninsula, but  in Seaview I saw a sign welcoming me to the beach and took a chance, turned right and drove a block west. Sure enough, I hit the Pacific Ocean and an on-ramp onto the Discovery Trail.

Perfect for a round-trip bike ride, distance run, or a day-long exploration, Elli and I cavorted and jogged along the trail for about four miles, taking in views of surfers and families enjoying the beach on this extremely rare 65-degree, sunny March day.

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Sauna Zen
It’s no small feat finding a perfect sauna situation outside of, say, Finland, Sweden or Norway. Plenty of hotels certainly offer them, especially in the Astoria and Long Beach area, but what you face in these situations are conditions that go completely against the ideal sauna experience. Allow me to explain.

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The trees are fuzzy in Leadbetter State Park.

Hotel saunas often mean lukewarm temperature settings, inhaling the stinging smell of chlorine since they are always poolside and falling prey to the inevitable sauna social fails. The hairy, pot-bellied guy who asks you, “Hot enough for you?” as he winks. The adorable yet chatty grandparents keeping an eye on the grandkids in the pool who ask you where you’re from and then want to talk about where you’re from at great length. The canoodling couple who want the love shack to themselves so they make eye contact with you as they drape themselves around one another until you skulk out feeling sort of physically accosted.

Worst of all, hotel saunas mean swimsuits. The entire purpose of the sauna is to detox and let your skin breathe. Wrapping yourself in lycra rather than an ample cotton towel and sitting in a sauna is as senseless as wearing an air-tight diaper to a colon cleansing session.  It’s nasty. It’s unthinkable! It’s outright torture.

For all these reasons, whereas the corporate hotel I was staying at across the river had a sauna, I knew it wouldn’t do. I luckily stumbled upon the Sou’Wester in Seaview, WA, and, their authentic Finnish sauna, which was available that afternoon.

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If I’m introducing you to the Sou’Wester for the first time, you’re in for a treat. There are four options for lodging on this plot of land that definitely could pass for an artist commune on sight alone: bringing your own RV and hooking up in the RV park, renting a cottage, renting a vintage travel trailer (there are 15 adorable options of various sizes) or staying in the main lodge, a four-story beach mansion painted Scandinavian ochre red with white trim. What was once a grand ballroom on the second floor was converted into four suites, each with a private kitchen and bathroom, and three large bedrooms with shared facilities.

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Checking in at the Sou’Wester.

The lobby occupies a sun porch adorned with goods made by local artists and those who have been artists in residence at the Sou’Wester, rubber boots for guest use (for razor clam digging) and towels for your dog after romping at the beach just one block west. Signs are posted about advertising upcoming performances by artists, musicians and bands, some of whose names I recognized.

The sauna is newly built, and it is a masterpiece. It is smack dab in the middle of the property, but it along with an adjoining garden space and spa-like shower room are enshrouded in privacy behind a tall fence that requires a key from the lobby to enter. Trees loom high over the hidden garden, further creating a feeling of privacy and solitude, perfect for achieving a meditative zen state in the sauna and when you cool off in the garden. And if you’re hard core, there is also a cold plunge tub available. Also adding to the ambience is the sound of songbirds and shorebirds, an added bonus of building a sauna on the beach near a national wildlife refuge.

The sauna was just the right kind of hot when I entered. My pores took about 5 minutes toP1020505 open up, and when they did, the effect was cleansing and cathartic. Every inhalation smelled like lavender, clean wood and the beach. I never wanted to leave. But really only lasted 20 minutes because the heat was intense.

When I came out of the shower room, dressed and refreshed, two women were in the garden starting a campfire in the fire pit. They invited me to join their workshop that evening — a full moon guided meditation session and tarot card reading. This place was continuing to feel surreal. I would have joined but it didn’t start until 10 PM, and I knew I’d be asleep by 9:30 that night after the day I’d had (and I was right).

I didn’t take any pictures of the sauna because I would not have done the place justice. But these pictures do. If you live down here or frequent the area often enough, you can purchase a membership to use the sauna by appointment. For drop-ins, it’s a mere $6 a visit. And as a first time guest, mine was actually free. I hope I can repay them by convincing some readers they have to go stay at the Sou’Wester. Writers, artists, musicians, tarot card enthusiasts – check it out. I know I’ll be back.

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River Zen
Next, Elli and I crossed the Columbia to the town of Astoria, Oregon, for yoga at a place whose name alone drew me in, RiversZen Yoga Studio.

The studio is in a large building that hangs out over the Columbia River and whose front door opens onto the Astoria River Trail, the very popular walk way that stretches the expanse of Astoria from east through downtown to under the bridge at its western edge. As with many buildings in the city as well as the Sou’Wester Lodge, it, too, is painted the classic Scandinavian red with clean white trim.

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By the way, there is a reason for everything looking like a Finnish summer cabin community in the Bay of Bothnia. From Astoria up through the top of Pacific County on the Washington side, the area was heavily settled by immigrants from Finland, Sweden and Norway who came to work in the timber and fishing industries that made Astoria a boom town at the turn of the century. The Nordic spirit that helped build these places is reflected throughout the region on both sides of the river today, in the architecture, food, festivals and businesses.

The RiversZen studio consists of two open rooms with open, exposed wooden beams P1020531overhead and a spectacular view of the Columbia River. Our session consisted of loosening stretches, light abdominal work, a series of sun salutations, standing balances, and it ended with a shoulder stand to bring blood to the brain and with the traditional winding down in corpse pose. Not to grueling, but no walk in the park either. Quite perfect vacation yoga, actually, especially after the long drive.

I think I was told that RiversZen offers a non-expiring punch card for people like me who visit the area once a season if that, but I’m happy to pay the drop in fee each time. It’s only $9 compared to an average of $22-25 in Seattle. Like Sou’Wester, I’ll be back at RiversZen Yoga.

Taste Bud Zen
P1020518By now, I’d traversed through woods and tide flats, jogged on the beach and sweated out toxins in the sauna and yoga studio. It was dinner time, and I was damn hungry. Back across the river in Long Beach, Washington, the perfect meal had been plucked out of the Pacific Ocean, Willapa Bay and Starvation Alley cranberry bogs and awaited me: the Pickled Plate with a Cranberry Bubbly specialty cocktail (vodka, Prosecco and cranberry juice) at the Pickled Fish restaurant of Adrift Hotel, a pet-friendly, sustainably run, beautifully maintained hotel on the beach.

The Pickled Plate is an enormous serving that should be shared by two – but pickled foods aren’t really my dog’s thing, and I was hungry enough to make a serious dent on my own. Bay shrimp, salmon, cod, carrots, cauliflower, cranberries, raspberries, celery, beets, a hard-boiled egg – all of it pickled – come heaped on a plate with a golf ball-sized orb of thick goat cheese rolled in paprika and some crostini to ease the bite of the sharpness of all that vinegar. I dove in and barely came up for air until I’d made my way through half of it.

When I finally took a break from eating, I looked out the window of the restaurant as the sun was just beginning to set over the vast Pacific Ocean, its waves rolling and crashing on the beach, and checked in with myself. It had been a full day of fresh air and exercise, being outdoors, detoxing and filling myself with a meal harvested just outside the door. This is life in Willapa Bay and on the Long Beach Peninsula, still a best kept secret in the Northwest that may see its rare day in the sun very soon. Human and dog zen achieved.

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Adrift Hotel and Pickled Fish off in the distance.

 

Swedish Potato Pancakes (Raggmunk) with Kimchi-Yogurt Sauce and Poached Egg

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Swedish potato pancakes are comfort food. They are traditionally eaten with bacon and lingonberry sauce, a no doubt winning combination. But I was short on cash so I wasn’t buying meat when I made these, and damned if the ten people I asked at my Trader Joe’s when they were going to carry lingonberry jam like a real grocery store didn’t give me pretty scary stink eye. Kimchi yogurt sauce was a fine (and healthy) substitute. Double the probiotics!

Pancakes (makes six pancakes, but let’s be honest, we all eat the first one, so taking that into consideration, this makes five pancakes)
2 medium sized russet potatoes
1 cup of milk (I used low-fat soy, worked well)
2 eggs
2 chopped up green onions (not traditional, my addition)
Salt and pepper to your liking
Some kind of oil (I used grape seed) or butter.

Sauce
1 cup of nonfat Greek yogurt
1 cup of kimchi (this is a good use for kimchi that’s starting to go sour because the yogurt really freshens it up)
2 tablespoons of chives
1 tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of gochujung

Directions for Pancakes

1. Peel the potatoes and then grate them into what would be appropriate form for hash P1020477browns. I used the shredding device on my Cuisineart, worked like a charm.
2. In a bowl, beat the eggs with the milk.
3. Add the potatoes, chopped green onions and salt and pepper to the milk and eggs and mix thoroughly.
4. Heat a skillet to medium high heat and add the oil or butter.
Scoop up about half a cup’s worth of mix and pour in a circle in the pan. As it settles, work to even out the potatoes so they aren’t clumped up anywhere. Flip and slightly press as you would any pancake until each side is golden brown.
5. Remove and let cool.

Directions for Sauce
Put it all in a food processor and puree.

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Finnish Karelian Pasties (or Pies)

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Due to my insane superstitious beliefs and equally mental addiction to making lists, I used to be neurotic about New Year’s Eve resolutions. I definitely wrote them out and made copies to display in various strategic locations around my home. Etched them with an Exacto knife into my bathroom mirror, wrote them in Sharpie on my fridge, embroidered them into a throw pillow, tattooed them on my thigh – the usual.

P1020465Then 2010 happened. The recession hit my line of work hard, I had a paralyzing professional mid-life crisis, I was forced to drain my savings account for mandated condo fees or face foreclosure, and my grandma who was a part of my sister’s and my life every day suddenly passed away without even talking it over with any of us first. As if 2010 wasn’t sobering enough, then 2011 reared its ugly head. Somewhere along the way, I realized my annual anal list of resolutions was utter, control-freak horse poop. A year-long to-do list of silliness.

Here is the only resolution, which is more like a mantra, I subscribe to these days: Survive, be brave, be good. I do anything I can within my power as an individual to support this. For instance, this year, I’m trying to eat a good breakfast every day. Something beyond the four vitamin capsules I typically swallow with watered down coffee every morning. Because you cannot survive the day if you have fasted for the past 10-12 hours and you don’t get some sustenance in your system first thing upon waking.

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A Karelian pasty I enjoyed at Cafe Ursula in Helsinki, Finland.

I can’t help but associate a hearty healthy breakfast with family because when I visited
family in both South Korea and in Finland, every morning I was treated to a banchan-smorgasbord spread of nourishing and nutritious options. In Korea, my aunt made savory tuna and egg pancakes and set out marinated veggies and kimchi dishes with a ready to go rice bowl and a pot of barley tea. In Finland, I would emerge in the morning from my 11-year old cousin Amanda’s room after dreams of One Direction due to her bedroom décor to Karelian pasties, cold cuts, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and avocado, egg butter, juice and so many wonderful condiments both homemade and in tube form I couldn’t keep track. And coffee, of course!

So, I’m combining the two breakfast spreads to start my year off right. Karelian pasties originate from the Russian side of Finland and haven’t made their mark yet on the world as a well-known bready mainstay like the bagel, but I think they deserve this level of attention! A buttery rice porridge is baked into a rye-based dough, which you then fold up into the shape of a fat little Viking ship and bake for 20 minutes. Traditionally, it’s topped with egg butter. As I find them a little dense, I’ve been throwing kimchi on top of mine (spicy fiber!), and the combination is a winner. I usher in 2015 with a little bit of Finnish and Korean breakfast love. Happy new year to you.

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Karelian pasty topped with egg butter, turkey, spinach and kimchi.

Ingredients for the pasties
2 cups of cooked rice (I used a sweet brown rice)
1 cup of milk (I used soy)
3 tablespoons of butter (I used low fat, turned out just as tasty as full fat!)
1.5 cups of rye flour
1 cup of plain flour
1 cup of cold water
2 teaspoons of salt
1-2 tablespoons of grape seed oil (or olive oil)

Garnish suggestions
Egg butter, kimchi, cold cuts, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, hummus, avocado, plain Greek nonfat yogurt. Or you can use a sweet topping like jam and jelly, peanut butter, Nutella.

P1020455Directions

1. Heat the butter in a saucepan on medium high heat and when it starts melting, add the cooked rice and milk.
2. Turn down to medium heat and continue stirring so it doesn’t stick to the bottom until the mixture turns into a thick porridge. Take it off the heat and transfer to a bowl and let it cool down.
3. For the dough, in a food processor, pulse the flours and salt. Add the cold water a little at a time until a ball of dough forms.
4. Roll the dough into a log and cut into slices about an inch thick.
5. Roll each slice into a circle with a 5-6 inch diameter. (I press each one out with the palm of my hand first to get the general shape.)
6. Distribute evenly a couple spoonfuls of the rice porridge.
7. Start at the top and crimp the edge and move your way down, crimping as you go to make a little boat. (This is much easier than it sounds.)
8. Brush each pasty with some oil, flattening the crimped edges.
9. Put your pasties on a baking tray and cook for 20 minutes.
10. Let them cool off and serve with fixings! (Heat them up in a toaster or microwave if using cold ones.)

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Pork and Vegetable Korean Rice Porridge (Juk)

P1020422 It’s party season, and to this introvert, party season is an entirely enjoyable yet exhausting time. Don’t get me wrong, I just love a good holiday soiree! But I have to pace myself in December so I don’t do things like fall asleep in the middle of the day in the company of others like I did last Sunday. I was at my sister’s place with friends after the Seahawks game and fell asleep sitting up. Someone must have grabbed the glass of red wine out of my hand just as they saw my eyes drop closed and my head plunk off to one side.

wine

The book club did a little damage in the calorie and wine department.

After four parties in nearly as many days, I came home from work tonight with bags under my eyes, no money to do any food shopping (as usual), very little energy and a sparsely occupied fridge with the usual Korean dish suspects (ginger, garlic, green onions) and a bunch of randoms. Some ground pork seasoned to taste like Swedish meatballs, a couple sad-looking wilting root vegetables, a little bit of chicken broth and cranberries. Could I turn this into an easy, delicious and healthy meal? Well, healthier than the soiree food I’d been living on the past week, anyway. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

I made a nourishing, slightly Scandinavian-sweet and very Korean-savory rice porridge (juk) with a tart and spicy kick. In my opinion, the key to a good rice porridge, also known as congee, is to cook the rice first in a rice cooker or pot and then cook it even moreso in the soup. I want the rice to be so soft that it nearly loses its form and in doing so helps the broth thicken. And everything in the pot has to be soft when it’s finished cooking. It’s porridge after all. Porridge is food for sickies and oldies — and that freeloader Goldilocks. Which after a week of parties perfectly defines this girl.

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Okay, not super photogenic, that brown rice congee. But it makes up for its appearance in flavor and stomach comfort.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
2 cups of sweet brown rice (use whatever rice you want to use)
½ pound of ground pork
½ teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ yellow onion, grated through a cheese grater
1 tablespoon of butter
1 egg
1 carrot chopped into matchsticks
1 zucchini chopped into matchsticks
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 cloves of garlic
2 chopped green onions
1 cup of cranberries
2 green onions
2 cups of chicken broth
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
Pinch of sugar

P1020424Directions
1. Cook the rice.
2. Saute the butter and grated onion.
3. Mix the pork, spices, onion/butter and the egg (I use my hands).
4. Heat a saucepan or a high-edged frying pan on medium high heat.
5. Stir fry the sesame oil, carrot, zucchini, ginger, garlic, green onions and cranberries until they begin to soften, maybe around 5 minutes.
6. Add the pork mix, rice, broth and red peppers.
7. Stir and cook on high heat for another 5 minutes. Stir in the pinch of sugar.
8. Turn the heat to low and simmer for another 10 minutes.
9. Let it cool and garnish with kimchi. I rarely say this, but I actually prefer my porridge without kimchi. I like the silky smoothness of it, and the kimchi is just a little too jarring for me with this meal.

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So soft you don’t have to bother with chewing. Bothersome chewing!