warm weather korean noodles with FOOD52

A few months ago, I had the amazing opportunity to publish my first piece (ever) in food writing. I have been a fan of Food52 for a while so I was thrilled to contribute a recipe that is so dear to my heart. As spring season is in full swing, this dish is perfect for your next weekday dinner at home, outdoor picnic, or your next simple gathering. We just love it so much!

Here is an excerpt. You can find the full article here.

 

2823b9b1-c034-4736-a41a-531216ad5f13--unspecified-6photo by Bobbi Lin at FOOD52

My memories of bibim-guksu go back to any day of my childhood when I can picture my mom opening the refrigerator and realizing she hasn’t gone grocery shopping for several days. All that’s left is an array of half-eaten banchan (side dishes)—not enough to serve alone, but wasteful to toss. Luckily, bibim-guksu, or bibimbap, is the perfect meal when all you have is leftovers.

Most Korean foods are built on intuition and taste, rather than step-by-step instructions. Case and point: My mom could tell me about her delicious kimchi-jigae (kimchi stew) and the ingredients in it, but could never tell me how much kimchi, tofu, and red pepper paste made up its parts. Following her example, I will tell you that bibim-guksu is a traditional Korean cold noodle dish mixed with vegetables; forget measurements. It’s a dish that is easy to prepare and can be enjoyed for both lunch or dinner.

In Korean, guksu means noodles, bap means rice, and bibimmeans “to mix together.” Bibimbap consists of rice, Korean-barbecued meat, and vegetables. Bibim-guksu is very similar, but instead of rice, you use rice noodles or buckwheat noodles, and it is typically eaten without meat. (If adding, I recommend kalbi, thinly-sliced beef short rib.) The main difference is that bibimbap is meant to be eaten hot, while bibim-guksu is served chilled. I personally love both, but for the warmer months, bibim-guksu is perfect for experimentation with spring and summer vegetables. It can be spicy (or not), vegetarian (or not), but always salty and refreshing.

What makes this dish incredible is that it tastes well-planned out, but all you really have to do is mix noodles or rice with Korean Red Pepper Paste or soy sauce (staple sauces in a Korean kitchen), and throw in whatever vegetables you have available. Versatility makes these dishes supremely popular in Korean cuisine, for cooks and diners.

Spicy. Salty. Savory. Fermented-goodness. All in one bite. All in one bowl. This is Korean food—and it’s been hiding in your refrigerator all along! Here’s how to bring all this out of hiding, onto plates, and, ideally, to a table outdoors, under the warm sun.

 

 

pistachio falafel with fattoush salad

We go out for Middle Eastern food once a week and without fail, we get a combination of falafel, chicken shawarma, and fattoush salad. Although it’s relatively an easy meal to replicate at home, we don’t make the time for it unless it’s a weekend.

So, last Sunday Leo made falafels using Green Kitchen Stories recipe. The only modification he made was using garbanzo flour instead of buckwheat. It was what we already had. When following a recipe, always try to make adjustments based on taste and/or what you already have on stock to save cost and time.

We made falafels before, but adding pistachios was extra protein we wanted. We have gotten in the tradition of making a bigger meal on Sundays – leftovers for lunch the next day (or two) to start the work week.

Instead of lettuce wraps, we made a simple fattoush salad with bell peppers, radishes, cucumbers, herbs, sumac, juice of one lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. To keep the salad crisp and fresh for the next day, do not dress the entire salad with olive oil – only the portion you will eat. I like to bring a small container of olive oil with me to work with an extra lemon.

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The pistachio falafels came out great! It was more filling than the traditional and can definitely make for a hearty meal. You can also skip the salad and eat the falafel with hummus. I did this for work one of the days.

We made 16 falafel balls and it gave us 5 days of lunches we didn’t have to think about. Success.

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korean dumplings, story on traditions

img_0412-1January 28th, was Lunar New Year. Growing up in Korea, this day was more sacred and celebrated than January 1st New Year. Since moving to America in 1988 though, my family started to focus less on Lunar New Year. My sister and I were eager to be Americanized so anything that was too “korean” or “traditional”, we didn’t want to be part of and I think my parents saw that. I believe our parents still celebrated the Lunar New Year on their own quietly, somehow without us really knowing about it.

 

Time passed, we grew up. In my late thirties now, and all I crave is TRADITION – the history behind all the food I used to grow up eating. The stories. The ingredients. Everything seems to be ‘fusion-ized’ these days. I do appreciate that we can take the best from each culture and make it our own, experiencing each other in that way. Still, the root of that culture, the people who grew up with them has been lost in the midst of fusion-ing. How was this food, this dish, prepared hundreds of years ago? What stories did it tell?

This year for New Years Day, we spent it in our home with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. Here’s my mom showing my husband how to make the dough not too thin or too thick. Also, she swears by this korean wheat flour for her dough and trust me, it makes all the difference in giving your dumpling dough a perfect hearty, yet light texture.

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It was beautiful watching my husband and my mom cook together, sharing a meal, and embracing our culture.  So, a way to re-introduce traditions we grew up with, this year for the first time, Leo and I invited some friends over and celebrated Lunar New Year. We made something Chinese and something Korean (baozi and kimchi dumplings).  My husband is an incredibly gifted chef and I reap its benefits. I do the taste testing and writing.

Growing up, my mom always made kimchi “mandoo” (dumplings in Korean) because we preferred it over meat fillings. Both meat filling and kimchi fillings are very traditional. We tweaked my mom’s filling because we wanted to keep it more simple. My mom spends a lot of time on her filling. Her mandoos are filled with kimchi she made, tofu, mung bean sprouts, carrots and mushrooms sautéd in sesame oil. A lot of time and love.

Here is Leo’s 4 ingredient Kimchi Mandoo Filling: (again, Korean dishes are generally as I like to call it, “no recipe” dishes because it’s really about tasting as you cook and add) Simply add all ingredients in a big bowl and mix well. The dough mix is our secret recipe, but it’s just flour and water.

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Handful of kimchi chopped well (if we can’t get my mom’s, alternatives are The Brinery (local) or Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi  (vegan). We have tried many, many brands of kimchi and if you are going to get store bought, these are the best in flavor with integrity in ingredients. Nothing artificial.

Chopped green onions

Chopped Greens. We used watercress because it works so well with the sour and spice from the kimchi. Watercress cuts that a bit with delicious bitterness and gives the filling depth of flavor.

Extra Firm Tofu. We made the mistake of not squeezing out the water the first time so don’t forget! If water is not squeezed out, it will make the dough soggy, filling watery, and very difficult to shape the dumplings.

Dumplings then can be added to any veggie or chicken broth to make it into soup. This is the traditional meal on New Years Day. Garnish or prepare on side of the broth with green onions and toasted seaweed pieces. This is probably the only meal in Korea that doesn’t require any other side dishes. Typically, at every meal, there is rice, some kind of boiling soup, and side dishes that are just as important.

Not with Mandoo soup. You have the comfort of gluten, boiling soup, Korean staple (kimchi), all the flavors in one bowl- welcoming another year of good eating and fortune. For me, I find myself going back the traditions I once left behind. Sometimes the greatest treasure in food is the one that’s always been there. The simple, the humble, the incomparable.

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embrace limitations

This past week was characterized by whirlwind of emotions: thanksgiving, sadness, anger-lots of anger, regret, fear, confusion.

It’s only January of the new year and just when we thought this was OUR year, we got hit  with very difficult news that is shaking our world upside down. Leo was diagnosed with a rare chronic illness on Monday after blood work and MRI. It’s scary to know you can have health one day and not the next. We spent this week going through phases of really talking about it all the time to not. Leo is in good spirits and is living life as usual, even though he says his pain level is 10 out of 10. You hear that true character is shown through a person’s response to trials of life, absence of abundance. I believe this to be true. This picture below was taken the DAY we got the news. He’s in pain, no doubt, but you can’t take away the hope in his eyes.

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As for me, I am experiencing a new role- living with a husband who has chronic illness. How do I best support him? How do I show him that I am here? How do I make our marriage a place where he feels safe and loved?  I have a lot of learning and growing to do in this area.

What has been healing for me during this, is this book that Leo got for me for Christmas. It is the best book I have read in a really long time. Poets and Saints is written by Jamie George who is in a Christian Worship duo, All Sons and Daughters. It is a collection of 12 extraordinary saints, like C.S Lewis and their stories. You only hear about people’s successes, but not about what got them there- the everyday, the mundane, and trials, oh the trials. This is all about that. It really is ironic that I  was given this book, at this time, in our lives. The pattern I am seeing in these great men and women is that they FLOURISHED IN THEIR LIMITATIONS. I want to share an excerpt from the book:

” Embrace the limitations of being a mother. Or not being one. If you’re in a season of productivity, produce and be grateful for the opportunity to see the fruit of your labor. If you’re in the season of slowing, choose to enjoy the subtleties of beauty. Recognize that each limitation points towards something of value in your life. And remember, a limitation today may not be one tomorrow. ”

John Newton was a slave owner, a master, and made a successful living out of it. He then became an anti-slavery activist and wrote the song, AMAZING GRACE. He could have lived in guilt for the rest of his life, but he used his limitations, his flaws/mistakes/regrets, for something bigger than himself.

I keep thinking about the word EMBRACE because you hear it all the time. Embrace today, carpe diem. I decided to look it up and the webster dictionary says, “to hold-closely in someone’s arms, especially as a sign of affection; accept willingly, with enthusiasm.” Wow. This means, the core essence of embrace, I am learning, is to HOLD THE MOMENT WITH GREAT AFFECTION. There will always be limitations- each season of life will bring a different limitation. Some will be more difficult to embrace than others, but how beautiful and powerful would it be to turn our limitations into gifts that mold us into working for something greater. This too, is a journey.

2017, The Year of Commitment

img_3151I can’t believe it is already mid-January. After I reflected back on 2016 and pondered over what I wanted 2017 to look like, I shared with Leo on choosing a word to represent the year 2017. I was incredibly inspired by Megan and Mike at The Fresh Exchange. Their blog continues to be a source of inspiration to live a simple, beautiful life of intentions. Thank you! Here is their post on 2017 The Year of Quality. I love the idea of not having resolutions as it can turn into a “to do” list. Instead think about how you want to LIVE as a whole.

After conversations and hearing each other out, we decided on our word for this year to be COMMITMENT. At times this word can sound negative as it can be associated with the feeling of “must do this” or obligations. For us, we want to make this a positive word, with positive experiences. Whatever we say we are going to do this year, individually and together, we are going ALL-OUT. This is going to make us really be mindful of our commitments as it is easy to over-commit.

It will mean committing to LESS things to actually commit MORE WHOLE-HEARTEDLY. This is about being intentional, being all there, and it’s a year where we examine what’s important and what is not. Obviously it changes with circumstances and seasons of life. In the year 2017, what is important to us? What do we want our year to look like, as a couple and individually? What do I need to say no to? What are my values?

Here are my values-based commitments on the various aspects of my life: I will commit to…

1. COMMUNITY – doing life together with family & friends. img_3032My parents only live an hour away and we don’t see them nearly enough as we want to. When weekend comes around, sometimes all we want to do is sit at home and do house stuff. Certainly there are times when this is much needed, but being around family is always a refreshing time. We also want to grow in our relationships with our friends. This can be so simple as sharing a meal together at each others’ homes. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. It’s about the company and living life together. I personally want to be more intentional with recent friendships that’s developed at work.

2.  MARRIAGE – dating my spouse

img_4324Not too long ago, I heard a marriage talk on the radio and this particular statement still gets to me, “You don’t date to marry, you marry to date.” I think the truth behind this statement is that many of us stop trying once we are married. There are definitely many aspects of our marriage that is in constant need of work and grace, but this is what we are focusing on this year: dating each other. We commit to taking time aside and be in each others’ presence and date weekly. We are very happy with having a simple movie night at home, but sometimes going out is fun too. Whatever the activity, we hope to make new experiences together, laugh more, and make our marriage a priority – no matter how busy we get.

3. HEALTH – reclaiming my physical, mental, and spiritual health

img_2150Being physically active is who I am as a person. I love to run, practice yoga, hike, bike, and just be outdoors. When work gets a hold of me though, I feel completely drained and even depressed, I don’t make it a priority. In December, we renewed our yoga membership as a way to hold us accountable (and save money). I think what helps me the most is reminding myself how I FEEL after a yoga class/run/a long hike. I feel amazing. I feel strong. I feel energized and relaxed. I feel happy. Leo always tells me that I look the happiest after a sweaty yoga session.

In terms of mental and spiritual health,  it really helps me to have some alone time in the morning before heading to work. My mind is the most clear in the morning and I enjoy its beauty and quietness. In the past years, I have wake up  30 minutes earlier to journal, read the Bible and pray. It has given me the strength and peace throughout the day. Year 2016 was not good. I would get up with just enough time to get ready and rush out the door. I know this is totally fine for many people and I wish it was for me, but it isn’t. Feeling of rushing to get to work  has never worked for my mental health. This is also true for having some downtime before going to bed.

4. FINANCES – Finding freedom.

After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up last year, we had donated bags and bags of clothing, books, and dvds. The amount of clothing I was buying just because it was on sale was pretty embarrassing. Since then, I bought less than 10 pieces of clothing this past year. We plan to save more and be much more mindful about what we spend our money on. “What value will this add to our lives” and “what purpose will this serve” are the question we will ask to keep us in check with our intentions.

5. Work – Where Purpose, Passion, Skill comes together. img_2768

This is one of the many beautiful poems in milk and honey . I’m kind of having this on the back of my mind as I go to work each day. I know I am a skilled teacher and there is purpose to what I do, but there is no passion. It’s not a good feeling when you go into the office or wherever you work, and have this gut feeling this is not it. I am committed to spending this year figuring out my next steps. But, for the time being, I pray that I will give my 100% because it does matter, even if you intend to leave.

The Year of Commitment will keep us in check with our values and intentions. It is not about the list of thing we must do. It’s not about perfection. Rather, it’s about our efforts into doing more of what gives us purpose, and less of things that don’t align with our values. Also, I am learning and realizing that the most important commitment I will make this year is COMMITMENT TO THE NOW, even if this is a season I wish to rush through.

easiest red lentil soup

Michigan winter is still going strong. After a mild Christmas and New Years, almost signal digit temperatures are back in full swing. Luckily everyone in our household loves soup because that’s all I cook in these frigid days.

I first had this Mark Bittman Lentil Soup  at our friends Liz and Mark’s house last month – another cold day. When I heard that Liz made it (Mark is usually the cook), I knew it’s something I could also make. Liz and I both find cooking stressful so when we must (because our husbands are working late, out of town..etc) do the cooking, it has to be EASY. I mean, minimal ingredients, preferably in ONE pot/pan, and under 30 minutes from prep to eating. Sounds like quite a standard, I know. So, when this soup came into my life, I had to try making it on my own. I made it last night and it turned out amazing.

My adaptations to the recipe and ingredients I used are here below. I didn’t put carrots or lemon because I didn’t have any. I also didn’t put cayenne because I couldn’t find it in our pantry.

  • Chicken broth (4 cups)
  • Diced tomatoes (instead of tomato paste because I wanted some chunky tomato pieces)
  • 4 garlic cloves (doubling it!)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 tbsp of ground cumin (more please!)
  • Red chili flakes

I followed the recipe, except for using the blender. I wanted the soup to have more texture. What I love about this soup (besides the fact that it’s super low key) is that you can adapt by adding other veggies into the mix or more spice.

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