I’ve come to find that I seem to develop a deep appreciation and enjoyment of things after the moment(s) have receded in time. Time seems to blunt those sharper edges, blur circumstantial unpleasantries, and leave a clearer picture of the good. More often, it allows the necessary distance for appreciative perspectives to foment and deepen. I wonder if this type of irony is endemic in human nature or if I am sufficiently unenlightened enough to be one of the few that suffer from it. Take for example, naps and packed lunches: In my current world, where responsibilities are mounting and recklessness is increasingly abandoned, I find myself looking back on childhood with increasing fondness… especially (lately) naps and packed lunches. Why did I fight so much against mandated afternoon siestas and perfectly packed lunches? Indeed, youth is wasted on the young.
When I was in elementary school my mom, like many moms around the world, would wake up early each morning and pack us lunches for school. They weren’t as fancy as renditions you can see of the current bento box fanaticism sweeping the states, but they definitely stood out in a sea of bologna and carrot sticks. In those earlier years, my mom would pack rice and veggies, kimpap, or the occasional club sandwich (when we went to what we called the ‘American’ grocery store) – complete with double decks, all three meats, skewered through with frilly toothpicks just like they served at Denny’s. Now I see that these lunches embodied a lot of who my mom is. A careful, hard worker, who regularly infuses beauty into even the most mundane chores – who always offers her children the best of everything she has. I have infinite appreciation for it now, but back then, I, being equal parts bratty and equal parts just a kid wanting to fit into the crowd, would be slightly embarrassed when I opened my lunch box to behold the colorful discs of rice and vegetables, artfully arranged complete with a radish flower garnish. Kids would invariably point, stare, and ask questions. “What’s that stuff?” “Ewww.” When you’re a kid, fitting in with peer groups is a high priority – at least it was to me. Uniformity was valued. If anything, I wanted to be just like the other kids with their blonde hair, pink hair bows, with lunches made of soft pillowy white bread and juice packs. So much so that, on the days my mom packed club sandwiches, I would often trade with my neighbor - my beautifully elaborate and tasty sandwich for her bland bologna with a haphazard swipe of stark yellow mustard stuffed between cheap white bread that stuck to the roof of your mouth with each bite.
I have a feeling that as I started middle school, I was more able to influence the contents of my lunch box. So, my parents would make more frequent trips to the ‘American’ grocery store, patiently stand in line at the deli counter while they meted out thin slices of white and pink flesh to be put between bread, bought boxes of lunch snacks individually wrapped in crinkly plastic containing snacks not much different than candy, and searched for those small silver containers of punch with the attached straw.
Last week, in a fit of missing mom’s cooking, I made a jaunt to the Korean store hoping to find some inspiration for lunch. I spotted a packet of Japanese yellow pickled radish, 단무지, and in a fit of nostalgia and craving, decided to make some kimpap. The literal translation of kimpap is ‘seaweed rice.’ It is similar in form to Japanese sushi rolls usually with the exception of seafood, rice is always contained within the seaweed (instead of rolled outside like a California roll), and with slightly different seasonings (namely sesame oil and garlic). It is most often taken as a picnic/outdoor event/road trip food. In Korea, from what I can gather, picnics are a special school event in the life of a child – something that spans generations. Kimpap is kind of like the food mascot of these events as in, all parents know to pack it on picnic day – kind of like how popcorn is to movie night. I think that’s one of the things I like most about kimpap. It’s portable, easy to eat, and, if you’re lucky, brings with it anticipation of an unusually fun day… or, if you’re of the incredibly lucky kind, a nice nap to span the afternoon. Kimpap also reminds me of my mom and, like with most foods, infuses a halo of poignancy around the dish. Absent all the inner childhood “turmoil” I am reminded again how simple and delicious it is, redolent with the scent of sesame and full of well rounded flavors. More than that, it tastes like home… reminds me of being taken care of, and is good for those days when you need a little bit of mom’s cooking in your life.
Time: 1 hour Yield: 2 small servings
You can add any veggies you think would taste good, even fresh cucumbers or avocado would taste great. I chose the fillings that were a little more traditional and based on what I remembered from childhood. The carrots can be either cooked or raw. I opted to cook them but think fresh carrots would give nice texture and crunch as well. If you’re vegetarian, you can sub out the meat for tofu cooked in a similar sauce or maybe even eggs (if you eat eggs), cooked in a flat omelette style and sliced into long thin strips. I used a bamboo mat to make this and they are relatively cheap in most places. You can also use a kitchen towel.
5 sheets of yaki nori
1 cup white short/medium grain (sticky)
3 carrots, sliced in thin strips – a mandolin works great
3 cups fresh spinach
1 cylinder of yellow pickled daikon radish, takuan, cut into long strips
1 small ribeye steak (any cut should work fine)
Sauce: 1 Tbs. soy sauce + 1/2 Tbs sugar + 2 cloves minced garlic
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper
- Cook rice according to package directions or in rice cooker. Mix rice with a little sesame oil, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
- Bring water to boil in a large pot. When boiling add in spinach and cook until slightly wilted. Strain and let cool.
- If cooking carrots, put in pan with a little sesame oil, 1/2 tsp garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Saute until slightly cooked but still retains sturdiness and has a bit of a bite. This does not take long. Remove to plate and let cool.
- Slice beef into thin strips. Fry until halfway cooked through, then add sauce and cook until well done.
- Squeeze excess water from cooled spinach. Mix with a little sesame oil, garlic, salt and pepper to taste.
- Assemble your workstation.
- Make sure the nori is placed shiny side down. Spread rice in an even thin layer halfway over sheet.
- Line up meat and veggies.
- Roll tightly. Place a little water at the end of the sheet to seal the roll shut.
- Assemble rest of the rolls and then slice into discs using a sharp knife.