Summer’s End

heirloom

And just like that, the seasons seem to click and we can feel autumn impending upon us with all the subtlety of a thousand bricks. It screams from every store where all baked goods and coffee drinks are magically amenable to being pumpkin-spiced. It begs to be noticed among the racks of nail polish in darker, bolder colors and from the tempting store windows where cozy scarves and sweaters are adamantly displayed despite the staunch opposition bellowing 90 degree weather from the asphalted streets. I feel, lately, much like that moment when I’m in a restaurant and the waiter, in the spirit of good service, tries to take away my plate and I lunge at those last few bits of french fry. “Wait, I’m not done yet!” I proclaim. That’s how I feel about summer this season. I’m not done yet and I eagerly slurp up every last bit of warmer days and longer evenings, billowy dresses, sandals, and the last summer bounty.
I feel I rather cheated myself by not jumping on the tomato bandwagon sooner. I’ve always regarded these plump specimens with some skepticism. Are they fruit or veggie? Why do they insist on being flavorless? How can I avoid the off-putting squirt and slightly slimy gooey texture of the innards? However, despite the rocky past relationship, I decided to give tomatoes another go. I sprang for some beautiful heirloom tomatoes because, I reasoned, something so weirdly beautiful deserves a second go. I’m so glad I did. While the generic grocery store tomatoes have the tendency to be bland, flavorless, and mealy, a truly good tomato is none of these things. So much so that all you need is a good sprinkling of sea salt, pepper, maybe some good olive oil, and you are in business. I always knew I was a creature of habit but I was reminded again how much so when I realized I had eaten the same thing for lunch for two weeks straight. What can I say? When something works and makes me happy, I have all the elegance of a recalcitrant child when it is time to move on. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way when the seasons click again and winter rolls around and pumpkins and apples are replaced by twinkly lights and peppermint. For now, I savor these last dregs of summer.

summer sandwich1

Summer sandwich

This sandwich was loosely inspired by the classic tomato sandwich (did anyone else read Harriet the Spy?) and the traditional bagel, cream cheese, lox, tomato, cucumber combo. It is also delicious with mayonnaise instead of cream cheese. I suggest salting the tomatoes and letting them rest a bit to get rid of some water – it makes for a better textural experience. I did not do so because I had forgotten to eat that day and whipped this up at 3pm and gobbled it down before it had a chance to think about getting soggy.

Ingredients

2 small heirloom tomatoes
1 persian cucumber
cream cheese
2 slices sourdough bread
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Slice tomatoes and cucumbers. Salt tomatoes and let rest.
  2. Toast bread to your liking and spread a light layer of cream cheese on each slice.
  3. Place tomatoes and cucumbers on bread. Salt and pepper to taste. It doesn’t need much.
  4. Slice in half if you’d like. Enjoy the leftover tomatoes and cucumbers on the side with salt, pepper, and a slick of olive oil. It makes a nice side salad addition.

Weekend Thoughts

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I’ve always found the weekend to be particularly sacred. With it comes the expectation of some relaxation and an opportunity to slow down and take part in things you enjoy… all the usual quintessential weekend stuff. For my parents, weekends never really existed. In order to provide for our family, they worked everyday – Monday through Sunday and back again. To them, weekends are the hope for their children. The promise that their kids will be able to be in the types of professions where it is expected to take weekends, sick days, holiday pay, and bonuses. So, for me, when the weekend comes around again I make sure to appreciate it. In some ways it means so much more than a few days off. It’s a weekly reminder that I, more often than not,  have been given much – much more than my fair share.

The picture above is from Labor Day weekend. We went to a late brunch, walked around Stanford University, and then shopped a little. Last weekend we rambled around looking at redwoods – pictures below.

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This weekend, the husband was on-call for work and ended up getting paged out early on and then, in what seemed like a freak joke during the wee morning hours, was paged out again, and again, and again. Poor guy. He worked and tried in vain to get enough sleep while I (quietly) puttered around the house and watched way too many documentaries and read all the things. It was no less enjoyable than other weekend activities but, alas, the pictures are not nearly as attractive. Hashtag married life.

I did inhale a lot of information which has left me with a lot of thinking thoughts.

I watched the documentary Blackfish and I’ve been obsessing about it ever since. The orca mothers’ reactions to being separated from their young pierced my heart.

Are we (this generation) really the worst people ever? Sheesh, I hope not.

August felt like a really bad month, news wise. I can’t stop thinking about Michael Brown and Ferguson – it makes my heart ache. Here’s a perspective I respect and admire. Here’s another.

This spoke to my soul.

As I become, more and more, a grown woman… the concept of feminism is becoming more important in my life. Of course, even that word ‘feminism’ evokes a visceral reaction in most. However: It’s time to drop the judgmental attitudes and recognize that as feminists we all share a common goal: empowerment and equality for people of all genders.

I love this idea. It seems so chic and is something I wish I had done.

This made me laugh.

Yes, and amen.

It’s dinnertime around these parts and I’m starving. I have a hankering for this or these. Cue drooling.

Cheers and happy Monday. Hope this week brings some good stuff your way.

Kimpap 김밥

Kimpap4

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.


Kimpap  (김밥)

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.

Ingredients: 

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
sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper

Directions: 

  1. 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.
  2. Bring water to boil in a large pot. When boiling add in spinach and cook until slightly wilted. Strain and let cool.
  3. 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.
  4. Slice beef into thin strips. Fry until halfway cooked through, then add sauce and cook until well done.
  5. Squeeze excess water from cooled spinach. Mix with a little sesame oil, garlic, salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Assemble your workstation.
    Kimpap
  7. Make sure the nori is placed shiny side down. Spread rice in an even thin layer halfway over sheet.
  8. Line up meat and veggies.
    Kimpap1
  9. Roll tightly. Place a little water at the end of the sheet to seal the roll shut.
    Kimpap2
  10. Assemble rest of the rolls and then slice into discs using a sharp knife.

Enjoy.

Kimpap3

Frittata + Salad

frittata

I’ve been taking part in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) at Stanford these past few weeks on International Women’s Health and Human Rights (it’s not too late to register and catch up, if you’re interested!). I can’t express how wonderful it has felt to expand and apply myself in thinking about issues outside my small world with my small troubles. In addition to connecting with individuals from all over the world, I meet with a group of fantastic people in the SF Bay Area for in-person discussion groups every week.
One of the thought topics that came up during discussion was, “what does it mean to be a woman?” At face value, it seemed like such a simple question but I have been startled again and again this past week with my inability to come up with a satisfactory answer. One thing I have landed on is that being a woman, in concert with many societal and internal pressures, has deeply and irrevocably changed my relationship with food.
My teen years were fraught with an obsessive focus on my weight and the subsequent fight against food. Food was the enemy and the less I ate of it, the more (imagined) value I obtained. Through the years, I have more or less come to terms with this struggle.
I admire those women who can stick to strict diets and beastly workouts. When I see quotes that say, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” I wonder if that is actually true. I think plenty of things taste better than having that elusive perfect body. What it boils down to is this: while I value health and well-being, I have come to love food while also being very much attached to the communal act and the connectedness that comes with it. I love sitting down with loved ones and sharing special dishes and memories. I love baking and decorating holiday cookies with nieces and nephews, or celebrating someone’s birthday with a slice of cake. I love spending time in the kitchen with a girlfriend and sharing my heart as we whip out batches of pickled veggies or brownies. I hope these things will always mean more to me than a flat tummy.
In addition to all these musings, I’ve also found myself having to reconcile what it means to be healthy and what that looks like in day to day eating. I desperately search for that middle ground between stringent diet guidelines and the distorted sense of entitlement that allows me to eat all the chocolate because I damn well deserve it. Whether or not I ever find a stable resting place is still up for debate. I’m getting there.
This recipe represents what that middle ground looks like for me, right now. It is relatively low maintenance yet still tastes great (super important) while being nourishing and satisfying. The rich, velvety flavor of eggs and cheese is nicely balanced out with the acidic bite and crunch of the cabbage. Would it be weird to say that I’ve eaten some form of this meal everyday for the past month? I hope you make this. I also hope you share some cookies with someone you love. Be kind to yourself. Cheers.

frittata1

Frittata +   Salad
Time:
30 min        Yield: 6 servings

Eggs and egg dishes usually don’t reheat again nicely as that means they are getting cooked further so the texture tends to get a little unpleasant. If you don’t mind slightly undercooking the frittata it should refrigerate and reheat relatively nicely. Otherwise, just let leftovers come to room temperature before eating or brave the reheating/overcooked eggs process. I’m sorry I don’t have any better solutions for that, I wish I did.
I enjoy the cabbage salad on subsequent days and think that the flavors get better as they sit for a bit. I’ve heard that many get squeamish when faced with a slightly limp cabbage slaw/salad. If that’s the case, slice the cabbage, make the dressing and store separately and assemble right before eating.

Ingredients: 

For Frittata:

8 oz fresh baby spinach
1 clove garlic, minced
3 eggs + 2 egg whites
1-2 splashes almond milk
1/4 c. cheese (whatever you prefer… I used Kerrygold aged white cheddar which I have been loving lately)

For salad: 

1 small head red cabbage sliced thinly (a mandolin or food processor works great too)
1 lemon, juiced
olive oil, equal parts as lemon juice
1 med. garlic clove, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

Fritatta:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Saute washed and dried spinach in a little olive oil with garlic. Let cool.
  3. Whisk eggs and milk together.
  4. Take handfuls of sauteed spinach (make sure it’s cooled enough!) and squeeze excess water out.
  5. Fold in spinach and cheese into egg mixture.
  6. Place mixture in a greased pie pan.
  7. Let bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned on top and firm in middle.

Salad:

  1. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. Salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Dress cabbage to your liking.
  3. Serve alongside frittata.

Ricotta revisited

roasted peaches + ricotta

The first experience I remember with ricotta was somewhere in high school. This was the era where Food Network seemed like it had a wider relevancy that it does now and I would watch Giada, Ina, and Nigella with rapt attention. Giada’s recipe for stuffed shells is one of the first real independent cooking experiences I remember. I assembled all my ingredients and got to cooking with the naive hope that it would be as glamorous an experience as her show made it out to be. Our household, being staunchly of a Korean culinary standard, had rice paddles aplenty but nary a cheese grater to be seen, so I made do with the awful powdery Parmesan in the widely recognizable green container. This was the first disappointment. The second, and most memorable, was ricotta. The only ricotta our small Southwestern town seemed to have was the ones in the white plastic containers you can still find next to the cream cheese and deli meats. As ricotta, being a cheese and all, was categorized in my mind as things you indulge in with moderation… I expected it to be on par with chocolate and pastries (ie those diet no-no foods you should stay away from if you want to keep in accordance with the standards of adolescent peer pressure and self-esteem). Imagine my disappointment when the ricotta violently slurped out of the container, intact like cheese jello, with a foreboding ‘plomp’ and jiggle. It tasted not much better than it sounds. Thankfully if you mix it with marinara sauce and add cheese and pasta… it doesn’t taste half bad – granted it’s largely because the ricotta was tasteless and just added the necessary consistency to the dish. In spite of all these disappointments, the stuffed shells turned out relatively well.
Long history aside, as there seems to be a revival of homemade, do-it-yourself food culture scene these days, I slowly became interested in the concept of making homemade ricotta. I decided to give it another chance largely through reading things like this. Would it surprise you if I said it resulted in a complete 180? Ricotta and roasted peaches were my lunch for a few days straight until it ran out, and with it my dreams for a ricotta/spinach pizza situation (next time, Gadget, next time). It had a rich, creamy texture (not at all grainy like the bland grocery store option), and sweetly delicate flavor. It felt decadent like a cheesecake without the heaviness that makes you feel slightly ill afterwards. Peaches are insanely good right now so if you can bear to spare a few fresh ones, roast them up – it brings out the natural sweetness and is simply wonderful when nestled in a few good spoonfuls of fresh ricotta. I alternated between topping the plates with mint sugar and raw honey and preferred the raw honey – although the crunch and freshness of the mint sugar is nothing to sneer at.
I suppose ‘cheese-making’ makes people lose interest about as fast as can be as it sounds like a complicated endeavor. It’s not. I made it and even had time to do my hair for once. The execution is incredibly easy and the yielded benefits are infinite. Smear it on toast and top with some veggies (or even a good drizzle of olive oil and a dash of sea salt and pepper) for a quick snack, put it on pizza, pair it with pasta, whip up some roasted peaches, cherry, or rhubarb . Be all Giada-esque with your impressive culinary skills and perfect hair.

roasted peaches + ricotta.3

roasted peaches + ricotta.2

Ricotta + Roasted Peaches + Mint Sugar
Recipe for roasted stone fruit + mint sugar adapted from Hungry Girl Por Vida.
Recipe for ricotta adapted from Delancey by Molly Wizenburg from Orangette.
Time:  About 2 hours     Yield: 1 lb of ricotta

Ingredients:

Ricotta:
6.5 cups of whole milk *
1.5 cups heavy cream * (I used half-and-half because I forgot to buy heavy cream)
2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp fine sea salt

* use the best tasting milk and cream you can find

Roasted peaches:
Peaches – as many you’d like, not overly ripe.
Sugar – whatever kind you prefer (white/granulated, raw, turbinado, etc) enough to sprinkle

Mint Sugar:
0.5 cup fresh mint leaves
0.5 cup white granulated sugar

Directions: 

Ricotta:

  1. In a heavy pot (enough capacity for 5 quarts), combine milk, cream and buttermilk.
  2. Place over medium heat and stir, stirring occasionally.
  3. Check temperature at regular intervals with a candy thermometer and when it reaches 180°F, stop stirring.
  4. Continue to cook until you can see the curds (chunky white) and whey (yellow-ish liquid) separate – you can better see by dragging a wooden spoon along the top .
  5. Remove from heat and let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  6. Line a wide strainer with two layers of cheesecloth and place over a large bowl or sink. Ladle the curds into the cheesecloth (don’t press down on the curds).
  7. Drain until it has reached your desired consistency.
  8. Store in fridge. Tastes best within the first 3 days.

Roasted peaches:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Wash and dry fruit, cut in half, remove pit.
  3. Place fruit cut side up on baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar.
  4. Roast in oven for 25-30 minutes or until the fruits become soft and start to release their juice a little.

Mint sugar:

  1. Pulse together mint and sugar until thoroughly combined.

To serve:

  1. Place a few spoonfuls of ricotta on plate. Add a peach halve or two. Sprinkle with mint sugar. Alternately drizzle with honey.