something for sunday

food, travel, and identity from a Minnesotan living in Seoul

S for S has moved!

Hi y’all. I hope this finds you well, fantastic in fact. This post is to announce that I’ve moved the blog to its own URL and given it a much-needed makeover with the help of Brandi Bernoskie, a very talented and patient person, and, a WordPress expert. This means you can still get to the blog by http://www.somethingforsunday.wordpress.com (it will forward to the new address), but if you are subscribed, you won’t receive any new updates by email or on your feed. If you do still wish to be subscribed, you’ll need to head over to the new address here and re-subscribe by email (scroll down to the bottom of the page) or by rss. And thank you for your subscription in the first place, which never ceased to surprise me, in the best way. I am humbled, always, that you were here, and I hope you’ll continue to come back. And if you’d like, please send me your address at jg@somethingforsunday.com. I’d love to mail you a postcard from Seoul.

Cheers.

Dear Annie

I’ve known Annie since we were sophomores in high school. She’s been a rock, a confidante, a partner in crime. Recently she applied for a job to teach in New York, and to the surprise of no one (besides, possibly, herself) she got it. She leaves tomorrow.

Annie, cheers to you.

So you’re moving to New York. Ho.Ly. Smokes, A. You may not feel brave, but you are.

It probably doesn’t help to hear from others that you’ve got guts. Sometimes it’s the last thing you want to hear. The rest of the feelings on your emotional scale are easy to identify – the anxiety, excitement, sadness, terror, ambivalence, hope, confusion – but bravery’s there, in the background. Those other emotions? To remind us we’re human.

I will say it anyway. It takes courage to uproot your life. Don’t let the voice of uncertainty drown it out. One day, you’re going to wake up in your Harlem apartment, pleasantly surprised to feel at home. You’ll realize you know exactly where to go for the best cup of coffee in your neighborhood. The owners of your corner bodega will know who you are by the brand of your vice. You’ll recognize your neighbors on the street, and you’ll start to see patterns and routines that’ll bring comfort, a cadence of fellowship right there on your own block of New York. This very process shows us that we adapt in ways we don’t even know, and can’t know, and this is probably what saves us: our ability to cope, and thrive, with change.

I’m proud of you for giving the interview your best shot. The anticipation must have been petrifying – the day you auditioned for the job. But if I imagine you in front of those middle school students, you in your hot pink blazer, I see you commanding a presence that no doubt shocked your soon-to-be colleagues and supervisor and gave the kids something to talk about for days. Especially when they (the kids) asked you how you felt about the Knicks, and you told them (and I quote), I ain’t got tiiiime for that. (Unquote).

I haven’t spent much time in Harlem, besides for one show at the Apollo Theater and a single blues harmonica lesson from Arthur on 128th Street. My roommate Megan insisted on coming along, and afterward she and I went for lunch at Sylvia’s. Make Sylvia’s top priority of your restaurants-to-try, and make sure to order the collard greens and baked mac and cheese. If you want Arthur’s number, let me know. He’s also on Facebook (I checked).

When I got off the plane at La Guardia, a guy named Chaplin scooped up me and my oversized luggage and we drove to his apartment on Roosevelt Island where I stayed with my would-be new roommates until we could move into our apartment in Bushwick. To me that first day, Roosevelt Island was the absolute most dismal place in all of New York. There was nothing but a huge rehabilitation hospital, brown brick high rises and a single cafe that was usually empty. So depressing. But last summer, Time Out rated it as one of NY’s best lesser-known attractions. So there you go. Matter of perspective, and what strikes you as strange or dreary at first will hardly affect you once you get the hang of the city. In other words, maybe you’ll love your new neighborhood right away, and maybe you won’t. But chances are, you’ll learn to.

Don’t be afraid to cry in public. Or to shout at someone who deserves it. That’s what’s great about New York. So much bustle and density encourages open expression, and you’ll rarely have to wonder what someone’s actually thinking, unlike in Minnesota. Because in NY…..

You’ll soon find your favorite parks in all boroughs of New York.

Live music gems. Most are in Brooklyn, but you love Brooklyn, so you’ll probably spend a lot of time there anyway?

NYMag is a great resource, especially for places to eat. You can filter by neighborhood, cuisine or price. A list of Harlem restaurants is hereRed Rooster is supposed to be great.

short list of Vikings Bars, not quite the same as a tailgate, but it’s something. And here’s a collection of Eastern European restaurants for when you’re feeling homesick.

West Village: On many nights, Arthur’s Tavern was a last-minute stopover on the way back to Hoboken. You must visit Corner Bistro for burgers, Tavern on Jane, and Mary’s Fish Camp, all also in the Village. Megan, my old roommate, swears by John’s on Bleecker for the best pizza in the city. But I’d argue for Di Fara in Flatbush (Brooklyn), bar none. Three Lives and Company is such a great, quaint book store.

I told you about Garden of Eden, the gourmet chain of groceries. I’d often go there just to hover and de-stress when I first moved to NY, even if all I could afford was a small tub of mixed olives.

A few other favorite restaurants by neighborhood:

East Village: Barrio Chino // Grape and Grain // Frank // Prune // Ess-a-bagel

Lower East Side: Katz’s // An Choi // Barrio Chino

Midtown: The Breslin

Brooklyn: El Almacen (Williamsburg) // Roberta’s (Bushwick) // Teresa’s (Brooklyn Heights)

Soho: Cafe Select

Korea Town (near Herald Square): Mandoo Bar

There’s a dive bar in the lower East side with a jukebox and pool tables that sells a can of Tecate and a shot of tequila for $3. I can’t remember the name, but you’ll recognize it by the smell of urine that wafts from the dilapidated exterior, beckoning you to step inside. Just do it.

Whether you stay in New York for six months or six years, who cares. Think of all of the other millions of people who’ve also made the move from places all over the world. Not one of them wasn’t scared and unsure of what would come. The day before I moved back to Minneapolis, I shipped the last of my boxes from a huge post office near Penn Station. The woman who helped me had left India twenty-seven years before. Don’t forget New York, was the last thing she said. I remember her more than any other stranger I met during those four years. Her and the other woman who told me everything would be alright as I sobbed on a park bench in Roosevelt Island on one of those first few days. You’ll pass hundreds of thousands of strangers you’ll never speak to, and that’ll feel lonely, but you’ll also meet people who will help you and restore you with the simplest, most unexpected gestures.

See you in New York, when it will be my turn to visit you. I’ve no doubt you’ll be the one leading the way. I can’t wait.

Argentina

I did some housekeeping today to get the site up to speed, and came across this entry from over two years ago in the drafts. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve decided to publish it.    

Here we are, five weeks in.  I thought the time would go by more slowly…

I met Joanna, a friend of Natasha’s. We immediately hit it off, and the day after she arrived, three days after I arrived, we boarded a bus to Mendoza to visit some wineries. We had no hotel booked, but we brought along a guidebook and a good punch of spontaneity.

We found a great place to stay, a finca with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a porch. Four german shepherds snarled at us when we arrived, but by the second day we were all friends. Olive trees lined the rocky driveway leading up to the house. We went horseback riding in San Rafael. Laura, our fantastic tour guide, and her aunt Moni led us through vineyards. We ate cabernet grapes straight from the vine. The horse I rode kept stopping to eat from the trees, holding up the rest of the group. Kindred spirits, we were, always eating, and so I let him instead of pulling on his reigns, like Moni kept instructing me to do.

We rode bikes to different vineyards, and we met Sebastian at his family’s vineyard just before they closed for the day. He invited us to drink wine at his house, which he calls the Flower Power House. The name fits. He’s painted his Fridgidaire pink and left the brush strokes rough. A curtain of beads separates the kitchen from the dining room. After hours around his table, Joanna and I went to dinner in town, and it so happened that Sebastian’s parents were eating dinner there also. The next day, he met us at the bus station and we had a parting beer, a Quilmes, of course. Sebastian, we’ll miss you.

I drink coffee, but I’ve never drank so much as I do here. Every morning, every afternoon, and after dinner, if it happens to be at a restaurant. Espresso comes with a side of something sweet, usually chocolate coated, and a small glass of sparkling water. I always eat the chocolate first, then drink the coffee, and then the water. Is this the proper way? I’ve no idea.

I moved in with Natasha’s sister, Nicky, who has also become a friend. We found an apartment in Palermo. It’s modest and charming, decorated with vases of silk flowers, brass lamps, and a salmon colored tapestry love seat. Very 1960s. It’s nice to unpack my clothes and to put my toothbrush in the same place every day, some place other than its plastic travel tube or thrown willy nilly amidst well-worn clothes. There is also a stereo that we’ve permanently set to the eighties station. We hear this one a lot.

I met someone. He’s flippant and beautiful and vain, and he seems to think I’m beautiful back, and this is a very effective distraction from the person I last loved (and his new girlfriend). Though I’m trying to approach our circumstance as nothing more than coincidence, as two singles in transition who’ve collided for a few weeks, tops, something tells me this. will. end with me reaching.

I did reach. And that was that.   

Green Melon Granita

Yesterday afternoon Yaer, Sonj, and I were working on Seoulist in Yaer’s studio when a man with mad scientist hair and big eyeglasses pulled up in his truck, opened the front door, and stuck his head through, all jocular, to make an announcement. He was selling melons, a whole load of them from the bed of his truck. He wore those scratchy white gloves all Korean men who sell fruit from trucks wear, and he had half a melon in one hand. With the other hand, he offered each of us a sample at the tip of his paring knife, pierced like a spear through a fish. Light green, tender and mellow, the fruit was good, but we said yes to his gumption and stellar sales pitch. He picked out three heavy balls of fruit from the bed of his truck, bagged them separately, posed for a photo and drove away.

Since I recently mentioned Russ Parsons’ How to Pick a Peach, I feel like I should say something about the difference between a melon that was harvested too soon and a melon that wasn’t (which I didn’t think about yesterday and only relearned today when I leafed back through this specific chapter). Parsons says rough-skinned melons (like these) that are harvested at the right time will detach neatly from their stems, leaving them behind on the vine. Melons with a layer of textured netting, like cantaloupe, should have outer skin that’s golden in color, not green like the melon we bought yesterday. But we don’t always have access to produce at it’s peak, and so we compromise for the sake of survival. I don’t even know if that makes sense. It’s 98 degrees in our apartment with 3,410 percent humidity, and there’s a threat of a citywide blackout starting tomorrow.

Granita might be the idyllic antidote on days that make us feel like this.

Green Melon Granita

1/2 melon, peeled and seeded, cut into chunks (save the seeds in a separate bowl). Substitute any ripe melon (except watermelon for this specific recipe)

juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup water

The sweetest part of the melon is around the seeds, and it’s worth it to extract as much juice as you can from the flesh that’s attached to them. Do this by putting the seeds in a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pushing the liquid through with the back of a wooden spoon. Mix in the lemon juice, sugar and salt until the sugar and salt dissolve. You’ll end up with about 1/2 cup of liquid.

In a blender, puree the melon with the strained melon juice and water. Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice to your preference. Pour into a shallow metal tray and stick in the freezer. After an hour, the edges will start to freeze. At this point, scrape around the frozen edges with a fork and rake through the whole thing. Keep checking every hour, raking through each time, until the mixture resembles delicate, finely crushed ice. Serve frozen with a spoon. If you forget or you don’t have the time to keep checking and your granita freezes solid, take it out of the freezer and let it defrost a bit.

Malaysia, The City and The Jungle

A black sky was awash in a broad ban of light above the city’s towers, the Petronas Twins making glittery interest of the otherwise banal skyline when the plane touched down in Kuala Lumpur. It was my first visit to Malaysia. I’d written directions to my hostel on a post-it that I clutched in my left hand all the way through immigration. The train station at the city center was desolate and seedy. It was place to avoid after dark as a solo female traveler, but we were delayed leaving Seoul, so there I was, pack strapped to my back, a ‘best not fuck with me’ look on my face. No one took much interest besides a harmless cab driver who insisted on calling me Baby. I gave up on the directions and asked two women for help. When I turned the wrong way, one of them chased after me and righted my path, and I could have kissed her. Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting at a restaurant across the street from the hostel while rickety fans swept the woody smells of Indian curry through the open-air space. A dollar was all for a giant, warm garlic-mottled naan, mint chutney and tomato curry on an aluminum platter, spotless when I was finished. A pair of British couples lounged over beers on one side, and a Malay man smoked and drank tea alone on the other.

The next morning, I road the train to meet Ami. She’s married to Ladya, and they live about three hours outside of Kuala Lumpur on a permaculture farm in the middle of the jungle. I planned to take a bus to their farm the next day, and because she was two weeks away from the due date of their first baby, she was staying back in the city with her family. I hadn’t known she was pregnant until I climbed into the passenger seat of her car. She was good and up for the outing, she insisted. She drove us to a wet market where Chinese stalls bumped against Malay stalls, where fresh fish were spread across packed ice and pork was kept from plain view out of respect for working and visiting Muslims. Baskets of exquisitely fresh and local fruits and vegetables were laid out for shoppers to pick and taste, and I remembered my mom’s habit of sampling grapes at the grocery store before she’d buy them. When I was young, I never saw anyone else do that.

Showstoppers, bushels of mangosteen and rambutan seduced first with their sexy husks hiding soft white fruits, simple as their shells were complex. Smells of hot mint, kaffir lime and durian soaked the air. We stopped for soy milk pudding layered with liquid palm sugar. For lunch, we ate rice doused with hot vegetarian sambar, and curries, chutney and pickled peppers mounded next to crackly papadum that we broke apart with our hands. Banana leaves are said to enrich the flavor of the food they touch, and as a nod of appreciation to the cooks, we folded the leaves in half toward us when we could eat no more. I asked Ami if Malaysia had always been a place of such celebrated coexistence. I’d never been anywhere and seen the kind of respect for multiple religions and ethnicities as in Malaysia, whereby this country’s mash-up of culture results in a rich culinary landscape unlike any other place in the world.

That afternoon, I checked into the next hostel of the trip and ran into Wojcech at the front desk. We’d met for a minute the night before and discovered we were staying at the same hostel that second night. He was from Poland and traveling on a break from an MBA program at Harvard. To even the score a little, I told him my grandmother had been Polish, and she’d taught me a small but useful string of words, one of which was dupa, which means butt. He asked me why I was in Malaysia. Research, I said. Instead of going for a graduate degree in food studies, I’d opted to study independently. And that’s true. I don’t know what he thought of that plan, but he seemed to like the idea of spending the afternoon eating our way through Kuala Lampur’s outdoor markets. So we did.

It was dusk when we passed the front gates of Masjid Jamek, a one hundred year old mosque at the epicenter of Kuala Lumpur. The muezzin’s voice split through the loudspeakers of a minaret above to blanket the air with sacred, mystical call to prayer. Motorbikes tore up and down the road at our backs, fuming and swirling city grit, and a line of men waiting for Friday prayers snaked around the corner without an endpoint in sight. Right there was a moment that stopped me cold. I told Wojcech, and he said, Really? Haven’t you ever been to a Muslim country? I hadn’t, and again, the world proved its limitless ability to stun.

Red tents bordered both sides of the street. Hawkers cooked and readied for the rush of people who’d soon fill the gaps and buy dinner to break fast for the day. Ramadan had begun three days before. We bought coconut water, papaya juice and cendol, an icy drink with coconut milk, palm sugar and radioactive green rice flour noodles that squished like slime through our teeth. We waited for a thick strip of sting ray to cook, which was wrapped in banana leaf, grilled skin side down on an open flame and oiled with a brush made from lemongrass stalks bound together by string. Nasi kerabu was rice the color of cornflower blue, dyed that way from a flower called bunga telang biru, and came with a piece of fried chicken and a bag of sweet sauce that we poured over the rice and mixed in. We took back four pieces of plastic-wrapped durian, its acrid bouquet trailing alongside us as we walked. When we got to our hostel, we spread out and feasted, and we capped the night with icy Tiger beers.

The next morning, I took the daily bus from Kuala Lumpur to the state of Perak: destination Lenggong, a town so small most Malays don’t know it. From there, Ladya would pick me up and we’d drive halfway up the mountain to the farm. My ticket was handwritten on flimsy paper and sold by a woman who wore a colorful hijab and an attitude of total indifference, a ticket I scrambled to find that very morning. I waited until the last moment to make a stop at the restroom, and when I ran out the door a man yelled after me. Unbeknownst to me, I owed a fee to pee. I ran back, slid two coins across the counter and hauled ass to the bus. We pulled out of the station and sat in city traffic for an hour, and then we were on the highway heading up the peninsula. At the only rest stop of the trip, I hid around a corner and ate a bag of sliced pineapple dusted with sweet sour powder. I hid because it was Ramadan, which might have been either conscientious or cowardly and unnecessary, or maybe all of it. I hid because I didn’t know what else I should do, but I knew that most of the other passengers on the bus hadn’t eaten all day and wouldn’t until after sunset, by choice.

Ladya was easy to spot off the bus, with a head covered in blond dreads, turquoise eyes and a heavy Czech accent. He’s the only white person in the town’s whole five thousand, though it’s hard to believe a number even that high. Lenggong’s got a hardware store, a junkyard and two petrol stations all along the stretch of the main street, plus a Chinese restaurant famous for won ton mee. Are you hungry? he asked. Soon we were the sole customers in the tiny famed spot and Ladya was asking the chef for two cigarettes. I sucked mine down to the filter, the results of which have never failed to calm me. It would be another two days before I’d start to settle into myself, and I spent that lunch searching for ways to adapt while trying to believe I was okay as I came. Opportunities to self-parent are never hard to come by, least of all when traveling alone. Ladya was probably thinking I was in for a shock over the next 48 hours, me with my modern devices and leather shoes. My friend Melda calls them Jesus sandals, and even though they make me trip more than usual, I wear them almost daily. They’re comfortable.

To eat dry won ton mee, like we did, you dig up from the bottom of the bowl with chopsticks where a shallow pool of salty concentrated sauce hides under a tangle of pork and egg noodles, crispy and chewy and the color of butterscotch. You twirl the noodles around the bowl, soaking them in sauce, adding spoonfuls of broth from the side dish of soup, where two or three pork and shrimp dumplings are bobbing around. When the noodles are gone, you mix the last bit of broth with the last bit of sauce, and you spoon it onto your flat-bottomed ladle with the last dumpling, for a ceremonious, crowning bite. There is also wet won ton mee, which is more like a soup in one dish.  

Another smoke and we were on our way.

We stopped at the town’s junkyard where metal castoffs were rusting in piles. I just want to see if they have something we need, Ladya said, while I wondered what the hell that could be, since we already had a machete, which was lying on the floor under my feet. But two minutes of browsing around junkyard or treasure pit or however you call it, and Ladya was lifting a wide copper bowl from the top of a pile in front. For the oven, he reasoned, as he shoved it in the back of the car. (The next day, propped against a bonfire, this new oven turned out a loaf of garlic sesame bread that we smeared with a blend of hot sardines, tomatoes and lime). Then to the hardware store, and while I waited again in the car, two men pulled up, the passenger looking magnificently less sober than the driver. He kept trying to tell me he knew what I’d done, and I shrugged and smiled and kept Ladya in my periphery until they sped away, quickly as they’d come.

We rode fifteen bumpy minutes up to the farm then, the thicket of jungle whipping across the windshield, shedding leaves and bugs and seeds in our laps through the open windows. A trio of dogs greeted us, howling, and then a trio of hungry goats. Ladya gave the grand tour, boiled water for coffee, then set to free a freshly fallen pomelo from its stubborn rind and pith. I took over so he could mix formula for the three goats, orphaned babies who depended on Ladya for milk. That single orb of citrus gave us enough fruit to snack on for two days, which we kept on the kitchen table under a giant blue plastic colander, a shield that protected against nothing but the resident kitten. Throughout the next two days, we ate whatever grew on the property– pomegranates, durian, basil, dragonfruit, turmeric and limes.

_MG_8238

Later, we drove back to town and shopped for dinner at a Ramadan market – jackfruit curry, pineapple curry, chicken skewers, rice and spicy pickled fruit – before meeting Ladya’s friends, Steve and Seti, a couple from Kuala Lumpur who would also spend the night at the farm. We stopped to have beer until it was dark, and then we took our dinner back to the jungle. We sipped whiskey while the generator lit a single bulb above. Rain sluiced from the sky with steady intensity. No thunder or lightning, just pellucid, torrential rain.

After breakfast the next morning, we fed the goats and squeezed limes for tea, and I learned why green limes always seem dry. Ripe limes are light yellow and swollen with floral juice that will gush forth with a light squeeze. Green limes are unripe, simple as that. I feel like shouting this everywhere I go, but here will have to do, so this is me screaming: Green limes aren’t ripe, dammit, not even close! Tell me I’m not the last person on the planet to learn the truth?

Later we cut big leaves from a banana tree and spread them on a mat in the sun for lunch. As we ate, a teenaged bird poacher pulled up on his motorbike, and after a few words with Ladya, he turned his bike around. When we finished, we all took a dip in the icy jacuzzi, an inlet of water formed from the stream flowing down from the mountains. I pulled a small leech from my foot when I felt a sting, and I learned that if you yank out a leech without some sort of special tool, it’ll leave behind its toothy head. Also, that leeches release an anti-coagulating enzyme that purifies and thins the blood, a therapy that has been used for centuries to prevent deep vein thrombosis, strokes, and to treat glaucoma, arthritis and cerebral palsy in babies.

When I left the farm, I felt a comedown, like the jungle had given me a steady stream of drugs, and as soon as the bus hit the highway, the fix was gone. I could have stayed for at least another week or two, and I wanted to, but a part of me was also itching to leave. Six years in huge cities makes for a certain temperament, an addiction for stimulation and buzz, even though big cities can be some of the most isolating of all places. A life outside of this used to be unfathomable to me, but not lately.

Bravery. I imagine Ladya would say he didn’t have a choice, that it wasn’t about bravery but about necessity. Maybe for Ladya and Ami, there was no way around it. I don’t imagine a life so independent of modern conveniences and common thought is so easy even after several years. Choices that thwart the societal grain never are. Their daughter was born last week, and they plan to raise her on the farm while starting an alternative primary school, one with a curriculum that teaches children to be self-sufficient, resourceful and creative, to live responsibly and in harmony with what was here way before we were.

Back in Kuala Lumpur, Seti invited me to her company dinner on my final night in Malaysia. She and her colleagues were all dressed impeccably, of course, and I wore the cleanest clothes I had – cutoff denim shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops. The restaurant filled before anyone took a single bite of food. Gigantic silver dishes filled the u-shaped buffet. We piled our plates with chicken and lamb biryani, hummus, pita, cucumber mint salad, baklava and other things I couldn’t identify. At the sound of the evening call to prayer, we ate. And we ate. Seti and her friend Ahmin took me to one last spot in the city for teh tahrik, hot tea with a frothy top formed from pulling the tea back and forth between two glasses. Such generosity from these two, and I hope that I can return the favor one day. Though part of traveling is meeting really good people you might not see again.

I took a taxi to the bus station for an early flight the next morning, a string of Muslim prayer beads hanging from the driver’s rearview mirror, techno trance blaring from the speakers. Around the corner from the hostel, stacks of thousands of newspapers waited to be picked up and delivered, a final vignette that was completely worth waking up at the ass crack of dawn.

I’ve sat on this post for two weeks. Eight days in Malaysia flew by but left me with enough to think about for while. Mostly, the trip eased the usual hesitations about traveling alone, feelings that always come no matter how many times I do it. I like traveling solo, but it can be lonely. That certainty that you don’t know what the next few days or weeks will look like, or how your instincts are going to take you from one circumstance to the next, but still trusting that they will. Because they always do. All the rest you can’t control? That’s the stuff to live for.

Sunday Good Reads

In a few hours, my friend Graeme will be at the door, and he and I will begin cooking a retro themed dinner for a small group of friends. Seems like we’ve been talking about this dinner forever, and now it’s here. I’m super excited about the menu – we’re making mocha granita, fried rice balls, salmon roulade, cranberry ginger cocktails, and lots of other things. We’re making a dessert he’s been telling me about almost since I’ve known him called banoffee. I can’t believe I did, but I bought Spam, which I haven’t tasted since Roseville, Minnesota, on a sandwich, when I was six. It’s going to be a good time.

Have you read anything good lately? I stayed at a farm in Malaysia, and the guy who lives there and hosts travelers recommended a list of books I can’t wait to get my hands on. And here’s what I’ve read lately and really liked:

The Little Prince looks like a children’s book, but it’s appropriate for all ages and especially adults. Originally published in French in 1943 by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and since has been translated into more than 250 languages, about optimism, relationships, and the difference of life through a child’s and adult’s eyes. A quick but thought-provoking read.

Lit is a memoir by a poet and literature professor at Syracuse originally from Texas, Mary Karr, about her relationships with her mother and father, her battle with alcoholism, getting sober, getting married and divorced, and having a son. I’ve never read anything like it. The way she composes sentences and phrases is so gorgeous, each statement could almost stand on its own. I laughed and cried from cover to cover. I can’t wait to read more from her.

How to Pick a Peach is a compendium of seasonal fruits and vegetables, how to choose them, store them, and prepare them. I’ve dogeared so many recipes, like cold spiced cherry soup, cauliflower custard, cornmeal buckle with plums, and applesauce with bourbon, sour cherries, and hazelnuts (I know!!!).

Kafka on the Shore For years I’ve eyed IQ84 and listened to people gush about Murakami without reading any of his books myself. Until I needed a book fast for a trip and found Kafka on the Shore at a nearby used book store in Seoul. I see the hype now.

Ishmael – one of the books from the farm, I read only a third of it before it was time to leave. A man in the story answers a want ad from a teacher looking for a student, and when he gets to the point of location, the teacher is a gorilla who can talk. The man battles with himself about whether or not he should return the next day, but day after day, he does return to learn a valuable lesson only an animal can tell.

Have a great week.

White Summer Slaw

Hi.

Uff. I thought I’d have a post all ready to go about Malaysia by today. I wrote yesterday at a coffee shop down the street, and to avoid looking like a creepy coffee shop loiterer, I bought a pretzel after an hour, and then a second americano, and then it was time to meet a friend for dinner.

I didn’t finish, is what I’m getting at. But I will. Until then, I hope you are soaking up whatever summer weather you’ve been given this week. Also, it’s great to be back.

White Summer Slaw

Mix 6 cups of shredded white cabbage with 1 red onion, sliced. Add a handful of chopped fresh cilantro. Whisk together 1/3 cup homemade mayonnaise with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper, all to taste, until it’s as sweet or acidic as you like. Eat straight, or atop pulled pork on a sandwich.

A note about homemade mayonnaise: it’s easy, and it took me twenty-five years of mayo adoration to discover I’d never buy a jar of it again. The arm you whisk with will pinch a little at the crook of your elbow, but if you keep your eyes on the prize, a gorgeous whip of pale yellow mayonnaise will develop sooner than you can say wheresthefuckinghellmans. Or, soon after. Bonus? Leftover mayonnaise presents a superb excuse to make BLTs. As if you needed one. Here’s the recipe I use.

Melissa Clark’s Homemade Mayonnaise (makes 3/4 to 1 cup)

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon mustard

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cold water

3/4 cup canola oil or another neutral oil – but not olive, which will make your mayo bitter.

Whisk together all ingredients except the oil until frothy. Then, add the oil drop by drop while whisking fast. If you add the oil too quickly, your mayonnaise will break – if it does, no big deal. Start over. Once the mayonnaise starts emulsifying and expanding, you can add the oil in a slow, steady stream while continuing to whisk.

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Brooklyn & Summer

Every time I read one of my friend Sarah‘s latest posts or take a look at her photos, in comes a tidal wave of nostalgia for Brooklyn. Her blog has been a great resource for good eats in Seoul, and now she’s discovering all sorts of gems in her new city of New York. Thanks, Sarah, for guest blogging this week. And Happy {Brooklyn} Summer.  

I’m new to Brooklyn. Although I had a ‘Brooklyn’ Pinterest board for years, I finally made my way here early this year. You have to be careful with what message you put out in the universe sometimes, as I have sent messages time and time again about residing in Brooklyn! Then it sorta happened. It really did.

You know how some folks love to go out and about, almost all the time? I’m not sure if it’s the aging, or the fact that I’m becoming such a homebody, but I actually look forward to being at home. A lot. It’s all about eating. Most of my friends who live alone complain about the difficulty of cooking for one, or don’t make much of an effort with food when dining alone at home.

I think I’m the opposite. I’ll try to create the most random meals out of nothing a.k.a. ‘cleaning out the fridge’. When I end up eating everything and the fridge looks spotless, it’s seriously like the most comforting accomplishment! Then soon after, I look forward to going to the farmers markets around Brooklyn and picking up the latest seasonal fruits and vegetables. I guess you can see this is almost a weekly routine for me.

I tell myself not to takes things for granted around here such as the farmers markets, good food, the parks, overabundance of trees, hipsters, and the bridges.

As soon as I moved here, I made sure that I had the ‘Brooklyn uniform’-plaid shirt and a tortoise brown oversized pair of eyewear. Not to mention Ray Bans for the summer.  I’m still working on a bike to join the rest of the gang, as it seems to the perfect mode of transportation from point A to B in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn summers are what most folks look forward to here. Smorgasburg outdoor food festival, farmers markets, flea markets, endless choices of food trucks, bike rides, free concerts at Prospect Park, the Botanical Garden, just to name a few.  You almost have to set your Google calendar to knock all this out! However, the great thing is that you can do this practically every week throughout the summer.

If you think you need inspiration, to get back in touch with nature, have good eats, good spirits, or would like to join the community of Brooklyn hipsters-stop by and take a peek. Well worth a quick weekend getaway. Anytime. You will definitely leave happy.

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for the traveler

My friend Niki gave me a card when I left Minneapolis for Seoul back in April. In it, she wrote one of John O’Donohue’s blessings – this one was for the traveler. I read it for the first time on the plane ride, and I’ve reread it a few times over the past two months. Take this poem, read it before you go, once you return, and every time you need a reminder of why you travel in the first place. And I’ll see you when I’m back from Malaysia. (p.s. HBNT)  

Every time you leave home,

another road takes you

into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.

New places that have never seen you

will startle a little at your entry.

Old places that know you well

will pretend nothing

changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself

alone in a different way, more attentive now

to the self you bring along,

your more subtle eye watching

you abroad; and how what meets you

touches that part of the heart

that lies low at home:

how you unexpectedly attune

to the timbre in some voice,

opening a conversation

you want to take in to where your longing 

has pressed hard enough

inward, on some unsaid dark,

to create a crystal of insight

you could not have known – you needed – 

to illuminate – your way.

When you travel – a new silence – 

goes with you – and if you listen,

you will hear – what your heart would love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:

make sure, before you go, to take the time

to bless your going forth

to free your heart of ballast

so that the compass of your soul

might direct you toward the territories of spirit

where you will discover

more of your hidden life

and the urgencies that deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,

gathered wisely into your inner ground;

that you may not waste the invitations

which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,

and live your time away to its fullest;

return home more enriched, and free

to balance the gift of days which call you.

-John O’Donohue

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End of the Line: Chuncheon

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Fortunate is the food enthusiast with fellow enthusiast friends, especially those who will travel for food. It was my friend Habiba’s idea to journey to Chuncheon for the city’s annual Dak Galbi Festival. Thank you, Habiba! Though Chuncheon boasts a lot of natural beauty, we went for its culinary claim to fame. We met at noon in Seoul on a Sunday and took the Gyeongchun line to the end. Along the way we met a good-tempered man, typically bedecked in hiking civvies, whose first words to us were, “Welcome to Korea!” What a guy.

Habiba’s approach to food is bewitching, and I’m constantly learning from her. She contemplates flavors and how to pair them, and she always has an anecdote or interesting piece of history to share about the ingredients she uses. But the best part about her culinary point of view is that she doesn’t take it too seriously. In Chuncheon, we ate bin dae duk, or savory pancakes made with mung beans and fried so that they crisp at the surface but stay tender at the center. We tore them apart with wooden chopsticks and soaked each piece in salty sauce flecked with red pepper and green onion, alternating between bites of crackly pancake and kimchi and swigs of shitty Korean beer that somehow grows on you despite your best attempts to avoid it. We walked around and made friends, and when we were sufficiently sweaty, we headed to a corner tent for the festival’s main attraction.

Dak galbi is a dish meant to share, and the aroma itself can lure you from a block away. We sat around a circular table with a big flat grill in the center, and soon a woman in a red kerchief delivered a heaping serving of chicken, sweet potato, cabbage, garlic, green onion, and rice cake. Dak galbi’s sauce is thicker and sweeter than gochujang and, like all good sauces, is the magic ingredient of the dish. Our lady used a wide metal spatula to fold it all together, and as it cooked, the rice cake’s edges turned golden and candied. The cabbage relinquished every bit of its sweetness, and when the chicken was ready, we wrapped it in lettuce with grilled garlic like little dak galbi tacos. Dak galbi tacos?! For a nanosecond, I thought the idea was all mine. Not even close. Yes I would travel to Chattanooga, Tennessee for dak galbi tacos. I wonder if I could convince Habiba to join me…

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Photos in color, copyright 2013 Turmeric and Twine.

Photos in black and white, copyright 2013 Something for Sunday.

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