Monday, January 16, 2017

Preposterously flaky

"You're not putting that on Instagram are you?"
Isabel went back to school yesterday and on the way to the airport she and I stopped at Arsicault in San Francisco to try one of the bakery’s much-lauded croissants. Bon Appetit named this tiny, humble place 2016 “Bakery of the Year” on the strength of that croissant. How good can a croissant be? Bon Appetit: “simultaneously so preposterously flaky it leaves you covered in crumbs, so impossibly tender and buttery on the inside that it tastes like brioche, and so deeply golden that the underside is nearly caramelized.”

After that excruciating hyperbole and given that Arsicault is three blocks from my childhood home, I had to try one of the things. So there we were on a Sunday morning, late for the airport, standing in line, hungry, a little anxious, cold. I became silently, irrationally irritated at the innocent people in front of us. How dare they be in front of us in line. Why did they all have to use their credit cards to buy one or two croissants? Is it so hard to visit an ATM? Such lazy, irksome people. 

Finally, we got to the front of the line and I instantly forgave everyone. We bought our croissants, ran to the car, and I ate my croissant while driving down 19th Avenue somewhat faster than I should have. While I remember enjoying it, I could not tell you if it was “impossibly tender and buttery” or whether the underside was “nearly caramelized” or anything else about it.

I understand why magazines do it, but it’s silly to overhype a croissant. At least overhype something weird and new, like a cruffin.

We got to the airport, I kissed Isabel goodbye, watched her wheel her giant suitcase into the terminal, and fell into the usual post-visit funk, something I suspect will happen every time I put my children on planes to far-away homes for the rest of my life.

I texted Isabel today to see what she thought of the croissants because we hadn’t discussed them and I wondered if she had picked up on any extreme wonderfulness:

That’s all I’ve got for you today. I’ve been cooking from Alton Brown’s EveryDayCook and although everything has been good, nothing has reached the heights of those broccoli sub sandwiches. Those? Can’t overhype those.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

An Indescribable Sandwich

This isn't the indescribable sandwich. I didn't take a picture of the indescribable sandwich because I was too harried and hungry to do even minimal styling or look for my phone. This is a salty fried bologna sandwich. Describable.
Indescribable doesn’t mean that something can’t be described, only that the describer knows in advance that any description will fall woefully short. With that in mind, here’s my description of the indescribable broccoli sub from Alton Brown’s EveryDayCook: A hearty, super-flavorful, meaty sandwich that contains no meat. On a toasted french roll you spread mayonnaise and then apply a layer of sweet pickle slices that you have briefly marinated in Sriracha, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic. Heap some roasted broccoli on the pickles, top with shaved ricotta salata cheese and crunchy onion rings (the bad-for-you kind out of a canister). Take a big bite. Die of happiness.

And it’s only 430 calories! That’s not half bad if you’re calling the sandwich dinner.

Brown based his weird, perfect sandwich on an even weirder sandwich served at Tyler Kord’s No. 7 sandwich shops in New York City. How weird is Kord’s legendary sandwich? Where Brown uses pickles, Kord uses lychees. Life doesn’t get weirder than lychees.

A few adjustments to Brown’s recipe:

-I would start with more broccoli, like two pounds. My broccoli shrunk a lot and it seemed a bit scant. Also, I would peel the thick broccoli stems before cutting them into coins. 

-Use less pickle brine. Try 1/4 cup. 

You have to make this sub. It’s more satisfying than many a meaty sandwich, including the fried bologna sandwich I ate the other night at a sports bar in Richmond, Indiana. When a broccoli sandwich is better than a fried bologna sandwich, you know you’re on to something.

Owen is looking at colleges in the Midwest, ICYWW why I was in Richmond, Indiana. My kids seem magnetized by un-picturesque small towns in the middle of nowhere. But then so am I.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Bat curry, batty thoughts, shallow thoughts, other stuff

For Christmas, Mark gave me Culinary Delights from the Seychelles, a captivating and peculiar vintage title that includes recipes for delicacies like turtle steak and fruit-bat curry: “Skin the fruit-bats and remove their heads and insides, wash thoroughly to remove the blood, cut up and set aside.

Don’t hold your breath.

My sister gave me Mario Batali’s Big American Cookbook and my father gave me both A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs and Alton Brown’s Everydaycook. So much I want to try from Everdaycook: coconut oats, a roasted-broccoli sub, chicken salad, kale salad, two brussels sprouts recipes. Healthy fare. Sadly, for the first time in several years my New Year’s resolutions include the word “diet.” 

More on cookbooks in coming weeks.

We always drive down to Los Angeles after Christmas so there we were for the last few days of 2016. In L.A., I like to eat and go to movies. To get a jump on my New Year’s diet, I tried to focus on movies this trip. Other than some Blue Star donuts, Kettle Glazed doughnuts, several pounds of Korean bbq, stray leftover Christmas candy, a friend’s daughter’s homemade macarons, and movie theater popcorn, I think I did really well.

Two movies from the trip that I must recommend:

*Our first day in L.A., Owen and I saw O.J.: Made in America, the 464-minute ESPN documentary about the life of O.J. Simpson. Owen was furious when we sat down at 1 p.m. because I’d forced him to walk the two miles to the theater, we were the only people there (“It’s just weird!”), and his Coke was flat. He said, “I’m so disappointed in this whole situation and I’m so disappointed I let myself get talked into this.” He said he might text his father during the first intermission and leave.
TFW you are about to watch an 8-hour documentary with your mom.
He didn’t. When we walked out of the theater at 9:15 p.m. he was incandescent.

OJ: Made in America is an enthralling, transcendent masterpiece. I know it’s hard to square “ESPN” and “OJ” with “enthralling, transcendent masterpiece,” but trust me. Trust Owen.  I wince when people describe something like a piece of cake or a movie as “a religious experience,” but I’m about to do just that. Bear with me here. I’m going out on a limb. 

Recently on a podcast I heard someone define God as “everything we don’t understand.” I wasn’t raised with religion and the most familiar image of God in my Judeo-Christian world was an elderly man with a beard who passed down a bunch of laws on a stone tablet. This never seemed plausible to me probably because my parents never tried to convince me that it was plausible. (My grandmothers did, but parents trump grandparents.)

But the idea that God is “everything we don’t understand?” That works for me. 

Every now and then I think I get a glimpse of an underlying wholeness to the chaotic world. Corny though it sounds, sometimes this happens to me in movies. This year it happened in an Indian film called Court and in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog, which was my favorite cinematic experience of 2016 and perhaps my favorite cinematic experience ever.

And it happened with the O.J. documentary. I momentarily comprehended something previously incomprehensible. In this case, I understood how an achingly beautiful young man blessed with talent and grace went from hero to villain to pathetic buffoon over the course of a few decades. How the particularities of his journey intersected with larger forces roiling American culture. How a vast cast of bizarre and vivid characters (the film is narrated by journalists, preachers, former teammates, black childhood friends of O.J., white adult friends, Marcia Clark, jurors in the trial, . . ) all figured into the saga. The film showed how football, beauty, hubris, riots, history, vice, character, sex and a thousand other things fit together perfectly. Horribly, but perfectly. Inevitably. What had previously seemed crazy, complicated, and contradictory made complete sense. If you wanted to, you could even extrapolate the laws laid down by the old man with the beard from the O.J. tragedy. 

It took my breath away. When it was over, we walked out into the night and the vision started to dissolve. But I know that the coherence is there. This is probably not your experience of faith, but it’s the closest I ever come.

I’m sure I sound like a lunatic. 

On our last day in L.A. Owen and I saw 20th Century Women which you will be relieved to learn I am not going try to describe as a religious experience. It was just a sweet, wise, flawed film featuring a dazzling performance from Annette Bening as the single mother of a teenaged son living in Santa Barbara in 1979. There were so many charming things in this movie: Greta Gerwig dancing, Billy Crudup smiling, a shambling old house, snappy dialogue, Our Bodies, Ourselves, Judy Blume’s Forever.

Permit me a shallow moment: If Annette Bening has had plastic surgery or attempted any other anti-aging interventions, she hadn’t done so in the months before making this film. I am ashamed to admit that it took some adjusting on my part. You see wrinkles so rarely on the big screen that they come as a shock when you do. (Marcia Clark made some surgeon very rich.) But there she was up there, the great actress and beauty Annette Bening, with normal-person wrinkles. She did not seem to feel very bad about her neck. In fact she did not seem to feel bad about her neck at all. God bless her. She looked like all fair-skinned women in their 50s looked until very recently, albeit with star charisma, and once my eyes and attitude adjusted, I found her extraordinarily beautiful, not in spite of the wrinkles, but because of them. 

I mentioned that it was strange to see an actress who hadn’t had plastic surgery in a movie and Owen said, “I know, that was really nice.”

Happy New Year, everyone! 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The (Over) Loaded Roast

I'm afraid you'll have to wait for dessert.
       Earlier this month, the New York Times published a roundup of its most popular recipes of 2016, one of which was the infamous Mississippi roast.

       Forgot about the Mississippi roast? I’ll refresh your memory: Sometime circa 2001, a  Mississippi woman named Robin Chapman put a piece of beef chuck in a crockpot with a stick of butter, a packet of Ranch dressing mix, a packet of au jus gravy mix, and some bottled pepperoncini. Eight hours later, her family was chowing down on what would become known as the Mississippi roast. Chapman’s roast proceeded to become a huge hit with “the mom blog set,” thanks to a church cookbook, a blogger in Arkansas, and Pinterest. Based on the demographics of Chapman and the cooks who seem to have embraced the dish with the most enthusiasm, I will call this original roast the Red State Mississippi Roast.

At some point, New York Times food columnist Sam Sifton got wind of this recipe and last January wrote a story about its genesis and popularity. Good piece. Different. Id love to read more stories about how everyday people around the country cook. But when it came to including the actual recipe, Sifton just couldn’t. He expressed some mild distaste for the artificial ingredients and “faint chemical bite” they imparted to the meat. So he devised his own recipe for Mississippi Roast that eliminated the offending powdered mixes. 

I have to pause here to say that while I understand why he did this (as you will see), I think this was a questionable editorial decision, like writing about the popularity of kale salad then featuring a recipe that substitutes iceberg lettuce because you find kale unpleasant.

        Based on Sifton’s demographic and the paper he works for, I’ll call his version the Blue State Mississippi Roast. 

        Here are a few of the choice comments Sifton’s piece inspired:

Jim Propes Oxford, MS January 27, 2016

There is an unsettling tone of condescension running through the story. . . . Once again, we see the reluctance of "experts" to acknowledge the source of their subject. I chuckled at the "improvements" made by the writer. Really? Call it a variation based on culinary correctness.

Been There, Caught That NC mountains January 31, 2016

Wow, the NYT, that bastion of political correctness, has allowed Ivy-Leaguer Sam Sifton to use its pages for a blatant example of cultural appropriation, taking a down-home, wildly popular, Mississippi-born recipe and turning it into a New York-ified culinary mashup designed to appeal to food snobs. . .  Who but an effete easterner would try to tart up a humble Southern recipe that is monumentally popular due to its simplicity and great taste, and then try to tell readers doing so is a good idea. 

cbahrcbahr Southwest January 31, 2016

This turns out to be a wonderful article... rich (if tinged with snotty) in itself but the comments are where the truth (unknown at the NYT) emerges: there actually is a real America still out there!! Congratulations, AMERICANS.

         When I first read Sifton’s story in January, I too rolled my eyes. There was something that seemed slightly prissy and, yes, condescending. Good grief, are readers of the New York Times so fine they cant survive a little MSG? I might live in a bastion of food snobbery, but I was, to quote cbahrcbahr, a real AMERICAN.
At least until I made the Red State roast. 

Mississippi roast was an insult to cattle. No steer should have lost his life for this cloying, salty, brown abomination that tasted like a hospital cafeteria smells. Two shiny $1.89 envelopes of chemicals had completely vanquished the noble flavor of beef, replacing it with something ersatz, aggressive, and smarmy. This was truly one of the grossest things I’d ever cooked. You couldn’t pick around the bad parts as the bad parts had impregnated every molecule.  Now I knew why Sifton hadn’t included the original recipe. Not because he was an effete Ivy Leaguer snob, but because it was awful. 
        Maybe he should have just said so. Maybe he was too polite about everything. Maybe his diplomacy read as condescension. I dont know

        But the result was that a lot of the ensuing conversation had nothing to do with the quality of the roast itself. It was about perceived slights, phoniness, snobbishiness, political/culinary correctness. The roast became an innocent football in a little pick-up game of elite-bashing.

I thought no more about the Mississippi roast until Mark’s sister visited this past weekend and I was looking for something to make for a small crowd with minimal effort. I happened to see the Blue State Mississippi roast in the Times’ “most popular recipe” roundup. This’ll do, I thought.

If you ever make a Mississippi roast, remove the stems from the pepperoncini. I learned the hard way.
And boy did it. You salt and pepper a chuck roast, dredge it in flour, brown it, put it in a low oven (or slow cooker), with some butter, pepperoncini and a homemade ranch dressing that takes about a minute to stir together in a cereal bowl — mayonnaise, vinegar, paprika, dill. Go decorate the Christmas tree or read comments on the New York Times web site and come back many hours later to a pot of the richest, beefiest beef youve ever put in your mouth. It was not significantly harder than the Red State Mississippi Roast (I am super lazy these days and would not lie about this) and it was several million times better.
        My point? The Sifton version of the roast is awesome and you should try it, but mostly this: I have read dozens of essays on Donald Trumps mystifying (to some of us) popularity, and it was amazing last week to find all of it right there, seething in the comments on a seemingly innocuous piece about pot roast back in January. 
a wicked, wicked, wicked cake

 On another subject, after many years of wanting to, I finally baked a Harvey Wallbanger cake, named for a vile-sounding cocktail popular in the 1970s. (Funny history of said cocktail here.)  Into your butter cake batter go orange juice, Galliano (a lurid yellow herbal liqueur), and vodka. Bake in a bundt pan. Remove from pan, cool, drizzle with a sugary, boozy glaze. Slice. Overeat. There was a faint metallic edge of alcohol under all the butter and sugar — and while that sounds potentially nasty, it was wonderful. Dangerous. A very subtle flavor, like that elusive flavor of the alcohol in the Harvey Wallbanger cake, makes me want to keep going back for more to see if I can finally catch it. I loved this cake to distraction and on Tuesday afternoon ate such a big, fattening, filling chunk for a snack that I could not face making or eating dinner. I used the scratch recipe from Vintage Cakes  because that’s the first recipe I saw, but apparently the original was made with cake mix and vanilla pudding mix. I wouldnt hesitate to go with the mix version. Yes, I know this whole post was about my dislike of a dish made from mix, but cake mix is different. Only an effete Ivy Leaguer easterner snob would object to cake mix.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Interesting times

Metaphor? Or just a bleak picture I took the other day?
A kind reader emailed inquiring whether I was ok because I hadn’t posted in a while. I’m fine. I haven’t been posting because I haven’t been thinking about cooking, I’ve been thinking about . . . you know what I’ve been thinking about!

It’s been some pretty intense thinking. I foresee more of same in the months and years to come. If you’re cursed to live in interesting times, you might as well take an interest. I have been doing so. 

The effect on my gastronomic life has been that I make the same easy, delicious dishes again and again, stuff that won’t distract from vigilant monitoring of Twitter. Endless rotation of Korean spicy pork, Nigella’s fattening crustless pizza (with extra cheese on top), these lamb meatballs (minus the fussy romesco sauce),  Thai stir-fried beef (minus the egg, but with spinach added towards the end), and Marcella’s tomato-and-butter pasta. Sometimes as I’m casually stirring a skillet of sizzling meat while watching Keith Olbermann on my phone, I think, wow, what a nonchalant, badass cook I’ve become.

I love Keith Olbermann. Hes nuts, but I love him. 

Some stuff that I thought about when I wasn’t thinking about, you know:

*I was totally inspired by this lecture by a University of Toronto professor. About chaos, order, and how to live. Highly recommend. The professor, Jordan Peterson, is in the news right now over the issue of personal pronouns, but this isn’t about that. Not controversial, just fascinating and relevant. 

*Owen has asked me to assemble a collection of all his favorite recipes so that he’ll be able to cook for himself when he moves out in a year-and-a-half. This is pretty damn funny for a lot of reasons, but particularly because he still makes retching noises when he walks through the kitchen and sees me cooking. I will happily oblige, of course. 
vintage Owen
*Do you find it uncanny that both Elizabeth Gilbert and Molly Wizenberg came out this autumn? Two gifted writers who published thoughtful best-selling memoirs about falling in love with their husbands have now left those husbands for women. Is this just a curious coincidence? Or is there something about the temperament of a memoirist that requires new chapters? Would the response of their fans (appropriately warm and supportive) be different if they had left those husbands for other men? I think the answer is yes, but haven’t come to a firm conclusion as to why. Just something I thought about for a few days.

*Gabrielle Hamilton also fell in love with a woman after divorcing the husband she wrote about in her memoir, but that wasn’t such a surprise. For one, she seemed to hate him. For another, she’d been gay before she married him.  This account of her recent wedding banquet is a snappy, fun read thanks to Hamilton’s writing style which is straightforward, vivid, decisive, slightly aggressive. I love the sound of that veal breast — “a succulent, fatty, tender magnificence.” But what about the salt-baked pears. Yea or nay?

Until recently I had never liked Prune, Hamilton’s restaurant. On a visit a few years ago, I ordered fish and received an ugly, blistered whole fish on a plate. No garnish or vegetable. Not impressed.

But when I went to New York last month on business, a friend and I met at Prune and this time it all clicked. Hamilton’s cooking is just like her writing: straightforward, vivid, decisive, slightly aggressive. Dont those adjective pretty much describe a salt-baked pear? 

At the Prune dinner, we started with some austere steamed vegetables with a little bowl of anchovy sauce. Delicious, if not dazzling. Simple duck breasts with some beans — perfect. My dessert was a slice of crusty bread spread with melted chocolate. Very plain, very frugal, very good.  I heard the music. It’s not my favorite music, but I heard it. 

Mark says I have to blog three or four times a week or not at all. I have truly enjoyed the time I spent writing this today as it kept me away from other things, so I’m going try for the former. If I have any readers left, apologies for the long absence.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Seaweed, rice cakes, Christine, Paterson . . .

delicious rice cakes
Korean persimmon tea is simmering on the stove as I type and the whole house smells like cinnamon and ginger. Very cozy and autumnal.

Korean dishes cooked this week:

*Sauteed tofu. From Robin Ha’s Cook Korean! Sauté tofu, top with a sauce of soy and sesame oil. Nice. Bland. Simple. Little else to say. Recipe here.

*Seaweed salad, also from Cook Korean! You rehydrate dried seaweed, mix with julienned cucumber and carrot, dress with a sugary, vinegary dressing, and eat. Or don’t eat. This recipe does not yield the dainty, finely shredded seaweed salad you’ll find at sushi restaurants, but a salad with biggish, dark, slippery leaves. (Though obviously you could go ahead and shred the seaweed.) I liked it. Mark: “It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t taste good. I think I might have fatigue from challenging meals.” 

*Spicy rice cakes. I’ve tried two recipes for Korean spicy rice cakes now, Maangchi’s and Robin Ha’s. They look almost identical, but Maangchi’s recipe is more precise and better.* The dish consists of wonderfully chewy cylindrical rice cakes cooked in a light, easy fish broth and spiced exuberantly with red pepper flakes and gochujang. Traditionally, it calls for fish cake but I have learned that I don’t like Korean fish cake, which is flat, with the texture of fabric. So for my second try at spicy rice cakes I omitted the fish cake and fried a half pound ground pork, salted it, and folded it in to the rice cakes at the end. Ravishing. Those are the changes I made to the recipe here. (Although Maangchi says otherwise in her headnote, you could use chicken stock if you are not prepared to track down dried anchovies and kelp. However, keep in mind that both ingredients are readily available at Asian markets and the broth could not be easier to make.)

*Butter dumplings from Koreatown by Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard. So outlandish I had to try this recipe which you’ll find along with a little backstory here. This is basically the standard formula for Chinese and Korean dumplings except that in addition to ground pork, cabbage, ginger, and garlic, it calls for a pound of butter. 

You read that right, friends. A pound of butter. Hardcore.

You knead that pound of softened butter into the meat the best you can and stuff your dumplings. Some of the butter leaked out in the cooking, but there was plenty left inside the dumplings and you could see it and taste it. I watched the butter run down Owen’s chin after he bit into a dumpling and there was congealed butter on the plates when I went to put them in the dishwasher. Yes, it freaked me out. The dumplings were buttery and delicious, but not delicious enough to outweigh my qualms. Fun. Never again.

I have to take a short break from cooking Korean food this coming week, given that both Mark and Owen are rebelling. But I’ll be back to it soon. 


On another subject, I’ve seen lots of great movies in the last few weeks, thanks in part to the Mill Valley Film Festival. A couple of these haven’t opened yet, but here are my recommendations, both whole-hearted and qualified: 

American Honey, directed by Andrea Arnold, got under my in in big way.  It’s about a crew of kids who drive around the country selling magazines, drinking mezcal, falling in love, getting in trucks and convertibles with strangers, dumpster diving, and other good stuff. It’s long and meandering and I can see all its flaws but I could have sat there all day watching the story, such as it is, unfold, and listening to the music. It was like being inside a strange yet mysteriously familiar dream.

Christine, about a Florida newscaster who shot herself on air in 1974 just before her thirtieth birthday, was like being inside a strange yet grimly familiar nightmare. The nightmare of those rancid moments/days/weeks in your life when you couldn’t seem to do anything right, when you were at war with yourself and your mother and the world and increasingly sure that nothing good — not professional success, not love, not peace of mind — was in your future. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, count your blessings!) The film featured an incredible lead performance by Rebecca Hall and was the most deeply unpleasant good movie I’ve seen in recent weeks with the possible exception of A Quiet Passion. 

You probably know that Emily Dickinson had a hard life but if you didn’t A Quiet Passion will fill you in on all the sad details, from the romantic frustrations to the seizures. (It also shows the rapturous joy Dickinson took in her work, which she did in the wee hours of the morning, by candlelight, before the rest of her family got out of bed.) Like Christine, it features a powerful performance from a lead actress, in this case Cynthia Nixon. Like Christine is its wrenching to watch. If you have a robust appetite for harrowing movies, see both of these films. If you have a limited appetite, just see Quiet Passion. If you have no appetite skip these two and go see Paterson, about a sweet-natured New Jersey poet/bus driver who finds grace in everyday life. Paterson, set in Paterson, New Jersey, is lovely, offbeat, and droll. Fans of Adam Driver will want to see this for sure, as will fans of William Carlos Williams.

Another lovely movie: California Typewriter, a documentary about a typewriter shop in Berkeley, California and the universe of typewriter enthusiasts, which includes Tom Hanks and Sam Shepard and a lot of delightful weirdos. I dragged Owen to this one and I was pretty sure I was going to have to do something nice to make it up to him afterwards, but we both loved it. We both want a typewriter now.

Everyone I know who’s seen Certain Women thought it was boring but, as with American Honey, I wouldn’t have minded if this film, which stars Laura Dern and Michelle Williams, had lasted all day. It tells the stories of three women dealing with crushes, careers, and construction projects in wintry Montana and I concede, it was kind of boring. For me, it was the right kind of boring. 

Not at all boring: Moonlight. As all the reviews have argued, this movie about a sensitive black kid growing up in the projects, is brilliant. If you think you might have trouble getting inside the head and tender heart of a silent, muscle-bound drug dealer with gold grillz and a do-rag, you haven’t seen Moonlight. You should. The Terry Gross interview with the writer and director was fascinating.


Monday, October 17, 2016

"I'm not going to be nice to you until you stop cooking Korean food"

those noodles
Fifteen minutes ago, as I was finishing this post, Owen wandered by and asked what we were having for dinner. When I said “spicy Korean rice cakes,” he kindly shared his thoughts on Korean food with me. Verbatim: 

“Seriously when are you going to stop making Korean food? I just want to know when you’re going to be done with this stupid project. Fine! I just won’t eat dinner. I hate having Korean food EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. I don’t know why you don’t get bored by it especially because you’re the one cooking it. Can you make good food for once? You never do, except for that one thing, those noodles, and the dumplings were pretty good too. Maybe I’ll just hide all your Korean cookbooks. Tomorrow you won’t be able to find your Korean cookbooks.” 

making a costume and trashing his sister's bedroom
Here are my thoughts on Korean cooking and cookbooks:

-On Saturday, I made the easy seaweed soup from Robin Ha’s Cook Korean! with plans to eat it on Sunday for lunch. On Sunday at lunchtime I took the pot out of the fridge, opened the lid, gazed down at the shiny seaweed undulating gently in murky liquid, and decided I wasn’t hungry for lunch after all. I put it back in the fridge. At dinner time, I took the pot out again, steeled myself, heated it up, and served the soup with rice. To my surprise, no one complained, not even Owen. Once you get past the fact that it looks like seawater, seaweed soup is tasty. Brothy and full of beef and slippery, yummy, slightly disconcerting seaweed. This isn’t the recipe I used, but it’s similar. 

-Korean cuisine abounds in porridges, sweet and savory. I haven’t made any Korean porridge yet, but have my eye on the pine nut porridge, sesame porridge, and, above all, the sweet pumpkin porridge. This is the perfect season to make sweet pumpkin porridge and I even have a pumpkin sitting on the counter for just this purpose. I think I’ve been putting off making sweet pumpkin porridge because once I taste it I will no longer be able to imagine what sweet pumpkin porridge tastes like. I imagine it will taste like the rich, mellow essence of autumn. It can’t possibly be that good.

-Korean cuisine also abounds in pancakes — seafood, scallion, chili pepper, zucchini, pollock, sweet. So far I’ve only tried the ultra-easy kimchi pancake from Cook Korean! Mark and I liked it a lot. I thought Owen liked it too but he says no. Owen: “I only ate it because I was really really hungry and hadn’t eaten anything the whole day.” To make this pancake, you chop 1 1/2 cups kimchi, mix with 1 cup flour, 1 cup water, 1/3 cup kimchi brine, and 1/4 cup ground pork. Dollop into a hot, oiled skillet, spreading into a pancake shape. Fry until crisp on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Flip. Fry another minute to crisp on the other side.  Salt lightly. Cut with a pizza cutter into wedges. Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice — or no dipping sauce at all. Robin Ha notes that you can replace the pork with any meat you like, including canned tuna. In future I would choose something with more flavor than plain ground pork. 

-In my books I have several recipes for a sweet Korean rice cake that you steam on a bed of pine needles. 

-As I mentioned in a previous post, I made Maangchi’s japchae (glass noodles with vegetables and meat) a few weeks ago and it was superb. I made the japchae from Cook Korean! last week and it was only ok. The ingredients are almost exactly the same, so what was the difference? Maangchi calls for three times the sugar, double the sesame oil, and almost double the soy sauce. She also calls for 3 dried shiitake mushrooms in addition to fresh. In other words: dried mushroom umami + extra sugar + extra fat + extra sodium = better japchae. Quelle surprise.

-Rice cake soup (tteokguk), is a lovely dish that, according to Robin Ha, Koreans eat on New Year’s Day for the same reasons we eat hoppin’ john.  Ha: “The clean white color of the soup signals a fresh new start and the coin shape of the rice cakes is believed to bring good fortune and good luck.” You cook some beef in water to make a stock, then add rice cakes which become meltingly tender as they simmer. They also throw off enough starch to turn the broth thick and white. Friday night I felt sick and was deciding whether to skip dinner or heat up the leftover rice cake soup. I heated up the rice cake soup and my stamina was completely and instantly restored.

Stamina. That’s one of the many words it will be hard to use with a straight face after this election. I realized as I was writing this post that I’m no longer comfortable ending a paragraph with a short exclamatory comment because I sound like a Donald Trump tweet. Sad!

And what I just did (sad!) is already a cliche. 

On another subject, I reviewed the first-ever biography of the great Betty MacDonald, a book I’ve been waiting years for someone to write. You can read my review here