Monday, August 29, 2016

Never resist a generous impulse


How I came to acquire seven Korean cookbooks is a long and eerie story that I struggled -- and failed! --  to write about it in its full, bittersweet richness. I told Mark it was like I was trying to do a twisting flip and kept falling off the beam. Too many feelings, too much backstory, too complicated, taking way, way too long. I was driving myself nuts and we can’t have that, can we. 

Here, then, is the short version of the story of how I came to acquire seven Korean cookbooks: Someone who was very important to me when I was young died a month ago. Russell Miller dated my mother in the 1980s and he became a great friend of mine as well. An unforgettable man, Russell. Tart, candid, energetic, full of ideas, unlike anyone I’ve ever met. I still can’t believe that someone so vital could die. He called me “kiddo” and he believed in me a lot more than I believed in myself when I was 24. He gave me a piece of advice that I have thought of on a weekly basis ever since: Never resist a generous impulse. 

I learned of his death via Facebook. Has that happened to you yet? Coming across a post about an old friend’s death on social media amid pot belly pig videos and anti-Donald Trump rants?

A few days later, I received an email from Russell’s lawyer. Russell had left me a $1,000 bequest “to buy some books and bake something special.” 

I do not get remembered in wills every day. There’s something incredibly moving about receiving an unanticipated gift like that from beyond the grave, from someone who owed you nothing and expects nothing from you, someone who thought of you not just with affection, but with such precision. He knew me well.

It was like I had been touched by a magic wand. I can’t explain it better than that. I still feel like I’m living in this little bubble of grace.  It has nothing to do with the money. 

But there was money and I plan to spend it all as directed. Which brings me to my stack of brand-new Korean cookbooks. Korean food, which I love, has always seemed an impenetrable and forbidding cuisine to tackle at home. I was ready for a challenge and have been cooking industriously and happily ever since the beautiful books arrived. Why have I not posted about my Korean cooking adventures? See paragraph one. 

Over the last couple weeks we have eaten Korean meat loaf and Korean roast chicken, hand-torn noodle soup, two versions of fiery stir-fried pork belly (this one was really good), black bean paste noodles, pan-fried dumplings, and a spicy soft tofu stew. Last night I made kimchi fried rice, easy and unbelievably satisfying. Mark said, “You’ve really hit a sweet spot with the cooking, don’t you think?”



I do think. My fixation on Donald Trump has given way to a fixation on jjangmyeon. This is much healthier.

Here is the list of books I bought:

Eating Korean by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
Dok Suni: Recipes from My Mother’s Korean Kitchen by Jenny Kwak
Koreatown by Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard
Discovering Korean Cuisine ed. Allisa Park
Growing up in a Korean Kitchen by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall
A Korean Mother’s Cooking Notes by Chang Sun-Young
Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking by Maangchi

It’s a motley collection, ranging from the hyper-masculine Koreatown to the Korean Mother’s Cooking Notes, a wonderful and eccentric little volume that includes recipes for baby food and instructions on the proper scrubbing of pots. 

I’m not going to write in detail about everything I’ve cooked so far, I’ll just try to do better going forward. I plan to stick with Korean for a while. These books are precious to me because of the way they came into my life and I want to do them justice. 

It was a beautiful cake until Owen and that tub of frosting got involved.
On another subject, I finally watched The Great British Baking Show, which I loved, of course. 

pretty much

47 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. I love both the quote from Russell and the gift he left you. And let's face it, he left us a gift too, since I seem to recall you saying you weren't going to buy cookbooks anymore...

    You will have to let us know which book(s) you recommend.

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    1. Of course I will tell you what I recommend. I already have some favorites. What I don't see here, though, is a bible of Korean cooking.

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  3. I'm overwhelmed, really touched by this post, this unexpected generosity of this man. I wish I'd known him.

    You know, I think it'd be great if you took a 2-3 week trip to South Korea and toured around and took a cooking class or two and then told us all about it.

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    1. That would super fun, a trip to South Korea. My dad and I stopped there on a layover a number of years ago -- 8 hours in Seoul. Really interesting.

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    2. If you take a trip to Korea, I'm coming.

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  4. Thanks for this poignant remembrance of R-

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  5. so lovely, thanks for posting this.

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  6. Have you seen the new cookbook-in-comic-form, "Cook Korean!" by Robin Ha? I like it. Haven't actually tried following any recipes, though.

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    1. No! I'll check it out. I haven't even heard of it.

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  7. Thank you for sharing the lovely quote from Russell.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/29/opinion/why-we-never-die.html

    I have the Momofuku Cookbook (but that probably doesn't count as a Korean Cookbook), and I have looked long and hard at Koreatown, so I agree with Sara above; please give us cookbook recommendations in time.

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    1. I think Momofuku counts as Korean, absolutely. I like Koreatown, though it is a real "bro" cookbook. We hear from a lot of white and Korean-American men about the wonders of Korean food, but no Korean women. That's not necessarily a negative. Just interesting. Something about Korean cooking really thrills American men.

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  8. It sounds like Russell gave you a gift on many levels. It also sounds like he was thoughtful, perceptive, and kind. How wonderful that you're carrying out his wishes and finding some happiness in that yourself. And also: yum, Korean food! (side anecdote: I brought home Korean takeout once and while we were happily digging into it my 9 year old out of nowhere exclaimed, "Lucky Asian people! They get to eat so much delicious food!")

    I would love cookbook recommendations too, please.

    And I'm sure you hear this all the time, but good heavens, Owen! Wow. It's like he's a different person. It's kind of reassuring that he's engaged in a very Owen-type activity.

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    1. Yeah, Owen is big and tall now, but still a goofball.
      I agree with your 9-year-old -- lucky Asian people! Asian food is the best, almost across the board.

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    2. I took the 9 year old to Little Tokyo recently and blew her mind (so. much. Totoro), but her favorite part was going to Nijiwa and buying food.

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  9. I would like to echo Sara's comment about how Russell's gift to you is becoming a gift to all your readers/fans, and I look forward to your up-dates on this project. Thank you for sharing this delightful story. Russell's becomes so real in your telling, it caused a small earthquake in my being! Jennifer, your writing is amazing, certainly due to the person you are. As a side note, I chuckled when I read

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  10. Mark's appreciation of your Korean cooking adventure and Owen's cake-decorating masterpiece.

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  11. I love every scrap of this and just pray it will bring you back to writing more entries. What a lovely man. And Korean food? the best. Oh please keep us posted!

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    1. I had so much to say about Russell. He was a big character and a big force in my life for a long time. I barely cracked the surface! It was so frustrating.

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  12. I never understood what "graceful" meant as a description for writing. Now I do.

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  13. This post touched me on so many levels. Russell sounds like one of those people you meet and things just "click". You "see" them, they "see" you. Even if you don't meet them for years, you pick up just like you saw them last week, and every time you think of them, you feel so lucky to have known them. Obviously Russell lived his life by his own philosophy, and his gift has touched everyone who knows you IRL as well as the blog. I will try to go forward and never resist any generous impulses. Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing this inspiration from your life. It made my month! Yes, and do keep us posted on your new cuisine experiments. I'm very happy things are going so well for you and yours.

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    1. thanks, Beckster. Russell was very stubborn and determined and independent. He could be impossible, but that was part of what I loved about him and what I think everyone loved (or didn't!) about him. He went his own way. He was great. I can't believe he's gone.

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  14. Your love and respect for Russell shines through every word in this post. His lesson "never resist a generous impulse" has been stuck in my head since I read this a few days ago; thank you for sharing his story.

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    1. I know, it's such good advice. It surprises me how often I try to resist generous impulses.

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    2. And yet your generous impulses towards your friends (me) in particular are glorious and deeply appreciated.

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  15. Last night I thought about cleaning up the toys in the living room, then thought about the fact that it was my husband's turn to do it. Then I remembered to never resist a generous impulse, and put the toys away. Russell gave you, and you gave us, excellent marriage advice! I've been thinking about your lovely post since I read it yesterday and just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed it.

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    1. Oh, thank you! I should definitely think of his advice more often in the marital chore context. I don't think I do so well in that department.

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  16. I love this in every way. It reminds me of a time that a slightly older and generous friend mailed me a check for $25 (or maybe $50?) in 1995 when I was preparing to take the bus out west to see her during a time of boyfriend turmoil and minimum wage living. It was such an unexpected and perfect gesture, not because of the money (like with yours) but the sentiment.

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  17. This is a lovely post. I'm so sorry--but what a great way to always remember him.

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  18. I was resisting a generous impulse- so I stopped resisting. I will be passing this advice on to my nieces.

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  19. Your mother spoke often and with great pleasure about Russell, Jennifer....it seemed as if they were perfectly imperfect companions for each other. That he remembered you---and that you remembered him---with such heartfelt generosity is a gift to all of us, as many of your readers have noted. BTW, you have such wonderful readers...and Owen! Oh, my...what an imaginative and sturdy young man!

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  20. This is a wonderful piece of writing...

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  21. Lovely post. Please do post details on the Korean dishes you make! I have several of these books and am looking forward to cooking from them.

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  22. What a beautiful gift. As soon as I read it, I thought "aw, he knew you well." Then I realized I don't know you, so I thought "aw, he knew what I know of your online persona so well." And then I read the end of the next paragraph and thought "aw, you agree. He did know you so well." I can't think of a better way to always remember a very special person.

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  23. نقل اثاث بالمدينه المنوره هى من الشركات الرائدة فى مجال نقل الاثاث لانها من اوائل الشركات التى اعتمدت فى عملية نقل الاثاث على الوسائل الحديثة
    نقل اثاث بالمدينه المنوره
    التى تعمل على سرعة عملية نقل الاثاث مما جعلها فى مقدمة شركات نقل اثاث بالمدينة المنورة الاخرى وهذه الاجهزة تساعد فى عملية النقل السليم الذى لا يؤدى الى اى اضرار او تلف للاثاث مما جعل العملاء يضعون ثقتهم بنا عند اجراء عمليات النقل لاى نوع من انواع الاثاث سواء منزلى او فندقى او مكاتب كما انه تتوفر لدى شركة نقل اثاث بالمدينة المنورة السيارات المجهزة التى تتحمل جميع الظروف
    نقل اثاث بالمدينة المنورة
    كما انها متوفرة بجميع المقاسات التى تتسع لاى كمية من الاثاث. تقدم شركة نقل اثاث خدماتها لنقل الأثاث والعناية به فيقوم فريق مختص بعملية نقل اثاث بالمدينه المنوره من المكان المراد نقله للمكان الجديد
    شركة نقل اثاث بالمدينة المنورة
    بكل عناية واهتمام .فيتم نقل اثاث بالمدينة المنورة حسب كمية الأثاث وحسب حجمه، فيتم أولا تقييم الأثاث ليتم طلب شاحنات كبيرة خاصة لنقل الأثاث ثم يقوم بعد ذلك الفريق المختص بتغليف الأثاث ليتم وضعه في الشاحنة المخصصة لنقله ثم يتم نقل الأثاث إلى المكان المراد نقله إليه
    تركيب غرف نوم بالمدينة المنورة
    لتتم عملية نقل الأثاث بعناية فائقة.

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