Cooking abroad

Thought I’d share a weeknight win from our kitchen. I made this soup this evening, and everything came together so easily and deliciously.

Jerry and I were planning on hosting a meeting at our apartment, so on Sunday, when I meal prepped for the week, I threw the potatoes and onions in a gallon-size plastic zipper bag and tossed in the vegetable crisper. This morning, I dumped the contents and water into our faithful slow cooker (easily the best purchase we’ve made here) and set it on low. When I got home, I drained a little bit of the water and added the milk, butter and bacon (I’d cooked and cut this up on Sunday as well, but kept in a separate bag so it wouldn’t become soggy).

Holy moly. Big crowd pleaser.

I made a few modifications, chiefly that I multiplied the recipe quantities to accommodate the number of people present and instead of dill weed (which I have never found here), I used dried rosemary and a bit more parsley. It was perfect.

Who says cooking overseas can’t bring you the familiar comforts of home?

Potato soup, spinach salad.

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Adventures in DIY

In many ways, living in Korea is a lot like living in any major U.S. city–things are fast-paced, high-tech, industrial. But in other ways, it’s obviously very different. The culture is very patriarchal and conservative, deferential to elders–and let’s not forget that the language is a difficult one to boot.

However, in the food department, one challenge I’ve found myself up against on more than one occasion is finding specific, familiar foods or products. Not knowing what to even call something in Korean to ask at the store can be difficult as well. On a shopping trip to eMart last year, Jerry and I were looking for broth to make soup. I used the Google Translate app to try to convey what I was looking for and was promptly taken to the case where bagged, premade soups were sold.

Fail.

We’ve since learned the word for broth, though (육수 “yook soo,” if you’re curious). But there are still things I look for, need or just want to have but can’t find readily. Thus the DIY challenges I’ve undertaken…

In the last year or so, I’ve made my own:
– canned tomatoes/juice
– evaporated milk
– cottage cheese
– broths/stocks (even though I’ve since found these and know where to get them, homemade stuff just tastes better!)
– granola bars
– various sauces and dressings that are not as easy to come by (or, more often than not, done in a different manner than I am accustomed to or prefer)

There are other odds and ends attempted as well, but this covers the ones that have been most useful for what we cook. I’m really proud of the granola bars as Jerry and I often lament that we don’t really keep snack foods in the house. The granola bars are SUPER tasty (recipe here) and easy to make. (Note: We don’t know how to find molasses here, and short of ordering it and waiting a week for iHerb to get it to us, I just added a bit more honey and a tad more peanut butter. Everything came out fine.)

Other projects to try…
— homemade cheese (Korea is not a place for dairy lovers… About 75% of the cheese you find here is super processed, tastes like plastic and comes in two flavors: Kraft single or “pizza cheese”–a mozzarella-like shredded cheese that takes too long to melt and isn’t terribly good. The worst part? It’s CRAZY expensive!!! We’re talking about $8 for a two-ounce shaker of wannabe parmesan cheese. There is a small-yet-growing selection of semi-decent cheeses to be found, but I miss the days of being able to pick up Humboldt Fog goat’s cheese at Whole Foods and eat it with crackers and good wine.)

Confessions of a recovering control freak

One of the biggest challenges I frequently encounter is how to keep my routine without being too rigid about it. Teaching has been one of the most demanding things I’ve ever done, hands down. But finding routine and rhythm in the middle of the epic to-do list and other demands in life WITHOUT driving myself insane in the process has become a holy grail quest for me.

Lately, I have been working to be more intentional with my time–to use what breaks, gaps I have to do something that will make it just a little easier to relax at the end of the day, or that will help bring that end closer faster.

A few things I’ve picked up along the way have been ideas like batch cooking. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind eating the same meal a few (several?) days in a row, doing one round of cooking on a Sunday afternoon will save so much time during the week. I like hard boiled eggs at breakfast, so cooking a dozen or so on Sunday takes me 10 minutes and means I don’t have to really make myself breakfast on school days when I’m just trying to stumble out of bed. I’ve also portioned out oatmeal into small containers to take to work–I use the hot water in the water cooler and in a minute, I’m eating breakfast at my desk while I open up my work for the day. It doesn’t seem glamorous or exciting by any stretch, but simply not having to think about what to do about breakfast is easier and feels like less of an interruption to my already-struggling-to-wake-up brain.

Gretchen Rubin is an interesting thought leader that I’ve really appreciated over the last couple of years and her one-minute rule has been invaluable. Essentially, if I can do it in less than a minute, I don’t delay. At the end of the day, I spend less than a minute going to the closet, grabbing an outfit that looks good and putting it on the hook next to my bed. Or I throw baggies/containers of my pre-cut veggies, pre-made meals and throw them in a bag in the fridge so all I have to do is grab them on the way out the door in the morning. I don’t know exactly how much *time* I’m necessarily saving, but it makes my mornings smoother, which speaks for itself.

The part where I struggle, though, is in feeling not-so-flustered when something (inevitably) crops up and rustles the apples in the cart. I take a backpack to school that usually has my computer, datebook/notebook, iPod, exercise clothes, and any resources I need for any tutoring or lessons I might have that day. The day goes: walk to work, teach classes, read or study Korean at lunch, finish school, go straight to the gym, exercise and shower, go to tutoring and then come home to practice guitar/read a book/watch some TV with Jerry. At least, that’s the ideal routine when I’m not realizing that I’ve forgotten a sports bra (BIG FAIL) or left my breakfast at home (minor fail).

Blame my control-freak, anal-retentive tendencies. I like to think I thrive on routine, but when something throws me off of the routine early in the week, it feels like the consequences ripple all the way through to Friday. If I don’t spend time doing my meal/snack prep on Sunday, by Friday, I’ve gone a week with running to the on-campus convenience store for string cheese and an apple, which means time lost for things like answering questions my students approach me with between classes, or not being able to print homework assignments between classes and then realizing the printer is now occupied by another teacher with two reams worth of work being spit out… You get the idea.

Mostly this is me being a little too Type A for my own good. Ultimately, the copies will be made, but maybe it means I come to class a minute or two late (something my students don’t seem to have a problem with). The fact that a convenience store exists on campus and that it is just downstairs is actually kind of a saving grace–on the mornings where I’m wiped and can’t make coffee or have forgotten my snacks, it helps to know that that resource is there and I don’t have to go through my day decaffeinated or hangry. (Ultimately a win for myself AND my students.) But I have to work on the attitude problem that makes me feel like I’ve somehow failed or am sucking at life for not being totally “together” at that moment.

Life is setbacks and mix-ups and messiness and dealing with all that that entails. So learning to give myself a bit of grace to relax and realize things are not nearly as stressful or flustering as my knee-jerk reaction tends to assume goes a long way to keep a mental peace sustained through the week. I’m starting to ‘get it.’

And though it be instant, even convenience store coffee is still coffee and let us all say a prayer of thanks for that… Now, back to lesson planning for me.

Playing catch-up

I think some time ago I promised that I wouldn’t go too long without updating again. Looks like that endeavor may have failed…

In the last six months, I have finished the ultimate frisbee season, had to cope with the sucky-ness of good-byes to friends I’d become close to in my first year in Korea, finished my first semester at Bugil, sprained my ankle… badly (thus derailing my hope to train for this fall’s Seoul Marathon), traveled back to the U.S. for a month-long summer break (visiting about five states in the process), returned to Korea to start my second semester at Bugil, started getting to know the new wave of teachers that have arrived, resumed Korean lessons, picked up new students to tutor, gone on my first hike in Korea, and we’re back again at midterms season for the fall. Did I miss anything?

Oh, right! Annie’s visit!

My good friend Annie came to visit me from California, which was awesome. She was in Korea for about a week, and in that time, we hit Busan and Seoul, Suwon and the island of Muuido. There was a lot of food, a lot of traveling and a lot of fun, especially since it was all condensed into one week. My tour guide skills are now sufficiently up to snuff…

But now fall is settling in and the air has a crisper feel to it. I no longer sweat my makeup off as I walk to school, so it really must be getting colder. Spring and fall are brief, however, so I’m scrambling to work on some knitting projects to prepare both myself and Jerry for the bitter winter, which stretches on endlessly, it seems.

I have also picked up a guitar. Seriously. Apparently, I’m going to learn. Stay tuned for that one… 😉