Making every bite count

28 February 2007

has it really been two years?

Life passes quickly, more so each year.
Two years ago, I was embarking on the journey of my lifetime. A year in Korea. I remember crying until I couldn't catch my breath when I left my mom at the gate. 365 days without her? How would I do it? It ended up being about 400 days sans Maman. I returned home a different person, a year older, sure, but a bit less innocent, a bit more jaded, a bit less idealistic. It wasn't Korea that changed me; it was my life choices.
That year was simutaneously the best and worst of my life. Korea is so important to me, and it was there that I learned a lot about myself... what I wanted, who I was, am and will be. I made great friends, taught intelligent children and, of course, ate delicious food.
Everything in those first few days was magical, special, unique. Soon, the grocery story would become just another errand in my daily life, but that first visit was so exciting!
Saturday, February 26, 2005 2:59 p.m.
I survived my first two trips to stores. Last night, after working a 10-hour day, stores were closed and I didn’t have the energy to try a restaurant so I was prepared to starve until morning or face another Luna bar for a meal. (Before leaving I bought a couple of dozen Luna bars, etc. for breakfast here. Thankfully, because that and coffee was the only food I had in my apartment yesterday morning. )In the few blocks after the school there are restaurants and businesses, but then it’s pretty much just apartment buildings for a solid 10 minutes. Finally I found a 7/11-type place and picked up some food. It’s strange picking out food without knowing exactly what it is. I bought some milk thinking it was soymilk. It was in a black and white and green container, just like the soymilk (duyu) I was used to seeing. Oops. I found some mushroom soup in the refrigerated section. I heated it on the stove -- no microwave -- and ate it for breakfast. It was heavenly! Maybe it’s because it was the first warm food I’d had in a day and a half. I also bought this triangular sushi with spicy tuna filling (though at the time I didn’t know what was inside.) called maeun chamchi samgakgimbap. I read about it in the guidebook. Only sold in convenience stores, it is a triangle of rice with a filling of beef (so gogi), tuna (chamchi) or chicken (dalk gogi) or even kimchi. It’s covered in dried seaweed (kim), which inevitably comes off when you unwrap the treat. I also saw some today in the grocery store, Carrefour. Seeing that familiar sign made me feel at home right away. (Carrefour is a French brand. The word means crossroads in French.) Grocery store is a bit of an understatement; it’s more like a mall. There are small boutiques, a beauty salon, a pet supply shop, restaurants – including KFC, Baskin Robbins and Burger King – and a section that has just about everything, like a Wal-mart. An accessories kiosk caught my eye. The woman and I talked a bit and I succumbed to the lure of the shiny objects. I bought a stick for my hair, one that can be used to secure a twist or bun. I paid 12,000 for it, which I suppose was worth it for the conversation. I walked around a bit before choosing my groceries and deliberately only chose a basket instead of a cart. I wanted everything, but knew I had to carry it a block home. There was a huge produce section, a sushi bar, with self-serve, prepackaged sushi pieces, various meat counters, counters with countless varieties of kimchi, namul (side dishes), tofu (dubu), seaweed (gim) and rice (bap/ssal). There was a large seafood section boasting giant blue crabs (gae)with legs spread two feet wide, for 33,000 a pound. Vendors crowded every aisle with samples of meats (gogi), kimchi and spicy (maeun) vegetables (yachae). There were coolers with meat for grilling pulgogi and galbi. Another case contained beef (so gogi) and vegetables (yachae) already seasoned and ready to be cooked. For 31,872, I bought:a case of soymilk (duyu) (it was buy one, get one free, so I had to carry two heavy cases of single-serve nuyu home!) a six-pack of diet Coke (actually Coca light, and it was 2,500 for it! I likely will not drink much of it here because it’s costly. I just wanted to buy it.) seven pieces of sushi (600 to 800 each, what a steal!) a platter of what I think is marinated tofu. It’s yummy. I’ve had it before and love it! It comes with sliced onion (yangpah) and peppers (gochu). Sugar cubes for coffee (I plan to start inviting my friends over for espresso. I love my little moka maker!) Mayonnaise (not sure why, but there was a 100 coupon!) A green tea (nok cha) that I saw on the register aisle for 50. It was in this heated cooler-looking cabinet. It was really neat! Rice. A bottle of Hite beer (mekju). An Asian pear (bae uh) (they are quite large, the size of a grapefruit, and orangeish-tan in color!)A block of tofu (dubu), which I plan to fry up for lunch tomorrow, along with some spicy soy sauce. Mmm! It’s pretty fresh. Yum!I think that was it. I saw some cheese, but completely bypassed it. It will be a treat here, not a dietary staple. I am going to eat only Korean food for the first three months, if possible. Another method that will keep me from overeating and over shopping: My freezer isn’t working. I can’t read the dials. They’re far beyond my limited vocabulary.I still feel so tired. I want to go to bed early each night, but I can’t sleep through the night. I wake after a few hours and wake feeling restless. My body doesn’t know what’s going on. For the first time in my life, I am constipated. I am happy here so far, but I just don’t have much energy. It’s a nice change to have so much free time. I know work will take up most of my time, but that’s all I have. I still have to write home to tell people that I have arrived, plus I have to send postcards. That can wait. For now, I want to rest. But first I need to go back to Carrefour. I want a curling iron, a sponge, a hairbrush and some other things. Oy, I am tired. I expected to go to the other side of the city today to explore, but I just don’t have the energy. Every time I don’t feel energetic, I get scared that I am falling into a depression. I don’t think that’s the case here; I think the jetlag is still wearing off. It’s to be expected that it will take a while to catch up. I will worry about running errands and settling in next week. No rush. I am here for a year, and I need to be well-rested for work on Monday. It’s my first day of teaching. Yesterday’s experience requires far too much energy to describe right now. Back to Carrefour.

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25 February 2007

un weekend plein de bons repas et amis

It's noon on Sunday, and my weekend has been fabulous, despite the substantial apartment cleaning that awaits me today. (I have an in-home interview/inspection for Big Brothers/Big Sisters tomorrow night. It was rescheduled twice because of illness and a massive ice storm.)
Friday afternoon, I sat at my desk, anxiously awaiting news about that night's date with the international banker. Ever the diligent editrice, I left my phone on silent and forgot to check it. At 5, I noticed I had a message... oops. So plans had changed, and he invited me to the Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert at the Aronoff, then drinks.
The concert was great: The group's singing is mesmerizing, and their voices are so smooth that it makes their singing seem deceptively effortless. And... we had box seats! I felt so important!)
It didn't let out until 10, so by then the sushi place he'd chosen for drinks/nibbles (Miyoshi in Florence) was closed. So we went to the Celestial Steakhouse in Mount Adams. We were in the Incline Lounge, with its fantastic view of Cincinnati and NKy. We had a few rich bites and a bottle of wine and danced to an old-school jazz quartet. He kept raving about the lobster bisque, but I wasn't very impressed. But the rest of the night was great.
The next day I woke up early to retrieve my car from a downtown garage (I couldn't drive after half a bottle of wine!) and spent the day being productive. I tried to go to the new coffee shop in Covington, but it didn't open until 10, so I settled on the next-newest coffee house there. The Bean Haus' coffee is pretty good, and the employees were perky and kind. After a morning and afternoon full of errands, I returned to Pike Street for lunch. In the mood for a sandwich and having had nothing in my belly for more than 12 hours, I got the Washington Post panini with turkey, bacon, tomatoes, avocado and asiago mayo. It came with kettle chips for $6.50. Next time, I'd hold the mayo and perhaps the bacon. I secretly love bacon, despite its lack of nutritional value, but this was chewy not crispy. The sandwich was excellent, and the "artisan ciabatta bread" is fresh and crispy. The atmosphere is good, the location is convenient for me, and the food/drinks were good. They have fancy to-go lids that open and close. I still managed to dump tea on the floor of my car when I left. Typical Stepf.
Last night for dinner, I went to Honey in Northside with my old friend Bethany. After MapQuest betrayed me and sent me on a wild goose chase around the West Side, we finally arrived, despite freezing rain and numerous detours. The wait for a table was more than 30 minutes (9 p.m. on Saturday), but we were seated quickly at the bar. We intended to get appetizers and wine, then move to a table, but we soon filled up on our starters. We went with honey fries because I'd heard that they were good, along with some polenta. I wasn't too impressed with either, but the atmosphere was nice and I'd be willing to try again. The polenta was good but not outstanding, with a smokey, caramelized onion flavor, topped with smoked mozzerella and dried tomatoes. It just needed something else, but it was good. We should have gotten the salmon, our first choice. Not sure why we chose the polenta. The fries, a mix of sweet and Yukon gold, were cut too thinly and were pretty limp. The chili-lime-honey dipping sauce was great, but the fries were just too wimpy.
After those rich meals, I am back to my healthful eating. I've got a pot of brown rice on the stove and a tofu-spinach-roasted pepper lasagna in the oven.
I cook on Sundays so I have meals for lunch at the beginning of the week. I separate them immediately into single-serve containers so I'm not as tempted to overeat.

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22 February 2007

p.s. the picture

The picture is of some mushrooms at a shabu-shabu restaurant in Nowon-gu, Seoul, South Korea. (Eunhaeng sagori for those wae-gooks in Korea reading this!)
At the end of each session, the teachers, principal and support staff went out to dinner, often at the shabu-shabu place. We always got mushroom shabu-shabu, and the waitresses brought our jars of cultivated mushrooms to the table. They were so beautiful, and my friend Sarah captured that great picture with my camera... a couple of weeks before she left it in the back of a taxi.
The long, stringy ones are enoki mushrooms, which are quite common in Asia but terribly pricey in the States. There are also beech mushrooms, along with some white mushrooms. And, the ones that look like penises are straw mushrooms. Those are thick, chewy and not so delicious, in my opinion. Coincidence? Perhaps....


I'm so happy!

This is great news. I heart Whole Foods. There's one around the corner from my parents' house in Columbus.
I hope this means that Wild Oats will have the cheese selection and the produce selection of Whole Foods.
I'm watching Alton Brown make curry sauce. I've been playing around the spices for the last few weeks, trying to perfect a curry recipe. I love Indian food, but I just can't get the ratios right. I guess if I want good Indian, I'll just have to keep going to Udipi. (By the way, I took Kristin there last night; she loved it. It's cheap and delicious.)
I just learned that the word curry comes from the word kari, meaning spice. "Good Eats" is so educational.
It's been a long week. I haven't eaten much more than spaghetti squash, spinach and chickpeas. Delicious, yes, healthful, yes, but I'm a bit tired and ready for something delicious...
Oh, and one night this week, I resorted to "fast food," Trader Joe's style: vegetable masala burgers. They're only 120 calories, but there's a bit too much fat for my liking. After potatoes, canola oil is the next ingredient. But, oh, with some rice (TJ's has a great black barley-brown rice-daikon radish seed mix) and some coriander chutney, yum! What a great, late-night dinner.

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19 February 2007

Are you kidding me?

I sincerely hope that this guy is kidding. He presents "proof" that eating vegetables is not necessary. He maintains that we can get all the nutrients we need from multivitamins. I'm stunned and amused.
I don't understand how people can get by in life without vegetables. If I don't eat enough veggies, I get cranky! When I eat well, I feel happier and healthier. I have more energy. My skin looks better.
I know I'm climbing up on my soapbox, but nutrition is important. People in this country just don't get it! I'm not perfect, and I eat poorly sometimes: I was hungover and ate a bagel slathered in cream cheese for breakfast and a deli sandwich for lunch last Friday, and I had tortilla chips with guacamole last weekend... I eat way too much sometimes, but it's usually healthful food. I've got at least 10 pounds to lose, and I know that I should be more regimented in my diet and cut carbs. I probably need to learn more portion control. However, I eat a very healthful diet, and you will not find processed or frozen meals in my kitchen.
When I eat more than a bite or two of meat or poultry, I'm ill for more than a day. When I eat something fried, I feel awful. When I eat processed food, I feel weighed down.
Frozen food, processed food and fast food. It's sooo bad for us! That's not to say that I never eat it. I do, but I have to pay for my food "sins" later with poor health. I was in great health in Korea, I lost weight, and I learned how poor the average American's diet truly is.
And we wonder why America is dealing with an obesity epidemic! Think before you eat.

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13 February 2007

Mmm, Korean food

On a cold, slushy night like this one, Korean food is perfect. Kristin, her man friend and I headed to Riverside tonight after I got done at the Big E. He's going to Korea in a month, so he wanted the low-down on life as an ESL teacher and he'd never had Korean food.
Kristin, who's newer to Cinci that I am, had been there. Surprisingly, she stopped there once when she didn't want to go home for her dinner break.
I had dolsot bibimbap, like a Korean salad in a giant stone pot. They put a sunny-side up egg on top, and you mix in kochu jang (hot pepper paste) and stir the whole thing up. The rice on the bottom gets crispy and delicious! Yum!
Riverside serves traditional ban-chan (side dishes) with each meal -- nine of them. Tonight: kimchi, spicy spinach, sesame spinach, spicy radish, mushrooms, cucumber-crab salad, spicy cucumbers, sweet potatoes and something else. I can cook Korean fairly well, but the side dishes are tough. I never make more than one or two... it's such a treat to get so many at once.
Greg, Kristin's boy toy, wanted to try soju, the traditional Korean liquor. At $16 (instead of $2 or less at restaurants in Korea), we opted against a bottle of it.
We used to buy bottles and bottles of the stuff (at 88 cents each in the store), along with random juices and sodas and mix it all up in a five-gallon bucket at Monique's house. We'd usually party till well past dawn, and Shan and I'd spend the entire next day recovering at Monique and Jen's apartment. Soju is wicked, wicked stuff. Even a sip of it makes me sick now.
When I dated Joon-Hui, I learned to drink it like Korean men did: at room temperature and in shots, bottle after bottle. One night we went out for sushi and had three bottles. Ugh. That's when I stopped trying to keep up with locals. (After, I just tried to keep up with the expats, which proved dangerous enough to my liver!)
So, kids, beware the soju. It's potent stuff.
Sunday I went to Wild Oats to get some spices and soymilk. Random, but c'est moi. I bought turmeric, curry and garam masala. I mixed a teaspoon each of those, along with two cloves of garlic and some cumin and added it to the inside of a spaghetti squash. Yum. A quick, easy lunch for a few days.
My diet right now, if not my life and this entry, is spicy.

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12 February 2007

spaghetti al limone

This recipe reminds me of Cinque Terre (above, Vernazza), where I spent a perfect 24 hours last spring a la "Before Sunrise." We didn't work out, but this meal inspires good memories.
It's really simple to prepare: (for four people)

1 box whole-wheat pasta
2 lemons, zested and juiced
2 T olive oil
1/2 c cream or 1/2 c unsweetened soymilk
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
1/2 t crushed red pepper
handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
handful basil, chopped finely
1/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated
Put a large pot of water on to boil. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic and red pepper and cook until fragrant. Add the lemon zest, cook for 30 seconds and add the cream and 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add the lemon juice and simmer until cream has reduced by half. Add about half the cheese to the sauce, then drain the pasta and stir well to coat.
Top with the parsley and/or basil and serve the remaining cheese at the table.
Think of Italy, burying your toes in the warm Mediterranean sand and first kisses in the moonlight.

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11 February 2007

butternut squash

OK, so resolving to update this blog more often/commit to posting recipes and pics... In the spirit of that, here is gnocchi with sage-infused butternut squash sauce. Garnished with toasted squash seeds and fried sage.
1 package gnocchi
1 butternut squash, peeled, cubed, seeds cleaned and set aside (about 2 cups)
1 bunch sage
1 shallot, minced or grated using a Microplane zester
1 glass white wine
salt, pepper
1T butter
2T olive oil, plus extra for frying sage
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Place a large pot of water to boil. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the shallot until golden, about 2 minutes. Remove and set aside. Add another tablespoon of oil and the butternut squash, cooking until tender and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile chop sage to make 2 tablespoons. Add the sage to the squash, cook one minute, then return the shallots to the pan, turn the heat up a bit and add the wine. Deglaze the pan, scraping up the bits from the bottom. Allow to simmer for a couple of minutes. When wine has mostly evaporated, add the butter.
Remove from heat and use an immersion blender to create a smooth sauce. (By now the water will have reached a boil. Add gnocchi and some salt, and boil until gnocchi float, 3-4 minutes. Drain, but reserve a bit of cooking liquid to thin sauce if needed.)
For fried sage: In a small saute pan, fry large sage leaves in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. The leaves will turn forest green in color. Cook for about 30 seconds on each side. If they break, that's OK.
For toasted seeds: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread clean, dry seeds on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast about 5-10 minutes, depending on how many seeds you have. Careful not to burn them!
To serve, mix gnocchi into sauce and stir to coat. If the sauce seems thick, add a bit of cooking liquid or even vegetable stock. (*This could become a soup if you thinned it with chicken or vegetable stock!) Garnish with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, the toasted seeds and a few fried sage leaves.

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At my mom's

My mom is into nutrition, too, and she always has great books that interest me. She has been telling me about these two for a long time, but I just started to peruse them this weekend.
SuperFoods Rx is a fabulous book. Everyone should read it.
I'm really into nutrition, especially since losing more than 30 pounds in Korea. The book doesn't really introduce anything earth-shattering, but it does provide a list of foods that provide maximize nutrients with minimum calories.
The 14 SuperFoods are:
  1. beans
  2. blueberries
  3. broccoli
  4. oats
  5. oranges
  6. pumpkin
  7. salmon
  8. soy
  9. spinach
  10. tea (green and black)
  11. tomatoes
  12. turkey (100% white meat)
  13. walnuts
  14. yogurt (not the sweetened kind that Americans eat, but the kind that has actual live cultures)

My mom swears by Eat Right 4 Your Type by Dr. Peter J. D'Adamo. We're type A's, and according to the book, we should avoid meat and dairy (along with kidney beans, lima beans and excess wheat) and focus on soy, vegetables and pineapple. (In addition to other foods.)
The author, a naturopathic physician and researcher, maintains that our blood type reflects our immunity, health and nutrition preferences and sensitivities. For my mother and me, he's spot-on. I have trouble with dairy -- I've been drinking soy milk since junior year of college and ice cream hurts my tummy -- and meat -- I get really sick from it.
Forgive me for climbing upon my soapbox, but I heart soy. It's an amazing plant, perhaps the most versatile food plant. Think about its wonders: It can replace almost any food in the pyramid.
Don't ask why, but once I thought "What plant would I choose if I had to live on just one for the rest of my life?" I'm odd like that. Soy, of course, was the answer.
Dairy: soy milk, soy "cheese," soy butter, soygurt, even Tofutti!
Meat: tempeh, tofu (soft and firm), TVP -- which can make any number of meat substitutes! Soft tofu can also be used instead of eggs to bind baked goods, and semifirm tofu can be "scrambled."
Vegetables: Soybeans
Grains: Soy flour
Fats: Soybean oil, soy margarine
Oh, and soy sauce. Plus it can be used for nonfood purposes.

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03 February 2007

on TV chefs, from Anthony Bourdain
I love the bluntness of Anthony Bourdain. He's so honest.
I was a Rachael Ray fan early on, but truthfully, she's beginning to annoy the crap out of me. I heart Giada and, despite her blue blood, Ina Garten. Michael Chiarello rocks, but Sandra Lee is vile, from her frozen onions and cloyingly sweet cocktails and to her bleached teeth and dark roots.

finally reaching my heat threshold, and a review of heat

It's freakishly cold in Cincinnati this weekend, so I decided to heat up with a review of hot food around town.
I love hot food, the spicier the better. After a year of Korean food, I have a pretty strong gut when it comes to spice, so I tend to be a bit ballsy when eating out. On a scale of 1-10, I usually go with 10 at Thai, Korean and Chinese places and an 8 at Indian restaurants.
I met my match at my favorite restaurant, Udipi. I ordered chana batura, which is a light, fried balloonlike bread with spiced chickpeas on the side. I had ordered this a couple of times before, but this time I asked for "extra spicy."
PJ laughed as tears ran down my face and I greedily slurped raita in between long, exaggerated inhales through pursed lips. My nose ran incessantly, but I kept eating. My stomach would be fine and my fiery lips would cool. The chickpeas were so rich, so spicy, so delicious! I couldn't stop.
Oh, and a meal at Udipi for two with appetizers, never goes above $20! More reason to love it!
Here are my observations on other spicy dishes I've eaten recently.
Riverside, in Covington: Tofu soup with clams. 2, perhaps. As far as Korean food goes, it was tame. (But the food there is delicious and quite authentic!)
Teak, in Mount Adams: Seafood Choochee curry. Oh, the squid was divine. So tender, as it should be! I ordered an 8 the first time and felt nothing. The second time there I went for a 9, which was a nice 4 or so at dinner. The next day, the leftovers were definitely a 9. Their curries are the best I've found in town.
Wild Ginger, in Mount Adams, also makes good curries. I ordered salmon choochee there a couple of weeks ago, and an 8 was nicely flavored but not hot enough. Not even the leftovers were fiery. Oh, and the salmon -- a nice-size fillet -- was buried beneath the vegetables and sauce. Perhaps this was to conceal that it had been dreadfully overcooked. I love a crispy piece of salmon, but this piece was crunchy most of the way through. The thinner end of the fillet was nearly inedible. The last time I'd been there I ordered a green curry with chicken. I think I ordered a 6, because my friend and I were planning to share. It was bland.
My "book club" went to Aqua in Mount Lookout for half-price sushi night two Wednesdays ago. The sushi was fabulous, as were the scene and the wine, but the spicy scallop rolls were what really stole my heart. The scallops were fresh, sweet and succulently tender. The spice almost detracted from them, but the heat was so serendipitous that I didn't mind.
I'm always looking for good ethnic food, so share!

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