Category Archives: tradition!

Mom’s Birthday 2013

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday. It was a good day *mostly. I dressed myself in this shirt my mother bought me last time she went to Korea. (She picked it for me because, “[I know you like dogs.]”)

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My mom’s house is weirdly colored.

My brother and his wife prepared a dinner of mi-yok-guk (seaweed soup traditionally eaten on birthdays) and Chinese takeout. We had to get takeout because after my mom got out of work, we had only a small window of time to catch a 6:50 screening of a Korean movie at the nearby Bay Terrace theater, called The Face Reader.

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This film blends a fictional story of an old-timey physiognomist with the real-life story of a royal coup. It’s really entertaining throughout, and, like most Korean movies, has a very emotional ending.

I think this was the first movie my mom saw in a theater. She enjoyed herself. My sister-in-law said she heard my mom call out a few times during the movie (“Oh my god!” “He killed that guy!” etc.) but I didn’t hear this. Perhaps she mistook this for her own mother, who is kind of a good friend match because she’s as chatty as my mom is fairly reticent.

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Girlfrandz kickin’ it couch-style.

*The one dark cloud in the day took place when we were killing time before the movie in the surrounding Bay Terrace shopping center. This was kind of my stomping grounds in my teenage years; I went to high school nearby, and it was the closest thing thing I had to a local mall. It was insane to see how much had changed; they have a Five Guys now! Despite all this progress, we did pass an old man who looked at my mother and her friend, and spat out, “Fuckin’ chinkies!”

I wanted SO BADLY to yell, “You go to hell and you die!” and maybe follow up with some remark about how he wouldn’t be missed because he’s old and obviously uncared for if he’s left to just wander around shopping centers spitting obscenities. Instead I just glared. I guess it’s best that I yelled nothing back, not because the man was obviously unwell (though I rarely care about that; I think this brand of crazy should get what they give – verbally) but because doing so would have drawn attention to this short but ugly episode. My mother and her friend continued walking happily along. So as long as my mom had a good time on her birthday, we’re cool.

After the movie we returned to my mom’s house and ate this apple pie I had made.


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My mom likes pigs.

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Games : This Winter :: Movies : Last Winter

My sister Alice generally gives the most lavish gifts in the family. Her 2010 Christmas bounty included Korean movies on DVD for my mom, which spurred a brief but intense movie-watching spree. The gift-giving theme this most recent holiday season, however, was games.

Alice gave my mom two games which she thought would be easy for a non-English speaker to learn: Connect 4 and Trouble. My mom seemed unenthused. We made a big show out of playing a round of Trouble in front of her, but she still wasn’t very interested. She put the boardgames away that Christmas and hasn’t opened the boxes since.

When I visited my mother last weekend, though, she was excited to play this old Korean game with me.

Its name sounds like “Yooch.”

Yooch involves a board (this version was very cheaply made; I assume there are better ones out there), 4 wooden sticks with some kind of writing on them, and black and white game pieces. My mom chose the white pieces and I was the black. The sticks function as sort of dice: you take turns tossing them and then moving one of your game pieces along the board according to what combination of sticks end up blank or writing side up:
1 blank stick: move 1 spot ahead
2 blank sticks: move 2 spots ahead
3 blank sticks: move 3 spots ahead
4 blank sticks: move 5 spots ahead
0 blank sticks: I think you move ahead zero spots, but this didn’t actually happen while we played so I’m not 100% sure.

You basically move all your pieces, one by one, from behind “Start” and try to be the first to get all of them to the finish line – or, on this board, “HOMEIN.” The skill lies in which of your black or white game pieces you choose to move towards the finish line or introduce onto the board. If you land on the other player’s piece, you knock it off the board and your opponent later has to reintroduce it from the starting line.

If you must know, my mom won.

Does this game sound like Trouble to you? Because it’s basically the same concept – just replace the pop-o-matic bubble with sticks, and forget that annoying requirement to roll a 6 to pass the starting line. I pointed this out to my mom, but she still didn’t seem interested in giving her holiday boardgames a shot.

What she was excited about, though, was the prospect of a Yooch tournament. See, this Yooch set was apparently a gift from one of her co-workers. This co-worker is planning a night where a bunch of people play this at my mom’s apartment. Seeing as how Yooch is so different in nature from the drinking-and-judgment-based games my friends and I play during game nights – and because I’m not used to the idea of my mom hanging out with friends – it struck me as odd at first. I asked my mom why they were planning this and she said, “[Because it’s fun.]” Oh, right.

***You know what’s also fun? Today’s my sister’s birthday!***

***HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALICE.***

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100 Days EDITED

Korean parents traditionally hold a celebration when their baby turns 100 days 1 year old. I believe this goes back to the days when health care was spotty, especially in rural areas. The idea was that if your baby had survived this long, it was probably in it to win it, so it was officially party time.

What they do is lay out a spread of foods that were probably fantastic to ye olde Koreans but aren’t super sexy these days: piles of apples, pears, dates, rice cakey things, etc. Alongside the food is a collection of symbolic items. Each item represents something about the baby’s future; whatever the 100-day 1 year old child plays with or touches first is supposed to be a prophecy.

  • A pen and paper (which, I’d imagine, was more like a scroll and brush back in the day) – The child will grow to be learned and wise.
  • A bowl of rice – The child will be well-nourished, healthy… fertile, even?
  • Some string – The child will live a long life.
  • Money – Cha-ching! Hold onto that one, fer reals.

Here are some photos from my 100 day 1 year celebration.

I asked my mom what symbolic item I touched. She wasn’t sure, but she thinks that both my sister and I went for the pen and paper. Cool, right? I asked what my brother touched, and she said they didn’t get around to throwing a party for him. Sad. She then laughed, “[He probably would have wanted cigarettes.]”

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UPDATE: On Christmas day Alice informed me that I had it wrong; the baby goes through this rite of passage at a year old. Honestly, I did find myself marvelling about how huge I looked at 100 days. I just didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to draw attention to what a fatty I am.

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Thanksgiving with Mom

My sister was involved with a speech team in junior high school, and I remember her telling me this story from one pre-Thanksgiving session. A bunch of participants were passing the time talking about their plans for the upcoming holiday: where they’d go, who they’d see, what they’d eat, and so on. Someone asked my sister about her plans. Being from a family of caterers, she replied that we don’t really do anything for Thanksgiving. Said person then went, “Oh I’m sorry. What do Koreans celebrate?”

At the time we were all like LOL RACIST. But later I learned that it wasn’t just us: many many Koreans don’t know a turkey dinner from a hole in they ass. This is why my mom’s business blows up on Thanksgiving.

Koreans don’t do turkey. (It took several Googles to find a reference to a Korean turkey dish, and even that is considered an “oddity.”) And so these Korean-Americans pick up their Korean phones and order a Thanksgiving spread from the same Korean place that caters their other Korean events: my mom’s store. But they forget that my mom’s store is also Korean, which means that their turkey dinner is prepared by people who are equally perplexed by this culinary tradition. And unfortunately, this means that it comes out awful.

To explain: Once a year, my mom’s store sells four things they never sell for the rest of the year: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. And once a year, my mom’s store purchases four ingredients that they never use for the rest of the year: turkeys, mashed potato mix, gravy mix, and cranberry sauce in a can. This is what they sell to fellow Koreans. I’ve been informed that this year they sold 86 of these atrocities. Koreans apparently don’t know the difference, or don’t care enough to say, “Hey that wasn’t so great, can we go another route next year?”

This sounds harsh. But anyone who’s spent a good amount of time in an typical asian person’s kitchen – or at least, read food blogs by asians – is probably familiar with the all-too-accurate stereotype of how oven-averse they are. Take a look inside a very traditional Korean person’s oven and you’ll probably see something like this:

So it shouldn’t be surprising that my mom also doesn’t brine her turkeys or slip little pats of seasoned butter under the skin or anything like that. And her store doesn’t even acknowledge stuffing, which is the best Thanksgiving food anyway THAT’S RIGHT I SAID IT.

So in light of a long day of slinging sub-par turkey dinners, I like to visit her and do it up right. Since it’s only the two of us (my sister usually spends T-day with her roommate’s family in DC, and my brother does stuff in New Jersey with his wife and their friends) it’s pretty scaled down. This year I made sausage stuffing, green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes (click the link for a bomb-ass recipe). I also warmed up a small turkey ham because ham is my holiday meat of choice and the turkey part made it seem more seasonally appropriate.

Over dinner I asked my mother if she’d ever eaten turkey at all in Korea. She confirmed that they’re not really a thing there. I said, “Not like chicken, huh?” And she said yes, not like chicken, but that also they didn’t have a lot of meat growing up. She really liked it, but it was hard to come by and expensive. Even fish? Even fish, simply because her village wasn’t near any body of water. Remembering how much shit she gave me when I went through this phase in high school, I pointed out that she was kind of a vegetarian, too. Heh.

I decided right then to add to the list of things-that-I’m-thankful-for the fact that my mom can have meat at every meal if she wants to. Yes, part of that is due to industrial farming which is awful and ruining our environment. But I bet my mom thinks she’s kind of a baller now, and do you really want to take that away from her?

Happy Thanksgiving, folks! I’m thankful for everyone who’s given this little navel-gazing blog a chance.

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Three in One Holiday

My hipster mom holding my big sister Alice.

Today is a special Mother’s Day because it happens to fall on the same day as what my mom refers to as Korean Mother’s Day. (Actually, it’s considered Parents Day in South Korea, but why not let her reappropriate it all for herself?) Being that this blog is almost entirely a big fat love letter to my mom, perhaps it goes without saying – HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! If your mom is anywhere as awesome as mine, you better not fuck today up. Please make her happy.

Today is also the 37th (I only know my siblings’ ages in relation to my own, and I’m not even good at keeping track of that) 38th birthday of my brother Young. He was born in South Korea and moved to the US with my folks when he was 5 or 6 years old. The family originally settled in some ghetto in New Jersey, where Young was picked on for being a tiny little asian boy. Even though he’s 11 years older than me, I feel my face getting hot with rage whenever I think of my brother dealing with injustices like that.

My brother settled more into a typical Asian-American lifestyle when the family moved to Flushing. He made close friends – some Korean, many not – and briefly went by the name of Paul. (Yesterday he explained to me that an elementary school teacher of his asked him to pick a Western name because Youngho was too difficult. As a boy growing up in New York City in the 70s and 80s he loved Bruce Lee, but didn’t feel that he could live up to that name.) His Korean has deteriorated a bit as he’s gotten older, but he still speaks a lot better than I do, and he communicates with his wife mostly in Korean.

Like most Koreans, I don’t call my brother by his first name. I call him Oopba, which means “older brother to me (if I’m a girl).” I will further discuss this naming phenomenon in a future post, because I feel like it will illustrate how hard Korean is, and validate my failure.

Brother with mother. Note the wooden bow in his hand, and the arrows in hers. She's a cool mom.

My brother is a super laid-back, well adjusted man. A real guy’s guy; he can bro down with anyone whether it’s over sports, barbecue, cars, or Dungeons & Dragons. We don’t have terribly much in common, and sometimes I do find myself wishing he made different life decisions (like watching and quoting so much awful tv), but I care about him a whole lot. He’s a sweet, patient, caring big brother and just an all-around decent person. And if you’re anything like my sister and I in the picture below (and I’d like to think that we all are), you’d probably like him, too.

My brother, my sister, and me. Alice remembers this moment and she told me that we were somehow reenacting Snow White.

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Lunar New Year Dumpling Soup

Happy Lunar New Year! (Late but still counts?)

Lunar New Year snuck up on me sort of quickly this year. Though I knew it was sometime this week, I didn’t think of it ’til the Chinese girl wasn’t at work. (I mentally slapped my forehead — I could have TOTALLY cashed in on a day off work! Unpaid, but still.) Luckily I was prepared. My brother and I visited my mom this past weekend, and she made sure we both left with a bag of frozen homemade dumplings. While it’s not uncommon for me to leave Flushing with armfuls of free Korean food, these dumplings had a special purpose. They were for this soup.

Koreans eat this dumpling soup – mandoo gook – on New Years Day for good luck. (I assume that last part; isn’t every asian custom for good luck?) Supposedly you can wander into any restaurant in Manhattan’s Korea-Town and they’ll offer it to you for free on this day. My mom prepared mandoo gook for me and my brother this past weekend as well, perhaps in an attempt to ensure that we’ll at least have some remnants of it in our bellies by the New Year, in case we don’t make the soup ourselves.

Armed with the memory of how the soup tasted a few days ago – as well as a brief post-work phone conversation with my mom in which I could only make out certain cooking terms – I was able to throw together the mandoo gook, or at least a close approximation. It was a snap! Really, the only thing slightly daunting about this recipe might be finding the right Korean beef dumplings, but Trader Joe’s frozen dumplings – or any other scallion-y type – should work just fine.

Korean Dumpling Soup / Mandoo Gook
Ingredients:
6 cups of water
1 beef bouillion cube
1 large or 2 small potatoes, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
3 scallions, sliced into diagonal strips
1 piece of ginger, about half the size of your thumb
10-15 frozen beef dumplings for boiling
1/2 tsp sesame oil
plenty of salt and pepper, to taste

potato, bouillion, garlic, ginger, scallions

Isn't it great when you can do all your cutting on one (small) cutting board?

Bring the water and bouillion to a boil in a large heavy pot. Add the potatoes, garlic, and some white pieces of scallion. Grate the ginger over the pot. Carefully add the dumplings to the broth. Drizzle the sesame oil over the dumplings and stir. After the potatoes and dumplings are cooked through, add the green scallions, plus salt and pepper to taste.

Some notes:
– Korean people eat this soup year-round, too.
– When my mom makes this soup, there’s something decidedly – yet subtly – beefy about the broth but it’s clear. The beefiness is most likely from the few bits of beef my mom adds, but since I didn’t have bits of beef around the kitchen I used a single bouillion cube. Basically, I wanted to add beefy essence while still keeping the broth as clear as possible. Be prepared to use a lot of salt.
– I like using a microplane zester for the ginger.
– Oil came up in the phone conversation with my mom, though I couldn’t place where in the recipe she’d add it. One might think that you saute the vegetables in the oil first, and then add the broth, but the vegetables in the soup normally have a softer, more boiled flavor, and they’re certainly not browned at all. Though I just added the sesame oil to the soup near the end almost as an afterthought, I did find that that teensy bit imparted a nice richness to the broth.
– This recipe made enough servings for my gluttonous self, my boyfriend, and one extra container for my gluttonous self to bring to work for lunch the next day. I don’t plan to do a lot of recipes here, but when I do I probably won’t be listing number of servings because I don’t want to give away what a fatty I am.

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