Sunday, August 2, 2015

Another Move

I'm so sorry, but I've moved again. The new URL will be permanent, so no more hopping around. I promise. See you over there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sourdough, Hongcheon and Compost

This week has been a week. I don’t want to get too far into it, because gainful employment is nice to have after taking a year off of work and draining my savings on language school and travel, but let’s just say that I am currently working for two large corporations and, occasionally, we are -- how should I put this? Invited to enjoy lectures on the subject of marketing and advertising. I’ll just say that I find there is a strange kind of optimism about capitalism in South Korea that doesn’t really exist anymore in the US. Which isn’t to say the US isn’t in love with capitalism, but Americans for the most part have some vague knowledge of the devil with whom they dance. Part of it, too, is how the TED Talk model has swept the nation – even if you’re going to give a lecture about how to make more people want to buy more things, you have to start by asking everyone how they think they can give more meaning to their lives, or why they think living in today’s world is so difficult. You don’t need to actually connect these issues to making more people want to buy more things (because you can’t, really – well, you can, but not by heading in the direction the marketing team wants to head in) – just quickly transition like so: happiness = success = money = make your bosses more money = marketing techniques. 

See? Easy as that. Might not want to ask a room full of employees who are being forced to sit through a four-hour lecture if they would go to work on Monday if they won the lottery on Saturday, and then tell them that they should be working a job where the answer to that question is ‘yes’, though. You may not want to that question to most people, actually, because it’s delusional. 

I haven’t won the lottery. It’s fine. Most days are better. I'm putting the photo of our new compost bin here because it fits. Not because I mean to suggest some connection between the lecture and fertilizer. 

This week, there hasn’t been a lot of time for stuff at home, but I did manage to get a few things done this weekend. I planted some hearty greens out on the outdoor veranda, with hopes that they’ll be hearty enough to push through the heat and grow. I also got seedlings for a variety of herbs, as well as lavender, started and replanted the adolescent mint and basil plants that were jonesing to get out of their pots. I moved one of the basil plants out to the front steps, which get full sun, so hopefully it’ll grow up properly into a full bush. I started some sprouts, put some mint and rosemary cuttings into a bit of water for propagation (cover the stem with water, refreshing the water every couple of days, until roots sprout and -- bam! – a whole new baby plant), and dehydrated some cherry tomatoes (because no matter how good they are – and they are good – B and I aren’t going to make it through 3kg before they start to go off). B and I also got the compost bin set up (a plastic storage tub with holes drilled in it – fancy) which has done wonders for the summer gnats and fruit flies that were making an event of things around the food trash in the kitchen.

We finally got the big cedar cabinet we ordered, which I stained on Monday night with B standing by as the official fan repositioner. I had been to Hongcheon and back during the day and had spent the entire day in three places that are amazing on a sweltering July afternoon – a corn field, a traditional market and a 찐빵 (steamed bun) shop. I figured, why not just make a whole day of not being able to breathe? 

The truth is, I’ve been waiting for this cabinet for a good while, because, while we have a ton of bright sunny veranda space good for plants, we have no cool, dark place to put things like canned goods or ferments. I had started my sourdough starter over the weekend, storing it under the sink in the meantime, but I’ve been sitting on my new canning book since I got it a month ago. 

In regards to the sourdough, I’ve never done it before, but the thing is alive and hopping already, so I’m excited to give it a spin this weekend. The general idea, in case you don’t know, is to make bread not by using instant yeast but yeast from the air. It’s supposed to give bread a whole new level of flavor. 

There are a million recipes out there all calling for different ratios of flour to water, some using white flour, some whole wheat. I kind of just went with my gut with mine, figuring that if there are so many different recipes, it must not be that fussy of an ordeal. Sometimes living in Korea, too, the stuff you have access to is just different by nature from what most North Americans are using. Sometimes you just have to figure it out by trial and error. So I mixed together nearly equal parts white and whole wheat flour (통밀가루), with about 3 cups of white and 4 of whole wheat, and put it into an airtight plastic container to make feeding the starter throughout the week as little hassle as possible. I originally mixed the suggested 1 2/3 cups flour with 3/4 cups of water, but ended up with a crumbly little ball. So I added more water – maybe 1/3 of a cup – until it looked more the way it ought to (slightly thicker than pancake batter). This has always been my experience with bread recipes – whatever they say the ratio of liquid to solid should be is never what ends up working for me. Over time, I’ve learned how to eyeball it and go with what looks right. 

I put the starter in a large glass mason jar (much bigger than it looks like I may need, because the starter will rise and fall throughout the day) and covered it with cheesecloth (technically, a cloth for steaming corn, which seems oddly specific). Now, I feed it every night before I go to bed, when doing the watering rounds for the plants – I dump out about half and add 3/4 cup of the premixed flour blend and half a cup of water. Mix it, stick it back in the cabinet. They say it should take up to a week for things to get going, but mine was already bubbling by the second day, which may be because it’s hot as hell. 

When I want to make bread, all I need to do is replace a portion of the flour and water in the recipe with some of the starter instead. I expect that too will take some time to get right, but I’ve learned over the years that bread is a fickle beast, anyway – depending on the temperature, the humidity, the time of day, the position of the stars, the direction of the wind, you’ll rarely have two loaves of bread come out exactly the same. 

I’ll close with some photos from Monday’s Hongcheon trip, which included visiting with the lovely folks at the Hongcheon Agricultural Cooperative, and Kim Choon-ok, who makes 올챙이국수 (tadpole noodles) at the Hongcheon Central Market and who very much reminded me of my mother-in-law. Named for the tadpole shape the noodles originally took back when the batter was made from fresh corn rather than dry and the equipment wasn't as developed, the corn noodles are mixed with a spicy sauce made from chili peppers, soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions and sesame seeds and a little bit of ice-cold water, if you want. I love noodles, but they’re usually too heavy for me to get through much of them before I give up. These were different—even lighter than 냉면 (cold noodles), and so soft that they break apart when you stir in the sauce. 

She may have just been being humble, but I think Kim meant it when she told me the noodles tasted like nothing compared to the ones she can make with fresh corn. But since fresh corn is only available for so long, and she needs to run her business year-round, she has no choice but to serve what is in her opinion a second-rate product. But she still gets to the market at 3 or 4am every morning to start stewing the batter, and doesn't go home until 9 or 10pm every night, after the next morning's cornmeal is finished grinding.

While I was on the trip, by the way, I got a strange email from B with nothing more than this image attached: 

It says: 

People who fail are infected with a bug. That bug’s name is 대충

대충 can have a lot of different meanings, like roughly, approximately, basically, almost. It can also mean sloppy or half-assed. One of the most common nagging phrases that makes its way from my lips into one of B’s ears and out the other is 대충대충 하지 마 – don’t half-ass it. He’s far from being a failure, and I’ve seen some people 대충대충 their way to pretty decent success, but a few hours after I opened this email while standing in the middle of a corn field, I was in the van on the way back to Seoul when I got a message – B had gone for an evening ride along the Han, zoned out and crashed his bike and was at the emergency room. 

He's fine. Just conveniently can't use his hands to do anything, 대충 or otherwise, for a few weeks. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Serious Business of Corn

In case I haven’t really explained it yet, each month at the magazine, we chose an ingredient and visit a farm that produces that ingredient, in a region that’s famous for that ingredient, and a restaurant (or two) that specialize in Korean dishes that feature the ingredient. This is the basis for the article I write – farm to table, an introduction to Korean food from a foreign perspective. 

This month’s trip hasn’t even happened yet, but I’m already somewhat captivated by the subject, simply because Asian waxy corn vs. Western sweet corn seems to have the internet pretty divided. On the one hand, forums and message boards for Western foreigners in Korea are full of venomous ranting about waxy corn not being fit for human consumption, where as 찰옥수수 (glutinous corn) is considered the best in Korea. While foreigners are exchanging tips on where to find sweet corn on the cob in Korea, forums based in the States are full of Asian Americans swapping information on where to find the waxy corn they grew up with. 

We all know that weird and wonderful things can happen when immigrants bring their native culinary habits to a new country, where the locals adapt the dishes to fit their tastes, and fusion food is born. Italian pizza and American pizza can’t be said to be the same food, and even regional preferences within the same country can eventually come into play – see Chicago vs. New York. 

What’s interesting about waxy corn is that it’s an example of the same thing, but in a form that’s been occurring for a long time before trendy fusion restaurants were a thing. Essentially, corn was carried to China in the 16th century by the Portuguese who found it in the Americas. The Chinese took the crop and bred it over time to match their own taste – it’s not surprising that a rice-based culture would breed for glutinous qualities. From there, the waxy variety spread across Asia. This is considered to be the real variety of corn here, while the sweet, bright yellow stuff that comes in cans isn’t good for much other than an added flavor in side dishes, sandwiches or – another sore spot for Westerners – on pizza, the Korean version, which isn’t as different from the American version as the American version is from the Italian, frankly. 

What I found most amusing about this casual pre-article research is just how angry people on both sides get about the opposing camp’s idea of what makes for good corn. A lot of comments on both side referred back to childhood and, especially, summer. Of course, I have my own memories of the juices from grilled corn dribbling down my chin in the backyard. But my real emotional association with the food is even more regional than that – it’s cornbread, which I also ended up reading a lot about once I found myself starting to crave it while reading about corn. Specifically, I was annoyed that, while I can go out and buy cornbread in Korea, both Korean and foreign, it will either be the soft, fluffy, slightly richer version of white bread produced in Korean bakeries, or the overly sweet stuff the foreign barbecue restaurants I know of produce. Which is not right. American cornbread is not sweet.

I found that this preference, too, has its own background story. Apparently, the shift from stone milling to roller milling in the south caused the corn to lose a lot of the kernel and, with it, a lot of the resulting cornmeal’s flavor. To cope with the new meal’s flavor and texture, cooks began to doctor original recipes with things like sugar and wheat flour.

Et voila. Skillet-sized corn muffins for everyone. 

On the other side of the coin, there was the time B brought back a loaf of bread with little kernels of corn stuck all through it from the corner bakery for me to make French toast with. I generally take Korea’s variations for what they are. I try not to compare them too much to what I’m used to, and I quite enjoy 옛날 빵 in all its forms – they’re no less valid than any other kind of food, as long as you look at them as their own thing. But I draw the line at corny French toast. 

What’s funny to me is how generous I can usually be with Korean variations on foods that I have some personal stake in, while I’ll be ready to go ten rounds with anyone from the next state over who screws around with foods I grew up eating at home. Maybe that’s how the people calling 찰 옥수수 ‘cattle feed’ on the internet forums feel (to be fair, it is actually used as cattle feed in the US). But as for me, I think I laid that cross down the first time I bit into a stuffed crust pizza to find my mouth full of mashed sweet potato. Some battles are just not worth fighting. Sometimes it’s better to just let it go.

In other news, I went to the National Museum of Korea for the second time in a week today. We're preparing to do an article about it, celebrating the ten-year anniversary since its relocation to Yongsan. Today, a coworker and I met the director and were given a tour around the museum, which definitely made me appreciate it a little more. Prior to today, I had never noticed the little icons on certain displays that read "AR Tour," but it turns out, if you download an app and situate those displays in the center of your smartphone screen, some pretty cool features pop up. You can listen to the sound of a Goryeo bell or examine celadon pieces in much more detail than the dimly lit gallery allows.

I snapped just a few photos, two from the Hangeul Museum and one of Lady Hyegyeong's memoir, which may be my favorite Korean book.


I made off with a bag full of dorky swag from the various directors, who were all very kind. I've actually met the director of the foreigner activities before, although I'm not surprised she didn't remember me -- we first met last year, right after I'd entered language school, when we took a class field trip. She thought that was funny, but it caused me to pause for a moment and realize how far I've come in the past year. If you'd told me then, when I was struggling through the first exams I'd had in years and still trying to get over my eternal shyness about speaking Korean out loud, that I'd be sitting in on a meeting with her to discuss an article my magazine was working on, you'd have been blown away by the force of the laughter.

It's easy to get dragged down into the daily routine -- the pitches I have to somehow finish by the end of this week, while reviewing the final color prints for the August issue, the trip out of town on Monday for the article, followed by a possible late night at the printer on Tuesday. The article I then have to crank out by Friday while also doing the first round of editing on the articles I'm in charge of, before the deadline period starts again the following week.  All of the other things I wish I could be doing, all of the time. But sometimes, a fragment of the past glimmers in front of my eyes for just a moment, and I feel grateful, and just a bit proud.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Farming Reading List

You’ll excuse me for saying so, but there are an awful lot of books out there written by middle class white women who give up their lives in the city and move to the country to start farms, and then write books about it. I know this because I’m reading some of these books.

The first one, I was really excited to get my hands on -- Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life – and it was alright. Pretty much what it says on the box, a memoir that, in the way that memoirs do, informs on the subject matter but isn’t really instructional or informative by nature. I enjoyed it for that. But the writer, a New York native, had an annoying habit of finding her new rural neighbors to be at least as much a source of amusement as they are human beings. She doesn’t completely screw it up, but the tone gets a little too bless their hearts at times. As does her amusement with herself for being in the country and running a farm. But she has respect for the occupation (anyone would, after doing it for more than a year) and a lot of gratitude for the kindness of her neighbors, even if she does paint the town a little Mayberry at times.
But I have to give her some room, I guess, because she’s city folk, and it is what it is.

Mostly, it was a sweet story about how she met a farmer and fell in love, and how her life ended up taking a sharp left as a result, as well as all of the things she learned along the way. It’s well written and very readable. Maybe especially people who grew up in the city would find it amusing – I don’t know. But I connected to some of the issues that lay in the margins of the book, about how she gave up ‘her world,’ in some ways, to move to his, and how that didn’t always feel fair or good, whether it was a result of her own free will or not. I don’t know why I might find that easy to relate to. It’s a mystery. 

She also didn’t go out of her way to paint some pretty picture about life in the country. She told the truth, which is kind of rare among the influx of homesteading-type writers and bloggers that are popping up everywhere. Some of my favorite passages in the book were about her frustration and struggles with trying to get used to plowing with horses, as well as the love she came to have for the animals. One review I saw for the book expressed disappointment that it wasn’t more about the escape from city life and the tranquility of the country, since that’s what the reviewer sits in her cubicle and dreams about every day – She just writes a lot about farming. Well. You know, the funny thing about living in the country is that you still need to eat and sometimes even buy things. It’s not a permanent vacation.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is the book I’m reading now, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I knew what I was getting into with it, thanks to a ton of reviews calling the book preachy. It is preachy, and it’s also pretty condescending at points, in the way that foreigners who have been in Korea for one whole year can be condescending -- it seems like a lot of her assumptions about what “Americans do and do not know about food and farming might be based on things she didn’t know until she started her own farm. It just has that tone about it, instantly recognizable to any long-timer in Korea with an internet connection or who has had occasional close encounters with The Foreigner Who Will Explain Korea to You.

She can also sometimes slip into a weird prose style that can be really distracting. She’s likes hyperbole and uses some strange turns of phrase that I suppose are meant to be poetic. A little cheesy. Sometimes really dramatic. 

She can also, surprisingly, be really into the hokedy-hoke ‘we country folk’ thing. She grew up in farming country, so I’m not sure what that’s about, but she uses the phrase, just another day in/on/at in an ironic way, way too often. 

I’m sorry. I just feel like agricultural communities have enough of a stereotypical burden to carry without people yukking it up from the inside.

That all having been said, the book is positively packed full of great information – about plants and animals, farming, sustainability, the politics that surround all things agricultural, the history of farming, the politics of eating, canning, slaughtering ... all kinds of stuff. And it’s worth it, in my opinion, to try to squint through the hokey to get to the good stuff. 

I am saving the best for last, though -- a kind of bookend to this particular reading spell, which started with The Third Plate, which was definitely better and more informative than either of these two -- Wendell Berry’s Bring it to the Table. Dan Barber offers a great look at sustainability and organic farming from a chef’s point of view, but Berry is a farmer who’s been at it from that end for five decades (as opposed to a few years, like the yuk-it-uppers). If I barrel through a little bit, I can be reading it by the weekend. 

By the way, deadline is officially over, so I also plan on giving homemade mozzarella a try for the first time, sometime this week. Wish me luck. Cheese freaks me out, but damned if it ain’t delicious. If all goes to plan, mozzarella will just be the first step. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Oxtail Extravaganza; Love Against the Odds

This past week was the start of the deadline period at the magazine, which is, to put it mildly, not my favorite time of the month. I enjoy the work -- even the parts that are less exciting, like the actual editing, which comes in large bouts that leave my head pounding at times -- but the late hours can get a little intense. Luckily, this time around we had a company-wide lecture right smack in the middle, which means people kind of got their business handled a little more quickly (the deadline period is kind of a like a marathon relay sprint, if there is such a thing -- you've got to wait for the baton to be handed off before you can get on with your work, and you likewise have people waiting for you to pass the baton on to them).

The point is, I didn't have much (any) time to blog this week. The deadline period's not finished yet,  but while I'm waiting for the pie crust dough to chill in the fridge, so B and I can break in the new patio with a  bit of a barbecue and maybe take an evening ride along the river to Seoul Forest afterwards, I figured I'd get into a bit of what I did last weekend.

At the co-op last week, I had picked up a little basket of blueberries for a pretty penny (most berry bushes are basically weeds and therefore one of the easiest kinds of plants to maintain, but their yield is extremely low for the amount of land they take up and their shelf-life, extremely short, so you gotta take 'em for the luxury they are), so first B and I did a big brunch of blueberry pancakes, bacon and eggs. Then he went out to try to get our outside spaces in some kind of shape, and I got busy turning the kitchen into a sauna.  

It was perhaps not the best idea to scoop up a huge box of oxtails at the co-op last week, given their prolonged cooking time and the fact that it was nearly July, but I just got excited. So on Saturday morning, I busted out the slow cooker and the huge stock pot my mother-in-law insisted we carry back on the train from Busan at Seollal and got busy doing oxtail, two ways.

I threw the majority of the oxtails (after soaking the blood out in cold water for about an hour) into the pot with water to boil for about 20 minutes to cook off the fat, threw out that water and refilled the pot with the oxtails, water and an entire daikon to simmer for a couple of hours. Then, I removed the daikon and pulled the meat off the bones, and threw the bones back in with more water and kept it going for another 5 or 6 hours.

I dressed the meat in red pepper flakes, sesame oil, soy sauce and green onions and threw it, the daikon and a portion of the stock in the fridge for 꼬리곰탕 to eat during the week. I froze the rest of stock (and there was a ton of it) for later use.

I tossed the rest of the oxtails in flour, salt and pepper and seared them off in a skillet. Deglazed with about half a bottle of red wine and added a can of tomato paste.

While that cooked down, I threw two carrots, two onions, a handful of whole garlic cloves, a whole bunch of parsley, a couple of sprigs of rosemary and two bay leaves into the slow cooker.

When the sauce came together, I added it and the seared oxtails to the slow cooker and set it to low, where it stayed doing its thing for the next six hours or so. The result was pretty amazing, but definitely one of those a-little-goes-a-long-way kinda dishes.

 The last two weekend projects were to make yogurt for the week's breakfasts, and use up the last of the lemons I bought the weekend before for lemonade, to make the summer moving experience a little more bearable (a finger or three of tequila at the bottom of the glass, and you've got a great recipe for avoiding couple fights when the air conditioner has already been uninstalled and the Ikea bed needs to be taken apart).

The two tasks go well together,  because the yogurt needs to be kept warm in the dehydrator overnight, and it's a shame to waste lemon peels, which are good for cooking (obviously), flavoring tea or making cleaning products.

I have to say, I made the yogurt with co-op milk from Jeju-do, and it was nice. I'm happy to have the co-op on hand, because it took me a while to track down a reliable source of non-ultra-high-temperature pasteurized milk near our old place, and even then, it wasn't always available.

It might be obvious that I don't get out much during the weekends anymore -- work is pretty demanding at times, and there's a lot of eating whatever I can get my hands on quickly. I've never been much of a fan of eating out, especially convenience food, and I miss cooking and eating home-cooked meals during the week, and just being at home in general. I was pretty spoiled for a while in that, while language school was demanding, it still allowed me to be home and on my own schedule most of the time. Going from that to working at the magazine has been zero to a hundred, in a couple of months flat.

That's not to say I've forgotten my friends completely. In fact, we went to a wedding yesterday that was a long time in the making for two very lovely people who deserve nothing but the best in life, and who were lucky enough to find each other, which will go a long way in that regard.

Later this year will be another wedding that's been a long time in the making, again between two people who have made their way together against the odds. I don't know what it is with me and mine -- staying home and finding a nice boy or girl didn't seem to be in the cards for a single one of us. Of course, B and I still need to figure our wedding stuff out, but it's the marriage that really matters, and I guess we're doing okay there. 

Now, B's getting antsy to get the meat train out of the station -- he's been talking about the barbecue nonstop for three days. I've got so much more to say, but time is a limited resource. You gotta grab whatever moments you can with the ones you love.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Tale of Two Co-ops

So, although B and I are now living in a little golmok 'hood where, let's just say, having a bike with a basket is going to come in real handy, we are just a short bike ride away from a particularly schmancy part of the city which is overflowing with organic shops and food co-ops, which is exciting for me, because it's not a thing that has been a reasonable option given the places I've lived previously. Since we're going to have to go out of our way to get our groceries anyway, we might as well try to put in a little extra effort to be responsible consumers as well.

To be clear, I know co-ops are mostly marketed to people who are worried about things like gluten and "toxins" and words on packages they can't recognize. They're marketed that way because they have to be to get the capital backup they need to survive. The truth is, in my opinion, that our bodies are resilient and built to survive. Of course, some things are better to put in them than others, but I'm a smoker -- I don't really have room to be getting high and mighty on that account.

The reasons I'm excited about joining a co-op are twofold, really: 1. The food (especially the meat and dairy) generally tastes better and 2. I hate what industrial farming has done to the agricultural community. Small farmers need a reasonable amount of support if they are going to be expected to not just pack it in, sell the land and go get a job at a factory (which is a terrific waste of usually generations of handed-down wisdom about the things that we eat and how to make them that is in real danger of disappearing forever). Co-ops help give small farmers and those who don't or can't turn to industrial farming methods a fighting chance.

For something that goes way deeper than the surface-level buzzwords on the subject, I really recommend Dan Barber's book The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food (which I got through Whatthebook? for what it's worth). It's nice to read about the organic movement from a chef who works closely with his farm. Much better than hearing about it from fake 'nutritionists' who essentially lord over a peasantry of dieters in denial. Just saying.

Speaking of Dan Barber, I'm not super up on the world of chefs (although taking daylong road trips with two of Korea's top foreign chefs once a month is slowly changing that), but I first learned about him through a new docu-series called Chef's Table, which is also worth checking out. I haven't historically been interested in food as more than, well, food, and a bit for the politics and social implications involved, but this series focuses more on the chefs' philosophies than the food itself (although, of course, it is featured), which is different from most of the cooking/chef-related shows I've seen in the past.

Anyway, I know in the old days I would've spent this whole post ranting about the idiocy of the woman at the Ichon branch of Hansalim who took one look at my face and told me I couldn't join the co-op (when I specifically went there because, seeing the English-language forms for membership on their website, I figured it wouldn't be an issue) because 'foreingers don't stay in Korea for a long time'. Well, and with folks like you around, who can blame them? I put the basket down and walked out. B apparently stayed behind and explained that I was his wife and had been here for nearly seven years, at which point she decided that, actually, I could join (so it's clearly not company policy, and maybe some people will have better luck at other branches, although a tweet to the main branch about the situation has gone unanswered so far). But you know what? No, thanks. I really only expect things to go downhill from that kind of first encounter, and I don't think I'd ever really feel welcome at group activities and lectures this woman is in charge of.

I would like to know why me suddenly leaving the country would be a problem for them, though, since they aren't a phone company. Me leaving and never coming back just means they get to keep my investment. Also, great way to abide by the co-op tenet of community spirit.

So instead, I did a little more research and found iCoop's 자연드림 (it seems to be a rule with co-ops that the name needs to be some kind of clever pun -- this one can be interpreted either as "Nature's Dream", which is their English name, or as "From Nature"). They require a monthly membership fee of 13,000 won in addition to the initial 50,000 won investment, but this is because they keep their prices much lower than other co-ops. You can also reduce your membership fee by shopping there often. To put it in perspective, I bought 80,000 won worth of groceries there tonight, but got them for 60,000 with my membership discount -- so I already more than earned back my fee for the month. The investment money is also returned when you leave the co-op.

The woman running this shop was extremely kind and helpful, and even slowed down her explanation of the whole system so I could follow. She also explained -- as I guess she realized I'm a foreigner and may have more need for imported products -- that  they do offer non-domestic items, but only when they are able to broker a fair trade situation and also contribute back into the community they are taking resources out of in the form of community service and donations.

My point is, the Hansalim woman is an idiot who passed up a loyal customer because she couldn't take five minutes to ask a few questions before making a snap judgment. And in the end, I wound up joining a co-op that I think will be far more likely to make me feel welcome and at home. Even if it is a little farther away.

Long story short, if you're a foreigner, try iCoop.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Am I really coming back to blogging? I don’t know. I feel like I might be. Things couldn’t be more different now from how they were seven years ago when I started the old blog, and it feels like the past few months in particular have been pivotal. New house, new job, sorta new husband, I guess. Lots of new interests and a lot of changes in lifestyle brought on by this job. A lot of new things that I didn’t feel were nearly as available to me before, because I wasn’t comfortable enough with the language and I never really knew when I might be leaving. 

I’m also learning a lot. I mean, a lot. 

I don’t know what this is, but I’m going to give it a shot. I think the old blog just started to feel too old. I’m not going to delete it or anything. It happened. You know. 

While I try to figure out what I’m doing here, enjoy this photo of the view from our new living room window. We've also got a ton of outdoor space, including one enclosed veranda running the length of the house on one side, with this maehwa tree and one other, a big front porch, a roof (with terrifying old rusty spiral stairs) and two open veranda spaces on the back, but we haven't gotten around to cleaning them yet (moving into a gated house in the torrential rain was enough for one weekend).

Chatting with the grandmother who runs the only little shop in our little back-alley neighborhood, we found out our new place is known in the neighborhood as the 매화나무 집 (maehwa tree house). I just did a story on maesil last month, so I think I was more excited that I would’ve otherwise been to see the trees when we looked at the place. 

We went down to Gwangyang to meet Hong Ssang-ri for the story, and it was one of my favorite work trips yet. Mostly because of her, to be honest. She moved to the area when she got married and had all of the sort of usual hard times that come along with that move to the husband’s parents’ place, but she fell in love with the trees. Since then, she’s built a massive maesil empire while traveling the world to learn about different organic and environmentally-friendly farming methods. Her food is pretty incredible as well. 

She sent us all packing with bellies full of maesil and massive, heavy gift bags stuffed with her products. She told us a lot of great stories and made us laugh more times than I could count. If you get a chance to go and see her and her beautiful trees, you absolutely should. 

Maybe later tonight or tomorrow I’ll tell the story of the co-op you should absolutely not join, and the one that you should. I don’t want to taint a post about Hong with those shenanigans. I was mad, though. 

Something to look forward to, then.

These are the photos from Gwangyang, including the amazing kongguksu and yeonip-bap (rice steamed in a lotus leaf) we had for lunch. Our photographer is like some kind of water witch for amazing food and pointed us to this little roadside shack above the river in the middle of nowhere. He’s not actually a witch – he just happened to remember, as we were passing by, that he’d done the photos for a story about the owner ten years before, and her food was amazing. He didn’t tell us that until we were nearly finished with the meal, though. (Lotus rice photo featuring ghost hand of food photographer in ironically hypocritical move.)