Since I first introduced Motherland Mondays, I have cooked Korean cuisine and familiarized my boys with the smells and tastes of the homeland a handful of times. Over the last month, I have added Arirang Oriental Market to my regular grocery store stops. (Note: Oriental is appropriate to describe food and rugs, but generally not people anymore unless you are my 70 year old mother who has earned the right to use whatever politically incorrect terminology she wants about herself.)
Instead of buying the small 5 pound bags of rice, my last restock had me getting the 20-lb bags of both brown and white. Although I miss the restaurants in Chicago where the food was authentic and the banchan (side dishes) plentiful, being in Albuquerque has encouraged me to produce the goods in my own kitchen in a way having readily available restaurants did not do. I am still far better off than my mother who has to drive 2-3 hours to get to the nearest Korean grocery store. Going to a restaurant for Korean food is not an option at all for her. At least here I have a store (limited as it may be) 15 minutes away. I also have a couple of restaurants (even though there are children serving me no banchan but soondooboo that was more like kimchi jigae).
The best has been watching the kids gobble down each dish. My favorite change is that the heat-adverse Ethan has even started eating kimchi! Normally, he avoids anything with even a hint of spice, including just a tad too much garlic or black pepper let alone hot peppers. However, over the course of several Motherland Mondays, I have seen him slowly join his brother in requesting kimchi with his rice. Of course, the kimchi for them has to be washed in water and cut into microscopic pieces but it still counts. I have about four months to figure out a way to prevent my dad (proud grandfather) from paying them hard cold cash for their kimchi consumption.
Week 1: Curry rice kicked started our adventure.
Week 2: Kimchi bokumbap (fried rice) for Mike and me where I sent Mike to buy Spam and felt like I was sending him to buy tampons. I was too ashamed to do it. It may have been the Top Chef episode in Hawaii featuring the canned meat that opened my mind to the purchase. Although Koreans love their Spam (even the New York Times wrote an article about it), I can definitely live without it. I made regular fried rice for the kids.
Week 3: Sam-gye-tang (chicken & sweet rice soup) was inspired by a ready-made packet I found at Arirang. It came with the sweet rice, ginseng, dates and chestnuts. All I had to get was the cornish hen (or chicken since Trader Joe’s did not have any hens). I did not take a picture but a short video clip on Instagram. The worst part is my horrible pronunciation; the best part is Connor’s salute when I say “Motherland Monday!”
Click to access: Sahm-gye-tang video
Week 4: Miyukguk (seaweed soup) is traditionally given to mothers to aid in their recovery after childbirth as well as milk production for the newborn. Because it is all one’s mother eats for days and weeks after bringing a child into the world, it is also served at birthdays to commemorate the time. I recall my mom coming into my hospital room for the first time with my stainless steel Starbucks commuter mug full of miyukguk. I have clear memories of her stir-frying the seaweed for batch after batch in our little downtown condo.
When I would feed Ethan in the middle of the night, I would hear the microwave oven heating up a bowl of it that she would insist I eat when all I wanted to do was sleep. She was the ultimate miyukguk pusher. I am thankful that she sacrificed her own comforts and sleep for me those brutal first weeks.
All the boys in my little family love mussels so I made a batch with Prince Edward Island mussels from Whole Foods. Ethan loved watching them open up as they cooked.
I also made a batch with beef, the other common protein. I should have made beef broth for more flavorful soup but used a quick version from this blog of Korean food recipes a dear friend referred to me: Korean Bapsang. The beef was for a fellow Korean American sister who had just given birth a few weeks before. Unfortunately one of the containers chose to saturate the floor pad of Mike’s car so she only got one container.
Week 5: Japchae (noodles) was on the menu for tonight. Like most of these other dishes, I have made this before but usually only once or twice a year. It was worth the work. Since I got the beef for it at Trader Joe’s, I resorted to strip steak. I used half for the japchae and the other half we ate as bulgogi.
Going from once in a blue moon to weekly has been a smoother transition than I anticipated. I hope I can keep this up. I hope the boys crave these tastes and smells in years to come. I hope these same tastes and smells transport them to their Mama’s kitchen and their childhood in comforting ways wherever they may be whether minutes or hours from the nearest seller of kimchi. Here’s to the motherland!