I know I’ve mentioned korean New Year’s Day soup here before, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never gone into the details of what it is and how it’s made. This morning, it struck me as the perfect thing for a cold October evening, especially as I woke up feeling a bit off after only a combined total of maybe three hours’ sleep, and it is the perfect kind of soup to eat when you’re feeling a bit off. The first time I had it, it was on New Year’s Day about six years ago at the in-law’s house accompanied by a very bad hangover from the previous night’s party which we had hosted at our apartment. But that’s another story.
I had an oxtail in the basement deep freeze, ordered from the local farmers during their last delivery, and that was enough to get the ball rolling on a delicious dinner for tonight. Around 10 this morning, I ran down and got the package out of the freezer and emptied it directly into the pot, completely frozen. I ran enough cold water over the funky looking bones to cover them plus a bit more. Oxtail really is just that – it’s the tail of a cow, skinned and cut into chunks. I only had a few pounds worth, not a whole tail. I added some salt and a couple quartered onions and set it on the stove to boil. Once it was boiling hard, I turned the heat way down to a simmer and left it there while I went and showered, napped a bit (not enough) and played with my family for a couple of hours.
The fog cleared from my sleep-addled head a bit and I thought about what ingredients I would need to pick up from the asian grocery store. Joe and I had about three conversations over which store would be best to go to – Kim’s over on Snelling in St. Paul, Seoul Foods up on 65 sort of in the direction of the in-laws’ place, or another one the name and exact location of which we don’t know, but it has a deli in it that would have been a lot of fun to visit, especially since it was lunch time. I decided on Seoul Foods, and headed out with Sophie since Julie made it painfully clear that she wanted us to leave so she could stay home with Daddy. Ooookay.
It took me a long time to feel even somewhat confident walking into an asian grocery store on my own, even though I enjoy the experience overall. There are so many cool packages and interesting food products to look at – I remember when they *all* looked unfamiliar, and it was funny today exploring all the aisles of the store, still looking for new and interesting things but also coming across many ingredients that I know and love whether I keep them in my own kitchen on a regular basis or not. I still worry a bit as I’m picking things out whether I’m buying the right version of something to come closest to reproducing Joe’s mom’s cooking, but I’m getting better even on that front, especially after having lived with them for a few months last year.
The other part of the experience that I find intensely interesting is being the only white person present. It’s an enlightening experience for most of us white Americans, and I’ve been lucky enough to have in many places and times over the last ten years. It’s good to know how it feels to be the “other” in a place, sometimes welcome and sometimes not. I’m a little less self-conscious now than I used to be, but in a different, more respectful way that is hard for me to explain and really is a topic for another post. Back to the grocery shopping…
I picked up some frozen dumplings filled with cabbage and pork – like the pot stickers you get at a Chinese restaurant. I bought a package of Tduck, thick oval korean rice noodles that are chewy in a wonderful way when you cook them up. Some kimchee (spicy pickled cabbage), some roasted seaweed (like the stuff around the outside of sushi rolls), and a box of Pocky candy for Joe, who loves it. I looked for some bowls like the ones Joe’s parents serve their soup in – the kind of bowls that they use at Pho 79 for the noodle soup there – but they didn’t have them, so I resigned myself to making do with the ones we have yet again. Note to self: Need to look for a restaurant supply store in town that might have them.
As I was doing my shopping with Sophie in the sling, I wondered whether I would run into any of the in-law’s friends shopping on their way home from church, but instead only ended up speaking to a nice older lady who asked me if Sophie was mine (oddly enough, even though she asked me pretty much the exact same question that pisses me off so much when random white strangers at the mall ask it, I felt okay with it from her – probably because she asked it with the assumption that yes, Sophie was mine) and I told her yes, my husband is Korean-american. This opened up the opportunity for me to ask her if the dumplings I had in my basket were the right ones for Tduck Gook and she reassured me that they were, and we had a pleasant but brief conversation about her daughter, who is married to a white man and comparing notes on who the mixed children look more like. She seemed curious as to whether all halfie kids look more like the white parents, and I said no, Sophie looks like my husband although our older one looks just like me. I think she was pleasantly surprised. Oh, this blog entry is going everywhere but the short story about food I meant for it to!
So anyway, I get home and take the soup off the stove. I fished out all the floaty stuff and stuck the covered pot on the back stoop (in just-above-freezing weather) to cool as quickly as possible. This part wouldn’t have been necessary if I’d planned ahead and made the broth a day before. I ignored it all till about an hour before we wanted to eat, when I picked what meat I could off the bones, added in some shredded beef from a roast I made last week and had left in the freezer for just this purpose. I made a little pancake out of scrambled egg and chopped it into strips, chopped up some green onion and some seaweed. I put some rice on in the cooker – even though it’s not part of the soup, Joe seems to feel that a side of rice is just as necessary to this meal as the kimchee, and I’m happy to accomodate him – the excess will go into fried rice later this week. I grabbed the broth from outside, craped off and discarded the congealed fat from the top, then put it back on the stove to reheat. Two more pots went on the stove to boil water – one for the tduck and one for the dumplings. You could use just one pot for both, I suppose, but Julie can’t eat the dumplings because they are made of wheat, and I didn’t want to contaminate the tduck, which is made of rice and safe for her.
It all comes together at the last minute as you ladle hot broth into the bowls, then add what I like to call the “floaty stuff” – all the other bits I mentioned before – and it looks like a work of art before you start eating it. I’m sorry, I forgot to take a picture in the rush to get it all to the table while it was hot. Maybe later in the week if we eat the leftovers as planned. Joe tasted it and said it was good. Julie ate it up happily to the last drop. It was not quite my mother-in-law’s soup, but it was good.
Still with me? I’ll give you a little update on the Sophie sleeping situation. The last two nights have been very good and very bad. She is finally going to bed around 8 and staying put all evening, although she does wake up every couple hours and need quite a bit of soothing. Usually one shift from each of us before she resettles, but we haven’t been practicing this that long, and I still prefer this over wide-awake baby all evening. That’s the good part. The bad part is that once it’s bedtime for us, I’ve been bringing her into bed, and she’s been waking up screaming at me for a good fifteen minutes every hour or so. Totally unlike Sophie, and I think it might be related to new teeth and the little bit of a cold she seems to have. She even had a very low-grade fever this morning. I’m not worried about it other than because I want some freakin’ sleep. I’ve been bringing her downstairs to the guest bedroom so that Julie and Joe aren’t disturbed as well, and I’m hoping for better tonight. The worst part is that my standby for late-night soothing is to just stick a breast in her mouth, and that has always worked, but this week she’s been biting me with those sharp little teeth to let me know that it’s NOT working now. Oy! Thanks for the support and well-wishes for everyone following this ride with me. It really helps.
Okay…now for the rest of the mail bag. Jennifer in Oak Park, thanks for putting me straight about Franklin. Somehow my sleep-deprived brain had missed the part about him not getting to go to Rhinebeck. If you haven’t read Franklin yet, you really should go check him out. He is the funniest zen-buddist knitter-guy ever, and his roomate Delores the wayward sheep is pretty cool too.
Katy wrote me a very nice, Pollyanna-esque comment about how lucky I am to be in Minnesota, obviously homesick and forgetting the realities of winter that starts in October and ends in May, during which we get about five hours of sunlight per day for several months and yes, sometimes really really glaringly bright ones too which means there is no cloud cover to keep any heat in and therefore it’s even colder. And Katy? The lack of humidity? Yeah, it’s really nice. So nice that my skin turns to sand paper and my nasal passages – well, let’s not even go there. Still, it was a nice thought, and I do like the Pollyanna attitude when I can summon it myself. So thanks.
Hey, Celeste – sorry to hear you’re still having trouble getting y0ur three-year-old to sleep. You know what? I bet you could still do something very similar with her. We did it for Julie when she turned two, and I didn’t think it was going to work, but after ten minutes of crying the first night, she’s gone to bed pretty darn easy ever since. Just a thought. I know every situation is different, and I’m sending positive sleep vibes your way. I totally feel your pain!
Annie expressed interest in learning to knit in the round, but is still intimidated. Annie, I can only offer you this – just stay calm, find a quiet time and sit yourself down with the directions and materials and just try it. Worst thing that’s going to happen is that you waste a few minutes trying. If you’re still struggling, so see someone at your LYS for some help. Most stores have either clinic hours (the Yarnery in St. Paul does on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and on Thursday afternoons) or you could take a class where you could learn that and so much more. I’m afraid that me explaining it here isn’t going to help you, other than to say that the biggest thing you need is confidence in your own ability to figure it out, and only you can supply that. I hope you try!
I’m off to watch a movie and toil away at the Bavarian Twist sweater for at least a repeat (barring baby wakefullness) and then hopefully some snuggling with the blankie. I can’t believe it’s only 9:24 and I’m finishing a blog entry.