korean dumplings, story on traditions

img_0412-1January 28th, was Lunar New Year. Growing up in Korea, this day was more sacred and celebrated than January 1st New Year. Since moving to America in 1988 though, my family started to focus less on Lunar New Year. My sister and I were eager to be Americanized so anything that was too “korean” or “traditional”, we didn’t want to be part of and I think my parents saw that. I believe our parents still celebrated the Lunar New Year on their own quietly, somehow without us really knowing about it.

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Time passed, we grew up. In my late thirties now, and all I crave is TRADITION – the history behind all the food I used to grow up eating. The stories. The ingredients. Everything seems to be ‘fusion-ized’ these days. I do appreciate that we can take the best from each culture and make it our own, experiencing each other in that way. Still, the root of that culture, the people who grew up with them has been lost in the midst of fusion-ing. How was this food, this dish, prepared hundreds of years ago? What stories did it tell?

This year for New Years Day, we spent it in our home with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. Here’s my mom showing my husband how to make the dough not too thin or too thick. Also, she swears by this korean wheat flour for her dough and trust me, it makes all the difference in giving your dumpling dough a perfect hearty, yet light texture.

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It was beautiful watching my husband and my mom cook together, sharing a meal, and embracing our culture.  So, a way to re-introduce traditions we grew up with, this year for the first time, Leo and I invited some friends over and celebrated Lunar New Year. We made something Chinese and something Korean (baozi and kimchi dumplings).  My husband is an incredibly gifted chef and I reap its benefits. I do the taste testing and writing.

Growing up, my mom always made kimchi “mandoo” (dumplings in Korean) because we preferred it over meat fillings. Both meat filling and kimchi fillings are very traditional. We tweaked my mom’s filling because we wanted to keep it more simple. My mom spends a lot of time on her filling. Her mandoos are filled with kimchi she made, tofu, mung bean sprouts, carrots and mushrooms sautéd in sesame oil. A lot of time and love.

Here is Leo’s 4 ingredient Kimchi Mandoo Filling: (again, Korean dishes are generally as I like to call it, “no recipe” dishes because it’s really about tasting as you cook and add) Simply add all ingredients in a big bowl and mix well. The dough mix is our secret recipe, but it’s just flour and water.

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Handful of kimchi chopped well (if we can’t get my mom’s, alternatives are The Brinery (local) or Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi  (vegan). We have tried many, many brands of kimchi and if you are going to get store bought, these are the best in flavor with integrity in ingredients. Nothing artificial.

Chopped green onions

Chopped Greens. We used watercress because it works so well with the sour and spice from the kimchi. Watercress cuts that a bit with delicious bitterness and gives the filling depth of flavor.

Extra Firm Tofu. We made the mistake of not squeezing out the water the first time so don’t forget! If water is not squeezed out, it will make the dough soggy, filling watery, and very difficult to shape the dumplings.

Dumplings then can be added to any veggie or chicken broth to make it into soup. This is the traditional meal on New Years Day. Garnish or prepare on side of the broth with green onions and toasted seaweed pieces. This is probably the only meal in Korea that doesn’t require any other side dishes. Typically, at every meal, there is rice, some kind of boiling soup, and side dishes that are just as important.

Not with Mandoo soup. You have the comfort of gluten, boiling soup, Korean staple (kimchi), all the flavors in one bowl- welcoming another year of good eating and fortune. For me, I find myself going back the traditions I once left behind. Sometimes the greatest treasure in food is the one that’s always been there. The simple, the humble, the incomparable.

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embrace limitations

img_3161-1This past week was characterized by whirlwind of emotions: thanksgiving, sadness, anger-lots of anger, regret, fear, confusion.

It’s only January of the new year and just when we thought this was OUR year, we got hit  with very difficult news that is shaking our world upside down. Leo was diagnosed with a rare chronic illness on Monday after blood work and MRI. It’s scary to know you can have health one day and not the next. We spent this week going through phases of really talking about it all the time to not. Leo is in good spirits and is living life as usual, even though he says his pain level is 10 out of 10. You hear that true character is shown through a person’s response to trials of life, absence of abundance. I believe this to be true. This picture below was taken the DAY we got the news. He’s in pain, no doubt, but you can’t take away the hope in his eyes.

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As for me, I am experiencing a new role- living with a husband who has chronic illness. How do I best support him? How do I show him that I am here? How do I make our marriage a place where he feels safe and loved?  I have a lot of learning and growing to do in this area.

What has been healing for me during this, is this book that Leo got for me for Christmas. It is the best book I have read in a really long time. Poets and Saints is written by Jamie George who is in a Christian Worship duo, All Sons and Daughters. It is a collection of 12 extraordinary saints, like C.S Lewis and their stories. You only hear about people’s successes, but not about what got them there- the everyday, the mundane, and trials, oh the trials. This is all about that. It really is ironic that I  was given this book, at this time, in our lives. The pattern I am seeing in these great men and women is that they FLOURISHED IN THEIR LIMITATIONS. I want to share an excerpt from the book:

” Embrace the limitations of being a mother. Or not being one. If you’re in a season of productivity, produce and be grateful for the opportunity to see the fruit of your labor. If you’re in the season of slowing, choose to enjoy the subtleties of beauty. Recognize that each limitation points towards something of value in your life. And remember, a limitation today may not be one tomorrow. ”

John Newton was a slave owner, a master, and made a successful living out of it. He then became an anti-slavery activist and wrote the song, AMAZING GRACE. He could have lived in guilt for the rest of his life, but he used his limitations, his flaws/mistakes/regrets, for something bigger than himself.

I keep thinking about the word EMBRACE because you hear it all the time. Embrace today, carpe diem. I decided to look it up and the webster dictionary says, “to hold-closely in someone’s arms, especially as a sign of affection; accept willingly, with enthusiasm.” Wow. This means, the core essence of embrace, I am learning, is to HOLD THE MOMENT WITH GREAT AFFECTION. There will always be limitations- each season of life will bring a different limitation. Some will be more difficult to embrace than others, but how beautiful and powerful would it be to turn our limitations into gifts that mold us into working for something greater. This too, is a journey.

2017, The Year of Commitment

img_3151I can’t believe it is already mid-January. After I reflected back on 2016 and pondered over what I wanted 2017 to look like, I shared with Leo on choosing a word to represent the year 2017. I was incredibly inspired by Megan and Mike at The Fresh Exchange. Their blog continues to be a source of inspiration to live a simple, beautiful life of intentions. Thank you! Here is their post on 2017 The Year of Quality. I love the idea of not having resolutions as it can turn into a “to do” list. Instead think about how you want to LIVE as a whole.

After conversations and hearing each other out, we decided on our word for this year to be COMMITMENT. At times this word can sound negative as it can be associated with the feeling of “must do this” or obligations. For us, we want to make this a positive word, with positive experiences. Whatever we say we are going to do this year, individually and together, we are going ALL-OUT. This is going to make us really be mindful of our commitments as it is easy to over-commit.

It will mean committing to LESS things to actually commit MORE WHOLE-HEARTEDLY. This is about being intentional, being all there, and it’s a year where we examine what’s important and what is not. Obviously it changes with circumstances and seasons of life. In the year 2017, what is important to us? What do we want our year to look like, as a couple and individually? What do I need to say no to? What are my values?

Here are my values-based commitments on the various aspects of my life: I will commit to…

1. COMMUNITY – doing life together with family & friends. img_3032My parents only live an hour away and we don’t see them nearly enough as we want to. When weekend comes around, sometimes all we want to do is sit at home and do house stuff. Certainly there are times when this is much needed, but being around family is always a refreshing time. We also want to grow in our relationships with our friends. This can be so simple as sharing a meal together at each others’ homes. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. It’s about the company and living life together. I personally want to be more intentional with recent friendships that’s developed at work.

2.  MARRIAGE – dating my spouse

img_4324Not too long ago, I heard a marriage talk on the radio and this particular statement still gets to me, “You don’t date to marry, you marry to date.” I think the truth behind this statement is that many of us stop trying once we are married. There are definitely many aspects of our marriage that is in constant need of work and grace, but this is what we are focusing on this year: dating each other. We commit to taking time aside and be in each others’ presence and date weekly. We are very happy with having a simple movie night at home, but sometimes going out is fun too. Whatever the activity, we hope to make new experiences together, laugh more, and make our marriage a priority – no matter how busy we get.

3. HEALTH – reclaiming my physical, mental, and spiritual health

img_2150Being physically active is who I am as a person. I love to run, practice yoga, hike, bike, and just be outdoors. When work gets a hold of me though, I feel completely drained and even depressed, I don’t make it a priority. In December, we renewed our yoga membership as a way to hold us accountable (and save money). I think what helps me the most is reminding myself how I FEEL after a yoga class/run/a long hike. I feel amazing. I feel strong. I feel energized and relaxed. I feel happy. Leo always tells me that I look the happiest after a sweaty yoga session.

In terms of mental and spiritual health,  it really helps me to have some alone time in the morning before heading to work. My mind is the most clear in the morning and I enjoy its beauty and quietness. In the past years, I have wake up  30 minutes earlier to journal, read the Bible and pray. It has given me the strength and peace throughout the day. Year 2016 was not good. I would get up with just enough time to get ready and rush out the door. I know this is totally fine for many people and I wish it was for me, but it isn’t. Feeling of rushing to get to work  has never worked for my mental health. This is also true for having some downtime before going to bed.

4. FINANCES – Finding freedom.

After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up last year, we had donated bags and bags of clothing, books, and dvds. The amount of clothing I was buying just because it was on sale was pretty embarrassing. Since then, I bought less than 10 pieces of clothing this past year. We plan to save more and be much more mindful about what we spend our money on. “What value will this add to our lives” and “what purpose will this serve” are the question we will ask to keep us in check with our intentions.

5. Work – Where Purpose, Passion, Skill comes together. img_2768

This is one of the many beautiful poems in milk and honey . I’m kind of having this on the back of my mind as I go to work each day. I know I am a skilled teacher and there is purpose to what I do, but there is no passion. It’s not a good feeling when you go into the office or wherever you work, and have this gut feeling this is not it. I am committed to spending this year figuring out my next steps. But, for the time being, I pray that I will give my 100% because it does matter, even if you intend to leave.

The Year of Commitment will keep us in check with our values and intentions. It is not about the list of thing we must do. It’s not about perfection. Rather, it’s about our efforts into doing more of what gives us purpose, and less of things that don’t align with our values. Also, I am learning and realizing that the most important commitment I will make this year is COMMITMENT TO THE NOW, even if this is a season I wish to rush through.

easiest red lentil soup

Michigan winter is still going strong. After a mild Christmas and New Years, almost signal digit temperatures are back in full swing. Luckily everyone in our household loves soup because that’s all I cook in these frigid days.

I first had this Mark Bittman Lentil Soup  at our friends Liz and Mark’s house last month – another cold day. When I heard that Liz made it (Mark is usually the cook), I knew it’s something I could also make. Liz and I both find cooking stressful so when we must (because our husbands are working late, out of town..etc) do the cooking, it has to be EASY. I mean, minimal ingredients, preferably in ONE pot/pan, and under 30 minutes from prep to eating. Sounds like quite a standard, I know. So, when this soup came into my life, I had to try making it on my own. I made it last night and it turned out amazing.

My adaptations to the recipe and ingredients I used are here below. I didn’t put carrots or lemon because I didn’t have any. I also didn’t put cayenne because I couldn’t find it in our pantry.

  • Chicken broth (4 cups)
  • Diced tomatoes (instead of tomato paste because I wanted some chunky tomato pieces)
  • 4 garlic cloves (doubling it!)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 tbsp of ground cumin (more please!)
  • Red chili flakes

I followed the recipe, except for using the blender. I wanted the soup to have more texture. What I love about this soup (besides the fact that it’s super low key) is that you can adapt by adding other veggies into the mix or more spice.

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remembering 2016

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These were our little housewarming gifts to each other on April 22, 2016 on closing of our first home. This pot holder from me signifies a time of growth, as individuals and as a couple. Leo got this card for us, as a daily reminder to be brave and excited about life as we start a new chapter together.

 

Another year gone, a new year begins. As 2017 is already underway, I want to close the year 2016 differently than in the past. It’s easy to start fresh and I love that feeling, but in order to truly go forth with arms outstretched, I think I need to put 2016 to rest with much gratitude- not only in my thoughts, but on paper, making it permanent of all the great things that DID happen.

Year 2016 Gratitudes: 

  1. April 22, 2016- we became first time homeowners to a charming 1915 bungalow in a cozy neighborhood in Ypsilanti. Buying in Ann Arbor didn’t work for us financially and we were really sad at first. But, we absolutely love our neighborhood and couldn’t have asked for a better place to start this phase of our lives.
  2. Labors of love- painting, building, installing, taking down, making it our own…etc.
  3. Sue. friend and unofficial mentor.
  4. Friends who helped our move so painless.
  5. Hosting Thanksgiving: first time both set of parents celebrate holiday together.
  6. Hosting many dinner parties with friends. Good food, good people, usually involving games.
  7. Special farewell dinner party for our friend, Grace. Cooking together a mediterranean meal.
  8. Women’s book study
  9. Friendships- old and new, far and near
  10. Retreat Getaway to Traverse City/Old Mission. Much needed time of refreshment
  11. Leo’s health improving so much in the past few months. What a miracle.
  12. Spending time with my nephew, August. Seeing him grow up into a beautiful, happy, loving boy is a miracle unfolding before my eyes.
  13. Christmas/New Years with family. Thankful for a sister who traveled all the way from California to be with us.
  14. Finding a yoga studio that feels so natural to me- my love for the practice continues to grow. Diving deeper into yoga feels like me and I am thankful for it.
  15. Starting this personal blog and writing freely.
  16. Taking a chance at Yoga Teacher Training Scholarship, although I didn’t get chosen
  17. New Years Eve at our home. First time parents sleeping over and us hosting them.
  18. Professionally: contacting a few people whom I admire and asking for help/advice. This was scary. Vulnerability is hard.
  19. Attending an adoption conference (Lives Rewritten), with open heart.
  20. A new start to Leo’s career
  21. Found my way back to journaling – feels so good.
  22. Marriage is getting stronger, learning to love, listen, forgive
  23. Sharing our failed IVF story with other couples. Amazing how you don’t realize how your story can be a source of comfort for others.
  24. The year I really appreciated desserts: homemade earl grey lavender bday cake, dark chocolate/peanut butter cookies, lemon polenta cake (all made by Leo)
  25. The day we had a family snowball fight…just over this Christmas. I don’t recall ever seeing my parents play with snow.

Making this list was eye-opening and I realized that I have much to be thankful for. I believe that’s always the case and gratitude is practice, time and time again, day after day. Even if things like traveling more (outside of MI), redoing the kitchen, find my dream career was on my “list to do” for 2016 and did not make it, other great things happened and they are not any less.

Thanks 2016 for all the big, little, and in-between things that happened, and even for the things that didn’t. There is always something to be thankful for.

unnamedApril 22, 2016. Sunny skies, all smiles – 100% happy and 100% scared.

best nut mix ever-rosemary, chipotle

img_2777We discovered this Ina Garten nut recipe about 3 years ago when I really really wanted to make candied nuts, but have it taste better with better ingredients and less sweet. Well, we have been making these during the holidays ever since. It is no exaggeration when I say it tastes like Christmas in a single bite. You get the sweetness from the honey and brown sugar, roasted aroma from the nuts, spice from the chipotle powder, and to me no herb resembles all the delicious dishes that are made during this season other than rosemary.

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As you know from our cooking, our recipes are either original or tweaked from someone else’s. Here are our thoughts about what to keep in mind with this recipe:

  • Get an orange and squeeze the juice out of it yourself. We made it three times already this season, twice with an actual orange and once from “freshly squeezed” juice. You really can taste the difference. The actual orange will give you more of a zesty flavor that is worth it.
  • We added 1/3 of more nuts than what the recipe called for, making it less sweet.
  • Get whatever nuts are on sale and what you will actually eat. We skipped the cashews (also because we are not a fan) and added regular peanuts to the mix.
  • A little chipotle powder goes a long way. We like it spicy, but we wouldn’t go more than what the recipe calls for.
  • Go crazy with rosemary. We probably doubled the amount – we sprinkled a lot at the end so you have that fresh rosemary flavor as well.
  • Do not skip the part about about stirring it at mid point. If you don’t do this, the nuts will stick to the pan.  Also stir when they are finished until it has cooled a bit.

This mix has become our go-to for any time of the day snack, snacks when we have guests over, and this year we are giving them as gifts in lovely mason jars. Everyone loves them!

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Oh- and Leo discovered that these also make awesome ice cream toppings! The ice cream pictured is from our local ice cream store, Go Ice Cream. With our roasted nuts, we tried the Single Malt Butterscotch. OH MY.

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ode to our vintage kitchen, a thanksgiving lesson

img_2647When we moved into our home in May, one of the renovations we wanted to get started right away was this kitchen. Everything about it is old, small, and seemingly nonfunctional for people who love to cook, eat, and gather. Granted we bought a 1915 bungalow and we absolutely adore the charm, character, and the bone of an older home. But, that doesn’t mean I wanted everything to stay in the 1900s. When it comes to a kitchen, we prefer new and sparkly.

Well, very soon after we moved in, we realized renovation of any kind is not in the budget. We ended up painting all the cabinets white, spray painted the hardware gold and recently Leo built a kitchen island for much needed counter space. Still, it leaves us with a vintage stove and oven. To be honest, we were apprehensive about its function! The thing is though, this old(er) stove and oven has not compromised our love for good food. I’m sure the fact that Leo is an amazing cook has something to do with the magic. Regardless, it’s pretty incredible. Even our friend Brian mentioned this at Thanksgiving – the contrast between the stove and fast-forwardness of the meal that was produced. I was reminded yet again the gift of what we have and appreciating the now for what it is.

There is magic beyond what one can imagine if you let yourself see it. I so need this reminder. Thank you for letting us see your beauty, our humble vintage kitchen.