Yesterday I wrote about a day spent in my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, the day after Christmas. It was mostly about food and drinks because, frankly, we do a lot of eating down there. (How else do you think we’ve gotten top honors for fattest state in the country 10 years running?)
Home! Mr. Kim and I like to say to each other, “네가 있으면 집이야”–“Home is wherever you are”–so I guess that means that for the last week of 2015, our home was back in the suburb of Jackson, Mississippi, where I spent my adolescence.
It’s always weird spending time in a faraway, infrequently visited hometown. Lost accents return; old thoughts and feelings and habits spring back into being. When you bring someone with you, you see it anew through their eyes, and greater experience gives you greater appreciation for some things while highlighting your earlier limits on other dimensions. But, I still love Jackson, the under-known capital of a misunderstood state, and it’s still home to people I love and also a lot of great food–so, for the next few days, I’ll present Jackson: the travelogue, with supplements from previous trips.
In every relationship, there comes a point–in most modern relationships, before marriage–when a couple decides to take an overnight trip together. In Korea, actually, first travel–첫 여행, cheot yeoheng–is basically a euphemism for the first time sleeping together, since, in a country where most young singles live with their parents, and most parents of young people are still very conservative, it’s not quite as easy a feat as over here in the States. In fact, a year ago today, Mr. Kim and I had just returned from our first time to travel together–but no, not that way, you pervert!
I was planning to go home for Christmas; we had just decided to get married; and we wanted to take a trip somewhere together before our week or so apart. Mr. Kim had a few places in mind, places he’d been and decided he wanted to revisit with a woman, and in the end, he settled on Yeosu and Suncheon in Jeollanam-do (South Jeolla Province), the southernmost province on the Korean Peninsula. We both worked full-time (in the same place), so we left right after work on the Friday before Christmas, takin the high-speed KTX down to Yeosu.
My first Thanksgiving after I left America was sad and lonely. I hadn’t yet made friends of my own in Seoul and was too shy to interpose myself into the naturally unfolding plans of my new acquaintances. The school where I taught had only a few foreign teachers at that point, and most of them were Canadian and had finished Thanksgiving weeks earlier. But I wasn’t going to let any of that stop me from having a delicious meal. So, on November 22, 2007, having researched good restaurants in convenient neighborhoods, I decided to try an Italian place in Daehak-ro where, apparently, Bill Clinton had once dined.
Mr. Kim and I live in the northern part of the United States now; we’ve both previously lived in the South, in southern parts of Texas, and, of course, in Korea. I’ve also spent time living in England, and Mr. Kim’s time in China totals two years or so. All these places are close to our hearts, and we bring our experiences with us to the table.
Actually, unlike the stereotypical Mr. Kim, my Mr. Kim doesn’t mind cooking at all and, in the time since he decided to start really learning, has become quite good at it. He usually cooks breakfast and dinner on the days I work (oh yeah, I got a job!)–three days a week–and I usually cook meals on the other days, making enough leftovers for our lunches. Between us, we manage to keep our meals pretty multicultural and reflective of the places that have shaped us. Last night, we had leftover enchiladas I made Sunday from my mother’s recipe; tomorrow night, at my request, Mr. Kim is planning to make stir-fried pork belly in doenjang (된장). Last Thursday, though, I happened to take photos of each of our meals, so I thought I’d post it as an example of how we eat in our culturally amalgamated household.
It was a non-work day for me, so I made a breakfast straight out of my Southern heritage: Biscuits and gravy. We didn’t have any sausage, so it wasn’t sausage gravy, but I mean really, bacon gravy can’t be much worse, right? It was actually amazingly delicious. Mr. Kim loves gravy, and I had been wanting to make this for him for a while, so I was really gratified when I had to pretend to prefer to eat my last biscuit with maple syrup instead because (I could tell) he wanted the rest of the gravy.
Mr. Kim made lunch. He loves jeon (전, savory korean-style pancakes or really basically anything lightly battered and panfried), and even though I am the household queen of the kimchijeon/pajeon style–his fell apart the one time he tried–he makes some mean zucchini jeon! He also made doenjang stew (된장찌개). Although I wasn’t super open to doenjang when I first encountered it many years ago, it’s now one of my favorite things ever, and when Mr. Kim opens up mealtimes to requests from me, doenjang is almost always involved. By the way, Mr. Kim actually gets most of his recipes from an English-language cookbook by Maangchi. It’s a beautiful book, good for people living in America who maybe can’t find the exact same ingredients as in Korea, and the food has been great so far!
I did dinner. This is a dish I first made when I lived in England, based on this recipe. The kitchen in my dorm had wonderful and powerful appliances, including ovens, which I used with great pleasure after so many years in Korea, where ovens are rare and usually not great. Roasts (especially Sunday roasts) are a big thing in the UK, and with access to good ovens, I started roasting almost everything. In this dish, you blend together butter, garlic, chili powder, and cumin (and optionally cilantro), then stuff most of it under the skin of the chicken or inside (and I put some on top too, though it looks like it mostly burned). The original recipe has carrots roasted with the chicken, but on this day, I decided to use potatoes we had gotten from the farmer’s market.
We had also gotten half a peck (a peck is a thing!) of Honeycrisp apples, the most delicious apples, at the farmer’s market, and the kitchen was the warmest room in the house on this chilly day, so I decided to make an apple pie, straight out of Joy of Cooking. Yum yum yum!
Lest anyone worry about our waistlines or think we are using Hermione’s Time-Turner to find enough hours to do all this cooking, I want to point out that the food pictured here made up more than just three meals. The apple pie was our breakfast for the next two days, the chicken and potatoes our dinner next night, and the jjigae (the stew) actually leftovers from the day before and had already made two meals for Mr. Kim and one for me. Plus, we are usually really good at balancing our different types of work and keeping in mind when the other needs to be able to focus on a project instead of cooking. Our multicultural mealtimes are just a delicious byproduct of our backgrounds and our consideration for each other.
Chuseok: A time of year when most Mrs. Kims are spending hours or days chopping vegetables, frying Korean pancakes, and maybe even making rice cakes–such harrowing work that some buy these fake casts to avoid it–while many Mr. Kims are relaxing in front of a TV or busy with a soju bottle.
This is my last Chuseok as a not-actually-Mrs.-Kim and my first Chuseok as a soon-to-be-Mrs. Kim. And anyway, I’m lucky: My soon-to-be mother-in-law is really chill about everything except maybe church attendance, and besides, I live in America now, where we can pick and choose which traditions to observe. Once we have a few Junior Kims crawling around, I imagine we’ll get traditional, if only to photograph them looking super cute in hanbok, but for now, we contented ourselves with an hour at the Center for Korean Studies’ Chuseok party, a trip to a Korean restaurant and a video call to the parents(-in-law).
I did, however, engage in one Chuseok tradition: I made songpyeon, the rice cake traditionally served at Chuseok. At the CKS party, they had some glutinous rice dough and some filling made of (I guess) crushed-up nuts, etc. To make songpyeon, you formed the dough into a ball, made an indentation into the center, spooned some of the nut mixture in, and folded the dough over and around it, then shaped it into a crescent moon. See? Look at my songpyeon! Mr. Kim also made a songpyeon, but it was really sad-looking, and he wouldn’t let me take a picture, boo.
Unfortunately, both our pieces of songpyeon got squished in my purse shortly afterwards, but, as one facebook friend commented on my photo, at least I’m now a 훌륭한 며느리–a commendable daughter-in-law–and maybe a 훈련된 (well-trained) daughter-in-law, too!
Mr. Kim and I are leaving in less than three weeks, and we’ve started the sad process of saying goodbye to the places that have been meaningful to us here. Friday night, we had dinner at 이파리 (i-pa-ri), where I took Mr. Kim for his birthday earlier this year and which has become pretty much our favorite restaurant here because it is Korean Korean Korean done right right right.
Next, we went to Hidden Track, where we had our first date, discovered we were coworkers, had many important conversations and good times, and where we’ll soon have our farewell party. (Also they have amazing beer made by themselves.)
Actually, I’m incredibly sad to leave Korea because this country has given me so much and I pretty much had decided to stay here forever (sorry mom), but well, leaving with a guy like this, I can’t help but also be incredibly excited about the future^^
(Adapted from a post I wrote elsewhere on July 31^^)