After surviving another Saturday morning of cross country and a lunch of warmups, we solicited volunteers to take the lead on dinner. Fortunately, our Korean exchange student stepped up. As she did her online research and threw out things like “spinach root” and a few other things we had available in our refrigerator or knew we could get OR were pretty sure a substitute would be necessary, we started to pull together our grocery list. Since her shopping list was written in Korean, I had to make sure the “must have” items made it onto my English list.
When the grocery trip was announced to include Whole Foods, all of the girls wanted to go. And, when there was a pet store next to Whole Foods, everyone but me was really happy. Before we made it into the pet store, there were adoptable kittens, cats, and dogs all along the sidewalk. My exchange daughters barely made it into the store. Although the cats and dogs were in cages, they were reminiscent of their pets in China and Korea in mannerisms if not in appearance. My daughters immediately went to the guinea pig and hamster area. They rattled off facts of both creatures like they had studied them in their native, non-domesticated nests. After visiting the geckos, birds, snakes, chameleons, fish and assorted mammalian life at the entrance, I announced to the girls it was time to get Rachel’s birthday present and head out the door. They obeyed pretty well; I ran interference with the birthday girl as the purchase was made.
After the pet-related gifts made it to the car, we poured into the Whole Foods produce department. (When you have 5 or more, your movements are somewhat more flowing than otherwise…) The pineapple and melon samples were soon vanquished. The mushroom options were reviewed with a portabello decision being made, and the spinach root was put in the unavailable category. Other than needing to spend $25 to qualify for using our coupon, the rest of the 1/2 was spent exploring. Our Korean student liked the natural sunscreen and related items. Our Chinese student liked the apple juice with the special delivery mechanism. (I didn’t look at it, but I am assuming it still involves the mouth.) My girls were all over the healthy snacks. Whether it was bulk trail mix or some sort of otherwise unavailable flavor of a food bar, they were just happy to take in the experience. As we checked out, it was nearing 5:00. The errands were over; the dinner prep needed to begin!
If we would have known at the beginning of prep the 2 hour wait necessary until we dined, we might have chosen another dinner option. Since the ingredients were there and cooking also provides some entertainment, we went for it! Of the two menu items our Korean student made, these were the key things I thought were interesting (If you are seasoned in Asian cooking, it may be of absolutely NO interest to you. I am okay with that. Since no real recipes seem to be used by either of our students, a list of techniques and guidelines are all that seem necessary):
- Fried Kimchi Rice: When we made the rice to be used in the fried rice, it was “dry” and not sticky. Sticky rice would have made the frying process excessively difficult. (All vegetable prep was done previously. I am only referring to them as if they are already cut and waiting to be cooked. The smoked sausage was also cut up and ready to go into the heat.) The two batches were basically made the same way. 1) The vegetables needing a little extra cook time were cooked first. 2)The rice and sausage were added after some oil was put in the bottom of the pan. (if necessary) 3) The special tube of “special” pepper paste was squeezed into the pan and blended with the ingredients. 4) The kimchi was put in after being sliced according to ancient Korean secrets. 5) Any remaining veggies were added. Since the onions were sliced thin and cooked before, there may have been some thinly cut (and small pieces) carrots, green onions, and celery or some such item. When I have fried rice in the past, I get worried about all of the sticky stuff that really adheres to the pan. I was told this is normal. It is to be scraped off and eaten–very flavorful–before doing the next batch. (The eating is optional and does not have to be done immediately.)
- Pork with Cold Noodles and vegetables: This one was not to hard to follow. She cut about a pound of pork into thin pieces maybe a couple inches or so long. (She added salt and pepper and made sure all of the meat was satisfactorily seasoned.) The vegetables were all prepped and cooked separately with minimum oil. (The veggies included: carrots, mushrooms, green onions, onions and maybe some celery and some other similar veggies.) They were set aside in a bowl waiting for the pasta. The pork was cooked in a similar fashion, and also set aside. The pasta was an Asian starch based noodle. (Not sure what the noodles were made from. I think she mentioned sweet potatoes….??? Whatever they were, they cooked up clearish.) Before putting the pasta in, she added a significant amount of soy sauce to the water. She monitored the pasta pretty close; she wanted to make sure it was just right when she declared it done. It was immediately drained of the hot water and bathed in cold water. All of the pork, veggies, noodles, some garlic and extra soy were added to the mix and tossed.
I liked both meals. The rice was very flavorful with an expected texture. The pasta was good. However, it had a somewhat rubbery texture. Whenever I bit into it, it felt much different than normal pasta. Chewing this pasta involved a bit more of a chewing commitment. Although it did offer slight resistance to being consuming, the overall flavors were very good.
Our first Korean meal was good, but the Korean chef was much more confident on this meal. She was very decisive as she chose her ingredients and did her cooking. As exchange parents, we selfishly get to benefit from the great meals they have made us. (The corollary, of course, is we have to be pleasant and enthusiastic when the meals are not so good, too. 😦 ) It is great seeing our students mature as young ladies! They continue to surprise us with the skills they have acquired through parental osmosis. Our fear is what obvious and less than obvious skills and/or vices they might acquire after a year in our household. As we are tempted to play favorites between them (this is a challenge we also juggle with our bio kids), we have to alter our view of the immediate. We need to climb up the ladder a few rungs and get a view of the situation in the light of future perceptions rather than the moment. We have been entrusted with these kids. Their parents have willingly allowed them to come into our homes and allowed our whole family to grow from the experience. We are not told to pull out the cookie cutter and make them into kids that would have come from our families kid factory.
As with all relationships, there is give and take. Both they and us will be changed from this 10 month exchange experience. It isn’t only our palettes that will expand during this time. We are obligated to use all of our senses and embrace the cultural exchange in its fullest. We probably won’t realize the vacuum created when they leave until we participate in one of the things shared with them. Then we will realize how this experience changed us and made us richer people and a richer family. So many months to go, and only one blog to try to capture the moments and meals of the experience!