A Piece of White Bread and a Cup of Coffee, Mom’s Comfort Food

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This would be probably one of my earliest memories – looking at my mom enjoying a piece of morning quietness with her late breakfast after my dad went to work and my sister went to school. It was before I started kindergarten, so it must have been one of those days she didn’t go to work. Her breakfast was often very very simple. A piece of white bread, dipped in coffee. Just a plain white bread, not toasted, with no jam or butter, no cheese or ham. Even as a kid, I thought it didn’t look delicious at all. When I asked mom why she was having it, she smiled and answered “This is most delicious.”

After years and years and years passed, out of nowhere, not knowing why, sitting alone at the kitchen table in Queens of my current home, I tried what my mom used to have – a piece of plain bread dipped in coffee. Coffee had to be made with instant coffee, prima, and sugar. And that – was delicious.

Plain bread soaked in sweet coffee must be a bit similar to dunking a sweet donut in black coffee, which a lot of people enjoy, but the former somehow has a bit more modest and fragile sentimentality. Donut doesn’t break when it’s dunked in coffee. It holds itself strong enough. But a sliced bread, thin and often fluffy, has only a few seconds of chance to hold between getting soaked in coffee and landing safely in the mouth. But when it does land in the mouth, you can taste the softest and sweetest, melting in the mouth, coffee soaked piece of bread. Most delicious.

Breakfast To Go, Illinois, 2003

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I found my favorite breakfast in America in 2003, while I was attending a small liberal art boarding college, located deep into a little town near Mississippi river. It was during my very first year I spent in U.S. as a grown-up (I’m saying this because I spent two years in U.S. in my infancy when my family was living in Ohio, which of course I don’t remember).

As much as I loved the life on campus – surrounded by nature, very supportive and safe environment, lifelong friends and great teachers – I was also struggling to adjust to a completely new life and culture, far, far away from my beloved families and friends who I left behind in S.Korea. The little town and the small campus had absolutely no Korean around, and I was very often homesick from not being able to speak my mother tongue. Though my friends and classmates were more than wonderful, having to have a conversation in English all the time drained my energy sometimes and I just wanted to be alone. Being alone wasn’t easy though in a small and intimate setting of a boarding school campus where everyone knew everyone. (This must have been an ideal setting though for a first timer in US, I later realized. It is horrifying to imagine coming to NY as a first timer, where people are too busy and quite indifferent in others.)

Then there was this Thursday morning breakfast when everything came together perfectly for the relaxation of my body and soul. I had one hour class from 9am. My roommate had three hour class and was gone for the entire morning. (Come to think of it, I was a horrible, awkward roommate, especially for the first semester.) And the school cafeteria, where most of students came for three meals a day, or two, if you skip one, served my favorite breakfast every Thursday! Their breakfast menu was on a weekly routine, and I couldn’t have loved this Thursday breakfast more. It was buttery biscuits with sausage gravy on top. Mmm…so yum! I actually didn’t miss Korean food that much during my first year in US, and adjusted quite well to American food (which I’m not so sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing). But that biscuit with sausage gravy was especially so good and even now it makes my mouth water. I often skipped breakfast, but on Thursdays, as soon as the morning class was over, I would run to the cafeteria, being very impatient, got the biscuit with sausage gravy on top to go, came back to a quiet empty room, and slowly indulged in eating the delicious, peaceful breakfast all by myself.

I’m not sure if I will still like the food now if I have that again (oh, I will like it!!) – but in any case, back then, it was the most perfect comfort food for a tired and lonely foreign student who sought the peace of mind and body.

 

 

Chicken Porridge

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As the name of this blog suggests, I usually draw based on my memories. I want to say I’m not that nostalgic, but rather very future-oriented, or at least present-oriented. But in truth, I can’t deny I actually am very nostalgic. Hence, I draw food related to my favorite memories, re-living the moment.
But this time, what I draw, Chicken Soup – or Chicken Porridge, in Korean name, is what I was very longing for less than a week ago, and still kind of. Out of the blue, I came down with this horrific flu last weekend and suffered for almost an entire week quite intensely. For first couple days, I couldn’t really eat and had a zero appetite, but I knew I had to put something in my stomach in order to have some medicine at least. I longed for something soft, warm, and nutritious that will go easy with my flipped stomach. It wasn’t until later that I remembered this chicken porridge my mom used to make.
You use a whole chicken for a pot of chicken porridge. After boiling it for a very long time, with rice and some cloves of garlic, you cool the chicken down and tear it into smaller pieces. By the time the porridge is done, chicken is so soft, it melts in your mouth. You can go as fancy as you want, adding all sorts of ingredients to the porridge, but my mom’s chicken porridge was simple, basic, and so delicious. Just a simple bowl of white porridge, with almost no seasoning. We would have a small bowl of salt and pepper mixed, on the table, so that we can season our porridge to our own taste. Kimchi is always a nice addition to the porridge.
I’m 100% well now, but this time, I decided to draw this delicious simple meal that I wanted to have! Since I’m not big on cooking, drawing out something I want to have does give me a satisfaction of actually eating it – in a way. 🙂

Hot Dog Love

I love hot dogs. I always have. The very first snacking I remember I did on my own was buying a hot dog when I was a first grader. When I say a hot dog here, it’s a corn dog in US. I don’t know how that happened, but that’s how the name transferred to a far away continent. What do we call American hot dogs in Korea? We call it hot dog, too. No biggie.

1_PrePackagedFrozenHotDog_AramKimBoth my parents were working, so I went to the elementary school close to my grandma’s. I would come back from school, get a coin from my grandma, and cheerfully skipped down to the nearby bakery in the neighborhood. They sold pre-packaged hot dogs. Thinking back, it must have been a frozen hot dog, but it didn’t matter then, and it wouldn’t now. The lady at the counter warmed it up in a microwave and handed it to me. Mmmm…delicious! Hot dog was definitely my favorite snack as a kid.
3_SugarHotDog_AramKimThen there was this “sugar coated” hot dog sold at the snack house near my high school, which was a big hit among students. It’s a regular hot dog with deep fried dough, but if you request, the vendor would deep the hot dog into the bucket of white sugar, pulling it out completely covered with a thin coat of white sugar. Even back then, I didn’t try it. It seemed ridiculous to eat a sweet hot dog – yet, it was quite popular. Some students claimed it was a southern style, which we never figured out if that was true. In any case, I loved their hot dogs, without the sugar coat. It was such a wonderful snack for always hungry teenagers.
5_MonsterHotDog_AramKimAnd there is this crazy creative kind of hot dog that seems to baffle many foreign visitors. These are sold from street vendors in Korea, called by weird name “man-du-ki.” It’s a hot dog with chunks of fries added to the dough before it goes into deep fry oil. It looks absolutely mouthwatering (or horrifying, depending on your taste), but to be honest, it’s not as delicious as it looks. Yet, the visual is quite striking, so it’s hard to pass it by when you see one. These are more commonly sold around touristic places, and especially if you are on a vacation at the beach, you would definitely want to get one. A few years ago, I went to a beach in Korea with three of my friends who went to school in NY together, saw several carts selling this. We all got one. Even the vegetarian friend got one. She ate the dough and fries, but left out sausage.
AramKim_HogDogBunsLastly, there are various kinds of hot dog oriented pastries, like sausage buns, that are sold in the bakery. When I was little, there was only one kind, old fashioned sausage bun with fried dough -greasy, but delicious. The parchment paper on which these buns were displayed  was always soaked in oil. Later, many kinds of fancier looking sausage buns came out, making the choice ever harder. Mostly they had added cheese, corns, parsley, etc., giving it sort of a pizza flavor. I love them all.
I can keep talking about hot dogs that I had in Korea, but America is the country of hot dogs, so I cannot not mention at least one kind. The best hot dog I had in US would be Nathan’s Famous hot dog at Coney Island.
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I’m sure the environment (in this case, the beach, ocean, ocean breeze, view of Luna Park, etc.) must have added something magical to the food, but still, their hot dogs were delicious! Casing was delightfully chewy, sausage was very flavorful and juicy. And how about its perfect combination with chili cheese fries!! But somehow other branches of Nathan’s don’t have the same perfectness, or maybe I feel that way. Almost two hour subway ride from Queens to the end of Brooklyn definitely makes my butt hurt, but I never not go to Coney Island when there is a willing companion. Sadly, that doesn’t happen quite often enough, but that rarity also adds up to the pleasant experience of eating hot dog at Coney Island.
 P.S. While I was writing this, I remembered having seen an article on the origin of hot dog vendors of NYC in New York Times a few years ago, and tried to find that article. The article had nice black and white photograph of the hot dog vendors from the past. I searched NYT, and a little too many articles came up solely on the subject of hot dogs. I didn’t find the article I was looking for, but I found a lot of other interesting articles on hot dogs! I’m not enjoying or eating hot dogs as much as I used to, but still, I can confidently say I LOVE hot dogs. My favorite snack and comfort food. Mmmm..

Everything in One Packet

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If you are a Korean, or have spent some time in Korea, you know what this is: it’s called “Coffee Mix.” Basically it’s a portable instant coffee packet containing a perfect(?) combination of instant coffee, prima, and white sugar, for one cup of coffee. But a notion of “one cup” is largely different from what you would think of one cup in U.S. You will have to use hot water equivalent amount of, maybe four sips – more than that would turn that delicious combination of three elements into a brown color yucky water tasting nothing.
Supposedly not good for you, containing all that prima and white sugar, it’s also very addictive. I pretend I enjoy black coffee, made with fancy French press using coffee I just ground, but deep in my heart, I’m in love with this Coffee Mix. It’s my not so secretive guilty pleasure.

Breakfast with Mama, 2016

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Things didn’t go quite as I had planned, but I stuck to my original schedule and went to Korea. I arrived on Monday evening, and three weeks later, I left on Sunday morning. It was the most relaxing and happy time I had in a very long time. Partly because I was under a lot of stress, it really comforted me to be with my family who loved me unconditionally and it cheered me greatly to reunite with friends who were always there for me. It was the priceless trip during which I rested thoroughly and this would support me throughout my life as some of the previous trips had.

Most of all, having breakfast each morning with my mom sitting at the kitchen table was my favorite time. Most of days, our breakfast was consisted with a homemade toast (mighty bread machine), a perfectly boiled egg (mom had her system), butter and homemade fig jam, couple of fresh strawberries, and a cup of instant coffee. The simplest, the heartiest, the most delicious. Having this delicious breakfast with mom while the sunshine sipped through the window was the food for my body and soul that I would never forget.