Spring Table: Water Parsley Pancakes, 2017

2017_07_SpringTable_WaterParsleyPancake_72dpi

Korean name for water parsley is “mi-na-ri.” Minari is a sign of spring. When you see dishes made of minari on the table, you know that spring has come.

New school year starts in March in South Korea. Forsythia starts bloom everywhere. Everything feels spring even if the weather is still a bit chilly. I went home, South Korea, this year in March. Taking advantage of the fact that I’d left my regular office job past November, I went for a whole month. I got to see spring flowers bloom, people put their heavy winter coats away, and surely ate lots of dishes made of minari.

Water parsley pancakes (minari jun) taste like spring. Fresh, light, a little airy, and juicy. It’s not that it’s especially yummy, but just the fact that it’s on the table makes you think, “Oh, it’s spring…finally!”

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

AramKim_BreadAndCoffee_72dpi

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

AramKim_BreakfastInIllinois_2003_72dpi

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.

 

 

Breakfast with Daddy 1997-1999

AramKim_BreakfastWithDaddy_72dpi
There are things you don’t truly appreciate until much later. Unconditional love and support you get from your parents is one of them because it feels so natural when you are receiving them. I often thought of my parents’ support on whatever I chose to do, but it wasn’t until quite recent that I thought of the physical effort they must have gone through while I was in high school.
High schools in S.Korea are straightforward intense. I was supposed to get to school by 7:30 in the morning, school was over by 5 in the afternoon, but after one hour of dinner break, students were to gather again for a self study session until 10 at night. One goal for everyone was acing the national college entrance exam in November and enter a prestigious college. While I was going through this crazy routine for three years, my mom and dad went through the same crazy routine.
The school I attended was far away from home, by choice, about two hours away by subway/bus. So dad drove me, everyday, to, and from school. By driving, and especially because it was so early in the morning with no traffic, it took less than an hour to get to school. Mom packed my lunch everyday, waking up much earlier than rest of the family, and also packed dad’s and my breakfast before we left around 6:30 am. When we arrived in front of school, Dad and I would sit in the car quietly and eat the breakfast Mom packed for us. Most of the time it was ham, cheese, egg sandwich with lettuce, and milk. The sandwich was cut in four pieces, each piece wrapped carefully, and put together in a clean bag. After eating, I went to school, dad went to work. Then by the time I finished, dad would come from work (long after his work hour was over) and drove me home. We actually had a good time, though both were tired, spending so much time together in a car, everyday.
Among countless things my parents did for me, somehow this routine they had for three years especially strikes me as something noble and painful (though they would deny it was neither). But in the mean time, I’m sure what I know is just a tip of  iceberg of what they have done for their children.

Breakfast with Mama, 2016

AramKim_BreakfastWithMama_02_vertical_72dpi

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.