Jun Dishes

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Happy One Month Anniversary to Rice House

RiceHouseLogoFinalJPG

“This will never work in Evergem.”

“Don’t set your expectations too high.”

“People in Evergem won’t be into new stuff.”

This is only some of what I was told to my face, and what was said behind my back.

~

One month and hundreds of pounds of rice dished later, I’ve lost two dress sizes and some blood and hair and pride. Running the first-ever Korean takeaway and grocery in Ghent, in the middle of my own town Evergem, has been unlike any drug I’ve ever taken in my life. If you’re into that kind of high…

My husband Davy and I work together in the evening on the weekends Friday through Sunday. I run Rice House alone for both lunch and dinner on Wednesdays and Thursdays plus lunch on Fridays. In Belgium when you open an eenmanszaak it means you don’t have staff. You CAN have staff, but then it defeats the purpose of being a “onemanshop,” in literal translation, and costs are very high to implement staff in the first place here in Belgium. Employees are protected ferociously in this country, and it’s not a bad thing.

So we did and do most everything ourselves from construction to design and marketing and advertising, cutting each vegetable and slicing the meat, and even scraping crud off any secondhand equipment we purchased. Rice House is the culmination of some things old, some things new, some things borrowed and some things blue. RiceHouseToGo.com is a free WordPress theme, and we just paid $20 to procure the domain name.  We cut corners where we could without compromising quality or ethics. Prices at our “competitors” are insanely high, and we are trying to show everyone that it’s possible to put in the extra work and make money without raping customers’ wallets.

I like to refer to Rice House as my eenvrouwszaak, because I am a woman. There’s no reason I can’t say proudly that I’m a “onewomanshop.” So as a proud woman I opened Rice House, as sole proprietor. I put aside some of my pride, in little things, where customers came first.

Davy has years of earlier experience in the food and beverage industry, in addition to his abilities to work a forklift like as a docker at the Port of Ghent. Davy did not leave his position, neither at the docks nor at the union, just because we opened Rice House. Again, that would defeat the purpose of being recognized as a sole proprietorship. Rice House is mine. It’s not a corporation or a business, in legal terms, but simply a money-maker in a country where entrepreneurship and family businesses are encouraged and rewarded in different ways. It’s a part of living in a socialistic country. There’s no way I could have just set up shop and opened a Korean takeaway in New York in two months time, and with no bank loan to boot.

Yet here, it happened.

So Davy didn’t leave his job, and my momz didn’t stay in Belgium in some happily ever after, and it’s now been a month since Rice House opened its doors to the public. The first weekend and week, Davy and I were a hot mess. I did more things wrong than I did right, but I never gave up. I forgot things here and there and completely fucked up other times. I made no excuses but apologized when I needed to, even to myself after cutting myself all over my hands and even burning my hairline on my fiery stove. Suzy. Suzy the stove surpassed my expectations and does still.

I have only eaten in restaurants and having never worked in one I had no idea the power of Suzy. So I ended up burning my cute little baby hairs above my forehead that first week. Nobody knew though, because I didn’t shriek or let on in any way as the stink of burnt hair rushed up my nose. I burned some sauces that week too, and started cooking like a beginner. I realize I’m hardest on myself but still…

I made a shit ton of money Week One, but I feel guilty because I was not at my best. If I could, then I’d ask everyone who visited Rice House the first week to give me a second chance. Some have already, and it’s encouraging and not taken for granted. I listen to everyone and implement changes where I can. We received feedback that the “over-rice” style of our bowls was discouraging for those who worked through their meal to find “only rice at the bottom.” And so we changed our serving style and pushed the rice all the way to one side of our bowls so that the rest of the meal could fall next to it, ensuring more perfect bites in balance.

That first week I decided to change our opening hours. I removed Tuesday dinner service from our hours so that I’d have both Monday and Tuesday as two whole days off. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made to-date.

Then the second week…

Things got a lot better, because my mother was here visiting from New York.

MomzMeKitchen

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Momz landed at Brussels International Airport just a few hours earlier, and we’d not seen each other in over a year but we were together again under Rice House’s roof. She’s the tortoise to my hare, yet she happily and heartily set to work as my sous chef for the next 3 weeks. She played with Noah and walked the 15 minutes from our home, Noah-in-stroller, and gave me strength at Rice House every day.

She told me, in English, “I feeling happy when I walking in here to Rice House.” And to think, my mother tried to take her life so many years ago in grief over my father’s passing in 2004. 10 years later and she’s a grandmother and kickass kimchi maker!

So, I realized Weeks Two and Three that I’d miscalculated how much beef, chicken and shrimp I’d go through. I’d thought they’d all sell equally as well, but the first three weeks the chicken and shrimp flew off the woks and the beef didn’t. Who knew? I didn’t. I don’t know everything, and this is a rare confession. So I made adjustments, including the decision to close for lunch service on Saturdays. It was a good idea, in theory, but a total flop. We’ve since only opened in the evenings on Saturdays, and I couldn’t be happier to have Saturday mornings and afternoons with my Noah and Davy!

Alas…momz continued to be flabbergasted every day at how much work iso actually put into Rice House. She’d never seen me do anything but bounce around as a fashionable corporate banker, and she certainly didn’t think I’d be wearing an apron and doing a mountain of dishes at the end of every night in my late 30s. To say my mother proud of me would be like saying I was proud of Rice House.

It’s more than about pride.

And then while momz was still here, during Week 4, someone left this comment on the first blog I ever wrote about Rice House (quite old):

Angry Comment

I share this because I share everything, good and bad.

To say this comment didn’t bother me would be a straight-out lie. But I knew it wasn’t a regular customer and so did momz. Momz was upset too, and it angered me that it affected my mother like that. It only fueled our fire and love of rice!

I’ve since added fresh coriander to the Rice House Bowls, giving each bowl an extra kick. Just like I did cooking in the Big Brother house, if a customer has a special request then I happily oblige. Less sauce or more sauce or sauce apart, or less rice or no rice, even some no vegetables requests. Allergies to garlic or this or that, are paid special attention to. I want everyone’s vote in the end…

I’m loving what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I love my family. I love Rice House. I love my mother, who returned to New York this past Tuesday.

Thank you all for taking this ride with me!

Always dishing,

Jun

Momz Kimchi

MomzKimchi

Before momz left to return to New York, she made one more fresh batch of kimchi for me…

And for Rice House…

MomzLaughingMakingKimchi

We laughed. We made kimchi.

~

LayersOfSalt

Each layer of cabbage was sprinkled with sea salt by momz loving hands, to make all the leaves go limp, before her killer family secret spices coated each leaf…

~

MomzKimchi

I’m a very lucky Korean girl…

~

Momz is currently flying over and out of Belgium.

We miss her already. I miss her already.

But her kimchi remains…and will be devoured.

Always dishing,

Jun

Remember Things I Learned Along The Way

PeeCup

“I’ve done a lot of things to make money, legit jobs and downright wrong things. I’m not a bad person, but I’ve done bad things to mostly bad people. I’m not a good person all the time, but I am overall. I think your desk is nice and the wood very handsome, but the top of your desk is a wreck and needs organizing.”

This is what I basically said verbatim to my future boss during my first interview with him, for a job I eventually got. It was for a global asset management firm that was based on the principle of behavioral psychology. I didn’t know exactly what this meant when I went to interview for the job. I didn’t even know if I actually wanted the job. It’s terrible. It was 2006 and I was in a very scary place in my life. My dad was long gone, and I was attempting to return to Wall Street after taking a hiatus to run some shady business, and it was a gamble that would determine my future. I’d had a bad run-in once with the wrong people and I’d spent a night in jail as a result. It was all supposed to be cleared and never to be heard of again but I just wasn’t sure.

Interviewing past the first round for a global bank means you have to pee and prove you’re not on this or that drug, and your background and criminal and credit checks are run too. Depending on your rank going into a firm, the number of people you have to come face-to-face with varies as does the stringency of all testing. When I went in for that interview, I’d stopped smoking weed so my pee would come up clean once I got to final rounds of the hiring process. And I crossed my fingers that nothing alarming would come up in my background check. It’s the first time I actually felt nervous about it in my professional career.

After having spent the better part of 2005 running on adrenaline in the underground sex business, I was worried as fuck come that day in 2006. Nobody knew what I did all of the time except me, because I basically led two different lives for a long while. Exhausting, right?

But I decided I’d change gears again, and test the banking waters. Could I score a doorway back in after a gap in my resume, and possible tainted background check? I sat there that morning of my interview and my hair was in a bun, which it never was unless I was interviewing for a finance job, and here was this boss-dude sitting in his big leather chair.

He asked me right off the bat, “Describe yourself in a nutshell and then tell me what you think about my desk.”

I thought, what?! This wasn’t an actual interview question was it?! Where was the question about my strengths and weaknesses and where I saw myself in five years and shit?! Oh. But it’s the firm based on behaviors so I treated it, yes, like Big BrotherI answered boss-dude’s question and hoped he wouldn’t be too offended that I basically called him messy.

I got the job and loved the firm right away for its investing philosophy that there is more to money than just value, but in its psychology. I got to watch people for a living and then teach the principals later. I really did love working for that firm during my days and some of my nights.

This is the same firm that laid me off in 2009, and although many of my once-fellow employees harbor ill-will about being cut during that time, I don’t. I did briefly and then I embraced it differently, and probably because I had no husband or child depending on me. I was so very single at the time. So I made my peace with being laid off with the masses, long ago. I used my time to travel through Europe and Asia and ultimately to the Dominican Republic where I met my husband. I used my time to finally return to school and graduate magna cum laude, and to learn at least 10 things at the end of it all.

Of all the interviews of all the jobs I’ve ever had, that one with J. Whitcup was one of the most fun and conversational ever.

Rice House does not compare to a global investment bank or Big Brother on the surface, but it does behind the scenes and I’m excited to draw on everything I’ve learned through the years to choose a student-apprentice for Rice House. The good, bad and the ugly of any business is the best and worst part of it all. Wish me luck in finding the right match!

Always dishing,

Jun

Rice House: Updates

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I picked out paint colors yesterday for Rice House. Let the painting begin!

Ahhhhhhh~

They will be the colors found in the Rice House logo. Bold orange and bold blue, and colors found in the Korean flag:

RiceHouseLogoFinalJPGI’ve never done this before, opened a food business, my own shop. I don’t know all the lingo but I base all my decisions on my own foundations, and with my husband Davy together on big decisions. All major ones have been made and now it’s just a waiting game and working and growing pains until Rice House opens its doors on May 1st.

I’ll be attempting to display something like this on May 1st, for show:

KoreanFlag - Sydney

It was presented at the Sydney International Food Festival last year and I’m excited to try and recreate it for the Grand Opening! Here’s a cheat-sheet on what each part of the Korean flag means:

KoreanFlag

Rice House in its entirety is about 600 square feet counting both floors (or 60 sq m), with a bathroom and ample storage on the top floor. The actual shop space is about 250 square feet (or 25 sq m). My conversions aren’t exact but they’re close enough because it’s easy enough to remember.

This is what I have envisioned for the ground floor space and shop:

GroundFloorPlan

Work continues at Rice House, and we’ve already removed one small wall:

Wall

Also, all the stickers and branding from the former sandwich shop are now gone!

I can now start from scratch with my own branding!

BeforeAfterOutside

But work also continues at home as Noah approaches his second birthday. It’s almost two years now since I live-tweeted my early labor and delivery of Noah (tweets all here). Time has flown but Noah’s grown, and he’s already practicing playing shopkeeper…

NoahShopkeeper

Noah’s been to Rice House a couple of times now, and he’s comfortable there as if he knows already that it’s “ours.”

Ours.

It’s why I’m putting a “Kiddie Corner” into the space, because I want Noah and other children to feel safe and special while they’re at Rice House. It sounds super corny but I mean it. Rice House is a business but it’s very much still real life. As such, the plan is to keep everything as simple as possible. This is easier to do in Evergem than in Manhattan.

I’d say one of the hardest adjustments I’ve had to make as a business woman, is to slow down. Nobody answers work emails at night and nobody breaks their neck to get anything done around these old parts of Europe. It’s refreshing yet frustrating at the same time, balancing my New York City killer instinct with diplomacy in patience.

So, simple it is.

The menu will consists of (sushi) rolls and (rice) bowls, and soups. There will always be a stand-by menu and specials-of-the-week. Here’s an example of a Rice House Shrimp Bowl:

ShrimpBowl

I’m so glad all those food photos I took are paying off, in what is now the Rice House Menu. Vendors have been chosen and bids are in, and my husband Davy and I have trust and understanding in each other’s different strengths. We are doing most everything ourselves and calling in professionals for what professionals do…

But Davy drew a map on which Rice House stands, and I created it simply in Power Point:

 

RiceHouseMap

 

It’s the cutest map I’ve ever personally made, and it’s good enough to give to the printer for now so he can do his magic. Flyers and stickers and posters are being printed very soon! Rice House will get a make-over before May 1st. Opening Hours coming soon!

My mother will be coming in May to help with everything and to spend warm days in the sun with Noah. I need momz here for this. I’m glad she’ll be here.

I’d like to thank everyone for your support. Stay tuned!

Always dishing,

Jun

 

What Rice House Means to Me

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Not many people outside my immediate family know this, but…

When I won Big Brother in 2003 and returned to New York, I told my parents that I wanted to invest my winnings in opening a Korean takeout place on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. It’s where I was living at the time and I thought there was a hole in the market. My parents freaked out completely. Freaking out was my momz thing and never my dad’s, so it shocked me. He’d become fearful.

My dad was still in the Intensive Care Unit at Beth Israel Hospital at the time, and he almost cried, saying he didn’t want me to open a business. He said it was too risky and that I should invest in real estate instead. But I knew what he really meant.

My dad was dying and we all knew it. His kidneys were barely functioning and dialysis was making his sicker. He just wanted to see me stable and back to my old life, before Big Brother ever happened, before he died. My dad wanted me to go back to work at Citigroup or any group comprised of bankers, and have a “steady job” again so he could die in peace.

Except he never said it like that, at least not to me.

I felt like a monster that day for making him worry, when all he should have been doing was resting and recuperating and staying alive. So I didn’t invest in the takeout place. But I didn’t go back to work right away either. I spent as much time as I could with my dad and my family, and months later I did end up buying real estate with my Big Brother winnings and I returned to work in finance too (more on this).

My dad passed away shortly thereafter, in 2004, knowing I could take care of myself but probably never considering I’d do anything as crazy as illegal (more on this). I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. I’m a different person but I’m the same person.

And now I’m finally opening a Korean takeout place – in my little Belgian town in Ghent called Evergem (Everville), no less! Rice House is happening and my dad’s not around to see it. But I can picture him laughing from heaven because I’m getting everything I wanted in the end.

I am his daughter after all.

This is what I’m starting with:

TakeABreakOutside

 

Where now stands Take A Break is where Rice House will open its doors on May 1st!

~

Every time I embark on a new adventure I try not to dwell on bad shit that’s happened in my life, but I do acknowledge that it made me who I was and who I am today. You cannot forget where you came from because nobody else knows but you, in the end. You owe it to yourself to never lose who you are, and to not listen to people’s advice to sell sandwiches AND rice. Um, no.

And for me and my husband Davy, Noah priority #1, and Rice House #2. At some point Noah will be “helping” me at Rice House and things will fall into place. I can’t wait for that day.

I’m lucky to have a man in my life after my dad, who believes in me wholeheartedly.  I couldn’t do this without Davy.

Always dishing,

Jun

 

 

Rice House: For the Love of Rice

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I’ve been blog-silent for a week mostly because my Noah was plagued with a bad cold and pink eye. Life handed me a fevery toddler with conjunctivitis so I went into full mommy combat mode. Today on the other side of the week I’ve emerged triumphant with a healthy child, and I also happen to be the brand-spank-me-new owner of a Korean takeout joint!

What?

It all started a week ago, on Wednesday afternoon. Davy and I found out that a tiny sandwich shop called “Take A Break”, in our town square of Evergem, was looking for new owners. I never imagined I’d ever live in a “town” let alone blog about a town square, but for the love of rice anything can happen!

The monthly rent sounded too low and too good to be true. Plus, Davy attained all the necessary study and licensing for a start-up business way back when, “just in case,” before he ever even knew what Korean food was. By marriage I can also use the licenses.

The current owners of Take a Break are opening a bigger eatery next month in the city, Ghent-proper, hence their selling the smaller business. So Davy made some more calls and left some more voicemails so we could gather as much information as possible. My OCD took over.

Then that evening I was featured on a Flemish television program called Fans of Flanders and Noah made his television debut:

Noah ate through half the filming that day Fans of Flanders was here in my home including the Korean food I’d cooked in the segment.

~

Before the segment ever aired last Wednesday, I’d had a craving for Chinese food. I can make Chinese dishes just like I can make most dishes not necessarily Korean. But sometimes I just don’t want to cook! It happens to all of us.

So last Wednesday night I wanted Chinese takeout!

Here’s the thing…there is NOT ONE decent Chinese (or otherwise Asian) place we know close by (meaning 15 minute drive), but on top of it all most of them are closed on Wednesdays. But Davy and I drove on, with Noah in his car seat behind us, and searched for an open Chinese or otherwise Asian food establishment. Nothing.

We were about to head home when we got a call. If we were around, we could take a minute to take a tour of Take of Break! So we did. Davy and I saw potential. The owners told us that they’d leave behind most of the commercial appliances and display cases behind for pennies to their euros spent, because their new restaurant in the city was all stocked and furnished. With take-over and start-up costs so minimal I wanted it, but there were two other business-minded couples ahead of us, and both wanted to open sandwich shops. There are HUNDREDS of tiny sandwich shops in all of Ghent, but not one Korean food establishment. But we were third in line for the place.

I ended up making my own stir-fry and rice that night, and cursing the fact that I had to. Davy and I were convinced that one of the other couples would take the shop.

On Saturday we got the call that the first couple bailed, and the second couple seemed too hesitant, so if Davy and I wanted to open our Korean takeout…we could! Davy and I scrambled together, getting paperwork and accounting and finances in order, and as of today…

RiceHouseLogoFinalJPG

I am the proud new owner of a Rice House in Evergem!

It sounds insane but what about my life isn’t, really?

~

Rice House, a Korean takeout restaurant, will be open on May 1st, 2014.

It’s on “Library Street” (Bibliotheekstraat 6, Evergem) and just three bus stops away, or a walk, from my home. There is indeed the town’s library down the street. But there’s also the pre-school that Noah will be attending, in November, right across the street! I blogged about our first tour of Noah’s school last May…the one with the napping room:

NappingRoom

The idea of dropping Noah off at school and picking him up from across the street at Rice House makes my heart race it’s so cute.

Thanks to socialism and all its wonders, it’s easier to open a one-woman business in Belgium than it is in the States. How else would I have a (legal) business in my name in less than a week? This would never happen in Manhattan. But this is Ghent. This is a country based on the honor system and entrepreneurship in good ways and bad, and this last week proved very good for me. All signs seem to point to rice in Evergem!

If I can maneuver through Wall Street, be Head of Household in the Big Brother house, and mamasan in a whorehouse, then I’m up for the challenge of being Rice Queen in Evergem!

Always dishing,

Jun

Halloween Buffet

Halloween

I just came home from lunch out with family, and because it’s Halloween the universe sent me a trick in addition to any treats.

BOO!

It was a restaurant with an additional buffet. I personally love buffets because I love food. There are good buffets and shit buffets, and I’ve tried all kinds. Today turned out to be a Halloween buffet. What’s a Halloween buffet? I made that up to describe what happened today…

Today at lunch, there was a choice of four meats and I took a little bit of all of them. One looked like pork, and one looked like beef, one was a liver dish, and the last one was blood sausage. I personally love blood sausage, because I grew up on the Korean version called soon dae. It’s not for everyone, but I love it. Don’t know what it is? Think blood and think sausage.

The horror!

Not really, and that’s not even the most Halloween part of this lunch. I sat down with my plate at our table for six, and we wished each other smakelijk which is the Dutch equivalent of bon appétit. I took my fork and knife and dove into my plate. I cut into what I thought was a piece of liver. I personally love liver, and all its liver friendly variety.

It wasn’t liver. It was a tongue. It was a tongue on my plate. Not mine, but still a tongue.

Gaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!

I wanted to make a bigger deal about it, but I had to suppress my dramatics for the sake of the family and those partaking in tongue at the table and all around me.

I’ve had tongue before, sliced up. When I was six. My grandmother used to make it, and her mother before that. Davy’s grandmother used to make it. Davy’s mother’s grandmother even used to make it. Maybe even your grandmother or great-grandmother used to make it. Still makes it?

I don’t know. I nearly cried realizing it was some animal’s (probably cow’s) tongue on my plate disguised in a Madeirasaus “sauce.” It was all shrunken up like a baby animal’s tongue, not that I’ve seen many animal’s tongues…

My grandmother never covered tongue in sauce. Koreans were gangster and steamed a whole big tongue and sliced that shit up and dipped it in some soy-sauce or shrimp paste. Either way, tongue is not for me.

Now if that tongue had started talk to me then this story would end a lot differently. Instead, I’ll just wish you all a good lunch with or without tongue today. It’s your prerogative.

Happy Halloween Thursday!

Always dishing,

Jun

Intro to Korean Cooking

NoahFM

I’ve written before that I never cooked growing up, but love of food has nothing to do with cooking, and they’re mutually exclusive. If you can cook the foods you love? That’s a very good life. If you’re interested in Korean food, whether you want to prepare it yourself or just get it in your belly, then consider this a beginner’s course. I’ll use my Korean upbringing as a guide.

Korea is a peninsula, geographically attached to China in the north and surrounded by seas in the Pacific Ocean. It’s where I was born and my parents were born, and generations of my family before my own family of three. Korea’s a country that’s been occupied and fought for at war, and at home. Korea was once ruled by royal dynasties and treasures, before Kim Jong-un and Psy were ever punchlines on Twitter. The Korean royal courts of the earlier centuries dined on the finest foods while paupers barely got by on rice and cabbage, and there’s an addictive k-drama called Dae Jang Geum (The Great Jang-Geum if you want to check it out) all about it. Like, many other peninsulas, Korea’s had to defend its land and preserve its food like it has its culture.

This intro blog won’t touch any kind of “royal” cooking, but serve as an intro to Korean cooking. The culture and history, and not just the ingredients, are the key to appreciating a country’s cuisine. If you’re just into eating, then I can’t fault you for that either. I love to eat.

1. Buy rice. Rice is a staple of Korean cuisine. Koreans aren’t the only ones who live by rice, but we do have story-tale myths about rice so it’s pretty serious. White rice versus brown rice? White rice all the time for me. I’ve recommended starter-size brands of rice at the end of this blog.

I remember when I was nine and my father started dropping massive amounts of weight each week although he ate junk day and night. We discovered he had diabetes. He wasn’t allowed to eat white rice for a long time after that and our family switched to brown rice. I hated it, and so did my dad. He’d always loved American junk food. It’s something he’d never really had until he moved to America from South Korea in 1976. My father grew up very poor compared to my mother, in Seoul. My dad always told a story of how he’d bought a can of 7 Up with his own money when he was a boy, and how strong it had been to his non-Western palate that very first time. So he’d poured the whole can into a bowl of rice and eaten it all, like soup. My mother always laughed at how cute the story was, and my dad had always laughed along and winked at me. That wink meant something more than just cute. That 7 Up meant a lot to him! I’ll never forget that rice story and just how different my father’s upbringing was to my mother’s, mine or my brother’s. I’m glad my dad got to eat all the white rice he wanted again once his diabetes was under control years later. I hope he’s in heaven right now eating all the white rice and 7 Up he wants, just not together ever again.

Rice was a staple for the poor and the rich throughout Korean history, and still is now.

2. Buy a rice cooker. It’s just easier. I’ve grown up with Zojirushi rice cookers all of my life, and I know Amazon’s got some sleek fancy ones on sale. I’ve recommended a few at the end along with the rice. They’re ones my mother used and still use. They’re not fancy, and in fact quite unfancy and low on the price scale for Zojirushi. If you’re into the fancy ones, then more power to you! My mother was never into gadgets and could have made our family’s rice on the stove-top, but it’s a pain in the ass to cook rice on the stove top. You can ask her.

3. Take baby steps. Eating and cooking Korean food should go in stages.

You should pretend you’re a Korean baby eating its first solid foods. My Noah eats Korean food but he’s far from being at the level where I serve him asshole-burning spicy stews and sauces, like I do to my husband Davy. No, Noah right now is eating the simplest-prepared foods which are also healthiest. I sometimes mix some steamed white rice with Korean Sesame Spinach and other simply prepared but “Korean” veggies, similar to a “Baby Korean Bibimbap” and Noah eats it up until the bowl is empty.

 

NoahBibimbap

Each ingredient in Bibimbap is a good starter Korean food. If Noah can do it, then you can too.

I’ll cover more common ingredients and starter tips in the next in the series!

Always dishing,

Jun

I Never Cooked Growing Up

chicken wing

From time to time I get asked about how and when my love for cooking started. I’ll tell you now that food’s always been a love of my life, but my cooking started very late. I never cooked growing up because I was just constantly fed.

My mother never taught me how to cook anything. I’d just watched her. My mother, and father, filled my stomach with most everything I wanted from a very young age. It’s because I was born sickly.

Sickly babies were talked about by everyone in the Korean community, and with feigned sympathy. My mother still purses her lips and shakes her head when she tells me stories of rushing me through the doors of the hospital each time I fell ill.  Not eating was a superstitious sign of looming death in Korean households, and my parents had once or twice feared I’d die because of my weak immune system and appetite.

Anytime I was well again eating happened all the time to keep me full, and strong. Later, food became treats and bribes and love from my parents, who often felt guilty for things out of their control. There were some childhood battles I fought  and won and some that I lost, and some that left me scarred because I had no chance at winning. My parents tried to heal my scars with road trips and plane rides and food from all over the world. They spoiled me, but I was still punished severely when I did something wrong. It was tough Korean love, but there was always good food.

I always sat next to my grandfather at big family dinners, because as the eldest he always got served the biggest and best plate of food. He always gave me what I asked for off his plate. I miss him.

chicken wing

I got fatter as each year passed, but I never cooked any of the food I ate. I never cooked growing up, and never baked cookies with my mother either because I had no interest in the kitchen. My mother never shuttled me in there for instruction, because she wanted me to read as much as I wanted. I read Beverly Clearly and Judy Blume. The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High and later all the VC Andrews scandals, and everything in between, I read.

So I never cooked a whole meal myself from scratch until I was 19 and moved out of my parents’ home. Cooking came very naturally to me, and I was lucky. It’s another reason select pothead friends and I got fat when we had the munchies, when I first moved out on my own. I cooked. Disastrous on the waistline, but I learned a lesson.

Growing up I’d merely watched my mother cook all her magic until the day I moved out on my own, but I’d always greedily tasted everything during her cooking process like an annoying chihuahua. In grade school I remember every few pages I’d put my book down and hop into the kitchen. I’d open my mouth wide and my mother would just pop into it a perfect bite of whatever it was she was shredding or smearing at the time, and smile and I’d pop back to the sofa to continue reading.

Even now, as a grown woman, when my mother comes to visit us in Belgium and cooks in my kitchen, I’m always lurking and tasting this and that while she puts our meals together. Noah is now around when I’m in the kitchen, and he insists on tasting everything that I put out of the kitchen. He loves meal time, and snack time, and when we see my mother next he will surely eat everything she prepares again. She will just need to get used to having Noah always in the kitchen because he just wants to be playing where the food is.

I have to build a little fort around him while I cook.

NoahKitchen

Nowadays in between cooking, I write more than I ever read as a little girl. I cook most every meal on the weekdays at home, and on the weekends we sometimes wing it and order out. Food is important to me, but food with my family is most important to me. Part of me inherited that need to indulge loved ones in food, from my parents. My parents often indulged me out of guilt, but with Noah I’ve yet to feel guilt yet. I just love feeding him.

My closest friends who know me best know that I’m happiest in the kitchen sharing food with people I care about. So my closest friends know that I truly am where I want to be feeding Davy and Noah.

Always dishing,

Jun

Forever Weight Loss

FMWeightLoss

I was never obese enough to trigger health concerns, but I was always plump most of my childhood. My parents used food to make me happy. I use food to make others happy now.

When I entered junior high school I was fat. In high school and college I was still fat. Right up until a few year before I entered the Big Brother house in 2003 I was pretty much fat, having hit my peak at 192 pounds in 1999. My size never stopped me from entering contests or playing piano in a gospel band, or leading my senior class in high school as Class President. My confidence was never shattered because my body was thicker than someone else’s.

I guess I was just living in a state of pleasant plumpness.

Yesterday I got asked:

Question

The first time I ever really did something towards weight loss I was 23 years old, and I’d ballooned up to those 192 pounds. I got there after discovering weed when I moved out of my parents’ home at 19. I smoked every day and ate whatever I wanted as late as I wanted, and I never worked out so of course I gained weight. The first year I smoked I got the munchies like an exorcism, and I was making good money so I ate extravagantly. Oink.

The second year into my marijuana discovery I slowed down everything a little bit, but got to my peak weight and hated it. I wasn’t necessarily ashamed of it, but I knew I couldn’t keep gaining weight at that rate. So I dragged my fat Korean ass to my doctor and asked to be put on a weight loss program. My career and love life, both, had hit a point where I had to give a little gas to make better things happen. It was an easy decision for me to start taking better care of my body. I know it isn’t for everyone.

I never had surgery or took any pills, and simply followed a 3-month program of healthy eating and exercise to “cleanse” my system. In those 3 months I nearly died a few times, dramatically of course, because I wasn’t accustomed to strict diet or real cardio. The first two weeks seemed like I was on a fast of lettuce and beans, but thankfully I didn’t have to work out very much while getting guidance from my doctor.

I drop two pounds the first month, and hated everybody from the girl jogging down the street to the guy eating a burger at lunch. I kept going because I knew how lame I’d look giving up a month in, and so when I dropped seven pounds the second month I was relieved I hadn’t given up on the program. I had given up all my hot and cheesy breakfasts and stuck to yogurt and fruit and dry toasts. Lunches were always salads with a healthy protein and sometimes soup. It was no more takeout dinners and instead steamed this and that with plenty of vegetables.

Month three turned out even better results and I was actually enjoying exercise for the first time in my fat life, and my doctor told me I could once again eat some junk every once in a while but in moderation. I continued with the healthy eating and working out. My boyfriend at the time, Jee, and I went on vacation to celebrate and I got called a “fat tub whale” in the pool by a little boy at our hotel. So much for all the progress I had made because that random kid crushed me with his one comment. A kid!

When I returned from fat tub whale vacation I started eating less and working out more. This resulted in my fainting a few times, once on the F train into Manhattan during morning rush hour with Whitney Houston blaring in my ears as I drifted in and out of consciousness. My fellow F-trainers had pulled my lifeless body out onto the platform at the next stop, and I was whisked off to the emergency room. To this day I can’t listen to back-to-back Whitney because it reminds me of that morning.

I realized in the hospital bed that day that I was developing an eating disorder trying to run on as little food as possible while I worked out twice a day. I was 108 pounds that day I fainted on the F train. It was my lowest weight as an adult, and it scared me.

After that incident but before I entered the Big Brother house years later, I was at healthier weights depending on what was going on in my life. I stress-ate in between boyfriends and break-ups. Somewhere in the 130s I remained for years, and when I went on Big Brother 4 I was in the 120s. I left the BB house $500,000 richer and nearly 20 pounds heavier. I stress-ate. I got made fun of, and still get made fun of for it.

If you put yourself on television, then you’re going to be made fun of.

Leaving the house I was tanned and brown and fuller everywhere from my face to ankles, but I didn’t care. I’d won, and I’d return home richer and more motivated to get a gym membership to work my fat ass off. It’s been like that since I left the BB house. I fluctuate the same ten pounds every year, except the year I was pregnant.

I poke fun at people’s weight gain on Big Brother and poke fun at people’s weight loss on Survivor. I’m not an expert on topics of weight, but I will tell you it can’t be easy for GinaMarie right now. If her stories of bulimia are true, then she is probably struggling under the cameras and microphones each day…just like she probably struggles in real life.

Always dishing,

Jun