Koreanese Bento #25: The remains of the other day

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Garlic shrimp over fried rice. Baby lettuce salad with tomatoes, cucumber and carrots. Balsamic vinaigrette dressing. And a two-cookie finale!

Went to Tahoe this past weekend and had, by far, the best snow of the season. Of course, it hasn’t been much of a season this year. But it dumped from Saturday night all the way through Monday afternoon, when we headed back down the mountain.

Got home late in the evening, and it’s been go, go, go ever since. Haven’t made it to the grocery store, much less cooked up a decent meal. So this bento was all about improvisation.

Had some leftover rice from the week before, and the remains of the salad ingredients we brought up to the condo, including a vinaigrette I’d hauled there and back in a mason jar.

With the help of some vegetables and ginger out of the freezer, the fried rice got a little color and a pop of flavor. I cooked the frozen shrimp in leftover bacon fat and fresh garlic and then squeezed lemon juice over them at the end.

The cookies, I confess, are not homemade. But the oatmeal raisin cookies I made for the trip were too big for bento fare. Overall, not too shabby for the remains of the other day. 🙂

Look at all that snow! Kirkwood was adrift in white, and no crowds to boot!

Happy as a clam in the cold, windy weather.

In the Kitchen: Mandu and memories

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When I make dumplings, I think of Christmas. I am transported back to my childhood and my grandparent’s house in a Florida golf community. My halmoni, mom and aunties are sitting around the square table in the breakfast nook, chattering in Korean and folding tasty fillings into doughy pillows. Later, the dumplings will be steamed, pan-fried or boiled.

I fold along with them, though my versions tend to be over-stuffed and a little sloppy. Still, it’s great to be the kid amongst the grown-ups. Most of what they say sweeps over my head, but I can usually get the gist by interpreting the tone of their voices. If they are speaking in whispers, chances are the subject is one of the men sitting over in the living room in front of the TV.

I still love to make and eat mandu. It’s the tastiest of nostalgia, Christmastime or not … These were made with beef, kimchi, zucchini and tofu, a little twist on our old family classic.

It’s important to get rid of as much liquid as you can. So salt the zucchini for 10 minutes before rinsing, and squeeze out as much juice as you can from the kimchi. The former should be chopped small enough not to make big lumps and possibly tears in the skins. The latter can be whirred up in the food processor, quick and easy.

The filling. And, yes, that's a cookie scoop!

Not too much filling or the dumplings will leak.

The first fold.

Pinched shut.

In go the "fancy" folds ...

The final product.

A great local brand of dumpling skins -- nice and thick!

Off the Press: Profile of a zainichi …

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Kei poses by a mural near downtown Oakland.

I had the honor of writing an article about Kei Fischer, an Oakland-based activist, for KoreAm Journal’s February issue. (Read article.) In 2008, Kei and her friend Miho Kim founded Eclipse Rising, an organization for zainichi Koreans in the Bay Area.

A piece of artwork by Kei's mother.

Zainichi Koreans, with a population of more than one million, are Japan’s largest minority group. Though they trace their roots back to the early 1900s, they are still discriminated against socially and politically. Many zainichi choose to “pass” in their everyday lives by using Japanese names. Sometimes they even hide their identities from their own children.

Kei has two master's degrees: one in ethnic studies and another in education.

Eclipse Rising, named in reference to Japan’s emblematic Rising Sun, aims to create a community among zainichi Koreans living in the States. Its members also work to improve the treatment of zainchi Koreans and other minority groups in Japan.

In concert with the Japan Pacific Resource Network, Eclipse Rising has been raising funds for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in March 2011. The Japan Multicultural Relief Fund aids underserved minority communities that have been overlooked by mainstream relief efforts. These include zainichi Korean schools, Korean comfort women, migrant workers, single mothers, and children and adults with special needs.

At their annual holiday party, Kei and fellow Eclipse Rising member Kyung Hee Ha send out letters thanking donors to the Japan Multicultural Relief Fund.

Please consider donating to this important cause.

In the Garden: Pilferage and propagation

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A tea cup from the sale bin at my favorite Japantown porcelain store is now home to three of my proud propagates.

Succulents come in myriad shapes, colors and textures (including the spiny cactus) and pepper the planet in locales as diverse as India, Madagascar and the California coast!

They’ve been all the decor rage for the past few years, as they are both easy on the eyes and hard to kill. Though air plants — the fiercely survivalist tillandsia — are becoming “stiff” competition, particularly as wall art, succulents are still spreading their fleshy leaves at an ambitious rate. Surpassing the simple flower pot, they are showing up as floral arrangements, wreaths and framed hangings.

It’s crazy how plants can be trendy, but then there is the infamous tale of the tulip… I can’t say I know of any fortunes that have been won or lost over these fun little flora, though the local nurseries are probably making out quite well. (Succulents regenerate themselves at an amazing rate, with hardly any work on the part of humans.)

A second life for charity shop find. Rocks compliments of Bean Hollow beach.

I’ve been busy propagating my little thick-leafed friends for some time. Some of the parent plants were purchased, while others were plucked from obliging flower pots or pinched on a hike. You pick a little plant or just a part, leave it to dry for a few weeks and then, once roots start to reach out, plant the new sucker in some soil.

Finding the right containers is almost equally as fun. I peruse secondhand stores, sale bins and my own cabinets for candidates. (What better retirement plan for a chipped mug or bowl?) Fishbowls are a present favorite.

Picked up the beady bundle of red and green this afternoon near Alamere Falls in Point Reyes. What a lovely, though busy hike!!

I recently redid a few planters, as I hadn’t given them proper drainage on my first try. Now, with a bed of rocks in the bottom and a layer of charcoal just below the sandy soil, the roots should have plenty of room to breathe.

If you’d like to totally geek out on succulents, follow the goings on of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America (CSSA), at www.cssainc.org.

And if you’re curious about the tulip wars, an apropos analogy for our troubled economic times, check out “Tulipomania : The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused” by Mike Dash.

A bright yellow succulent in its natural habitat -- the dunes at Bean Hollow State Beach.

Koreanese Bento #24: So starts the dragon year

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Dragons lair: Three pork and water chestnut dumpling dragons perched on a red-leaf lettuce salad; a flock of carrot birds atop sauteed cucumbers and beef with rice. Fresh berries for a happy ending.

I haven’t made bento in a long, long time. While there are numerous joys of working from home, such as the irrelevance of kimchi breath, it doesn’t make much sense to pack your lunch. In addition, when you do work “out,” it’s usually at a cafe, where toting in your own food would be highly frowned upon!

That said, I’ve been cooped up in the apartment all week with a nasty cold. It began Sunday night and grew worse with each passing day … Finally, with the aid of magical antibiotics and a whole lot of tea, I am just now released from my self-imposed quarantine.

Thought I’d celebrate with a little bento-making. Year of the Dragon, this one’s for you. Hope you are healthier moving forward.

It’s sealed: Ano Nuevo, we meet again …

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The remains of the lighthouse keeper

Made my third annual pilgrimage to Ano Nuevo State Park in early January. My friend Tony and I have been coming here every year since I moved to California. It’s a very apt and beautiful place to start the New Year.

Ano Nuevo Point was named by a Spanish chaplain on January 3, 1603. He spied the coast from the deck of explorer Don Sebastian Viscaino’s ship and, though he never stepped foot on the land, named it honor of the New Year. (Read more about Ano Nuevo’s history.)

The state park also includes Ano Nuevo Island. Only open to researchers, the island and its long-deserted Victorian house make for a striking addition to the coastal views. (Read more about Ano Nuevo Island Light Station.)

At this time of year, thousands of female northern elephant seals give birth and then nurse their young. The males spend their time defending their harems or plotting sneak-attacks in hopes of capturing and impregnating another’s female. (Not exactly romantic, but, since the elephant seals are thriving, this method seems to be getting the job done.)

In March, the adults return to the sea. After having spent three months on land with no food, they have lost up to a third of their body weight. The pups remain behind and have a few more weeks to hone their swimming skills before they, too, will leave the land.

Returning seals have to get past the bevy of Great White sharks that thrive in Northern California’s coastal waters. If they survive and make it into the deep blue, their yearly cycle will begin again.

Elephant seals can dive up to 5,000 feet (1,524 m) and stay down there for as long as two hours. The females tend not to hunt as deep as the males, as they’re partial to squid. The boys are, naturally, bottom-feeders and live off the likes of skate and crab.

Friends of the Elephant Seal (FES), which supports the recently formed colony at Piedras Blancas, near San Simeon, Calif., has a nice FAQ page on the Northern Elephant Seal.

I also re-read “Elephant Seals” by Carole and Phil Adams (1999) each year before my visit. You can purchase the book via the FES online shop, as well as in person at the Ano Nuevo State Park store.

If you want to see the Ano Nuevo colony, you must sign up for a docent/ranger-lead tour. You’ll get up close to the seals and support a good cause. Reserve far in advance, particularly for weekend slots.

Elephant seals are sexually dimorphic. In other words, the males and females grow up to be quite different in shape and size. Males can weigh up to 5,500 pounds (2500 kg), while females max out around 1,800 pounds (545 kg). The signature proboscis, for which the species gets its name, is only characteristic on male elephant seals. Their "trunk" can grow up to two feet long!

Alpha male elephant seals oversee harems of anywhere from 10 to 50 females. Beta males patrol the periphery, fighting off any would-be usurpers. Their payoff? A chance to mate should the Alpha find himself otherwise too preoccupied to care.

Elephant seals have nails on their fore flippers. They are quite adept at scratching themselves, which, at least while on land, they seem to do often.

Females and their offspring communicate through unique calls. If you see a female barking, she may be calling to her pup.

A pup barks at a meddlesome seagull. Rangers know there

Best suited for life in the chilly waters of the open Pacific, blubbery elephant seals cool themselves on land by flicking sand on themselves. The grains may also act as a kind of sunscreen.

It’s sealed: Or rather sea-lioned …

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Motel 8.

Sea lions bark! They have whiskers and cute little ears! They’re playful! Need I say more? Oh, well the photography bit …

This was my first time out with my new telephoto lens (Canon EF 70-200 mm f/2.8L). I saved money by scrimping on the Image Stabilization feature. (It was still an expensive lens!) Thought I was being crafty, as I’d read enough reviews saying it wasn’t quite necessary.

Upward facing dog.

But then I bet those folks weren’t bobbing on a boat, trying to photograph fidgety sea lions, who are themselves on a bouncing buoy. As you can imagine, this makes for a lot of blur. Oh well, at least a few of my shots turned out OK!

Wish I was sitting over there ...

By the Bay: Sailboats and the sunset

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A sailboat races past the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’ve been sailing on the San Francisco Bay quite a bit this year. It’s amazing how quiet it can be when you switch the motor off — just the sound of the wind whipping the sails above and the water slapping the boat beneath. It seems nearly impossible that you are floating just off the shore of a major metropolitan area.

The views of the city and landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, are phenomenal, and it’s hard to tire of whiskered sea lions barking from their favorite buoys.

Still, sometimes the prettiest sights are the ones that greet you on your return. The Berkeley Marina tends to be a surprise stunner at sunset!

Sailboats in the sunset.

The view toward to Bay from the shore of the Berkeley Marina in Berkeley, Calif.

Photos and Poetry, Cont.: For the birds

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Hummingbirds remind me of my late mother. They’re small, beautiful and extremely quick — alive and abuzz with energy.

I shot this photo over the summer and have been meaning to post it ever since. It’s not the most technically superb of images, but I was proud just to have snapped a clear view of one of these little birds.

Humming Bird

I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.
Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.
I believe there were no flowers, then,
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.
Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.

—D.H. Lawrence

In the Kitchen: A very post-modern Christmas to you

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One of our three trays of post-Christmas cookies. They were spice-flavored and tasted better than they looked!

My cousin and I decided to make cookies after finding a fantastic Christmas cookie deco set on sale at Sur La Table.

Kuhn Rikon at more than half off? Does syrup have sugar in it? Then, yes! We also test drove the Cuisipro decorating pen, which I have to say was a worthy non-sale splurge.

In light of the fact that this was Dec. 26 and also in honor of a trip to the SF MoMA earlier that day, we decided to forgo traditional Christmas colors (and cookie-decorating principles in general). We covered ourselves in bright pink and electric blue sugary icings well into the night and gave ourselves stomach aches sampling the goods. A very merry post-modern, post-Christmas cookie time, indeed.

Happy Boxing Day!

Kandinsky snowmen, Miro snowflakes and Klee stars for the sky!

Jess admires a Rothko at the San Francisco MoMa.

One of Dieter Rams' ten principles of good design, listed as part of an SF MoMA exhibit. Cookie makers, take heed!