The problem with simplifying your house and life to such an extent that you only have three forks and two pans (https://masterbard.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/simple-times-three/) becomes radically apparent when you try to cook a traditional Western Christmas feast in South Korea, using a kitchen equipped with two small burners, a toaster oven, and a microwave.
I know, this is still very much a ‘first-world problem’ here. I don’t have to feed my child plantain stew over a fire made from goat dung, or even just try to create an edible faux burger from lentils and mustard seed. And in fact, one of the reasons I so dramatically cut down my possessions, at least in the kitchen to this point, was to try to honour a new life-policy that involves less consumption – both in the metaphorical sense and the literal. But yes, I’m also wanting to balance that with moving away from a scarcity mentality to one of abundance…a shift that has to happen in the head and heart, a shift that involves gratitude for the things already so blessed with. So… bearing in mind that this is the kind of feast that happens only seasonally for us, and that we are celebrating the return of the sonshine, let me tell you how – and why – our Christmas dinner turned out.
There were only the three of us as family around the table. We had a *ham* as the centrepiece of the meal, which doesn’t sound all that special until you understand that my ten-year-old daughter, taking her first bite of it, chewed meditatively and then informed us that it was ‘interesting…sort of a cross between samgyopsal and Spam…’ Yes, dear reader, our household, having lived in Korea for more than half our married lives, is more familiar with Korean belly-bacon and processed pork product than it is with the taste and texture of genuine ham. It was a treat as rare as lobster or lamb or caviar might be for you, and savoured with bliss.
I did it up with a classic brown-sugar-dry-mustard glaze, tweaked with pineapple juice, fresh mandarin juice, herb salt, and plumped raisins, then garnished with mini pineapple rings and mandarin segments. Complex and intense sweet flavour on the outside, succulent savory inside. Ahhhh.
Homemade sage-and-onion stuffing, from my thirty-five-year-old recipe…crusty on top, soft and fluffy beneath, with grated apple, onion, more raisins, and four kinds of bread. Steamed broccoli tossed with garlic-and-herb-and-cream-cheese. Dried cranberry-in-bokbunja/mandarin sauce (bokbunja is a Korean black raspberry cordial that resembles cherry brandy). Stewed apples, by husband’s special request, with cinnamon and just a dash of Bailey’s Irish Cream. Golden squash slices, glazed and shriveled into sweet single morsels. A baked potato (just for me), flaky and steaming, filled with homemade yoghurt-spinach dip.
The pineapple was the only thing out of a can in that meal, and the colours and flavours were a pleasure to eye and mouth. A child’s prayer began it and sighs of satisfaction ended it. Abundance. Left-overs. Pleasure. Christmas breaking of bread together. Smiles. Gratitude. Ham.
May your Christmas dinner, your solstice meal, your Kwanzaa celebration, or your Feast of Lights, no matter what you have to eat for it, be as nourishing to body and soul. May it be with the people you care about. May there be light and love around the table.
(and, as my daughter added in her prayer, ‘thank you for cats.’)