We missed being with family for the holidays, but Skyped with our daughters. Andrea flew out to the east coast to be with Clare, and both took a train down to Richmond to spend Christmas with Clare’s boyfriend and his family members, to whom we are eternally grateful. But staying in Korea opened us up to other possibilities. On Christmas Eve, we attended a dinner hosted by a friend who loves to cook French food. She’s from Hawaii, is part Japanese, and speaks fluent Chinese. Go figure. It was a gastronomic delight from beginning to end. Here’s the menu, translated from French: cheese puffs; Brie cheese baked in pastry with apple and port compote, homemade eggnog, spinach salad, French onion soup (the best I’ve ever had), shrimp cooked in wine sauce, Alsatian roast goose, scalloped potatoes, roasted stuffed vegetables, eggplant casserole, and “eggs in the snow” dessert. After dinner, we had a white elephant gift exchange. We ended up with a vase from Thailand, and a boxed set of Kirin beer (the gifts were nicer than a typical white elephant exchange because we didn’t bring “bad” stuff with us to Korea).
On Christmas Day, we went to a German diplomat’s home for dinner. They served tender roast turkey with stuffing and sweet potatoes, but what I’ll long remember are the cookies. The wife flies back to Munich every year to make Christmas cookies with her mother. When you figure in the airfare, the multiple varieties she brought back and served to us on a three-tier tray were quite expensive but oh, so delicious. I had to try this one, and that one, and the one over there…and asked for the recipe of her amazing rum coconut ball.
We took a taxi to the Germans' home. It was a freezing-cold night, and all of the sudden, the cab driver rolled down the windows. He rolled ours back up, but kept his open. I didn’t understand until several seconds later. The fart took a while to drift back to us, but when it did, it was BAD…an olifactory nightmare! We tried and failed to stifle our giggles in the back seat…Tom later called the driver’s action a “courtesy roll-down.”
Above is a picture of what the well dressed Korean woman wears in the winter (the model is a friend from work). Note the full-length down coat, warm boots, hat, gloves, and a scarf covering half the face. Women often keep their boots on during the day, and wear black leggings or pencil-style black pants. They can get away with wearing pants like that because Korean women generally have no butts or thighs. That type of pants make my legs look like pestles! I complained to my Mom about the cold just before she left for her annual three-month stay in Florida, while she was busy running around making final preparations. She found time to buy me a warmer coat, which my sister is mailing to me! I’m very lucky to be related to so many generous, thoughtful people.
The most recent book I read was “Escape From Camp 14” by Blaine Hardin. It’s about Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in the gulag where S. Korea keeps 150,000-200,000 of its citizens. “Citizens” is perhaps a misnomer, because these people are treated like animals, subsisting on a diet of corn and cabbage (they don’t even get rice), which the industrious supplement with rats and crickets. Shin’s parents’ reward for being good workers is that they were paired up and allowed to sleep together five nights a year. Shin never heard the word “love,” and viewed his mother as a competitor for food. He later learned that the “sin” his father had committed, which landed him in prison for life, was that two of his brothers had fled to S. Korea. The only book Shin ever saw was one owned by his teacher who, in a bad mood, beat a fellow student to death because she had five kernels of corn in her pocket. Shin was bred to be a worker, taught addition and subtraction but not multiplication and division, and was expected to live in the camp until he died. His experience with two fellow prisoners who used to live outside and were nice to him opened his eyes and led him to attempt escape. Before that he had experienced no human kindness, and thought it was a good thing to betray fellow prisoners to authorities (he betrayed his own mother and brother, which led to their execution). The book shows that with total control, a society can breed nonhuman humans, and that given freedom, these nonhumans can change, but it is a slow, difficult process. I’ve come to the conclusion that its leaders are even worse than Hitler, who killed Jews and set off a world war, but at least wished to improve the lives of a large portion of Germany’s population.
We recently saw two food-related documentaries. The first, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” is about an 85-year-old sushi chef in Tokyo. He received a top, three-star rating from Michelin for his restaurant, which sits a total of ten people along a counter, and costs at least $300 per meal, which consists of twenty pieces of sushi, served one at a time. The diner gets no choice, and is served whatever looked best at the Tskuji wholesale seafood market that morning; the waiting list is one year long. Jiro has dedicated his entire life to making the best possible sushi, and is always thinking about ways he can improve it. Yes, he dreams of sushi. The movie opens a window into Jiro’s world of sushi making and his drive towards perfection.
Andrea recommended the second documentary, “Forks Over Knives.” It’s about how our western diet makes us sick, and the incredible health benefits of becoming a vegetarian. It blew me away with its evidence that so much of our cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes are diet-related, and that sick, obese people who become vegetarians can, under a doctor’s supervision, go off the multiple medicines they take each day. One knowledgeable doctor estimated that if all Americans became vegetarians, the nation could save 70-80 percent on its health costs. The movie presented scientific studies, including one on Norway, where the Germans confiscated meat and dairy products to feed their own military during the Nazi occupation. During that time, the Norwegians became much healthier! They became sicker again once the Germans left and they resumed their normal diet. This rings true for Asia: traditional Asian diets are healthy and slimming; when the kids begin eating western-style food, they get fatter. It turns out we don’t need nearly as much protein as we think, and the movie showed a tough, muscle-bound boxer who’s a vegetarian, as well as vegetarian triathletes and firefighters. Andrea gave us a “Forks Over Knives” cookbook for Christmas, and we’ve begun making recipes from it. Every once in a while a book or movie comes along that’s a real game changer: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” the movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” For me, “Forks Over Knives” falls into this category.