Korean Karbs

When the Atkins diet first burst into popularity, it was the most hilarious thing my parents had ever heard. “Who in their right mind can cut out carbs from their life? No bread? No noodles? NO RICE!?” It was, to say the least, a huge joke.

As time progressed, however, this low-carb/no-carb baloney seemed to be more and more of a fixture in American culture. You know that the baguette has turned into Public Enemy #1 when it takes Oprah to convince you that eating bread is OK. And so unfolded another episode of cultural divide in our home.

Butter a Carb

My dad: “Have some Korean rice cake, Jamie. It’s so good.”
My sister: “It’s not healthy!”
My dad: “It’s just rice. We’ve been eating this for 5000 years!”

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Rice: both healthy AND historical

My dad: “You should only have five pieces though.”

Let’s Chat About Fat

“We’ve missed you!”
“How was your trip?”
“Glad to have you back!”

There’s nothing like returning home and being greeted by the hugs and faces of loved ones at the airport. After time away from your own bed, home cooked meals, and your slobbery dog, homecoming never felt so sweet.

For us Kims though, it doesn’t quite work the same way. The idea is there, but the dialogue is tweaked just a little bit.

My dad: “Hi, good flight?”
Me: “Oh, my God. Worst flight ever! There was horrible turbulence and I was stuck in the middle between a crying ba-”
My dad: “I think you got fatter. Welcome home. Your mom made dinner.”

“I love you” isn’t a phrase used often in our household, or really at all, but the feeling is given and taken just as frequently in homes where our counterparts do. It just comes in different forms. Think sizzling potstickers after school. Or boiling hot pot brimming with meats and vegetables in the winter. Or a hot bowl of congee to kick off the morning. We don’t say it, but we taste it.

My mom: “Jamie, maybe you should try to lose weight.”
My sister: “I’m in the military, I work out all the time. This is muscle.”
My mom: “I know, but maybe just a few pounds? It’s just a matter of cutting down carbs.”
My sister:  “UGHHH. Okay.”
My mom: “Are you hungry though? Here’s a bowl of rice.”

Food is love. Love is food.

Food is love. Love is food.

Since deploying on a tour abroad, communication with my sister is infrequent yet savored. Her schedule is spontaneous, so we FaceTime and Skype around her schedule when possible. After one particularly long period without having heard from her, my sister did the right thing by calling my mother first, who quipped some dear words of affection in conclusion of the conversation.

“Jamie! It doesn’t look like you got any fatter! Great!”

The struggle is real.

Sign of the Times

While listening to my grandfather lecture us all about the indecency of this generation’s obsession with tattoos one afternoon, I decided to have some fun and lied that I had one too. My jaw dropped a little when he didn’t even bat an eye, carrying on as if he hadn’t even heard me. And that’s when it hit me – he hadn’t even heard me. While my cousins and I all consider ourselves close to our grandfather, there are just some old school habits that we couldn’t have known about if it weren’t for his overseas vacation this month, making us that much more aware that he is from a pre-World War II epoch.

  • A love of paper. My grandfather has a tremendous infatuation with paper products – swiping free magazines of any kind and anywhere, collecting business cards after every meal, and requesting napkins for almost every bite. “Recycling” and “sustainability” are not commonly used vocabulary words.
  • A need for connection. After years of running his own business as a CEO, mi abuelo is petrified of missing any “super important calls.” This means instead of allowing us to show him how to use free programs like FaceTime or Skype, he would rather let his phone roam and dial people 6,000 miles away to rehash his day’s activities.
  • A passion for fashion. Something about his era meant that every time was an occasion to dress up. There were only three times in the day when pajamas were allowed: right before bedtime, during bedtime, and right after bedtime. Even mealtimes at home meant dashing to the bedroom for a quick costume change.

Speaking of mealtimes at home, it was during my cousin TIffany’s arrival from San Francisco that my mother decided to serve hot pot one evening. Hot pot is essentially like Eastern fondue, except instead of swishing bread and protein into a boiling pot of queso, we’re dipping meat and vegetables into a vat of broth.

A picture may speak 1000 words, but sometimes "gorgeous" is the only one you need

A picture may speak 1000 words, but sometimes “gorgeous” is the only one you need

While my mother prepped the ingredients, Tiffany and I chatted around the dining table with her, all the while my grandfather dozed off in a long nap. Upon waking up – right in time for dinner, conveniently – he shuffled into the kitchen, but not before he had changed from his pajamas into a bright polo shirt and khakis.

My grandfather: “Wow, how long did I sleep for? This is kind of late for dinner!”
My mom: “A few hours. You needed the rest.”
My grandfather: “You’re telling me that an easy meal like this took you several hours to prepare?”
My cousin: “There’s a lot of prep work for hot pot! You have to wash and chop a lot of ingredients!”
My grandfather: “But there were three of you.”
Me: “Well it was mostly my mom – Tiffany and I were reading most of the time.”
My grandfather: “So when you two should be reading, you’re not. But you choose now to crack open a book, is that it?”

My cousin Tiffany and I rebelling - in the kitchen, but not IN the kitchen

My cousin Tiffany and I rebelling – in the kitchen, but not IN the kitchen

 

White On Wednesdays

It blows my mind when I hear my friends tell me how unbearable and miserable the idea of living with their parents is.

Not a fan of free rent?
Dislike the idea of a stocked refrigerator?
Hate coming home to cleanliness?

Then YES, living parent-free is the way to be! For the rest of us in the most broke-as-joke time of our lives, it’s not the worst thing in the world if you have at minimum a tolerable relationship with the parentals.

After I opted to relocate to my parents’ humble abode last summer, it was just me and Papa Kim for a few months. As someone who worked from home, he started teaching himself how to tackle chores that my mother otherwise used to do around the house. He picked up cooking faster than I expected, and laundry even quicker than the cooking. In the process, he made the following observation:

“Hello, Sandy. We are not wearing enough white clothes for a full load, so please wear only dark colors from now on. Thank you.”

A few more loads of laundry later, I came home to a new policy and procedure.

“Hello, Sandy. Rather than not wearing white, we should wear ALL white every other week. So what we wear will be based on our laundry schedule. I am a genius. Thank you.”

Time to do the laundry. Literally, the time.

Time to do the laundry. Literally, the time.

 

Riot With the Diet

When genetics forced my father into a doctor-induced, low-fat, no-carb diet a few years ago while my siblings and I were still living at home, it meant we were now ALL on a low-fat, no-carb diet. And for any righteous Asian, this sudden announcement signified we now had a problem on our hands bigger than the possible onset of high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

“‘No rice’!? What do you mean, ‘NO RICE’!? Mayday, MAYDAY!”

My mother took charge right away and overhauled our pantry and refrigerator, transforming our family dinners. Instead of eating a protein and vegetables, now we were eating a protein and a SHIT TON of vegetables. For years my father remained devoutly disciplined. We watched in awe and sympathy as he divorced starches and began dating our elliptical. When he and I became roommates all over again last year, a trip to Costco was just business as usual.

My dad: Did you get your Chapstick and some floss?
Me: Yes. Were you able to find toilet paper?
My dad: Uh huh. Do you think we’re going to need all of these paper tow – oh look, wine!

It didn’t take us long to get everything we needed after following our strategy of “conquer and divide,” so we spent a little more time browsing through the behemoth of a warehouse. As we wandered listlessly through the aisles, I stopped when I realized the sound of our shopping cart had diminished. I turned and saw my father gazing wistfully at an item on the shelf.

My dad: We need to buy Doritos.
Me: Why?
My dad: I miss them. And your mom is not here.

No Dad, that's nacho reality! It's only a dream!

No Dad, that’s nacho reality! It’s only a dream!

How do you say no to someone who never so much as allowed himself a single cheat day? You don’t.

Breakfast Is Served

It is a universally accepted truth that whenever one heads home to the motherland in Asia – whichever country that may be – there are always two questions one is required to field.

The first is what most of us have come to learn to shrug off as a way of life. An unavoidable obstacle. A rite of passage, if you will.

Anyone. Anyone at all: “Do you have a boy/girlfriend?”
You: “No.”
Anyone: “What? Why not!? HOW CAN THAT BE!?”
You: “Oh you know. I’m, um, really focusing on my career right now.”
Anyone: “But you’re so smart/attractive/*insert any adjective that makes it completely offensive to be single*!”

On the flip side however, the second question, though equally overwhelming, is much more manageable and appropriate for beginners.

Anyone: “What do you want to eat?”
You: “Anything. Wait. No – everything.”

The problem isn’t that we’re clueless about cuisine; the issue is that the selection is just too great. It could mean an evening chowing on street food at the night market, slurping the best beef noodle soup in a stall that would be lucky to given a C- by the health department in the U.S., or noshing on juicy pork dumplings marinating in their own broth.

On a solo trip to Taiwan, my grandfather posed question two late on my first evening to me, when obviously at that point we were beyond question one. In the mood to hit my list of eats ASAP, I answered, “Shao bing you tiao,” a typical Taiwanese breakfast that consists of a savory, flaky pastry that envelops a deep fried length of dough, and occasionally sandwiching eggs as well. Hearing this, my grandfather kicked into action, going straight into a game plan for the following morning in which he proclaimed we would go to “the most famous shao bing stand in all of Taichung,” “Taichung” being our home city. With that being said, we set off at 9a sharp the next day to the famed purveyor of all things shao bing, which turned out to be only a brisk walk from the house.

Shao Bing

Look at that glorious you tiao sitting atop the shao bing with an egg, accompanied by scallion pancakes and a glass of soy milk. Just. Glorious.

And delicious the breakfast was. The shao bing crumbled with every bite and the you tiao stayed crispy, even after hugging the egg between my two hands. The delectable cycle would then start all over again after each sip of soy milk I took, cleansing my palate every few moments. The two of us enjoyed the silence as we sat on our rickety, very made-in-Taiwan chairs, chewing in focus and relishing a rare one-on-one meal. 

As the entire experience sadly came to a conclusion, my grandfather and I gathered up our belongings as we prepared for the short trek home. It is important to note that my grandfather is our family’s in-house Ansel Adams. He is therefore committed to documenting each occasion in life no matter how significant with his digital camera, which he has only recently graduated to from the disposable camera. Exiting the shao bing stand, he chirped that I had to get a picture of the most famous shao bing joint in the city.

I obliged, and positioned myself as best I could in front of the place, squinting into the sun, but not before I saw the brows in my grandfather’s face furrowed in a deep frown. I blinked a few times in confusion before finally asking what was wrong.

My grandfather: “This is the most famous place in Taichung for shao bing! You have not visited Taiwan in YEARS! Don’t you think it is more important that when you go back you show them a picture of ME in front of here!?”

Turns out my grandfather and I can't be the subjects in the same photo simultaneously.

Turns out my grandfather and I can’t be the subjects in the same photo simultaneously.

One Bag of Rice

Any participating member of society has heard at some point of the misery the male species has suffered at the hands of their female counterparts when out shopping. Let us not forget, however, of another demographic that remains equally afflicted – if not more – from obligatory participation in retail therapy yet has no voice to champion their cause: children whose parents bring them along for this “pastime.”

As a child, my siblings and I would be frequently taken to the Asian mecca of western suburbia, 99 Ranch Market, under the ruse that my mother only needed “one bag of rice.” 3 pounds of Fuji apples, a 6-pack of udon noodles, a package of pork balls, several sheets of fish cake, enough garlic to ward off Dracula, and multiple bunches of scallions later, we would emerge.

This looks like a cartoon, but it is actually a photograph.

This looks like a cartoon, but it is actually a photograph.

“One bag of rice.” Please.

So when my younger brother Dennis and Jamie sister returned with what looked like every fiber of their core sucked from their beings after a trip to the outlet stores with my mother, I knew exactly what happened.

My sister: “Mom said we were going to two stores, J. Crew and Banana Republic. Two. Stores. Do you KNOW where we ended up going to? J. Crew and Banana Republic, AND THEN to Tumi, Armani Exchange, Gap, Vans, and Nike.”
My mom: “Well J. Crew was closed, so it didn’t count in the quota!”
My sister: “Do you KNOW what Dennis and I did at Gap!? We waited in line. So that Mom wouldn’t have to. And do you KNOW what she bought!? One pair of pants. ONE.”

Looks like shopping with our mother in 2013 is exactly like it was in 1993.

Chopped

When the reality of living with my father in Las Vegas temporarily without my mother finally hit me a few months ago, I realized that everyone else’s concerns regarding curfews, potential (though currently non-existent) boyfriends, and social decline were petty compared to what was constantly on my mind.

“How are we going to eat!?”

Consider this. I was working a job with slavish hours that had physically exhausted me to the point where I felt like cheese and crackers and scrambled eggs were both fine choices for dinner. My dad, on the other hand, had the culinary expertise of boiling dumplings, heating up ramen, and making scrambled eggs (I got it from him). That being said, we had to do something about our dining dilemma – our house was located in an emptier part of town, so as my dad put it, we “could die here, and nobody will know. FOR DAYS!” With Papa Kim having the luxury of working from the comforts of our own home, however, he was given the mandatory opportunity for the post of Household Iron Chef.

Surprisingly enough, Papa Kim managed to find his way with a knife and wok, and we were able to break bread nightly with no kitchen mishaps at all. It didn’t take me long to learn that my dad had a great love for ginger either. We had ginger-infused cabbage, green beans with ginger, tofu garnished with ginger – until finally, I just had to ask.

Me: Dad. Is this supposed to taste like ginger?
My dad: I put a little ginger in.
Me: I think there might be more than a little ginger in.
My dad: Oh, really? Hmm. Okay, maybe next time I will just add less ginger in.

It turned out that Papa Kim was under the impression that ginger was supposed to go in EVERYTHING. In consulting with Mama Kim about the correct apportionment of the ingredients, he received this less-than-enthused response from the Kim family kitchen goddess.

“Oh. You’re not supposed to put ginger in that dish.”

As my dad got more and more comfortable around the stove, he even mentioned, “You know what? I don’t think cooking is that hard after all!”

My dad: How exactly are you supposed to chop an onion?
Me: I usually slice it close to the core up and down, then left and right, and finally turn the onion on its side to cube it all.
My dad: Oh. I didn’t know that. I just ended up grabbing a second knife and chopping everything up with both hands because it got too messy.

To his credit, my dad has  more than five hairs on his head, but I don't know how to draw good hair.

To his credit, my dad has more than five hairs on his head, but I don’t know how to draw good hair. And yes, in the spirit of kitchen-ness, this was drawn on a paper towel.

So when Mama Kim stopped by for a quick home check on the two of us one weekend, I remembered the onions when passing by La Bonita, a Mexican supermarket in the area.

Me: Oh, the produce here is really cheap. Sometimes you can get up to 20 pounds of onions for $1!
My dad: What can you do with 20 pounds of onions!?
My mom: You can practice chopping.

Several days later, my dad had a new epiphany.

“You know what, I don’t think I actually enjoy cooking that much.”

Vegans in Vegas on Vacation

In too many ways, junk food is like an ex-significant other.

It’s familiar.
It’s comfortable.
It’s easy.

As you get older, though, you realize how toxic it is having this in your life and one day you have an epiphany: “I can’t keep letting mac and cheese solve my life problems anymore.” And just like that, you sit down your bags of Doritos, your boxes of Frosted Flakes, and your cases of Top Ramen for the inevitable.

“I’m sorry – it’s not you, it’s me. I just feel like we’re going down two different paths, and for me, that path is broccoli and green beans.”

Bye bye, Skittles. Hello, cherry tomatoes.

Bye bye, Skittles. Hello, cherry tomatoes.

But just like an ex that you can’t write off completely, junk food still continues to find ways into your life. It’s the thing you turn to after a particularly bad day at work with complete nincompoops, or a great night out with Johnnie Walker and Don Julio. Either way, you know it will respond at all hours of the day or night, even without an illiterate text message. You sneak into the dark with them, doing your best to cover up your crumbs tracks, and leave feeling guilty and dirty, but shamefully satisfied.

When my cousin Tiffany decided to fly into Las Vegas for vacation on the spur of the moment from San Francisco a few weekends ago, the topic of eating cleaner came up in conversation while in the car, and we confided in each other how our dietary habits had evolved.

Me: I’ve been starting to eat less and less meat recently. I’ll still eat it if it’s there, but I don’t seem to crave it much anymore. I think I could consider vegetarianism, but I’d say veganism is too challenging for me because I like eggs and cheese too much.
Tiffany: Me too! I definitely couldn’t become a vegan. I don’t think I could give up dairy completely.

If I had known there was a purple option, I might have jumped on the cauliflower bandwagon a little earlier!

If I had known there was a purple option, I might have jumped on the cauliflower bandwagon a little earlier.

As I nodded in agreement and continued to drive in silence, I looked over at Tiffany in my passenger seat as I let the significance of her words sink in.

“‘Become a vegetarian’? How are you going to do that when your favorite food is STEAK!?”

Dog Sitting Duty

A recent whirlwind of activity in our extended family had my father flying to South Korea and my mother being whisked off to Taiwan, so while the two of them were prancing through their respective motherlands, I returned home to care for their two pets: our dog Soba and my brother Dennis.

Pet #1: our mutt of a pooch Soba

Pet #1: our mutt of a pooch Soba

Upon my initial assessment of the living conditions of my 18-year-old hermano, I found that I could confidently report back to Mama and Papa Kim that the house was still very much livable and they had nothing to worry about in regards to the value of their home depreciating during their brief absence. The sink wasn’t overflowing, there was food in the refrigerator, and the house was otherwise still standing. As I started honing in on smaller details however, I realized that I was in the sequel of One and a Half Men, an earlier post about my dad and brother’s bachelor lifestyle sans Mama Kim.

First was his excellent choice in diet. When I came home, he was occupied with his new laptop in the living room, accompanied only by a single jar of Nutella. That’s it. No complex carbohydrates to accompany it, no spoon in sight, NOTHING.

Hello there, jar of Nutella creeping in the back

Hello there, jar of Nutella creeping in the back

I waved it off, figuring everybody knows about Nutella’s healing properties. As far as I was concerned, this was brilliant on my brother’s part while being home alone. A full jar of the stuff with no adult supervision? Well played. I moved onto the refrigerator, and as I was helping myself to some leftover spaghetti my mother had produced in mass quantities out of fear of my brother’s starvation, I froze at the sight of a large plastic glove lodged in the Tupperwared noodles.

Me: Um, hello sir. Are you aware that there is a plastic GLOVE in the spaghetti!?
My brother: Yes.
Me: Well, what is DOING in here?
My brother: Well (clears throat), by using the glove, I can scoop the noodles and then mix it together with the sauce without having to use utensils. It saves a lot of time, you know. You should try it!

I spy a glove in the midst of the spaghetti

A UFO: Unidentified Flimsy Object in the midst of the spaghetti

Whoever said technology is complicating modern times was obviously out of touch with the simple life hacks my brother had devised. As I pulled the pasta out from the microwave, Dennis was sweet enough to wish me, “Bon appetit!”

Hmm that’s weird, his enunciation must’ve been off because it came out sounding like, “By the way, I will not be doing the dishes for you.”