Making Korean food by myself. No recipes. Just memories. By Kathleen Choe (actor/singer/writer)
Chapter 1: Bulgalbi
When I was a junior in college, I moved into an apartment with an amazing kitchen that inspired me to cook. A craving for kimchi chigae came
Mmm. This stuff.
and my roommates enthusiastically agreed to have some (since there was no way I could eat the whole pot by myself). Having watched my parents make it, I felt confident I knew how to do it on my own.
Cut to me on the phone wailing to my Dad that despite me having simmered the chigae for an hour and the pork belly in it falling apart, my kimchi wasn’t getting soft.
“Did you fry the kimchi in sesame oil first?” my father asked patiently. “You have to do that first. If you didn’t, put some in the chigae now. Then it’ll get soft. Put it in now and simmer for five...no, ten minutes. Also, your roommates don’t mind the smell?”
“They love it,” I replied frantically, grabbing the sesame oil and putting it in the stew. Ten minutes later as promised the kimchi softened, and the spicy stew goodness was spooned into bowls and fed to me and my hungry roommates.
Years later I’m now on my umpteenth apartment with no roommates, making dinner for my friend Terri for a girl’s night catch up. Nothing very fancy or what people usually order in a restaurant—no chapjae or bibimbap(which for the record, is a pain in the ass to make) to be seen here--just a stock of old home favorites.
OK, so I lied. I’m also making bulgalbi. But it’s a “family coming over” dinner, so that’s allowed. There has to be some kind of meat on the table, otherwise it’s just an everyday family dinner.
The Korean market near where I live charges Manhattan prices for beef, so like a good New Yorker shopping for the best deal I head over a few blocks to the Chinese market after picking up what I need from the Korean one. The man behind the butcher counter looks at me expectantly.
“Two pounds of short ribs.”
He grabs two large racks of beef.
“Two pounds! Not two racks.”
He asks me a question in Cantonese. I blink at him blankly. His partner behind the counter comes over and takes one of the racks out of his hands, laughing.
“Square cut?” the second butcher says to me.
I shake my head, but I smile. He's guessed I'm Korean. “Sliced ¼”, please.”
I take it home and wash the beef, put it in a large metal bowl, then start following my parents' instructions in my head.
No recipe. Just memories.
Soy sauce…check. Black pepper…check. Sesame oil…check. Scallions…check.
Garlic…here the voices diverge.
Mom: Just add a little.
Dad: Ugh! NO! No garlic.
I love garlic, so I chop up four cloves and throw them in. I can hear my father’s grumbles over this addition and my mother’s cackles at having won.
Dad: Sprinkle it over the meat, like this. Like snow! An inch of snow.
I stare at the sugar. The health-conscious part of my brain rebels. Oh, hell no. That’s wayyyyy too much.
I add a quarter-inch, then start massaging it all together with my hands. I taste it. It doesn’t taste like theirs. OK, a little more soy sauce. A llllliiiiiiiitlllle more sugar. I taste it again. Getting closer, but I can’t bring myself to add more.
I realize also that this is the first time I’m making this without an older family member hanging over my shoulder making adjustments.
I text my sister.
Me: I’m making kalbi and realizing just how much ganjang (soy sauce) and sugar Dad uses. Jesus. This is why so many Korean people have high blood pressure.
Sissy: An inch of snow!
I laugh, and add a little more sugar and soy sauce, and massage it in the beef. I consider adding a kiwi—my mother’s trick to making it nice and tender—but decide against it. Also, if I leave it in the marinade too long the beef will turn to mush, and it’ll be twelve hours before any of this goes into the oven.
I wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge. The next day I take it out, heat up the oven and place the meat inside. 15 minutes in, and my apartment starts smelling delicious. I open the oven and flip the meat, and aroma of the beef mixed with the steaming rice coming from the rice cooker makes me smile.
One of my family holiday dinners. This is why I have no idea how to cook for two people.
Terri arrives and I pull out the bulgalbi, placing it on a plate and cutting it into pieces with scissors, leaving the bones in. We make room for it by rearranging dishes on the table.
Yup. No idea how to cook for two.
Terri eyes the plate of bones-in bulgalbi. “How do we eat them?”, she asks.
“We’re all family here,” I say. I pick up a piece of bulgalbi with my fingers and bite.
My heart sinks. It doesn’t taste like theirs. There’s something missing. The flavors are the same, but overall it’s not as pungent. More soy sauce? More sugar?
An inch of snow.
Terri’s takes a bite too, and a huge grin comes over her face. “Soooo good!”
She reaches for another piece. Bit by bit we polish off this dinner, and my friends who drop by later for the dessert portion of the evening finish off the rest of the bulgalbi.
My Dad is happy when he makes a meal and all the plates at the end of the meal are empty. The plate of bulgalbi that I made is empty, inch of snow notwithstanding. So there’s that.
I notice the next day too that I’m not as bloated as I usually am after eating a big Korean dinner. So there’s that, too.
Maybe there’s something to be said for modifying family recipes and making them more health conscious. My family has a history of high blood pressure. I’m firmly determined to break that.
An inch of snow.
Wonder what my parents would say if I used Stevia instead…
Pleasure having everyone read this week's post. Thanks for stopping by and thanks to Crazytown for the opportunity. When I started doing this back in June, I had no idea I'd still be at it in February. Also, the writing of this blog has gone everywhere from Vancouver to Incheon to Jakarta. Have you ever heard the theory that all big cities are the same except they're in different locations? Just wondering.
I figure most people reading this blog know what minimalism is, so I won't dwell on it too much.
A 62 year-old man painted this. A minimalist "masterpiece," it hangs in the National Gallery in Ottawa, where I actually saw it with my friend Bharati Auglay. For "minimalism" it sure used a lot of paint.
Back to the story. I was thinking about theatre and how cheap everyone seems. Don't believe me? See how many theatres don't pay royalties, like these folks in Tucson.
Most plays I write already have a "minimalist" set, so I figured why not do more? Or less? I'm confused.
Here you've got two characters - every line consists of one word. It ain't pretty, but maybe someone digs it. Have a read. Feel free to comment.
Actually, I'm intrigued enough by this I think I'll do the same in Korean.
BRYAN STUBBLES is a playwright and sometime screenwriter as well as Crazytown's most eligible bachelor. His ten minute masterpiece Trump vs Kahlo isavailable here. His one-act play The Wicked Life of Patience Boston had a reading in West Virginia in December as well. The Noose had a performance at the Great Salt Lake Fringe in the summer.
Brine Shrimp Gangsters will be published this year by Smith & Kraus.
...just ask me and I'll tell you about that. By Jennifer Anderson (Actor/Singer/Body Beatboxer)
Crazytown, I've been feeling very uninspired this week. I tried to crap out another Super Shitty sketch (get it?), but to no avail. Writers' block damn you, you evil mistress.
So to keep you entertained, I've decided to share one of my favorite podcast clips with you all today: It's Kyle Dunnigan and his amazing body rapping skills from the sadly defunct Professor Blastoff. Enjoy!
In this review: SPOILERS for the experience of seeing Then She Fell. You've been warned. By Alisha Giampola (writer/performer)
I am a sucker for immersive theatre experiences. I loved Sleep No More. I want all of my future theatre experiences to involve snacks and/or alcoholic beverages and even slightly intense prolonged eye-contact. Perhaps because I know what it feels like to be on the actor's side of the fourth wall, I love shows that totally destroy that wall and ask the audience to step over the crumbled ruins of it and into the action. If Sleep No More offers a voyeuristic haunted house for guests to explore masked, unguided, and at will; Then She Fell is a much more intimate, playful, disorienting experience that you engage in alone but constantly accompanied by members of the cast as well as nurses and orderlies of the institution. Oh, did I mention that you'll be spending the evening in a Victorian mental hospital?
Inspired by the works of Lewis Carroll and his real-life, possibly romantic relationship with the child Alice Liddell, Then She Fell is a theatre piece I have come to, rather typically, several years after it started getting rapturous reviews in the Times. Honestly, it fell under my radar for a while, and then when it popped onto my radar I had to wait to rationalize the ticket price (admittedly, not cheap, but then the experience is WORTH IT), which I'm glad I did because they have a closing date of April 30, 2017. They've extended before, but who knows? So if you want to definitely go see this amazing production, I recommend getting tickets now and seeing it this spring.
Knowing that you're seeing a wildly popular show that only sells 15 tickets a performance is intimidating. For most of it, you are being directly performed to. I spent several minutes sitting silently across from an actor who was a sort of non-literal representation of the White Rabbit, painting a white rose red with a tiny paintbrush, feeling a genuine stress that we wouldn't be done in time. I participated in a mad tea party, smashing my tea cup on the table with the White and Red Queens, Rabbit, and Hatter, and then sipping a deliciously brewed concoction that I had helped choose before being whisked away again for a bedtime story (and being literally tucked into a crisp, white bed). I watched two Alices dance through a mirrored glass, once from inside the Red Queen's luxurious apartment, and once from inside a sparkling fairy burrow, while being fed purple grapes by the White Queen. Later, one of the Alices had me hand her clothing after her bath, all while asking me questions about love. At the end of that scene, we were looking directly into each other's eyes between the bannister of a staircase and she queried if I had lived happily ever after with that first person, that first person I ever loved. When I laughed lightly and said "No," her face darkened abruptly, and she ran up the stairs in a huff, too fast for me to run after.
After the show, my husband Daniel and I tucked ourselves into a nearby bar and over a nightcap excitedly exchanged stories of everything that had happened to us since we'd been split up. We had seen part of the show together. For a few scenes, like when the Red Queen spiraled into insanity with a bottle of pills in a locked ward, we had been the only two audience members watching. But once we were separated, Daniel was led off by the Mad Hatter, a redheaded chanteuse whom we'd watched dance on top of a wardrobe earlier in the evening, and was asked riddles. I was redirected into a room with a gramophone and instructed to open increasingly large books with bottles hidden inside as a Doctor concocted me a cocktail. Then he left me alone with a stack of letters to read and the voice from the gramophone reciting The Walrus and the Carpenter. I barely had time to skim the first letter before the White Rabbit retrieved me to come paint roses with him. Meanwhile, Daniel peeled and ate an orange with one of the Alices while I, somewhere else in the building, was watching the other Alice wrestle with the Red Queen.
Like Sleep No More, this is dance theatre. Most of the scenes have a movement-heavy element driving them. Unlike Sleep No More, the experience feels tailor-made for you and you alone. You aren't eavesdropping on these people, they are inviting you to take part, have a sip, take a bite, answer a question. "Do you take dictation?" the actor playing Lewis Carroll asked me in a room that would have been a regular writer's study, except for the pools of water sinking into the floor in unexpected places. After I wrote his letter, he signed it, placed it in a bottle, and waded into the black water barefoot to send it off with all the others. The Doctor retrieved me and brought me upstairs to play a game of chess with him. I knew immediately that it was the chess game from Through The Looking Glass. He explained the entire sequence of moves to me, guiding me through playing Alice's white pawn, as if he was reading a particularly perplexing case study. At the end, he handed me a cup of tea, retrieved the ring of keys I'd been entrusted with during the performance (and encouraged to use on any lock I found), and suddenly orderlies began bringing the 14 other people of the audience, including Daniel, into the room where I sat. The show was over. I had been the only one, maybe, to play chess with the doctor. I definitely had been the only one to finish my stay in Wonderland with the chess game scene.
As a long time lover of Lewis Carroll's Alice books, I was delighted to recognize so many moments from the stories and from the sad and strange real-life tale of Carroll and Alice. The show is a beautiful and beautifully sympathetic exploration of duality, sanity, reality, and the magic of childhood. At the beginning of the show, just as the audience members are starting to be whisked off by different actors to begin their own personalized journey through the piece, the Doctor offers a definition of liminality. From the Latin limin, meaning "threshold". We get our English word "lintel" from here. Liminality is the quality of ambiguity and disorientation experienced by participants in a ritual, usually magical or spiritual, that occurs midway through- before the participant has been changed completely by the ritual, but are no longer what they were before they began. The show attempts to make adolescent Alices of us all. Not quite big, not quite small, not quite having drunk all of the bottle yet, but definitely having taken a nice sip. Few shows have touched me and haunted me as much as this one has, and I am excited to see more from Third Rail Projects, who developed this and other immersive pieces, as theatre like this becomes more and more prolific and available. I look forward to the day when the idea of seeing a piece of theatre that isn't located in a repurposed warehouse space in Brooklyn is unusual.
The only photo here that I actually took (after the show was over of course) of my "prescription" for the tea I chose during the Mad Tea Party and the stamped program I was given at the end of the show. The two other pictures in this article are press photos. The current company of Then She Fell can be found here.
Thank goodness. By Joanna Syiek (Director/Producer/Blogger)
Did you fall head over heels for Crazy-Ex Girlfriend in its first season, complete with its particular brand of dark humor? Do you love imperfect characters but also tap breaks? Have you already kept up with Season 2 like an amazingly normal person who is able to watch TV during the actual time that it airs? If not - Netflix's got your back with the new season at the ready.
And your protest song for the week:
JOANNA SYIEKhas a penchant for original theatre work, clean graphic design, and really good Indian food. She directs around the City of Angels and writes about nourishing creativity, Broadway favorites, and talent obsessions over on her blogging home. www.thoughtsontheatre.wordpress.com
Don't think about the current POTUS, there's plenty more out there. by Alex Syiek (Writer/Performer)
Happy President's Day everyone! As we enjoy this day off from our worries, and celebrate the greatest office in the world, remember, we don't have to respect our current president, when there are plenty of others in the past to look back fondly on. And many of them are in musicals! Yep, let's look at the greatest musical moments of the American presidency in our history!
1. 1776 (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson) In our first example, we have two future presidents in one show! 1776 tells of the battle to draft the Declaration of Independence in balmy Philadelphia many moons ago. Here are the two soon to be Commander-in-Chiefs along with Ben Franklin from the movie of 1776.
2. Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (well, Andrew Jackson) In one of my favorite musicals, the Jacksonator tears apart traditional American politics for his unique brand of populism to forge a new path for our country. Seems a little too on the nose in our current day and age, and I think the show could have run a lot longer had it opened this season. Rock out for a bit.
3. Assassins (Too Many to Count) In another of my favorite musicals, presidential assassins (and wannabe assassins) interact with each other and the POTi they are known for slaying. In this clip, we see the American public react to hearing the news that their president has been shot. From the joint ACT/5th Avenue Theatre production.
4. Annie (FDR) You didn't think I would forget that little orphan, didja?
5. Merrily We Roll Along (JFK) And finally we end with one of my favorite numbers in Music Theatre. "Bobby and Jackie and Jack" from Merrily We Roll Along. An entire song about the Kennedy dynasty? Sign me up! This clip's from my alma mater, Baldwin Wallace (Feat. Ryan Hook, Anthony Sagaria, and Emily Prentice).