J_ recently asked me ‘What My Top Five Comfort Foods Are’ as part of our getting-to-know-each-other talks. I considered my response needing more specifics. What would my emotional, mental, physical, spiritual profile be? Do I need comfort due to a slightly blue mood or have I been suffering from protracted earth shattering devastation? I carefully weighed the merits of tapioca pudding vs. cheetos, delicate soft boiled eggs with buttered toast or a bowl of cornflakes. I got so involved with the different variables I told her that I really could not answer because the comforter must be a direct remedy to the emotional makeup of the moment. Two weeks later this question still sounds in my head but this time I hear the repetitive echo of waves pounding, “Miyeok-guk, miyeok-guk…”
There is very little food wise that I need to retrieve from my childhood. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my mother’s cooking and like Korean food as an exclamation point amidst my diet every now and then. In fact, I wish that I had paid more attention to mom’s natural and intuitive ways in the kitchen. But my emotional constitution was weaker then, the food too bold and forceful for my taste. It stood up in a room and seized attention while I preferred to watch from the side: fiery kimchi brining in oversized mayonnaise jars huddled in the back of the fridge, salty pungent jjigae spewing bubbles from a piping hot stone bowl as it is brought to the table, plates of shredded stinky dried fish. Salt, Garlic, Fermented soy bean, Raw squid and Shrimp paste! These are some of the sights and tastes of The Land of the Morning Calm and while I am a descendent of these colorful people, I wanted watery broth. I dove into bowl after bowl of this nutritionally rich soup teeming with ink-green velvet slubs of ocean vegetation as if it were some lifeline then. I did not know that generations of Korean women ate this soup after giving birth to give them back their strength; the concentration of minerals and nutrients from the seaweed said to clean the blood, contract the uterus and encourage breast milk. Clearly restorative, I crave this ocean elixir now.
9C of vegetable or chicken broth
Alongside the excitement over this month’s birth of FOODChair, I am making side trips to outlying areas of sadness and grief. With the drafting of ideas, the food styling and prep, the scheduling of my cooking crew and the telling of stories- I am composing a recipe of my present. Sometimes the details of my life come into focus take shape and stand in jarring contrast to my past like a Gordon Matta-Clark photograph. Other times, the current moment unravels swiftly into a memory from the not far distance: one of banana pancakes on Saturday mornings dancing with my then-husband, the designing of our home in the Redwoods, celebratory dinners with friends alive with merriment. I remember having arms that can paint, lift, chop, mix and most importantly, hold. Food and the meals that I cook, take me to the heart of my life and central is a table for sharing and nourishing relationships. While the chairs at my table are being reorganized, top center stands a magnificent tureen full of soup which promises to reconstitute the hollow places within. The work of re-membering my life into fullness continues and seaweed is the tonic which will bring me back home. Miyeok-Guk: serves 4
1 oz. package of dried wakame. If new to this soup I recommend starting with 1/3 of a package.
½ a small onion cut into thin slices
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
Few grates of ginger
A few sliced shitake mushrooms
Soy sauce or brown rice miso to taste
2 teaspoons of sesame oil
Finely chopped scallions for garnish
Break seaweed into approximately 1” pieces and then soak in water for two hours or until soft. Drain and rinse seaweed. Put broth, onion, garlic, ginger and mushrooms into a large pot and bring to a boil, then simmer until onions look translucent. Add the seaweed, sesame oil and soy sauce or miso (make a slurry with some of the broth in a separate bowl and then add to the pot, do not let the broth boil once the miso is added) and cook a remaining five minutes to allow all the flavors to come together. Turn the fire off and sprinkle with chopped scallions. Enjoy this soup with a bowl of rice.