Saturday, January 02, 2016

New Year's Day Dinner

My grandmother came to the US about 99 years ago, back when Koreans celebrated the new year on January first due to the Japanese "influence". Nowadays, the lunar (or "Chinese") new year is celebrated instead.

The photo at right shows three of the dishes I prepared for our January 1st meal. One reason I'm writing this post, by the way, is to provide a place to write down what I did, approximately, to make the red sauce (my variant of 초장) seen in the lower-right photo, to wit:

  • 2 tablespoons 고추장 (go-chu-jang)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
which is not exactly right, and maybe next time I'll reduce the sugar, but that makes a sweet and sour and hot sauce which is pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Moving counterclockwise from there, that's squid. I was delighted to find a one-pound package of frozen squid at Safeway™ this year—oops, I mean earlier this week. I was even more delighted to find, after thawing the squid, that it had already been cleaned! That was so much better than dealing with a three-pound block of ice+squid uncleaned (the "Sea Wave Calmar" that I've bought in the past) which was both way too much squid for us and way too much work for me; I'm not 35 any more. The bodies are cut into rings, and the cleaned squid is dumped into a couple quarts of boiling water for 90–120 seconds, then drained and refrigerated. They're marinated for no more than a few hours in a mixture of

  • green onions
  • toasted and ground-up sesame seeds
  • sesame oil
  • salad oil
  • soy sauce
and unfortunately I didn't write down any proportions (sorry); maybe next time.

Next, in the upper left, are the mung bean sprouts. These were two pre-washed 8-oz. packages from Safeway, quickly rinsed, and microwaved for about... 6 minutes total maybe? Then they're refrigrated and soaked in the exact same marinade as the squid.

The spinach: This was about 3 pounds, in giant bags from Costco™. I cheated by using pre-washed spinach, a real time-saver and a great blessing of 21st-century civilization. I steamed this stuff in batches using my 8-quart(?) saucepan and a steamer basket. For a batch, I took as many leaves as would fit easily into the pot, and cover for a few minutes. How many is a few? Not too many.

Then I'd pull them out using a pair of long-handled salad tongs into a colander, and put the next batch in. I think it took at least a half-dozen batches to steam all that. The spinach got refrigerated overnight, then I grabbed bunches of leaves maybe an inch in diamater. These I cut into 1-inch lengths, squeezing each little cylindrical section by hand, dumping lots of vitamin-filled water down the drain. Obsessives may wish to collect this stuff and drink it, but not me, not this time.

After all the spinach was drained, the exact same marinade was used to soak it for no more than a few hours. Stirring was needed.

Not shown…

… are the zucchini "chuhn" (my friend google thinks it's spelt "호박전" in Korean) hand-made by the lovely Carol with assistance from Sheri. There was also beef; I got a boneless chuck roast from Safeway and asked the butcher to cut it in maybe 3/16" slices for me. This boosted the price by $2/pound, which for a 4-pound roast was nontrivial but hardly ruinous.

The beef soaks for an hour or two in the above marinade plus some garlic: I smashed then minced four cloves of the stuff and added it to the marinade. It doesn't hurt to score each slice, front and back. They cooked on a charcoal (just call me Neanderthal and a climate-destroyer, but I gas up my little Toyota once a month, and we live in a small house) for no more than 2-3 minutes on one side, and no more than a minute on the other. I don't use a lot of charcoal, so the fire wasn't very hot.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Shivering in the dark at the Caltrain platform: a perspective

The wind felt quite cold as we waited on the Caltrain platform. Due to a fatality near the Santa Clara station, trains would be delayed 60 or 90 minutes.

It turned out to be more like two hours, but as I started feeling uncomfortable, I thought, here I am in a pair of jeans, a scarf, a hoodie and a coat. Even if it lasts another hour, tonight I'll have a hot meal and and sleep in my own bed next to my wife in our warm house.

I thought of the thousands of Syrian refugees, fleeing violence at home, and how much harder it will be for them after those bullies from Da'esh launched the Paris attacks. I mean—imagine it:

You're just trying to feed your family, minding your own business, and one day you start to hear rumors. You're afraid, but what can you do? Then one night you hear doors slamming, screams, gunshots; you gather your family and run like hell. The next day you make your way back to town and find your neighbors and extended family killed. You find another survivor, who tells you that armed men went door to door, killing everyone who didn't have the right kind of family name, or wasn't the right kind of Muslim.

And now a bunch of European countries are telling you to stay out, when all you're trying to do is get away from people who have killed off most of your village.

I think about our United States, how many people came from Europe, fleeing religious persecution of all things, in the 17th century. And in the centuries since, how many more came from all over the world to make new lives for themselves, fleeing poverty and persecution. Some came in search of a better life, or maybe just in search of adventure.

And I am embarrassed today to be a citizen of the same country where so many GOP governors have said they'll take no more Syrian refugees. Yes, some "refugees" are actually terrorists, and some real refugees will become terrorists. But the overwhelming majority—I mean let's be serious—are just trying to stay alive.

And I remember with some bitterness that people like Lee Harvey Oswald, Timothy McVeigh, the Columbine shooters whose names I've forgotten, Adam Lanza, and lots of other mass killers were never refugees.

What is the matter with us?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Returning to California: Flight Diary (sorta)

A few happy momenets.

I was kicking myself for not just filling the rental car's tank in Manoa. Not finding a filling station on Lagoon Drive, I used the "Maps" app on my phone to find the nearest station. When I got there, I found out: for military personnel only. By the time I found the Chevron at Moanalua Shopping Center, I should have already been at the airport. So much for trying to be a good citizen by filling up near the airport!

But when I got to the airport, I had no trouble checking my bag because the flight was delayed: about 35 minutes. TSA PreChk made for a less-annoying experience at the checkpoint. My section was the last to be called. On the jetway, a gate agent called out, "Any bags to go, pre-tagged?"

Behind me, the young Japanese father said, "えっ? なんって?" (basically "Huh? What'd she...")

Digging into my latent reservoir, I came up with "お預かり..." --the light of understanding dawned in him--"荷物."

He pulled his bag off the stroller and waved an arm. "Excuse me!"

A few people in front of us chimed in, and we eventually got the agent's attention. "We have a stroller here," I said.

The stroller disappeared, and the young dad gave me his thanks.

A few minutes later, on the plane, he got his wish: a chance to do something to help me. We were almost the last ones on the plane, and I was trying to get my roll-on bag into an overhead bin. The young dad moved some stuff for me and I was able to hoist my bag up and into place. "どうも, お疲れ様" I returned.

I was in 9D, with a Chinese couple seated next to me in 9E-F; 9A was occupied but 9B-C were vacant. I slid into 9C, giving the couple room to spread out, and did a little spreading out myself.

A couple hours later, the beverage cart parked at our row for the third time. The flight attendant was tending to row 11. The lady in 9A was looking up hopefully, so I asked her if she needed anything. "Water," she said, so I watched for an opportunity.

As the flight attendant returned to her cart, I leaned toward her. "When you get a chance," I began.

She stopped and I continued, "...she would like..." and I let 9A speak for herself.

Truly feeling blessed today.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

10-20-30 interval training?

From "A Way to Get Fit and Also Have Fun By Gretchen Reynolds July 29, 2015" in the NY Times blogs:
“We wanted to create a workout that could be employed by everyone, from the nonexperienced person to the elite athlete,” Dr. Bangsbo said.

After some trial and error, they came up with a candidate routine and named it 10-20-30 training.

It has become my favorite interval program.

The short version is, this is a routine you're more likely to stick with, probably because it's less grueling; it's as beneficial or more so than tougher regimes. Here's a summary of the steps involved:
  1. warm up
  2. 30 seconds of relaxed movement
  3. 20 seconds of moderate exercise
  4. 10 seconds of maximum effort
  5. repeat steps 2-4 for a total of five cycles (elapsed time 5 minutes)
  6. rest 2 minutes
  7. repeat step 5 (i.e., another 5 minutes)
  8. cool down
As you can see, it's warm-up, 12 minutes, cool-down. The article has a link to a journal article where the aforementioned Dr. Bangsbo is an author: The 10-20-30 training concept improves performance and health profile in moderately trained runners.
J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Jul;113(1):16-24. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00334.2012. Epub 2012 May 3.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Dad was admitted to hospital on Monday August 31, and my sister Donna flew to Honolulu Wednesday to be with him. He was confused but improving, and everyone was talking about his recovery/rehab. Still, as the week wore on, I felt a strong desire to be with him. As I wrote earlier, I responded immediately to the blood center's reminder email, and that gave me a sense of connection with Dad. Yet I also wanted to see him in person.

It was September 3rd and I considered the possibilities. We had a plan to meet my daughter and son-in-law and grandson and niece in Felton Monday the 7th (Labor Day), so I wanted to leave after that. The lovely Carol had reservations to fly to Asia on the 17th, so I wanted to return before that. I'd briefly considered flying to Honolulu Monday morning and canceling our plans with the young folks, but since everyone in Honolulu was optimistic, I left those plans intact and planned to fly out Friday 9/11 (an auspicious date).

We enjoyed our time with the young folks on Monday, but our house phone rang that night, close to midnight. Nothing good happens at that hour, and this was when I heard Dad was in a crisis. An hour later he stopped breathing.

I was distressed about this, and wanted to see my mom and sisters immediately. I briefly considered taking the first flight I could get, which would have been about 6 hours later. Instead I opted for a flight out Wednesday morning.

Tuesday morning I went to the office and set up an email auto-reply. I also preemptively told my colleagues that I was leaving due to a death in the family. Several friends (and colleagues) stopped by to convey their condolences. Two gave me the same excellent advice: DO NOT indulge the "what if?"s.

Should I rent a car? I wasn't sure so I texted my sisters.

As I packed, I thought, well, if I had left Monday morning I might have seen him alive one more time. I thought, if I had "facetime"d him Monday afternoon, as my cousin-by-marriage had, I would have talked to him alive one more time. Then I remembered my friends' excellent advice and renounced those thoughts. No one is ever told what would have happened…

Thursday afternoon we had an appointment at the mortuary to look at Dad's body before cremation. I wasn't sure I liked the cremation idea, but when I saw his body (it had been in the 'fridge and condensation was forming at several places) I changed my mind. The past few weeks he had lost quite a bit of weight. I wanted to remember him as he was during my previous visits.

We all wept. We agreed that things could have been much worse: it might have been months in a hospital bed in the house, a life he would not have liked. We knew all this, but still it was hard to accept that he was really gone. A world without my father in it is an idea that repels the mind.

Donna said it was good for us to see him here; without it we might imagine he was just at the hospital or somewhere else. I agreed. It's a necessary shock to force the mind to accept an idea that repels it.

Mom asked if someone could pray, and I said, "Not me; I can't even see." My sister Inga spoke to God for us.

We had a memorial service Saturday: the urn holding his ashes sat on a table in front, with a 20"x30" pic of him nearby. Several people shared their memories of him. I heard things I hadn't known before—things that made me desire even more to be like him.

Monday morning we buried his ashes. In a small ceremony at the cemetery we watched the urn go into the underground concrete "vault" and we filed by, dropping flowers into the hole in the earth. Workers from the cemetery closed the vault and shoveled soil to fill the hole, then replaced the sod.

It was important, for me at least, to witness this. As our pastor says sometimes, our bodies know things different from what our heads know. By dropping a flower into the vault (into the hole at least) and mentally saying good-bye to Dad, my body was forced to acknowledge that Dad is really no longer with us on this earth. Without this ritual, my mind would still have known that he's gone, but my body would not be sure.

Sometimes we go to funerals to comfort the bereaved, and I appreciate everyone who came to Dad's memorial to comfort us. But at least from my perspective, the important thing I got was that I acknowledged with both my mind and my body that my dad is no longer with us.

That way, the mind and the body and the reality in the world can all agree—this promotes mental and spiritual health. And I need all of that I can get.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

I try my best to be just like I am…

I heard Bob Dylan's Maggie's Farm on NPR recently, and these lines especially struck me:
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
A worthy endeavor, that. But it's difficult. As Thomas Merton wrote:
We cannot be ourselves unless we know ourselves. But self-knowledge is impossible when thoughtless and automatic activity keeps our souls in confusion. In order to know ourselves … we have to cut down our activity to the point where we can think calmly and reasonably about our actions.
Merton, No Man Is an Island (1955) 7.8 (p. 126)
Thoughtless and automatic activity: that'll keep us from knowing who we are, what we actually admire, what we want to become.

Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych was bedridden as he neared death; I think this enforced reduction in activity was part of how he discovered the vanity in his life:

It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true. It occurred to him that his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and all the rest false.
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy, XI (p. 55)
trans. Louise and Aylmar Maude
(downloaded September 2015)
Ivan Ilych's life was certainly not as busy and distracted as the life of a middle-class Millennial, but he kept busy enough with his work and social engagements. It was only when those distractions were curtailed, and when he contemplated his suffering, that he realized that the only real thing in his life may have been the feeble impulses to resist the values of high-status people—impulses which he'd immediately suppressed anyway.

If I do not know who I am, it is because I think I am the sort of person everyone around me wants to be. Perhaps I have never asked myself whether I really wanted to become what everybody else seems to want to become. Perhaps if I only realized that I do not admire what everyone seems to admire, I would really begin to live after all.
Merton, op. cit. 77.8 (pp. 125f)
Ivan Ilych didn't know who he was, really; he didn't know what he actually admired. His folly was also Merton's at times, and I dare say ours as well.

Does it matter, really, if we know ourselves? In the introduction to No Man Is an Island, Merton writes that it's quite important—that it's part of salvation, part of what everyone seeks:

What every man looks for in life is his own salvation and the salvation of the men he lives with. By salvation I mean first of all the full discovery of who he himself really is. Then I mean something of the fulfillment of his own God-given powers, in the love of others and of God.
Merton, op. cit. p. xv
He has more to say about salvation, but he lists self-discovery first. I've been thinking lately about "salvation" so I found Merton's comments particularly interesting.

When he says "salvation," what is he talking about? What are we being saved from? We need to be saved from a life Merton describes here:

Why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be, if we only knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?
op. cit. 7.8 (p. 126)
There is an even more basic thing we need: we need to know that we are loved by God. We need to know that we're not perfect, and we need to know that it's okay, because nobody is. We need to know that life doesn't consist in possessions or status or even physical health.

And so we must disconnect from thoughtless and automatic activity once in a while. We need to take time for what's important, to tend to our souls. To have unscheduled time. As Buechner wrote in Secrets in the Dark, there are times when it is quiet and you don't really have to do anything, when

[t]he time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. (59)
Rather than doing the usual thing, once in a while we need to look back, to consider the clues about who we are and who we are becoming.

I'm doing that now, particularly as I try to adjust to the idea of a world where my earthly father no longer lives.

Another memory of Dad

I took a right turn and heard a thumping from the trunk. It was a big roll of paper, "butcher paper" I think, that we used for covering tables for yesterday's lunch reception. The sound reminded me of something Dad told me.

"Did Dad ever tell you that story about the bottle in the trunk?" Neither Mom nor my sister Donna had heard it.

I guess he was still single when this happened, so probably more than 60 years ago. He and a friend were driving, and there was a bottle or something in the trunk. They turned a corner and heard this Bah-dum-bah-dum-bah-dum from the trunk. They found this amusing. "Hey, that's pretty good!" They checked for traffic and swerved left.

Bah-dum-bah-dum-bah-dum. Swerved right. Bah-dum-bah-dum-bah-dum

Pretty soon another sound was heard: a siren, accompanied by flashing lights in the rear-view mirror. They pulled over.

"Lemme smell your breath!" The cop was not pleased.

"The steering seemed a little loose," my dad said.

After checking his license and registration, the cop let them go. "Next time test your steering in a parking lot," he growled.

Is that the kind of thing to tell your son, but not your wife or daughter?