Tae Kwon Do

The Kid has been participating in Tae Kwon Do for some time now.  I am not certain that she realized how physically demanding it was when she first wanted to join.  She came home exhausted, ready to shower and go to bed immediately, not wanting to stay awake for even dinner.  We helped her tough it out through dinner those first nights, and as time has gone on she has gotten used to it.  She has gone back to every class as excited as the first time.

She is getting her basic forms down, little at a time, and she is visibly improving.  We are pretty sure that she is enjoying this more than she did Hula or Ballet, which she was ready to quit after a month.  She even asked that I try to find a place where she could still train over the summer in Missouri so that she won't be behind when she comes back in August.

In other news, our household goods have arrived in Country!  A full three weeks ahead of schedule!  Yay!  They will be delivering them this coming week!  Just in time to give us added chaos to The Kid and I trying to leave for The States in the next couple of weeks.  Wheeeee!


Anatomy of a Dinner


Totally not hard to make at all, yet it comes off as a special occasion/for entertaining meal.  I use it as such b/c of how easy it is to do (it can be accommodated to be more or less difficult) and it leaves us gobs more time to do other things.  I have a few altered recipes where I use boiled noodles and roll the filling into individual noodles, but that is a little time consuming.  I actually know people who are afraid to make their own homemade red sauce let alone attempt a lasagna.  I praise my good Italian upbringing for my "it's too easy" mindset.  Depending on how you tailor it it can be really inexpensive, too.  We have the privilege of Commissary shopping, so even pre-shredded bags of cheese are around $2.00 for plenty.

You can start a day ahead if you wish, which I often do.  I will make a huge batch of sauce and use it for two or three meals (and lasagna and pasta make great leftovers for work lunches or leftover nights).  I can't understand why people insist on using store bought jarred sauce, b/c it doesn't really take that much more time to make and it is tons cheaper.  If you grow and can your own tomatoes it is cheaper still (which I am hoping to do this fall).

Red Sauce:

In a large, deep pre-heated skillet (like a big cast iron or stainless) rim the pan about three times w/ EVOO.  I like to toss two bay leaves into the heating oil.  You can either smash and mince about 2-3 cloves of garlic or use the pre-minced stuff.  Finely chop 1/3-1/2 of an onion (I use white or shallots, but Maui Sweets, Walla Wallas, Spanish Yellows all work just as well) and toss into the hot oil.  If you are using fresh garlic put them in together so that you don't scorch the garlic.  Cook the onions down nicely.  This is a great time to grate in some carrot or some zucchini, which add nice natural sugars to cut the acidity instead of resorting to using white sugar (which I consider a Mortal Sin).  It's also a nice sneaky way to get extra vegetables in there.

If you want a meat sauce add the meat now.  For lasagna, if I am making a meat one, I use a tube of port sausage and 1/4 - 1/2 pound ground beef.  It makes the sauce thick and hearty.  I leave it out a lot too and will fill the lasagna w/ either lots of mushrooms or thawed, rinsed chopped spinach.  Thin slices of vegetable, like peppers, zucchini, and yellow squash layered in make a great pie as well.

When the onions are cooked down or the meat fully browned is the time to add a large can of pureed tomatoes (a 29-32 ounce can) or crushed tomatoes.  This will cook the meat bits off of the bottom of the pan.  If you like chunky sauce add a can of diced tomatoes now and simmer.  Season after every step w/ salt, pepper and your choice of herbs.  The Guy is a huge fan of oregano, and I like a mixture of rosemary, crushed red pepper sage and thyme (I also sometimes make a "Scarborough Fair" sauce...LOL).  Something I fell in love w/ here in Korea is gochujang and I will drop a spoonful of that into the simmering sauce.  It's great and you should not be afraid of it.

Turn this to simmer w/ a lid on it and fagettaboutit!

In a mixing bowl combine a carton of ricotta cheese w/ a large handful of mozzarella and a smaller handful of parmesan.  Most recipes also call for an egg, but I am anti egg and have never noticed that it makes a difference to anything I have had elsewhere.  Smash this together w/ a spoon.  This is something else you can do a day before and refrigerate if you want.

The assembly is the last part, and you should preheat your oven to about 375 (which is just under the 200 mark on my Korean oven!  Yay!) while you assemble.  Assembly is different depending on the pan you use, and normally I use a DeMarle baking form, which you layer upside down (mozzarella cheese, sauce, noodles; ricotta mixture, sauce, noodles; ricotta mixture, mozzarella, sauce, noodles; ricotta mixture, noodles, sauce) and turn out onto a plate, but we only have our Pyrex that we had to get since our stuff isn't here yet.

I have fallen in love w/ the no boil noodles which are flat like the hand made traditional ones, but use whatever you have available.  In a glass dish layer it so:  sauce, noodles, 1/3 ricotta mixture, a sprinkling of mozzarella, sauce; noodles, 1/3 ricotta mixture, sauce; noodles, last of ricotta mixture, sauce; noodles, sauce, mozzarella (and throw some parm on there for good measure!  CHEESE!).  If you don't have foil to cover this for baking leave the cheese off until the last 15 minutes or so of baking, then broil for about 2-3 at the end.  If you do, slap that puppy in for about 45-50 minutes covered, and remove foil and broil for 2-3 minutes.

This is one that I didn't have enough sauce for and just used a can of diced tomatoes on top, seasoned them and baked uncovered for about 30 minutes before adding the cheese.

The bay leaf!  You know what that means!

All pretty and browned!


We have sprout babies!


Greenin' My Thumb

The building that we live in has a great roof access.  Since we are the only permanent tenants in our building (the Landlord lives upstairs, but is in the States on business all the time, and the downstairs unit is 'long term leased' to a Japanese company) the Landlord has given us permission to use it freely.  One of the things we decided to do w/ this space is to try our hand at a small garden.  

I haven't even had a successful garden, either b/c I haven't had proper space, or b/c I had no idea what I was doing (and no guidance from Al Gore).  The last time I tried to grow an herb garden I killed most of the seedlings trying to transplant them.  So we found a tray that comes w/ individual peat tablets for starting seeds.

All we had to do to start was soak the pellets in warm water long enough to play a game of Order of the Stick (well, the first dungeon level, that is).  Once they were full sized we tore the netting back from the top and planted our seeds.

We decided on two types of tomatoes, parsley, thyme, and lavender (for drying!).  I am still looking for some basil (the only thing I have successfully grown and used ever), which grows so fast I am not worried about the time.

Oh, yes, and one lima bean, that The Kid brought home from school.  This will be a science project for her so she can track its growth.  She did this in Kindergarten at Ho'ala, but I have already established that this school is a little behind her old one.

The seedlings will be individually wrapped when it is time to transplant them, and should keep me from tearing their roots apart this time.

Until they are ready for the big world they will be living in our laundry room, on top of the Hauzen, which is the best place for them.

I saw a tomato planter a while back that grows the plants upside down so they don't bruise and allows you to grow herbs on top to save space.  We are going to see if we can replicate one for the roof.  I have seen a few simpler examples online, and most of them are really inexpensive to make.  We don't have a place to hang them, so I am going to try to fix up a stand.  This should keep me busy until our stuff gets here, w/ my crafting and scrapping supplies!  Wish me luck!


Anatomy of a Dinner

Remember that Chicken Soup I told you about?

It made a magical transformation into Chicken and Dumplings tonight!

It started w/ the soup, which we had added an extra breast to, being reheated in the pot.  B/c I will add dumplings to it I added about two extra cups of water and a small amount of Better than Bouillon.  It didn't need much, but I wanted to make sure I had enough liquid to properly steam all the dumplings.  I had already shredded and chunked the new chicken and made sure that the whole pot came back up to temperature.  When changing it to Chicken and Dumplings I like to add a heavy dose of cracked pepper, but it's totally a "to taste" thing.

I always keep a box of baking mix on hand.  In Hawai'i I couldn't find my favorite, so I used Bisquick, but guess what?  They have Michigan's favorite here!  A single batch of dumplings will need 2 C of mix and 2/3 C of milk.  The batter should be lumpy and thick, but not dry.  Wetter than biscuit dough.

When the soup is fully cooked and boiling spoon the dumpling mix on top of the soup in a ring w/ one in the center.  They will expand and join slightly.  You need to make sure that you have enough liquid to prevent it all from thickening and cooking away, which will burn the chicken to the bottom, but you also need to be able to get the lid on the pot.  Boil w/ dumplings uncovered for about 7 minutes, and then cover the pot and boil for about 7-10 more.  You can turn it down to simmer at this point if you like.

While the dumplings are cooking I sliced up a Korean pear (they are as big as your head!) into bite sized chunks for a simple salad.  We like them tossed w/ fresh spinach and a light raspberry vinaigrette.  

When everything is finished bowl it up!  The dumplings are super filling (unless, of course, you happen to be a rapidly growing seven year old).  While they were cooking they should have considerably thickened the soup into a rich stew.  Make sure to scoop plenty of broth onto the dumplings.  If you are feeding a larger family you can start a new batch after you have dished up the first.  You may need to add water/broth to the pot and bring back to a boil in order to make another batch...but it takes very little time to get it boiling again.  If you want to start another batch b/f serving just scoop the dumplings onto a plate and set aside to keep warm.


As a matter of fact...

...daikon radish makes an excellent addition to homemade chicken soup.

I had a very sour tummy the other day, so we made some homemade soup, so I could bask in the glory of hot broth and crackers.  YUM!

You can start off w/ a big kettle of water and simmer various vegetables for hours to get rich veggie stock and make it a yummy vegetable and rice soup.  Just leave out the chicken-y stuff and add MOAR VEGGIES!  I tend to use large chunks of onion, carrot, daikon radish (instead of celery, which I loathe), whole cloves of garlic, and large chunks of ginger.  I use large chunks so they can be removed from the broth later.  Mushrooms are great to add as well...but they are expensive here.  Also, if you use mushrooms often, save the stems, especially from portobello caps, and freeze them.  They make great stock.

If you don't have the time on hand to make homemade stock, you can use broth.  I love Better than Bouillon.  I am not sure how much water we started w/, and we made two pots at once, but we added a little less than two spoonfuls of BtB to each pot.

To that was added, pretty much whatever salvageable produce we had handy.  This time we had baby potatoes (halved if too big to be bite sized, but mostly left intact), chopped carrot, and a nice large chunk of cubed daikon radish (I don't know if you can get this in normal grocery stores, I know Asian markets have them, and they are staples in Korea).  The radish gets nice and soft like potatoes or rutabagas and is so very mild in flavor (probably why it is popular for making gimchi).  All of this added to the pot to boil.  Once the pot was simmering away for about 30 minutes or so, we dropped one frozen chicken breast into each pot, which didn't sound like much, but was about perfect (also, we forgot to thaw the chicken ahead of time...but this turned out to be a great mistake to make!).  This we turned on low, and let simmer for over an hour.  All the flavors melded together beautifully, and the chicken shredded into the softest meat ever.  The weaker broth we made was now rich w/ flavor.

A small cooker of rice gave a little more to the soup, and before serving just add a scoop of rice to the bowl.  Very very filling in small amounts.

It has lasted us three days, and last night before putting it away we added another breast to the pot and let it re-simmer for the evening after dinner.  Tonight I am going to make simple dumplings to steam on top for Chicken and Dumplings (just like Mom used to make!).  So.  Very.  Tasty.  This has also proven to be a very economical dish.

It has received high approval ratings!


Kids find fun in the strangest places...

The Kid was sooooooo very excited to volunteer to demonstrate how to properly don a gas mask (shown here is the model designed for 3-8 year-olds).  When the Ombudsman told us that they would ask for volunteers she was practically climbing the walls w/ anticipation of her big moment.  She looked like she should be in the movie Dune w/ her drinking tube.  She was also completely floored that I know how to properly don an adult gas mask, and made me tell her all about when we had to carry them around on our belts and be able to put them on if someone yelled "GAS GAS GAS".  The wonderful Master Sergeant also demonstrated how to use the infant version, which looked so completely complicated.  He assured us that in the 14 years he has spent over his career on the Peninsula that he has never seen occasion for gas masks yet.

The night of briefing we had to attend for NEO, which is a funny acronym I can't remember for the emergency evacuation and repatriation procedures that we would use in the event that we would have to flee the Peninsula as non-combatants, came the day after we finally got our SOFA stamps taken care of.  They helped us to check an make sure that our paperwork, which isn't a small amount, is all in order, and that we know where to go and how to get to a designated meeting place in case of said emergency.  We found out that the Army should have already issued us all masks to keep on hand w/ the rest of our gear (oops, Army, forgot something else, didn't ya?) and that we have a drill weekend coming up.  And here, I thought that I was finished w/ drill weekends when I was discharged.  LOL!  As overwhelming as it felt it was also reassuring to know that there is a very well organized system in place that seems to have thought of everything, even things that an overthinker like me didn't think of.

After the brief the MSgt sat w/ The Kid and I and he let her ask him about a nonillion questions (not all of them relevent) and he very patiently answered them in a way that was refreshing.  I can't stand it when people talk to children like they are complete morons.  He and the Assistant Chief of Station where The Guy works talked w/ us a bit about how our transfer went and if we are getting settled in (since The Guy was at work and couldn't be present).  The Ombudsman (I don't really know if they are called the same thing when they are Army spouses) took our email information and said she would be in touch to see if we needed anything in the future, and to include me in some family events.

The MSgt also told us about a lot of great things to do, including a huge recommendation for Disney Hong Kong (which is apparently extremely affordable compared to the parks in the US) and Jeju-do.  We had talked about going to Jeju-do, but weren't sure when was the best time, and he recommended Fall, right before school starts for the best weather.  Unfortunately the North bus tours to Kaesong aren't available anymore, and the DMZ tour is only available for people over ten, which was disappointing, especially since the Korean DMZ has a unique wildlife sanctuary in it, due to it being left untouched by humans for more than 50 years.  It has become a place where rare birds and animals previously thought extinct have been seen living.

I am definitely starting to feel like we have a community here, which is a good thing.  I have been so used to having extended family-like people around to count on in the past that it felt odd to not have that here.  It really is comforting.