Thursday, 30 October 2014

Tea breaks and workers' rights

This Monday was Labour Day in New Zealand. Labour Day celebrates the achievements of the labour union movements - in particular the 8 hour working day. 

At the moment in New Zealand, the newly strengthened ruling National Party, with a little help from it's coalition partner, the Act Party (with 1 member in parliament) are expected to pass legislation that significantly weakens the rights of employers. The legislation was put on hold prior to the general election because at that point, the National Party didn't have the numbers to pass it. Now that they can, the power of employees to bargain with their employers is set to be significantly reduced. 

The tea breaks, and the loss of them, have come to symbolise the issue. 


Before I started studying again, while I was working, I was a member of my respective union and as long as all the members keep the union in check, I think that they hold great potential to equalise the huge imbalance of power between employees and employers. My line of work (medicine) does not have protected breaks because patient safety trumps them. However, I know how difficult this can be after having spent too many days walking out of the hospital and realising that I hadn't taken a single bathroom break, or trying to work a ten hour shift without breakfast, lunch or dinner. In jobs where breaks can safely be protected, they very well should be.

To stand in solidarity with the workers whose rights are in jeopardy, I had a tea break. Not just any tea break but an all-out T.A.R.D.I.S teapot, good china cups and saucers tea break.

To accompany the tea, I made a duo of sables. Lemon-cornmeal and chocolate ones to be specific. They had a nice synergy because the lemon ones used two yolks and the chocolate, two whites. The lemon ones were a bit too imperfect to share here but the chocolate ones were delicious and beautiful to boot. Despite being squeezed through a piping bag, the cookies are light and when you bite into them, it is as if the crumbs were only held together by the weakest forces. The cocoa, sugar and butter are mixed in exactly the right proportions to create a rich, chocolatey, not-too-sweet mouthful. It is no surprise that they were created by Pierre Herme, a master of all sweet things.

Pierre Herme's Viennese chocolate sables
very gently adapted Butter and Brioche
makes about 20 cookies

40g cocoa powder, sifted
250g flour
1/2tsp sea salt
250g butter, cubed and at room temperature
100g icing sugar
2 egg whites (3-4Tb)
flaky salt for sprinkling on top of the cookies

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
2. Place the butter in a large bowl and beat until it is creamy and becomes lighter in colour. 
3. Add icing sugar and beat again until pale and well-combined. Add egg whites and beat again.
4. Stir in the flour, cocoa and sea salt and stir. I found that I needed extra egg white to achieve dough with a pipe-able consistency.
5. Using any large piping tip, pipe cookies onto the prepared trays. I piped rosettes that were about 3.5cm in diameter. Sprinkle with a little flaky salt.
6. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through that time.
7. Cool the cookies on the trays, they will harden as they cool.

The cookies should keep for 4-5 days in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sunday, 26 October 2014


무서운 것이 내게는 없소
누구에게 감사받은 생각없이 
나는 나에게 황홀을 느낄뿐이오 
나는 하늘을 찌를 때까지 자랄려고 하오 
무성한 가지와 그늘을 펼려하오 

There is nothing that frightens me
Not interested in anyone's gratitude
I merely feel rapture within myself
I want to grow until I touch the sky
To unfurl limitless branches and shade 
-Kim Kwang Seok (나무 [Tree])

I am learning that a sense of fulfillment comes from within. Every time I catch myself becoming unbalanced by external events, I remind myself to see the problem as it actually is in the greatest context. Then it all seems small. Everyone has problems and needs a helping hand sometimes but the knowledge that strength comes from within eventually makes us better able to withstand our trials. 

These are all things that I am gradually realising for myself and struggling with myself. My greatest happiness at the moment comes from doing volunteer work. Last week I helped sort and pack medical supplies to be sent to a rest home in North Korea and this week I started a regular meeting with a local community outreach group. Between these activities and the translation work that I'm doing for <> I am very happy indeed.

And to top it all off, a cup of tea, a biscuit and the time to enjoy them. Of course, not everyday is this peaceful but this peace is something that I am seeking out more and more. Today's recipe is for classic gingernuts, gently spiced and crispy rather than concrete-like in texture, they are a great biscuit to mull over.

I got exactly 17 biscuits
from New Zealand Woman's Weekly

120g flour
1tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp baking soda
1tsp baking powder
60g cold butter, cubed
1/4c caster sugar
2Tb golden syrup

1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.
2. Place all the ingredients except for the syrup in a medium-sized bowl and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until it comes together as a sandy mixture.
3. Add the syrup and mix the dough into a thick paste.
4. You can form the dough into a 3cm diameter log and slice into 0.5cm slices or just form it into walnut-sized balls and flatten onto the baking tray. Leave at least 1.5cm between biscuits.
5. Bake for 15min and cool the cookies on the trays.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

In which I am convinced it's a good idea after all

Food traditions are an important cultural legacy. As someone who is probably a bit too interested in food, I find the food traditions of all cultures fascinating. As myself, I consider the food traditions of my own culture to be something that I should try to uphold and cherish. This is why I am trying to make my own tofu and why I am so glad that my mum makes her own kimchi and can teach me how to make it. This is why I disregarded all travel safety advice and tried ceviche in Peru and tried to eat exclusively on the the street in Vietnam.

And of course, my stint as a bún thịt nướng vendor
For these reasons, I have always been biased against inauthentic 'food hacks' where people try to make semi-homemade food that is meant to be reminiscent of that of another culture. Examples of this include 'recipes' for turning instant noodles into faux-pho, the terrible renditions of 'Western' food like pizza and hamburgers that you encounter in many Asian countries and the 'Chinese' food that they sell in takeaway stores in New Zealand. Or when a recipe for pad thai includes tomato ketchup. Nobody wins.

One practice that I have always found particularly offensive is when recipes claiming to be 'Asian-inspired' use peanut butter. I always felt uneasy with the idea of incorporating a breakfast spread into the proud culinary tradition of another culture. However, with the rise of additive-free, natural peanut butter options I have come to see it as a much more viable option as a cooking ingredient. They're just peanuts right?

So I finally decided to try out an Asian-inspired recipe with peanut butter. It was delicious. I swapped out sweet chili paste for a spoonful of my ingredient of the moment, gochujang. Combined with peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame and a bit of lemon juice, the resulting sauce was complex, flavourful and all-round amazing. It was actually reminiscent of ssamjang which is a derivative of doenjang and gochujang that often has nuts and seeds added to it. 

When combined with buckwheat noodles (매밀면, memil myun) and a variety of crunchy vegetables, you get the most satisfying of noodle salads. The gochujang has a deep, slow-burning spice that pairs well with the nuttiness of sesame and peanut. This salad is a hearty vegan main rather than a side dish, and will be a go-to lunch or dinner option throughout the coming summer months.

Spicy sesame-peanut noodle salad
adapted from Nigella Lawson
serves 2 as a main meal 

200g of buckwheat noodles

For the dressing
1Tb of sesame oil
1/2Tb soy sauce
1Tb of gochujang
2Tb of smooth peanut butter 
2Tb of lemon juice
1/2tsp sugar
1Tb of sesame seeds, I used black ones

2c of crunchy vegetables, cut into thin strips if necessary (carrots, cucumbers, beansprouts, snow peas, radishes at the like)
2Tb of spring onions, thinly sliced
extra sesame seeds for garnish

1. Cook the noodles as directed on the packet. Rinse with cold water and leave to drain in a colander.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the dressing ingredients into a paste. Taste and adjust as required.
3. Add noodles and crunchy vegetables to the bowl and stir to coat everything with the dressing.
4. Transfer to a serving dish and scatter spring onions and extra sesame seeds over the top.

The classics are great

I think that quite soon, I will have to change the name of this blog to the cake and noodle blog. To be fair, this is a reasonably accurate description of the diet of my dreams if you add a few vegetables in there. Today I would like to share a recipe for what I consider to be one of the 'classic cakes' - chocolate fudge cake. The kind made with cocoa, oil and boiling water, rather than the flourless type of chocolate cake made with mostly chocolate and eggs. 

Despite being a classic and well-liked cake, it is one that often disappoints the eater. The problem is that these cakes are made with oil for a lighter texture. However, every oil-based chocolate cake I have ever eaten (homemade and storebought) tastes like rancid oil, making it impossible to enjoy. I had a theory that replacing the vegetable oil with coconut oil would fix the problem, and I finally got around to making it yesterday.

The results were rather glorious. The batter was ridiculously simple to put together, rose to great heights in the oven and resulted in a moist, light-textured cake with a complex and deep chocolate flavour. Paired with a chocolate buttercream that tastes like rich chocolate mousse, it became a dangerously delicious cake. Luckily there were guests to serve and distribute the cake to so I could share the calories around.

Here is an example which should illustrate how tasty this cake is: while writing this post, I went into the kitchen to get some coffee and cake. While waiting for the water to boil I cut myself a slice of cake. I tasted it, tasted it again, and ended up eating the whole slice before water had finished boiling. I returned with just the cup of coffee. Hopefully, you will be able to enjoy this cake in a slightly more civilised manner. Good luck.

I decorated the frosted cake with cocoa nibs, freeze-dried cherries and pansies from the garden

Chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting
adapted from Add a Pinch (cake and frosting)
makes 1 23cm ring cake or 10 cupcakes

1c plain flour
1/4c plus 2Tb of cocoa powder
1c sugar
1tsp baking powder
3/4tsp baking soda
1/2tsp espresso powder (optional)
1/4-1/2tsp salt (I found 1/2tsp a bit too salty)
1 egg
1/2c milk
1/2c boiling water
1/4c coconut oil (I added this to the measuring cup along with the boiling water to melt it)

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius and prepare your ring cake tin or muffin tin.
2. Place flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder and soda, espresso powder and salt in a medium-sized bowl and combine with a whisk.
3. Add the egg, milk, water and coconut oil and stir until combined. The batter is quite runny.
4. Pour into ring cake tin or fill muffin tin to 1/2 full. 
5. Bake for around 22min for the ring cake or 20min for the cupcakes. Check with a toothpick for doneness.
6. Let the cake cool in the tin for about 10min before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Frosting (makes enough to frost either one cake or 10 cupcakes)

85g butter, softened
1/3c cocoa powder
1 1/4c icing sugar
2Tb milk
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1/8tsp espresso powder

1. Using an electric whisk, beat the butter and cocoa powder together until fluffy.
2. Add half the icing sugar, then 1Tb of milk and repeat. Beat until combined. Add a tablespoon or so more milk or icing sugar if needed to reach the right consistency.
3. Add the vanilla and espresso powder and beat for another 10 seconds. 
4. Frost the cake when it is completely cool or your buttercrem will melt.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

If we pretend it is summer it may come faster

This my second post about the adventures I am having with a bag of dried soy beans. Over the last few months, I have had this strange sensation that I am entering a new stage of development. I am still in my twenties for a few years yet, but some how I feel like I have already mentally transitioned into my thirties. The way I react to external stimuli has changed, as have my priorities and perspectives. I have developed an increasing interest in the motherland (Korea) and have even made my peace with kids, as you will see from my previous posts. 

One major practical change has been in my diet. There has been a decisive shift towards more Korean cooking, not only through conscious effort but because it is what I am craving at the moment. Today's recipe 콩국수 (kong guksu, soy bean noodles) is a dish that I had been dreaming of for months now. It's a traditional summer dish - the broth is reminiscent of soy milk without the solids removed, creamy yet light and served ice cold. The noodles are thin wheat noodles called 소면 (somyun) that are cooked and then rinsed under cold water to cool them down and wash away any residual starch. There are regional variations in how the broth is seasoned (sugar versus salt) as well as the accompanying garnishes (tomato, cucumber, half a boiled egg, carrot etc) but has far as I know, a sprinkle of sesame seeds is compulsory.

I know that the dish sounds kind of weird and I never cared for it when I was younger. Just like your first sip of beer makes you cringe but then you find yourself thinking of a cold one on a sunny day, I suddenly wished it was summer just so I could wholly enjoy a bowl of these weird noodles. The days have gotten longer (thanks in part to the start of daylight saving) and it is almost warm enough to walk around in a t-shirt and shorts, I decided to bring summer into the kitchen slightly earlier and attempted to make these noodles based on a couple of recipes for reference, along with advice from my mother and my memories of how it was meant to taste and look.

On my first attempt, I went by a recipe rather than my instincts and the resulting noodles were deemed, "Okay for something made by a young person," by my mother. This was clearly not a satisfactory result. I waited for the next really sunny day and tried again, streamlining and modifying the method to create the kong guksu that I had been dreaming of. I made the broth much more concentrated and separated out the larger pieces of bean for a much creamier texture, enhanced furthermore by the addition of a handful of cashews.

The second attempt was very well received and I got to experience the wonderful satisfaction that comes from eating exactly what you have been craving. I can only imagine how much better these noodles will taste on a sweltering summer's day. Creamy broth and thin, slurp-able noodles, paired with the occasional crunch of cucumbers and the tang of tomatoes makes for a refreshing bowl of summer soul food.

As the seasons change as a physical manifestation of time passing, I hope that everyone is taking the time to make sure that the Sewol victims and their families are not forgotten. It has now been six months to the day. 294 dead and 10 missing. No real answers to the question, "Why did and how could this happen?" I have had to read every story in the link above while translating them. Although I can't fathom the extent of the families' sadness, I catch glimpses of it and that is enough to make me realise that we all have an obligation to comfort them and stand with them as they seek answers.

This is Ye-Eun, yesterday would have been her 17th birthday. Photo from:

 Equally, I hope we all remember that we still need to hold the New Zealand government to account for the revelations of Dirty Politics and barely-legal mass surveillance, as well as prevent New Zealand's sovereignty being sold off in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I don't talk about these things because I am a very politically-minded person but because I have come across these issues while hoping for and trying to work towards a society that is a bit better for everyone. Because I believe that these are issues of right and wrong, of justice and injustice. 

I have been trying more and more to live like I am already part of the better society that I hope for, a fairer and kinder society. Just like eating a bowl of summery noodles seems to bring summer a bit closer, if we all lived for the society that we aspire to, perhaps it may arrive a little faster.

콩국수 (Kong guksu, soy bean noodles)
serves 3

1c dried soybeans
1/2c raw cashews
salt and water

150g somyun

1c worth of cucumber
1c cherry/grape tomatoes
white or black sesame seeds

1. Soak the beans in 4c water for at least 10 hours.
2. Rinse the beans and rub them between your hands to remove all the filmy skins.
3. Boil the skinned beans and cashews in 4c water for 15 minutes.
4. Rinse again, drain and place in blender. Add 1/2c of water and 1/4tsp salt, and blend the beans and cashews into a smooth paste.
5. Add 1.5 more cups of water, and blend again. Taste and add more salt if required.
6. Pour the broth through a sieve, using the back of a spoon to gently push any small bits through. You will be left with about 1/2c of larger bits.
7. Return the solids to the blender, blend for 30 seconds, add 1c of water and blend again.
8. Combine the two lots of broth and store in the fridge.
9. De-seed the cucumber and slice into thin strips. Halve or quarter the tomatoes.
10.  Boil 2L of water, boil the somyun for around 8 minutes. Be careful that it doesn't boil over. It is cooked when it is just past al dente (the noodles should be cooked all the way through).
11. Wash the noodles with cold water until the noodles have cooled down, drain and divide between 3 bowls.
12. Pour the broth over the noodles, add 3-4 ice cubes to each bowl and top with cucumbers, tomatoes and sesame seeds.

Serve with other banchan, it is nice to have some spicy ones for contrast.

This is a cucumber pickle called 오이자 (Oi-ji) that I thought went particularly well with kon guksu.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

For the children

Playdough potatoes adorned with flowers, by H, age 4

For a long time I thought I didn't like kids. I never felt comfortable with squealing with delight over babies or having to pick up every stray toddler that crossed my path. I've always thought baby talk was mutually embarrassing. I don't love the smell of babies. For some inexplicable reason, this sort of behaviour in young people is considered the benchmark for being 'good with children.' And so, in a self-perpetuating cycle, I allowed this sort of societal misconception to deceive me into thinking that I was incapable of having a meaningful relationship with kids and I never really tried to hang out with the ones around me. 

However, recent circumstances have meant that I have accumulated two kind-of-nieces. Through experience I have discovered that I am not bad with kids, I just needed to find my own approach to interacting with them. Thinking back to when I was younger, I actually disliked being fawned upon and talked down to by adult, so really, the current system is creating losses on both sides. Saying that I don't like kids is as antagonistic as saying I don't like people and probably as misguided, as is the expectation that kids should be treated as some sort of adorable and unthinking bauble.

One activity that both of my kind-of-nieces (who are 4 and 5 years old) really enjoy is playing with playdough. Playdough traverses an enticing middle line between messy and non-messy play, it has unlimited creative potential and it can be made at home in about five minutes. My mother used to make playdough for me when I was a kid, so I have always known that it is very easy to make at home. However, for everyone out there who is still buying it by the tub, I thought I would share a recipe for it. All the ingredients are non-toxic and non-irritant and if kept in an airtight container (in the fridge in warm temperatures) homemade playdough keeps for at least a month (the Internet says 6 months, but I think it would probably get pretty contaminated by that point.

Pink raspberry, blue coconut and yellow lemon playdough

 Play dough can be made in any colour (use gel or powder food colouring for vivid colour), it can be scented with extracts and spices, you can add glitter or dried rice and beans for texture. Younger kids may try take a bite, but usually the saltiness is enough to dissuade them from trying again.

Playdough meal by H again

Homemade playdough
from The Imagination Tree
makes about an adult fist-sized amount

1c plain flour
1/4c salt
1Tb cream of tartar
1Tb of vegetable oil (I recently used coconut oil melted in the boiling water and it gave a particularly smooth texture to the dough - plus it is like a built in moisturiser)
3/4 boiling water
flavour extracts, food colouring, edible glitter and other add-ins

1. Combine flour, salt and cream of tartar in a small bowl.
2. In a measuring cup, combine the remaining ingredients - stir to melt the coconut oil if using.
3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stir until a dough is formed, adding more water or flour as necessary. 
4. Knead the dough until it is smooth and pliable.
5. Keep in an airtight container or bag after playing. The fridge is best in warmer climes.

To dry playdough, place on a baking tray, cover loosely with foil and bake at 120 degrees Celsius until the pieces are completely dry. For bulkier items, using a knitting needle or pencilt to create a hollow space in the base/centre of the piece will enable faster drying.

For play dough that you can air-dry, try this recipe.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Transitions in the transition season

I think the fresh and new part of spring has already been, and now everything is eagerly straining towards summer. The season and my life too are peaceful but with a a restless undercurrent of change, it reminds me of a song by one of my favourite Korean musicians, Kim Kwang-seok - 바람이 불어오는곳 (Where the wind blows from). To clumsily translate a couple of lines of his lovely lyrics: 

바람이 불어 오는 곳 그곳으로 가네
Where the wind blows from, that is where I go
그대의 머리결같은 나무 아래로

 Beneath the branches of a tree that moves like your hair
덜컹이는 기차에 기대어 너에게 편지를 쓴다

I lean on the the rocking train and write a letter to you
꿈에 보았던 길 그 길에 서 있네

The road I saw in a dream, that is where I stand

설레임과 두려움으로 불안한 행복이지만 

Although anticipation and fear, create a restless happiness
우리가 느끼며 바라볼 하늘과 사람들

This is the sky and the people that we know and look upon
힘겨운 날들도 있지만 새로운 꿈들을 위해

Although there are weary days, for our new dreams
바람이 불어 오는 곳 그곳으로 가네

Where the wind blows from, that is where I go

 Sadly, he is no longer with us but lyrics like this remain to give us all a glance into his beautiful soul. There is some really lovely Korean music out there.
Perhaps my last spring flower photo for the year
There are other flowers though
Today's recipe is appropriately lovely and subtle. I've been making these nibby buckwheat butter cookies for a long time, whenever I could get cocoa nibs basically. The combination of nutty buckwheat flour and rich, earthy cocoa nibs in shortbread cookie form is a genius combination. These cookies transcend the sum of its parts and are as close to cookie perfection as I can imagine.

Instead of forming a log and using the slice-and-bake technique, I have taken to forming the dough into balls and flattening them before briefly chilling and baking them. It's faster and I prefer the resultant shape to the misshapen circle/square I usually end up with when I start slicing cookies off a log of dough.

Nibby buckwheat butter cookies
makes 16 cookies (I halved the recipe and used a slightly different technique to form the cookies)
An Alice Medrich recipe that I first saw on 101 Cookbooks

80g plain flour
43g buckwheat flour
113g butter, at room temperature
1/3c sugar
1/8tsp salt
 3Tb cacao nibs
3/4tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius and line to baking trays with baking paper.
2. Cream the butter, sugar and salt in a medium-sized bowl until light in colour but not fluffy.
3. Add the vanilla and nibs and stir. Add the flours and stir until just combined.
4. Form the dough into walnut sized balls, place on the baking tray and flatten to 0.5cm thickness. Cookies should be about 3cm apart. 
5. Chill the cookies in the fridge for at least 20 minutes (as the oven preheats!).
6. Bake for 12-14 minutes, the should be a golden colour around the edges like in the first photo.
7. Leave on the baking tray for at least 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 month.