002. jake

 photo 002. Jake_zpscujolgzv.jpg

my husband goes by jake at work and with my grandfather, and i never really know what to call him when i’m talking about him because i just call him 여보 at home and i have mixed feelings about adopting english names but i’m just going to go with jake here.  anyway we just passed our unofficial third anniversary…and things have just gotten better with time. more complicated and more challenging, but definitely better ♡


cooking without 고추장

Almost a year ago, when I started cooking more Korean food,  my husband and I came to the decision to stop cooking with 고추장.  It started when I casually glanced at the list of ingredients and noticed the very first one listed was high fructose corn syrup, and that there were several other ingredients whose names I couldn’t even pronounce. What was in our 고추장? What should be in our 고추장??  So I started researching.

I read that sometimes the corn syrup on the English language ingredient list is a mistranslation of rice syrup, which is more commonly used in Korean cooking.  I understand rice syrup because I know that sugar is necessary for fermentation, but I didn’t like the possibility of corn syrup (especially when listed as the first ingredient) or the presence of weird preservatives.

I also learned that although families back in the day had their own recipes for 고추장, these days a good quality 고추장 is generally agreed to contain the following ingredients:

-red pepper powder (고추가루)

-fermented soybean powder (메주가루)

-rice/barley/wheat flour

-rice syrup (쌀엿)



Armed with this information, I asked my husband to check the 고추장 options the next time he went HMart in Atlanta for better quality one that didn’t contain questionable ingredients.  To be honest, I thought he would just shrug off the corn syrup, the preservatives, the unpronounceable ingredients and just say we should go ahead and continue to use it, but he jumped into the project with as much enthusiasm as I did.  He read all the labels, and even the organic and expensive 고추장 did not pass the test.  Some even contained MSG.

Now, obviously there is high-quality 고추장 available for sale in Korea, but it’s very difficult to find good 고추장 in the US, even though many Koreans live here.  So we started thinking about alternatives, and came up with a few options.

1. Spend a small fortune on a small amount of homemade  or “artesinal” 고추장

There is a Korean 아줌마 living in our area who makes her own 된장 from scratch.  This is actually so impressive to me because there are not many Korean people living here.  My mother-in-law started buying from her instead of purchasing mass-produced 된장 a while back, and it is is delicious. It tastes so much better than conventional stuff. She sells it in a huge glass kimchi jar, and it’s too much for my mother-in-law to eat by herself, so she gives us a generous scoop or two whenever we are running low.

This system is great for us, since my husband told me that conventional 된장 contains the same kind of preservatives as 고추장 , so we are very happy to be eating super healthy homemade 된장. This lady also happens to make homemade 고추장. She called my mother-in-law a few weeks ago to try to sell her some, and guess how much she was asking for a quart sized bag full.


EIGHTY DOLLARS?!!! Even if you grow the red peppers yourself, harvest and dry them, and then make the paste from scratch like she apparently does, that $80 price tag is out of control.

Next, we turned to Amazon to see if we could access any of these high quality 고추장, but all we could find were a few “artesinal” 고추장 options. True, these had a much shorter list of high quality ingredients, but their price ranges from $13 to $30 for a 7 ounce container, and that is just crazily expensive as well.

So we quickly tossed those options by the wayside.

2. Make our own

Maangchi has a great article about how to make 고추장 from scratch, which you can read here. If you had any thoughts that it’s a simple, hands-off process, this will illustrate just how involved it is at every step of the way. I had neither the time, the space, nor the patience to delve into the world of homemade 고추장 and so that was simply out of the question.

As a side note, this article has a great picture of homemade 고추장 vs store-bought and there is a huge difference in the texture and color. It’s so interesting.

3. 고추가루

At this point, it was clear that our only recourse, other than just give in to the super-processed 고추장 available to us was to make substitutions, and the only possible substitution is a combination of 고추가루 and soy sauce.

So when we cook a dish that calls for 고추장, we simply dump a load of 고추가루 and some spoons of soy sauce in there until the dish has a desired level of spiciness. We will sometimes have to add extra garlic or onions or mashed green apple (which we use as a substitute for sugar or honey) to add some more robust flavor to the dish to make up for what we’ve taken away by removing the 고추장, but it seems to work pretty well.

We’ve been cooking with a combination of equal parts soy sauce and 고추가루, and less of garlic and black pepper. For example, today we made a big batch of 체육볶음 with 3 spoons 고추가루, 3 spoons soy sauce, 2 heaping spoons minced garlic (다진마늘), one spoon of 참기름, 1 minced Granny Smith apple, and a generous amount of black pepper (to take away the pork smell).

 photo 20160612_122312_zpsqbwhp5bw.jpg

And it was delicious.

Unless we are able to find a good AND REASONABLY PRICED brand of 고추장, I think this is how we will cook from now on. It’s an easy and cost-effective alternative, it’s just as tasty as if we had used 고추장, and most importantly we aren’t putting weird things into our bodies.

If you have any suggestion for healthier 고추장 that won’t cost an arm and a leg, please let me know! I’m always looking for alternatives~

how to do things in your korean apartment

My husband made this for me when I lived in Korea and it ended up being a very valuable resource as I learned the ins and outs of the various appliances around my officetel.  I came across it recently and thought I’d share it here because it’s too helpful to keep for myself, especially considering I no longer live in Korea 。◕‿ ◕。

They are, from top to bottom:

▽How to use your washing machine

▽ How to set your rice cooker to cook while you’re sleeping (I’m still startled to this day when the rice is cooking because the ENTIRE apartment smells like popcorn and it shakes and steams and it’s 4 AM)

▽ How to use the ondol heater (mine was broken all winter long so this didn’t really end up mattering to me)

▽ How to get into your home if the door lock is out of power (luckily I never had to use this).



I fell in love with 단무지 in 2011. At first I was afraid to eat it because what was it? So bright yellow and weird looking. But I was in Korea for the first time, and I’d spent all of my money to get there, so I was determined to be open to all the new experiences. From the first tangy bite, I realized that not only was it much tastier than it looked, but that I really liked it. A few weeks later I discovered that it is infinitely more delicious when paired with Korean Chinese dishes. 짜장면 and 단무지 really should get married, don’t you think?

A few years later, my husband told me that conventional 단무지 like the one I had fallen for actually contains a lot of bad ingredients (MSG, saccharine) and preservatives. He also shared several horror stories about how it is produced and what may or may not go on behind the scenes, and from that day I knew that I could never buy 단무지 again. This was very disappointing news. How could I make 김밥 without 단무지??? I was sad for a long time, even though I’ve never made 김밥 before (It was always so nice to have the option, right?).

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when my husband brought some big 무 home from a trip to Atlanta and a lightbulb clicked on in the air above my head. If I wanted 단무지 so much, why didn’t I just MAKE IT?? And so that’s what I did.

Luckily, it is so easy to make, contains only a handful of ingredients, and pickles very quickly. I left it sitting out overnight to expedite the pickling process, and then set the container in the refrigerator for about 20 hours, and when I decided to check in on it, it was ready to eat!

I used this recipe (minus the peppercorns and 치자) and it turned out splendidly. Thanks to the turmeric, the color was almost exactly like store-bought 단무지 and the taste was great. Clean and refreshing.

My husband was almost as impressed with me as I was (I was VERY impressed with myself) and he ended up eating so many of them. It made me happy to see him eating MY 단무지, and I felt so proud of myself for having successfully learned this new recipe. And now that I know how to make a healthy 단무지, I can make a healthy 김밥 too!

NEVER EVER in all of my life did I imagine I’d find so much pleasure making pickled radish in my kitchen on a Friday night, and I love it.


In 2012, we went to a really nice restaurant in old 송도 to celebrate my husband’s birthday with formal traditional Korean food.  We had our own room and servers would quietly come in and out to bring us all of the courses like we were kings. It felt like we were in one of those restaurants that rich people go to in Korean dramas to make back door deals or seal nefarious political/business alliances or blackmail each other or congratulate each other on the successful execution of diabolical plans. You know what I’m talking about, right?

 photo 2012korea 1786_zpsqjyfk8sq.jpg


Our chopstick and spoons were made of brass.  Really heavy, well-made, and simple. And ever since that meal, I started noticing other nice restaurants with brass bowls or utensils, and I’ve longed for brassware of my own.  They’re so beautiful and so deliciously heavy (I have a thing for heavy flatware).  After spending several years fantasizing about owning some, I recently decided to see if I could get my hands on a set, and immediately started crying because IT IS SO EXPENSIVE.
 photo 2012korea 1792_zpsswftt70t.jpg

I found two person set of bowls, 접시 and eating utensils for about $1,400 on Ebay. Oh, that price seems outrageous to you? How about $700 for a single setting? No?  Then how about just some chopsticks and spoons? NOPE. $70 for 수저? Pfffft. You can “buy now” a set of spoon and chopsticks for about $40. That is still so insane so I looked on G-Market and found one person 수저 for 20,000원. Still pricy. Le sigh.

 photo 2012korea 1795_zpsivumch6h.jpg

Obviously this 방짜유기 is cheaper to buy in Korea, but as I found from my G-Market searches, they’re still quite pricey there too. Traditionally they were used to set the royal table, and in 1983 were named an “Important Intangible Cultural Asset” — so it’s an artesianal, traditional art and of course it’s going to cost a lot.  If I ever become disgustingly wealthy, the first thing I’m going to do is buy myself a whole ton of Korean brassware.  But for now, I’ve adjusted my expectations and have settled on finding some decent bronze-colored chopsticks and spoons instead.

못 먹는 감

The other day, my husband and I were listening to the Melon playlist in the car together, and my ears perked up at a curious phrase: 못 먹는 감. I was so excited because if I’d heard this song earlier in my Korean studies, it would have just slipped past me.  This is why I love listening to Korean music–I seem to hear and pick up on different things each time.  Anyway, I understood the phrase to mean, “the 감 (persimmon) you can’t eat” but it seemed like there was more to it than my basic translation. So I asked my husband to explain.

못 먹는 감 comes from the idiom 못 먹는 감 찔러나 본다, which is kind of tough to explain. It essentially means to pierce the 감 that you can’t eat. 찔리다 means to get/be pierced or poked. I don’t understand the grammar of 찔러나 본다, but idioms can’t be understood by simply translating and breaking down the grammar. My husband instead focused on explaining the meaning behind this seemingly bizarre phrase.

Essentially, 못 먹는 감 찔러나 본다 is rough equivalent to the English expression, “sour grapes”. Just as the phrase “sour grapes” refers to someone who is bitter because they can’t get something they want (grapes, in the original fable), the Korean idiom uses the persimmon to stand for the object of desire. However, a small difference is that in the Korean idiom, you know you can’t have it but you still give it a try (poking at it).

My husband told me that people often use this phrase in the situation where a guy is trying to get a girl who is just way out of his league, just trying anyway even though he knows he’ll fail. So the song which started this whole discussion (못 먹는 감 by 산이 & 매드클라운), is describing someone doing just this. The song is about completely striking out, and the girl in question becomes a case of “inedible persimmon” to the narrator.

So interesting. Aren’t you SO INTERESTED???! Why aren’t you as interested in this as I am? Ugh I could really go for a persimmon right about now.

korean mom cooking, week 3

I’m back with another round up of my Korean mom cooking challenge.  This week, I really didn’t want to do any cooking. I spent most of Sunday doing…other things, and when my husband came home from his day trip to Atlanta, he was like, “Wait, you didn’t cook yet?” and shook his head and rolled up his sleeves. He helped me knock out this week’s meals with some ingredients he’d bought at H-Mart. God I miss H-Mart.

What I made this week:

♡ green curry
♡ baby bok choy
♡ stir fry medley of yellow squash, onions, and mushrooms
♡ 동그랑땡 (leftover)
♡배추 겉절이 (leftover)

♡ Recipe source♡ 

The recipe for green curry basically involved us emptying the contents of our vegetable drawer into a pot and mixing with chicken and coconut milk and this curry paste. It’s a super-easy dish to prepare, and it is especially useful because you can get so many servings from a single batch. And we just stir fried the vegetables the same way we always do, with lots of garlic and olive oil. I don’t really like yellow squash much–it’s too transparent and floppy when you cook it–but the mushrooms were so good. I don’t remember what they’re called, but we can only get them at H-Mart, and they are so meaty and delicious.

♡ Favorite side dish ♡

This week it was the green curry. It’s so satisfying.  My husband loves the bok choy, but he couldn’t eat it because it got stuck in his braces. Can’t wait till he gets those removed.

♡ Final Thoughts ♡

I didn’t cook much this week…and I found myself not quite eating enough at dinner most nights, and although I didn’t cave, I was tempted to eat poorly because of this. It all circles back to lack of proper planning and preparation.

My husband, on the other hand, really has been eating well and eating most meals at home ever since I started this challenge. It makes me so happy to come home from work and see dirty dishes in the sink.

This week I have plans to make 돼지김치볶음 and 계란말이 and some kind of 파전 and 두부조림.  We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.


korean study challenge, week 2

Week 1 of my Korean Study Challenge is complete!  I spent less time studying than I had intended (I did about 3.5 hours instead of the 5+ which I had aimed for), but it was a great week of learning. I made my way through Unit 5, picking up a lot of new words in the process, and ended up scoring a 94% on the end-of-unit test. Not too bad.

A few notes:

1. 잡수시다 vs. 드시다

These two words are synonyms, but there is a specific case for using  잡수시다 over 드시다.

Use 잡수시다 when you’re saying “진지를 잡수시다” — 진지 is the honorific for a meal, and it can only be used with잡수시다.

In other cases, you can use 드시다.

2. 자녀 vs 자식

Again, both words are synonyms, but each has a nuanced meaning.

Use 자녀 when you’re talking about your children, sons and daughters. 자=son (like 효자) and 녀=daughter (효녀). Use 자식 to talk about the children in your family. Like, to say how many children you have.

My husband told me that 자녀 is the more common usage.

Now, let’s move on to this week’s study material.

♡ Unit 6 Vocabulary♡

6-1: 감정, 생각

  1. 감사: thanks
  2. 감사인사: thankful greeting
  3. 감사 편지: thank you note
  4. 감사를 전하다: to send thanks
  5. 걱정이 있다: to worry
  6. 걱정이 많다: to have may worries
  7. 관심: interest
  8. 관심이 많다: to be very interested
  9. 관심을 갖다: to have interest
  10. 성적: (academic) grades/marks
  11. 은/ㄴ 기분이 들다: to have some feeling
  12. 기쁘다: to be happy
  13. 놀라다: to be surprised
  14. 놀란 가슴: a startled state of mind
  15. 몰론: of course, needless to say
  16. 반갑다: to be glad, delighted, happy
  17. 반가운 소식: happy news
  18. 반가운 손님: a welcomed guest
  19. 반갑게 맞다: to give a joyous welcome
  20. 맞다: to greet, welcome
  21. 사랑에 빠지다: to fall in love
  22. 생각이 나다: to remember
  23. 생각이 들다: to think of something
  24. 슬프게 울다: to cry painfully
  25. 싫증: weariness, being annoyed
  26. 싫증이 나다: to be tired
  27. 싫증을 느끼다: to feel weary
  28. 지루하다: to feel dull 
  29. 아마: maybe, perhaps
  30. 외롭다: to feel lonely
  31. 쓸쓸하다: to be alone
  32. 잊다: to forget
  33. 깜빡 잊다: to slip one’s mind
  34. 잊어 버리다: to forget
  35. 즐거운 마음: happy mood
  36. 즐겁다: to be cheerful, happy
  37. 즐겁게 지내다 to be living happily
  38. 필요: need (은/ㄴ 필요가 있다)
  39. 필요하다: to need
  40. 행복한 삶: a blissful life
  41. 불행하다: to be unhappy
  42. 화: anger
  43. 화가 나다: to feel angry
  44. 화를 내다: to express anger 
  45. 감정: feeling, emotion

6-2: 직업

  1. 가요: song
  2. 간호사: nurse
  3. 환자: patient
  4. 경찰: police
  5. 경찰관: police officer
  6. 경찰서: police station
  7.  공무원: government employee, civil servant
  8. 교사: teacher
  9. 교수: professor (교수님)
  10. 군인: soldier
  11. 군대: armed services
  12. 기사: driver
  13. 운전기사: driver
  14. 승객: passenger
  15. 기사: technician
  16. 엔지니어: engineer
  17. 기자: reporter, journalist
  18. 농부: farmer
  19. 농사: farming
  20. 농촌: farming village, area
  21. 되다: to be, to become, to go well, to be becoming
  22. 의사가 되다: to become a doctor
  23. 봄이 되다:to become spring
  24. 밥이 되다: the meal is ready
  25. 잘하게 되다: to do better
  26. 신인 배우: a new actor
  27. 연극: a play
  28. 연기하다: to act
  29. 검사: prosecutor
  30. 판사: judge
  31. 법원: court
  32. 비서: secretary
  33. 화장: president, chairman
  34. 사장: CEO
  35. 운동선수: a sports athlete
  36. 소설가: a novelist
  37. 작가: writer
  38. 약사: pharmacist
  39. 연예인: celebrity
  40. 방송국: broadcasting station
  41. 주부: housewife, homemaker
  42. 가정주부: family homemaker
  43. 직업을 갖다: to get a job
  44. 직업을 구하다: to look for a job
  45. 직장: occupation
  46. 화가: artist, painter
  47. 직원: employer

6-3: 자세, 움직임

  1. 걷다: to walk
  2. 걸어서 가다: to go by walking
  3. 길을 걷다: to walk on the streets
  4. 뛰다: to run
  5. 눕다: to lay down
  6. 침대에 눕다: to lay on the bed
  7. 엎드리다: to lay face down
  8. 들어가다: to become a member
  9. 학교에 들어가다: to get accepted by a school
  10. 뛰어가다: to run out
  11. 달리다: to dash
  12. 서다: to stand, to stop/halt
  13. 서 있다:  to be standing
  14. 줄을 서다: to stand in line
  15. 차가 서다: the car has stopped
  16. 안다: to hug
  17. 아이를 안다: to hug the child
  18. 업다: to carry on one’s pack
  19. 올라가다: to go up (in many senses of the word)
  20. 계단을 올라가다: to go up the stairs
  21. 위로 올라가다: to go above
  22. 내려가다: to go down, south
  23. 승급하다: to be promoted
  24. 진급하다: to advance
  25. 잡다: to hold with the hands, to catch sth
  26. 손을 잡다: to hold hands
  27. 택시를 잡다: to catch a cab
  28. 기회를 잡다: to grab the chance
  29.  기회: chance, opportunity
  30. 놓치다: to lose the chance

korean study challenge, week 1

Recently I have been motivated to up my Korean study, which for the past year or so, has pretty much been nonexistent.  And so now in addition to my Korean cooking challenge, I am issuing myself a Korean study challenge.

Should I call it “Study Like a Korean High School Student?”

No because that means I’ve got to do things like memorize hundreds of words per day and eat pages out of the dictionary. Actually my Korean co-teacher once took it upon herself to tutor me in Korean and gave me a huge list of words I should learn by the next day. The words were in no way related, simply listed alphabetically, and I could only learn about 10 or 15 words by the next day, and she was so disappointed. So no, I will not be studying like a Korean high school student. But I will be spending at least an hour per day studying and practicing with my husband.

Text: 외국인을 위한 한국어 어휘 연습 : 초급 

I’ve been working my way through this book over the past two years and for various reasons I have not gotten very far, but it’s seriously such an excellent textbook. So many new words in each chapter. For each word there might be synonyms and antonyms and example sentences full of new words and grammar patterns. It can be a bit overwhelming, but I’ve ended up learning a lot from using it. I’ll be sharing the a unit’s new-to-me vocabulary words at the beginning of each week, and at the end of the week, the results of the unit wrap-up test. Woo 화이팅 here we go!

♡ Unit 5 Vocabulary ♡

5-1: 가족, 친척


  1. 가족 모임: family meeting
  2. 친척: relative
  3. 고모: paternal aunt
  4. 고모부: paternal aunt’s husband
  5. 이모: maternal aunt
  6. 아들딸: son and daughter
  7. 자녀: children
  8. 사촌: cousin
  9. 사촌 형제: cousins
  10. 헹제: sibling
  11. 외삼촌:maternal uncle
  12. 숙부: paternal uncle (father’s younger brother)
  13. 숙무: paternal uncle’s wife (father’s younger brother’s wife)
  14. 시어머니: mother-in-law (only used for husband’s mother)
  15. 조카: nephew/niece
  16. 큰아버지: paternal uncle (father’s older brother)
  17. 큰집: father’s older brother’s house
  18. 큰어머니: paternal aunt (father’s older brother’s wife)
  19. 작은 아버지: uncle (father’s younger brother)

5-2: 관계

  1. 약혼: engagement
  2. 이혼: divorce
  3. 신혼여행: honeymoon
  4. 누구나: whoever
  5. 누구든지: anyone
  6. 아무: anyone, no one
  7. 시부모: parents-in-law
  8. 부부사이: husband-wife relationship
  9. 서로서로: with each other
  10. 소개하다: to introduce
  11. 소개로 만나다: to be introduced
  12. 자기소개: self-introduction
  13. 친구소개: a friend’s introduction
  14. 아무도: no one (아무+도=negative)
  15. 아무라도, 아무나: anyone (아무+ 라도/나=positive)
  16. 애인: significant other
  17. 저희: we (formal)
  18. 친한친구: a close friend
  19. 친구를 사귀다: to get to know a friend
  20. 친하다: to be close
  21. 친하게 지내다: to be good friends
  22. 형제자매: brothers and sisters
  23. 자매: sisters

5-3: 이름, 나이, 성별

  1. 나이가 들다: to age
  2. 나이를 먹다: to get older
  3. 연세: age (for elders)
  4. 노인: elderly, senior citizens
  5. 늙은이: elderly
  6. 청년: youth
  7. 드리다: to give (hon)
  8. 뵙다: to meet (hon)
  9. 부르다: to call
  10. 노래를 부르다: to sing the song
  11. 이름을 부르다: to call the name
  12. 아기: baby
  13. 아기가 울다: the baby cries
  14. 아기가 태어나다: the baby is born
  15. 아기를 낳다: to give birth
  16. 아이: child
  17. 어린 아이: a young child
  18. 노는 아이: the playing child
  19. 아이를 돌보다: to watch over a child
  20. 자식: children
  21. 아주머니: a lady, like an auntie
  22. 어른: adult
  23. 어른이 되다: to become an adult
  24. 유명하다: to be famous
  25. 아름을 짓다: to give a name
  26. 성명: full name
  27. 성함: family name and last name
  28. 잡수시다: to eat (hon)

5-4: 외모, 성격

  1. 외모: appearance, look
  2. 성격: personality
  3. 다정하다: to be affectionate
  4. 모습: image, reflection
  5. 똑똑하다: to be smart, bright
  6. 머리를 똑똑하다: to be very intelligent
  7. 마음: personality, a thought or idea
  8. 마음씨: mind, heart
  9. 마음이 좋다: to have a good heart/personality
  10. 마음이 넓다: to be generous
  11. 마음에 들다: to like something
  12. 부지런하다: to be diligent, hard-working
  13. 부지런한 사람: a hard-working person
  14. 부지런하게 일하다: to work diligently
  15. 게으르다: to be laxy
  16. 성격이 밝다: to have a bright/positive personality
  17. 성격이 좋다: to have a good personality
  18. 성격이 급하다: to be quick-tempered
  19. 잘생기다: to be good-looking, handsome
  20. 잘생긴 남자: a handsome man
  21. 못생기다: to be ugly
  22. 착하게 살다: to live a good life
  23. 못되다: to be mean
  24. 친절하다: to be kind and gentle