Rice Cake Soup and New Year’s Resolutions


It seems to be a requisite for any blog about Korean cooking to post a picture of rice cake soup or Ddeokguk for the new year. Of course, I should have done this two weeks ago, on the first of January, the day we actually ate this soup pictured here. (I’ve made it at least twice more since then. This has been rated as favorite recipe number 2 by my oldest.) But I am finally emerging from that black hole of Christmas holidays, in other words two long weeks of all three kids home and not a babysitter in sight!

In the spirit of making new year’s resolutions, this state of constant recovery and the wish to start the year living as uncrazy as possible has made me want to focus on simplifying my Korean cooking as much as possible. This past Sunday, when I typically do an intense amount of cooking for the week, my sister Skyped me twice. She Skyped me midday while I was preparing most of the week’s banchan and lunch for the day, and she Skyped me again shortly before 5 when I was preparing dinner. She simply said to me, “Jane, you’ve gotta get out of the kitchen.” She’s right. I was falling into the banchan trap that turned me off of Korean cooking in the first place. I decided my  meal plan mantra for the new year had to be: simplify, find shortcuts, focus on one pot meals.

At the start of the new year, my husband and I were reevaluating our desire to eat vegan. While we were discussing some possible solutions, I said, “I definitely want to eat mostly vegetarian.” My oldest overhearing this, jumped in and said, “Well I want to eat more Korean!” Oh, as if I needed any reaffirmation from you, Miss Vera!

My husband and I both still want to eat vegan as much as possible, but it was clear that we were struggling and falling of the band wagon. The main challenges though were that we were taken out of a routine that was working in the US once we moved to Germany. We moved to a country that makes the best sausages in the world and to a place where we loved the best butcher in town. The quality of the meat here is good, but we still knew it was bad for us, and now that our initial reunification tasting spree of all the sausages and meats we had missed while living in America was dying down, it was time for some renewal of commitment. Surprisingly, my husband was doing well in the canteen at work for lunch. He was filling up on rice and steamed vegetables and the salad bar. (At least that’s what he tells me.)

Another challenge in our vegan diet was that we are not comfortable feeding our kids all vegan. When we were toying with this idea, I got a lot of flack from my family – to the extent that I had to start avoiding their calls! But more importantly, the evidence was confusing and conflicting. So until I speak to an authority whom I trust and can read and learn more, I’m keeping my kids on their meat-lite diet. If you haven’t drawn the conclusion yourselves, this also means that I have often had to cook twice in order to keep us vegan and the kids not.

What is clear to me is that I need to learn more about vegan cooking and eating and perhaps have to strategise what I make better. Since the new year has started, I’ve ordered the Forks Over Knives cookbook that came out in August 2012. Unfortunately, my Engine 2 Diet cookbook is in storage as it got packed up and stored away during our big overseas move. I also just got Vegan for Fun, a German cookbook by Attila Hildmann that came out in 2011. His latest book, Vegan for Fit, seemed like a better fit for us – oh dear, an unintended pun, but the recipes in his first book looked slightly more appetising and accessible. (Hildmann has a pretty interesting story as an adopted Turk born in Berlin and raised by a white German family if you want to read more about him in German here.) What is really great is that we currently live upstairs from Aalen’s only Bioladen (organic grocery store) that sells lots of vegan products such as tofu, seitan, and other soy products and whole grains. This makes our foray much more convenient since many of the ingredients will be an elevator ride down two floors.

So this is all to say that another focus for the year will be learning more about vegan cuisine, techniques and tricks and figuring out how to incorporate them in my Korean kitchen in Germany. If you have any tips to add, please let me know!

Before I sign off on this post, may I wish you happy new year! I wish you a year of success, full of luck and good health.


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