…somewhere between the stitches…

knit.crochet.sew.craft.cook.


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An Exciting New Endeavor

My blogging silence over the past couple of weeks is due to an exciting new business endeavor that I’ve decided to take on. It’s something that I absolutely love to do, and even before my official “announcement,” I’ve already got clients lined up and work to keep me busy over the next couple months (mostly because of my amazing friends, the power of word-of-mouth, and the wonderful community that I am blessed to be a part of here in Seoul).

So here goes… I’m super excited to announce delightful. event designs by julia (that’s me!).

Delightful Design

I am now offering event design services, focusing on creative and fun parties for kids although I would also be thrilled to design, plan, and style cocktail parties, wine tasting parties, dinner parties, and maybe even someday… The ultimate party–weddings! However, my focus is on smaller celebrations where I can really tailor the design and the experience for specific groups of people, whether it’s something like the Rainbow War Party for young children or an intimate cocktail party for close friends.

For the time being, my services are limited to Seoul, South Korea, but my Party-in-a-box options will be available for shipping throughout Korea very soon. Links to come for a new website and Facebook page!

And don’t worry! ;-) I’ll still be here…somewhere between the stitches… Blogging about my adventures in Seoul, all my crafty endeavors, and, of course, the fabulous parties that I have the privilege of designing! <3


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A Midsummer Night’s Cocktail Party in Seoul

If there’s something I love as much as crafting, it’s throwing parties. I love having friends over for the great conversation and memories, but for someone who is very detail-oriented, there’s something about putting together a party that gets me super excited and into full-on work mode! After all the fuss and planning of the Rainbow War Party for kids, I really wanted to do something for and with my own grown-up friends, and what’s more grown up than a fancy cocktail party???

My husband–the former bartender–and I put together a simple, summery cocktail menu. We wanted a bit of variety, but we also wanted to keep things relatively simple so he wouldn’t spend the entire evening mixing drinks. We settled on three drinks that were contemporary twists on classic cocktails:

Cocktail MenuWith all three drinks, we prepared and mixed as much as possible, so when it came to actually pouring the drinks, there was very little to do. In addition to the cocktail menu, I prepared take-home recipe cards of the drinks we served for our guests.

Cocktail Recipe CardsAll three of the drinks we prepared contained mint, which (to me at least) is a quintessential summer herb. I love the smell of mint, and having recently taken a trip to Vietnam with my husband where fresh herbs like mint, cilantro and basil are at the center of their cuisine, I decided to have an Asian-inspired food menu: fried spring rolls, fresh summer rolls, soba noodle salad with wasabi and lemon vinaigrette and Asian meatballs with a sweet sesame sauce.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Cha Gia, or Vietnamese spring rolls, are just delicious. The ingredients are simple, but making them is a labor of love. I made the rolls the night before the party and deep fried them, then fried them again slightly just before the party. My deep fryer could only handle 7 rolls at a time, so it took a while… The spring rolls were served with nuoc cham, or seasoned Vietnamese fish sauce.

Summer Rolls

Summer rolls are one of my favorite foods ever. They are, as their name suggests, the perfect summer food. Plus, they’re filling and quite pretty to look at! ;-) The summer rolls were served with a homemade spicy peanut sauce.

Soba Noodle Salad

 

The soba noodle salad is simple yet flavorful salad that’s perfect for parties where you guests may or may not have eaten dinner before coming. Although this particular party was a cocktail party, and I didn’t plan to have a full dinner spread, I knew that some of my guests may not have had dinner before arriving since the party kicked off at 7pm. Soba noodles are quite filling, and since the noodles are served cold, it’s an easy dish to throw together just minutes before guests arrive.

Sweet Sesame MeatballsMeatballs are a perfect bite-sized appetizer for parties, but they’re not too exciting. So I added some delicious peanut and soy sauce based sauce, sprinkle some sesame seeds on it them, and voila! They’re sweet and savory and sure to be a crowd-pleaser!

After a fun two hours at our place, we ventured out to Perfl, a local cocktail performance bar. If you’re in Seoul and would like to see some impressive bottle tossing and twirling, flaming shots, and bar tricks, definitely check this place out! They regularly perform around 10pm (sometimes later), and the staff is amazing.

I spent the day after our cocktail party in full-on recovery mode, but a wasted Sunday was well worth the previous evening’s fun.

P.S. Stay tuned for recipes for all the edible goodies from the party!

 

 

 


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DIY Rainbow War Party for Kids!

The last few weeks have been incredibly busy (thus my absence from the blogiverse lately). We have a 17 year old relative visiting from the States–and OMG is having a teenager in the house a lot of work! During his 14 day stay, we’ve managed to: visit the National Museum of Korea, Gyeongbokgung Palace, the Korean War Memorial and Musem, have our feet chewed on by little fish in Myeongdong, see the Jump! show at Kyunghyang Art Hill, play mini-golf, and eat all kinds of food our small-town, middle American teenager had never even heard of before. On top of that, I’ve been knee-deep in planning for a kids’ color war party, and despite feeling overwhelmed by all the things… The teenager is flying out tomorrow full of new experiences and wonderful memories (hopefully!), and the color war party was a huge success!

The party was inspired by a very talented photographer and friend, Zayda Barros. She wanted to photograph a color war, but since she doesn’t have kids (yet!), she asked me to help throw a party of EPIC proportions. ;-) And because I love planning parties, I ran with it and this is what happened:

color war

 

Since I knew that a professional was snapping away, I didn’t take very many photos… And I’m much too impatient to wait until her photos are ready to post to write this post, so apologies for my crap photos and I’ll have some beautiful ones to share soon!

UPDATE: Thank you to the very talented Zayda Barros for these beautiful photos!

Here what planning our Rainbow War Party entailed and some tips for planning your very own color war party!

Location:

Obviously, this is an outdoor activity! We planned our party for a public picnic area that was somewhat secluded, giving kids enough room to run around and throw colors without attracting too much attention. Also, access to water is important! Our picnic area came with a water faucet so kids could wash off before heading home/smearing colors all over the inside of mom’s car.

Guest List:

As with all parties, the fun begins with the guest list! We had a tough time keeping our guest list under 30 children, but we had to keep our group somewhat manageable. The color war is most appropriate for kids aged 4 and up. Our list consisted of 25 kids ranging in age from 2-9. As with all invitations for activity-based parties, be sure to thoroughly explain to parents what the party entails and be prepared to answer a host of questions! We explained: how kids should be dressed (plain white t-shirts that could be ruined during the party), what they should bring for their own child(ren) (towel and change of clothes), age-appropriateness, how long the color war would last, and how parents could help with supplies.

Activities:

Because of the toddlers and also because the color war only lasts about 20-30 minutes (depending on how much color powder you’ve prepared), we prepared other activities to keep the kids busy. Finger painting and play dough are great, colorful activities to keep kids happy and occupied as they eagerly await the beginning of the color war! I purchased finger paints, but made my own play dough (scroll down for the very simple DIY recipe!).

Finger Painting

Because I didn’t have immediate access to rolls of art paper, I just taped large sheets of white paper down to the picnic tables. Rolls of paper would definitely have worked better, but you do what you can…

Food:

Our menu consisted of pasta salad, rainbow bread sandwiches, fruit and veggie platters, M&Ms, Skittles, rainbow cupcakes and beverages–simple and colorful!

IMG_8303

The bread was easy but time consuming to make. There are many different ways to make rainbow bread–just do a quick Pinterest search and there are plenty of different recipes. However, I’m not much of a baker and with a million other things going on at the jkwdesigns house, I needed to make things easier for myself, not harder! So I went with pre made dough. Pilsbury French Loaf dough to be exact. ;-) I was inspired by the recipe for the Rainbow Sandwich Loaf, but I took quite a few liberties with the recipe in order to make it less labor intensive. My changes resulted in a bread that wasn’t quite as colorful as the recipe suggests, but it worked out, I saved some time, and made less of a mess. Win, win, win!

Rainbow fruit and veggie platters Rainbow treats

Decorations:

I kept decorations relatively simple since the focus was on turning our adorable little kids into colorful works of art! I made a “Taste the Rainbow” sign for the food table and individual food signs. I would have preferred white tablecloth for the tables, but supplies at my local shop were limited so I had to go with light purple. I also would have liked to hang white tablecloth as a backdrop for the color fight area, but I wasn’t able to do that either. Oh, the injustice of shopping for party supplies in a country that doesn’t really sell party supplies… ;-)

Taste the Rainbow Sign

 

Also, I made water bottle labels for our Rainbow Warriors as well as juice box labels, but a friend brought them in a cooler with ice so my paper labels clearly weren’t going to work. My friend is clearly more thoughtful of the children that I am because I would have served the kids room temperature juice boxes for the purpose of aesthetics! ;-)

Rainbow Warrior Water Bottles

 

The files for FREE printables can be accessed here:

Taste the Rainbow
Food Signs
Water Bottle Labels

And just for fun, I added some colored streamers around the picnic area, which ended up being more fun for the kids as we began clean-up.

Streamers

Rainbow War:

Because this party was for a photo session rather than for someone’s birthday, we asked that parents contribute color powder for the fight. They had the option of either purchasing a pack of holi powder from Amazon or making their own. I found numerous recipes for DIY color powder for color wars, but none of them worked quite as well as I had hoped. The flour-based mixtures took ages to dry (Korean summers are just too humid), and very few of us owned coffee grinders. In the end, I did quite a bit of experimenting and came up with an EASY, NO-MESS solution! (Scroll down for Color Powder Recipe!)

For the rainbow war, we pre-filled cups with a small amount of color powder. As the color war began, kids were each given one cup, then instructed to return to the table to have their cups refilled when they ran out of color. This definitely helped the battle last longer!

Color Powder

The only instructions that we gave the kids were:

1) No throwing colors directly at someone’s face.

2) If someone asks you to stop, you must stop.

All the kids were a bit shy at first, but once they got the hang of things, it was a raging battle of colors–complete with laughter and shrieks of delight! And a few tears. ;-) It was impossible to keep the little ones (2 year olds) out of the battle, so we gave in and let them make their own messes, but my daughter decided halfway through the battle that she’d had enough and just wanted me to hold her. You win some, you lose some…

If you’re planning your own color war, just keep in mind that the color and consistency of the store/internet-bought holi powder is far superior to the DIY powder. The colors are spectacular, and the consistency is dust-like. On the other hand, the kids couldn’t have cared less! They were just as happy with the mom-made color powder as they were with the rather pricey holi powder a couple of us ordered from Amazon. If your goal is to take photos of bright clouds of color, invest in the store/internet-bought powder, or perhaps use the holi powder for the first round/photographs, then move on to the DIY powder to save money.

Finally, the best way to end a color war is with water because…no one doesn’t like water play on a hot summer day.

Water Balloons

 

DIY Play Dough Recipe (for 4 different colors):

Play Dough

Materials:

4 cups of flour
1 and 1/2 cups of salt
1 cup of hot water
6 teaspoons of vegetable oil
Food coloring

1. Thoroughly combine the 4 cups of flour and 1 and 1/2 cups of salt in a large mixing bowl.

2. Place 1/4 cup of hot water in 4 individual bowls. Add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of vegetable oil and the appropriate amount of food coloring to each bowl. If you’re using liquid food coloring, you’ll probably want about 30 drops of each color to make a nice dark shade. If you’re using gel food coloring, use approximately 1/2 teaspoon of each color.

3. Add 1 and 1/4 cup of the flour/salt mixture to each bowl. Mix ingredients together as thoroughly as possible with a spoon (no need to get your hands dirty!). You may still have clumps and unmixed portions of the mixture.

4. Sprinkle a small amount of flour on a cutting board or other dry surface and dump the contents of one bowl onto your work surface. Kneed and combine until the play dough is no longer sticky/tacky. Repeat this step with the remaining bowls of play dough.

NOTE: Store play dough in ziplock bags or an airtight container to prevent it from drying out.

DIY Recipe for Color Powder

Materials:
3 heaping tablespoons of corn starch
Small amount of water
Food coloring

Additional materials:
Aluminum foil or saran wrap
Ziplock bags
Rolling pin

1. Place 3 heaping tablespoons of corn starch in a bowl. Add a small amount of water (approximately 4 tablespoons) and mix. The corn starch will have a strange, difficult to mix consistency. It will seem like it’s halfway between a liquid and a solid. If you’re having trouble mixing it, add a little more water.

2. Once the water/corn starch is thoroughly combined, add food coloring. As the mixture dries, the color will lighten slightly so be liberal with the food coloring! I used 30 drops of food coloring in each batch, and the colors weren’t quite as dark as I would have liked.

3. Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil or saran wrap and pour the mixture onto the cookie sheet. For faster drying, pour the mixture into small globs. The bigger the glob, the longer it will take to dry. Being a rather impatient person, I poured my mixture in thin lines. Dried super fast!

4. Allow the mixture to sit for as long as it takes to DRY COMPLETELY. It will become brittle and break into pieces when it is completely dry. In our humid, non-air conditioned apartment, it took about 2 hours.

Color Powder 1

5. Break the dried mixture into pieces and place in a ziplock bag. I just picked up the edges of the aluminum foil and poured the pieces into the bag. Press most of the air out of the bag and begin rolling over the mixture with a rolling pin to break it back into a powder. Voila! Color powder!

Color Powder 2

NOTE: If you make the color powder in advance, I would recommend storing it in bowls or containers WITHOUT a lid. If the container is sealed, condensation will begin to form and the powder will become mushy. Not the look you’re going for. ;-)


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Pattern: Little Turtle Lens Buddy

little turtle lens buddy

While I was experimenting with designs for the Little Sea Turtle Lens Buddy, I wrote a pattern for one of the prototypes–a cute little turtle lens buddy made in the round. The arms, legs and head are all one piece, so there’s no need to sew all the individual pieces together. And it’s free! Enjoy!

Materials:

Small amounts of worsted weight yarn (two colors)
5.0mm crochet hook (size H)
Elastic hair tie
Tapestry needle (optional, for weaving in ends)
Safety eyes (optional)

Pattern:

Round 1: With Color A, 36 sc around the elastic hair tie. Sl st to join with first sc. [36 sc]
Crochet elastic hair tieRound 2: Ch 1. 2 hdc in 1st st. Hdc in next 3 sts. *2 hdc in next st. Hdc in next 3 sts. Repeat from * around. Sl st to join with first hdc in round. [45 hdc]
Round 3: Ch 1. 2 hdc in 1st st. Hdc in next 4 sts. *2 hdc in next st. Hdc in next 4 sts. Repeat from * around. Sl st to join with first hdc in round. [54 hdc]
Round 4: Ch 1. 2 hdc in 1st st. Hdc in next 5 sts. *2 hdc in next st. Hdc in next 5 sts. Repeat from * around. Sl st to join with first hdc in round. [63 hdc] Finish off.

Round 5: Attach Color B. Ch 1. 2 sc in 1st st. Sc in next 4 sts. Sl st in next st. Ch 2. Dc in same st. Dc in next 2 sts. Ch 2 and sl st in same st as last dc. (Bottom right leg made)
Sc in next 6 sts. 2 sc in next st. Sc in next 3 sts. Sl st in next st. Ch 2 and dc in in same st. Sc in next 2 sts. Ch 2 and sl st in same st as last dc. (Top right leg made)
2 sc in next st. Sc in next 4 sts. Sl st in next st. Ch 2 and dc in same st. Trc in next 2 sts. 2 dtr in next st. Trc in next 2 sts. Dc in next st. Ch 2 and sl st in same st as last dc. (Head made)
Sc in next 2 sts. 2 sc in next st. Sc in next 2 sts. Sl st in next st. Ch 2 and dc in same st. Dc in next 2 sts. Ch 2 and sl st in same st. (Top left leg made)
Sc in next st. 2 sc in next st. Sc in next 6 std. 2 sc in next st. Sc in next st. Sl st in next st. Ch 2 and dc in same st. Dc in next 2 sts. Ch 2 and sl st in same st as last dc. (Bottom left leg made)
Sc in next 2 std. 2 sc in next st. Sc in next 2 sts. Sl st in next. Ch 3 and trc4tog. Ch 3 and sl st in bk of 1st ch of 3 ch. Ch 3 and sl st in same st. Ch 1 and sl st to first st in round. (Tail made)

Finish off and weave in ends.

Optional: Add safety eyes to turtle’s head.


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Motherhood and the Importance of Friendship

ballet

My 2 year old daughter recently started a mommy and me ballet class, and in many ways, it’s more of a 40 minute test of mommy’s patience than it is a learning experience for toddlers. Our first class consisted of my daughter crying, asking to be held, burying her face in my lap, and begging to go home. When she wasn’t doing that, she laid herself out on the floor and basically cleaned the dance floor with her brand new, pale pink leotard and tutu. I’ll just say that it’s not pink anymore. :-/ For 40 long minutes, it’s pretty much chaos as these beautiful little babies in their adorable outfits run amuck, pick their noses, scream, twirl around in circles until they fall down, and randomly burst into tears while moms sweat, urge, beg and plead for their daughters to listen to the instructor, all the while flailing our arms and kicking our legs in the air in a desperate attempt to get our daughters to do the same thing.

The second class was better. Penny only asked to go home about 7 times. And as we danced and twirled and pointed our toes, I noticed that a friend of mine was having a difficult time with her daughter. All dressed up and as pretty as a picture, she stood in the corner and screamed, her cute little face all scrunched up and red from the exertion, while I’m sure her mom (if she’s anything like me!) tried reasoning, begging, pleading and bribing her daughter to stop crying and get back out on the dance floor. Eventually, my friend gave up and left class with her crying daughter in tow. She flashed a quick smile, and before I could say or do anything, she was out the door.

I’ve seen that smile so many times as friends rush out of playdates or parties or meals with unhappy toddlers tucked under their arms. A smile mixed with an apology, masking embarrassment, hoping that no one can tell that mommy just wants to sit on the floor and cry herself. I’ve been there too–more times than I’d like to remember. Mothers empathize. Yet, so often, when life with young children gets difficult, we’re quick to run, to hide the temper tantrums behind closed doors and brush our own frustrations under the rug–at least in public. We isolate ourselves so that we can deal with our lives and our children on our own, and aside from the occasional rants on Facebook, which often elicit an onslaught of varied and often unrealistic suggestions on what to do, we remain quiet about the challenges we face as mothers. Collectively, we praise the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child,” but when times get tough, we build walls around ourselves and deal with our children’s bad days and temper tantrums on our own.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why can’t we ask for “help” from friends and fellow moms? For me and my Type-A personality, it’s a constant struggle. Despite wanting to jump up and help when my friends need a hand, I have so much trouble ASKING for help from others. And more often than not, I stop myself from helping friends because I wonder if they’ll think I’m overstepping boundaries. But really… What’s wrong with a friend jumping in and helping to calm down an angry/sad/frustrated child when mom’s ready to pull her hair out? Is it wrong of moms to take a breather? Isn’t it better to deal with difficult situations when we’ve had a moment to catch our breath rather than when we’re feeling so frazzled that you can’t believe “this is me”? Sometimes, I see friends’ kids doing things that I’ve been through with my own children, and from my experience, I think I can help diffuse a situation. But is it okay for me to step in? Would my friends disapprove of how I handle a situation? Would she be upset that I stepped into her territory? We’ve gotten so caught up with the “right” and “wrong” ways to parent that we forget that there are a million different ways to do so. As mothers, we worry about everything, including whether or not other people think that we’re doing “it” right as if there’s a “right” way to be a mother. There isn’t. And if we mistakenly show people our children on a bad day, throwing a tantrum and all, we worry that people will think we’re bad mothers. We’re not.

Culturally, we’re taught to be independent. We praise the idea of making our own way and solving our own problems (often for good reason). And the old adage–that which does not kill us only makes us stronger (also a great life lesson)–supports the idea that it’s necessary for us to struggle, to fight our way through life, through motherhood. But along the way, we lose sight of the fact that everything doesn’t need to be a struggle. We don’t have to fight our way to the top of this great mountain known as Being a Mom. There’s no trophy if you “win.”

When my twin boys were 18 months old, my husband went to Afghanistan for 4 months. when daddys awayA VERY LONG 4 months, and during that time, I realized that there was–at least for me–a big difference between ASKING FOR help and ACCEPTING help. Maybe because I looked so desperate and because my friends and neighbors felt pity on me (haha!), people just stepped up to help. I didn’t have to ask them. When I took my boys over to a friend’s house for a BBQ, people swooped in and took them off my hands, played with them, fed them, stopped them from burning themselves on the hot grill, and even scolded them when they did things they shouldn’t do. And despite missing my husband and wanting him home with us, I actually cherished this time that the boys had where truly, the community was invested in their well-being and growth as little human beings. They were loved and cared for and taught by all the adults around them.

Not long after my husband returned from Afghanistan, we–very reluctantly–had to say goodbye to our friends and neighbors and move to another state. And not too long after, we moved again to Korea. We’ve lived here now for over a year and a half, and we’ve made some amazing friends, many of them other moms with children my kids’ ages. We have playdates together, share meals together, explore Seoul together. And every now and again, the moms get together without our masses of children to enjoy a meal without having to tend to a crying child or in my case–wipe a child’s butt because my kids always seem to have to go poo during mealtimes… :-/ As we’ve grown closer, we’ve learned more about each other’s parenting styles, come to adore each other’s children, vacationed together and even scheduled playdates for our husbands with the hopes that they’ll like each other as much as we like each other. I can honestly say that the friendships I’ve made here are some of the biggest reasons why my family’s time here in Korea–away from all the things familiar to us–has been worth it. Yet, so many of us, despite how close we’ve become, maintain our iron grip on our independence from each other when it comes to raising our children.

Maybe it’s time to let go? Maybe, we can allow our friends to enrich the lives of our children the way they have enriched our own. The friends who I hold near and dear to my heart make me laugh, give me insight and advice, are people I can count on. And I know that if I let them in, they would bring all those wonderful qualities I love about them into my children’s lives. So next time my arms are full and I’m trying to wrangle my 2-year old while one of my 5 year olds has a meltdown over a broken toy or being told he can’t eat a donut for lunch, I will welcome my friends to talk him off the ledge, to share their compassion, their insights as mothers, and their friendship with my child. If your friend stops your toddler from running out into a parking lot, it says nothing about any motherly shortcomings. It simply says that more sets of eyes are better than one when small children are around. That your friends care for the safety and well-being of your child. And if you’re struggling with your kids and your friend reaches out and offers to help, breathe a sigh of relief, welcome the chance to step away, and accept it. She offers, not out of judgement, but out of love and compassion for you and your children. And in the process, your children will see with their own eyes and experience with their own hearts the importance of friendship.

Photo credit: Marisa Johnson Art and Photography

 


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10 Korean Foods to Try (and Why!)

koreanfood

Growing up, my diet was a mash-up of American and Korean cuisine. My Korean mom wanted to make sure that my brother and I didn’t feel different from our “American” friends, so she made sure we ate plenty of hamburgers, pizza, sandwiches and spaghetti–served with a side of kimchi, of course. We ate our salads with chopsticks and marinated our steaks with bulgogi seasoning. When I left home, my mom used the power of FedEx to get her homemade kimchi to me–yes, Koreans are that serious about their kimchi–so I wouldn’t get sick (kimchi has magical healing properties in case you didn’t know!). Now that I’m living in Korea again, I’ve both renewed my love for Korean food and discovered some amazing dishes that my mom never cooked for me (seriously, Mom???).

Here’s a list of some of my favorite Korean foods (my list could honestly go on forever!). If you’re new to Korean cuisine, and you’re ready to venture beyond “beef and leaf” or bibimbap, or if you’re looking for something adventurous and fun to tell all your friends about, here are my top recommendation!

1. Ori – Duck

grilled smoked duckI love duck. I’ve previously written about my deep, heartfelt appreciation for duck here and here. If you’ve never had duck before, but you’re a meat-loving carnivore, then this is definitely a must-try. Most duck restaurants in Korea serve the meat prepared several different ways. My personal favorite is smoked duck. It’s no-nonsense with very little added to it so you can really appreciate the taste of the duck itself. You usually have to purchase the entire duck (which only consists of the breast meat). Prices for a whole duck breast are generally in the 40,000-45,000W range (approx. $40-45) and it’s enough to feed 2-3 people. Smoked duck is served “beef and leaf” style. You grill the duck at your table, and you’re brought an array of banchan/side-dishes, dipping sauces, and lettuce and sesame leaves to wrap your meat. Often, potato and mushroom slices are placed on the grill at the same time to help soak up some of the duck fat as you grill. Those may be the best potatoes and mushrooms you’ve ever had in your life. ;-)

2. Samgyupsal – Pork belly

samgyupsalSamgyupsal literally means three-fold fat, but simply put, it’s BACON. Really, really thick-sliced bacon. However, it’s uncured, so it doesn’t have the same salty flavor, but it’s the same cut of meat. It’s generally only seasoned with thick rock salt and grilled at the table. Like beef and leaf, it’s served with lettuce, sesame leaves, dipping sauces, kimchi, and an assortment of banchan. One of the BEST things to eat with samgyupsal is grilled kimchi (just be sure that it’s fermented, not fresh, kimchi). Place the kimchi on the grill as you’re cooking the pork and let the fat from the pork soak into the kimchi. It’s a perfect combination of flavors. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it! One serving of samgyupsal usually runs about 12,000-15,000W, and you’ll probably need to order 3 servings to feed 2 adults (one serving isn’t quite enough for one adult). Most restaurants will also serve dwenchangjigae (bean curd soup) with the samgyupsal in a hot pot, but you’ll have to order bowls of rice separately (1,000W/each) if you like rice with your meat. Which I do.

3. Hwe – Raw fish, Korean style! Oh, and live, moving octopus too.

If you’re not afraid of a little raw fish, then you’ve got to give Korean hwe a try. Keep in mind, though, that Korean hwe is really nothing like its Japanese counterpart. If you go to a run-of-the-mill Korean hwe restaurant (not a fancy-schmancy 5-star place), there are two types of fish that are traditionally served raw–gwanguh (flounder) and ooluk (rockfish).

Korean hwe

Although most restaurants will have some variety, they will always have these two fish. In addition to raw fish, Korean hwe restaurants also serve several other types of seafood. Raw. If you pass a hwe restaurant on the street, check out the tanks of live fish and seafood outside the restaurant. You’ll see octopus (nakji) and squid (ohjinguh), sea cucumbers (haesam), and sea squirt (munggae) among others. My 5 year old boys LOVE live octopus (san nakji), and once you get over the fact that your food is still moving and the suckers on the tentacles still work… It just tastes like octopus. ;-) So if you like the taste of octopus, give this a try. It’s just the tentacles–it’s not like in the movie Oldboy where Oh DaeSu gnaws on a whole octopus while the tentacles stick onto his face.

octopus

And to be precise, it’s not technically still alive. The tentacles are cut into smaller, manageable pieces, and it’s served with a small bowl of sesame oil and salt for dipping. Be sure to use the dipping sauce. It prevents the suckers from sticking to the inside of your mouth as you chew! Like san nakji, the other seafood options at hwe restaurants–like haesam and munggae–are really more about unique texture than taste. If different textures and consistencies of food in your mouth really isn’t your thing, it’s probably best to steer clear of Korean hwe. The flavors are unique as well, but from my experience taking friends to eat hwe, it’s the texture that gets them.

At a standard hwe restaurant, you should plan to spend about 15,000-20,000W/person. Platters of hwe are usually offered in small (serves 2-3), medium (serves 3-4) and large sizes (serves 4-6). And often, the large size includes extras such as the spicy fish soup (maeoontang) at no additional charge. The soup is made with the bones of the fish that was served to you raw, and it’s really good! If you enjoy spicy food, you won’t want to pass it up. If you order a smaller platters, ordering the maeoontang is usually an additional 5,000-7,000W.

4. Albab – bibimbap-style rice bowl with fish eggs/roe

albabBibimbap is one of the staples of Korean cuisine, mainly because traditionally, like shepherd’s pie, it was the dish that you could throw everything and anything into. Growing up, my mom only made bibimbap if there was some leftover banchan that would go bad if we didn’t finish it off, so she’d chop up some fresh veggies and green, throw everything in a bowl with some rice, fry an egg and mix it all up with some hot pepper paste (gochujang). If you love bibimbap, and you’d like to venture out a bit, definitely give albab a try. The idea is the same, but the taste is completely different. It’s served in a hot stone bowl like dolsot bibimbap with rice at the bottom and topped with chopped kimchi, dammuji (yellow picked radish), lettuce, sesame leaves, dried seaweed, and a heaping helping of fish roe. The hot stone bowl cooks the eggs as you mix everything together, and the result is just plain delicious. It’s one of my boys’ favorites, and they’ll happily finish off an entire adult serving. Then ask for more. Albab can be found at most Korean seafood restaurants for 6,000-7,000W ($6-7).

5. Haemul Pajeon – seafood pancake/pizza

haemul pajunThis is a must-try dish for the seafood lover, and it’s both like and unlike a pancake and a pizza. The most basic pajeon is a combination of batter (eggs, flour and water) and green onions (or pa, thus the name pa-jeon). Haemul pajeon contains vegetables and various types of seafood (squid and shrimp mostly, but it can also include mussels and clams. There’s also kimchi pajeon (yummy!), which like the name suggests is pajeon made with kimchi. Since the batter mixture is poured onto a pan, it looks more like a pancake, but savory, not sweet so tastes more like a pizza, but not really. ;-) When cooked just right, it’s crispy on the outside and every so slightly chewy in the center. Sometimes, it’s cut into pieces like a pizza, but you’re supposed to just rip chunks off with your chopsticks, dip in the soy sauce-based dipping sauce, and enjoy. It’s meant to be a shared dish, so not something you would order by itself for dinner. Haemul pajeon usually runs about 15,000W and can be shared with about 4 people. It’s a great addition to a Korean dinner, especially if you’re eating family style and sharing dishes.

6. Mook – jello?

black sesame mookMook is difficult to describe. It has a jello-like consistency, but there’s really no other food that it could be compared to. There are many different varieties (made with various ingredients: buckwheat, sesame, acorns), all resulting in different colors and flavors. My favorite is black sesame mook (pictured above), which is made from, you guessed it, black sesame seeds. Some people say that mook has very little flavor and that you eat it for the toppings, but depending on the ingredients, mook does have a particular flavor. It’s a very subtle flavor that goes perfectly with the toppings that it’s typically served with–dried seaweed, green onions, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, and a sauce made with soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil. It’s usually served as a side dish, but there are mook specialty restaurants that serve both platters of mook as well as soup with slices of mook in it.

7. Dduk – rice cakes

ddukYou’ve probably seen the street vendors that sell ddukbokki, log-shaped rice cakes stir fried with fish cakes in a spicy red sauce, but dduk is so much more than the chewy white rice cakes. There are countless varieties of dduk, which can be best described as a traditional Korean dessert food. You can find dduk shops all over–in my little neighborhood, I can think of 4 different dduk shops on one street, all within 100 feet of each other. There’s dduk coated and/or filled with various powders, beans, seeds, and jellies, cute little dduk with flower shapes on them in various colors, dduk for special occasions like birthdays and weddings. A small package of dduk generally runs about 2,000W, so stop by your local dduk shop and try it out!

8. Haemultang – spicy seafood soup

haemultangRice, kimchi, and soup are at the center of Korean cuisine, and while rice and kimchi come in a limited number of varieties, the soups are endless: seaweed soup, kimchi soup, bean curd (or miso) soup, soft tofu soup, beef rib soup, ox tail soup, bean sprout soup and and really long list of hangover soups. My favorite Korean soup is haemultang. It’s spicy, delicious, and not for the faint of heart, especially if you go to a proper haemultang restaurant where all the ingredients are fresh. And by fresh, I mean still alive when it’s brought to your table. Haemul, or seafood, is obviously the main ingredient for this soup. A large pot of spicy broth, bean sprouts, green, and a heaping serving of live squid, shrimp, crab, clams, mussels, scallops, abalone, and much more is brought to your table and boiled on the gas burner at the table. And you get to see cool stuff like this:

Our favorite haemultang place does a really great job of adjusting the spice level so that my kids can enjoy it as well, which they do. My kids (and I) will eat just about anything that comes out of the ocean, and if you’re an adventurous eater, then you really can’t leave Korea without trying haemultang. It’s sooooo good! Haemultang can be found at some restaurants in individual serving sizes, but for the real deal, you’ll have to order a larger size. Most haemul restaurants will offer small (2-3 people), medium (3-4 people) and large (5-6 people) serving sizes, and the price generally runs from about 30,000W for the small to 45,000W for the large.

9. Jokbal – boiled pig’s feet

jokbalWhile the idea of eating boiled pig’s feet may sound a little…unappetizing, it’s actually incredible. And it’s more like the pig’s lower leg, not just the feet. Jokbal is prepared by thoroughly washing it and removing the hairs. The skin is left on, and it’s boiled with various seasonings, including the obligatory soy sauce. The skin gives it a unique taste and texture that most of my friends who have tried it have not disliked (unlike sea cucumber and sea squirt). The meat and skin are removed from the bone, sliced and served with a dipping sauce that consists of tiny, salted shrimp. Jokbal is generally thought of as a anju, or food that accompanies alcohol. It’s served on a platter and shared with friends, so it’s not something you’d go to a restaurant and order for yourself. One order of jokbal is one entire leg, including the bone, and at a restaurant, you’ll pay about 30,000-35,000W per order. There’s an area by Dongkuk University Station that’s known as Jokbal Street with numerous jokbal restaurants, but chances are, if you wander around your neighborhood, you’ll find a local place that specializes in jokbal. If you don’t feel like paying restaurant prices for something you may or may not like, you can find packages of jokbal at Emart for about 15,000W.

10. Shabu shabu – deliciousness

shabushabuSaving the best for last! Shabu shabu is one of those dishes my parents never told me about, and when I confronted them about it and bemoaned their parenting for denying me shabu shabu while I was growing up, they claimed it was because it was a dish they rarely ate when living in Korea nearly 40 years ago. Beef was a delicacy, and as a dish that was imported from Japan, shabu shabu wasn’t terribly popular when they were young. Beef is still astronomically expensive in Korea, but the popularity of shabu shabu has soared over the years.

It’s really a rather simple dish with thin slices of beef dipped into a pot of boiling broth, but shabu shabu is also about the process and the experience. It used to be served as a communal dish: one large pot of boiling broth for the table to share; however, most shabu shabu restaurants now provide individual pots. You’re brought a platter piled high with slices of beef, various types of mushrooms, cabbage, dumplings, Korean sweet squash, dduk, noodles… Selection will vary by restaurant. You put your ingredients into the boiling broth and dip them in a variety of sauces before eating them. The sauces both flavor and cool your scalding hot food. Eating shabu shabu definitely demands a bit of patience on your part so as not to burn your tongue and lose the ability to taste anything for the rest of the meal. And probably the day after as well.

If too much of your broth boils off, you’ll be given more to add to the pot, and slowly, all the ingredients you’ve been adding to the broth create this wonderfully flavorful and delicious broth. That’s when you add the noodles. Boil the noodles. Enjoy. THEN, if all that wasn’t enough, most (not all) restaurants provide rice. Throw your rice in the pot and watch it turn into the best rice porridge you’ve ever had. Once it’s all over, you’ll probably have to be rolled out of the restaurant, but it’s worth it. I promise.

All-you-can-eat shabu shabu restaurants have become pretty popular, but if you’re not looking to put on 10 lbs during one meal, then a standard shabu shabu place should be just fine. ;-) Generally speaking, shabu shabu runs about 20,000W per person, and you can order additional meat for about 10,000W.

**Making a list of 10 food was harder than I thought it was going to be. I had to leave off so many other foods that I LOVE. Like kimbab, soondae (blood sausage), raw crab, rotisserie samgyupsal (only found on food trucks so far!), jook (porridge)… I often joke that the only part of me that’s thoroughly Korean is my stomach.

Hope you enjoyed my list! I’d love to hear about your favorite Korean foods. Or tell me about the foods you’d love/refuse to try!


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Preschool Adventures in Seoul: Camping in Korea

The amazing metropolis of Seoul, despite its many challenges, has so much to offer for families with small children, and I’ve found over the past year and a half we’ve lived here that there’s no shortage of fun things to do. However, sometimes, we just need to get out of the city, breathe some fresh air and relax so we planned a camping trip to the small town of Gapyeong, just 90 minutes drive east of Seoul for Memorial Day weekend. We invited some friends to join us, and since we were traveling with camping newbies, we decided to go to a campground that we’ve been to before–just to keep things simple.

Camping in Korea is not quite like camping in the U.S. There are two different types of campgrounds: national parks and privately owned grounds. I haven’t tried camping at any of the national parks, so I don’t know how easy/difficult it is for foreigners to reserve a spot, but camping at privately owned campgrounds couldn’t be easier. If you’re a camping pro with all of your own equipment, sites range from 15,000W/night to 35,000W/night, but if you’re new to camping, don’t want to invest in all the equipment or you left your camping gear in storage back home, fully equipped campsites (tent, sunshade/tarp, tables, chairs, gas grill, gas lantern, and cooking gear) are 100,000W/night to 150,000W/night.

For our recent trip, we went to a campground called Allyman Camping. This is our third trip there, and we really love the place. Compared to other campgrounds that I’ve looked at, this site is the most secluded and private, although this observation comes solely from photos of other campgrounds I’ve seen online. ;-)

Allyman Campground Entrance

The drive out there was a tough one. We left the city around 10:30am, along with what seemed like every other single person living in Seoul. We were on the Gyeongchun Expressway (Hwy 60) for nearly 2 hours, at times going less than 10km/hr. Ugh… And when we stopped at the Gapyeong rest area for lunch, it was packed. On the bright side, I randomly ran into a friend and her family at the rest area, which was a nice treat! A trip that should have taken approximately 90 minutes ended up taking 3 hours. So, note to self: leave the city EARLY to beat the Saturday traffic! Thankfully, all the children kept it together, and when we finally arrived at the campgrounds, they were elated, running out of the car straight to the trampoline.

Our campsite was fully prepped and ready to go when we arrived. Three tents, a very large sunshade, tables, chairs… You really can’t beat arriving at a campsite and just kicking your feet up!

Allyman camping

 

Aside from the trampoline, there are water sports available right at the campground: motor boat rides (20,000W for 20 minutes), kayaking (20,000W for 1 hour rental, both 1 and 2 person kayaks available), wake boarding, banana boat riding, and peanut boat riding. I’m not really sure what the last two are, but I think they involve riding a banana/peanut shaped float while being pulled by a boat. If you’re not into water sports, but just want to sit and enjoy the view of the river, the dock has a shaded area with tables and chairs so you can sit, drink and enjoy.

Allyman Camping Water Sports Kayaking Allyman CampingAllyman Camping Dock

If you’d rather stay on dry land, then there’s plenty to do in the Gapyeong area such as taking a trip out to Nami Island, riding the Bike Rails (post to come), eating ddalkgalbi (spicy chicken stir-fry, the regional specialty), ATV rentals, bungee jumping, and more! The only downside to Allyman Campgrounds is that it’s a bit of a drive to reach any of the local attractions. Nami Island and the Bike Rails are approximately 45 minutes drive away.

Map to Allyman Campgrounds

 

We had originally hoped to ride ATVs, but the manager of the campground told us that he couldn’t in good conscience recommend the ATV rental place nearby (it’s on the way to the campground), especially not for small children because there isn’t a set trail. Instead, he recommended we take the kids to the Bike Rails, which turned out to be a huge hit (post on the Bike Rail coming soon!). If you’re interested in riding ATVs and don’t have small children to consider, pricing tends to range from 10,000W to 15,000W for a specified distance or time.

Bike Rail 1 Bike Rail 2

 

The Bike Rails are just what the name infers. Old, out-of-commission railroad tracks have been turned into a fun family activity. You rent a bike (either 2-person or 4-person bikes) and you get to pedal yourself along the old railroad tracks, enjoying the beautiful riverside scenery along the way. To make it more fun (and less work), uphill climbs are motorized so you can stop pedaling, and downhill rides are well, just fun! There are several locations to ride the Bike Rails in the Gapyeong area, and my boys made us promise to take them again to the one where they get to pedal through a mountain tunnel. :-)

The second night we were there, the weather was not in our favor and the day’s occasional rain showers turned into a torrential downpour. Fortunately, the large sunshade/tarp kept us dry, and after we got the kids in bed, we spent our evening sitting by the fire, drinking beers and listening to the rain. Not a bad way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Getting There:

The Allyman campground is nearly impossible to find if you don’t have a GPS (or a reliable map/app on your smartphone). The address is: Gangwon-do, Chuncheon-si, Nam-myun, Gwanchun-ri 383 (or 380). My Woori Navi (English navigation) system had difficult time locating the address because there’s really nothing out there, so be sure you have a good idea of where you’re going before you get in your car. You can copy and paste this address into Naver Maps to pinpoint it: 강원도 춘천시 남면 관천리 380

Cost:

The price depends on when you’re going (weekday v. weekend and off-peak v. peak season).

If you’re bringing your own gear: Mon-Thurs: 25,000W/night, Fri-Sun: 30,000W/night or 35,000W/night during peak season
If you want the full set-up: Mon-Thurs: 100,000W/night, Fri-Sun: 120,000W/night or 130,000W/night and 145,000W/night during peak season, respectively.

The dates of peak season are generally the end of July and the first couple weeks of August.

Helpful Hints:

  • If you’re interested in reserving a spot at Allyman Campgrounds, you’ll need to enlist the help of a Korean-speaking friend. The manager doesn’t speak any English, and payment is required in advance via bank transfer. If you don’t have a Korean bank account, you can go to an Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK) branch and deposit payment into the Allyman account.
  • Saturdays are generally booked well in advance, especially during peak season (July and August). If you can swing a mid-week camping trip, then chances are you’ll have the place to yourself.
  • Bring your own firewood. Firewood is available at the campground, but it’s approximately 3 times more expensive if you purchase it at the site. On previous visits, we purchased firewood at the campgrounds and spent over 150,000W on firewood alone for a 2 night stay. This time, we wised up, purchased firewood in advance and took it with us. We purchased from Chamnamunara (website in Korean only), and the best part? They deliver (within Seoul) for free! Be sure to order it a few days in advance if you’d like to have it delivered. We purchased 8 cords at 10,000W each (plus, Chamnamunara threw in a huge bag of kindling for free) and brought 3 back with us, so 5 cords of wood should be enough to keep your fire going for a 3 day/2 night camping trip. One thing to keep in mind though–firewood takes up a lot of space! Taking your own firewood is great if you have the space in your car, but if you don’t, then just mentally prepare yourself for the cost of firewood at the campground and work it into your camping budget.Chamnamunara firewood
  • Fires are only allowed in the designated fire pits (provided), and they come with a rack that allows you to cook over the fire. However, grill grates are not provided. You can purchase disposable grill grates at Emart (5,000W to 7,000W, depending on size). Also, if you intend to cook over your campfire, don’t forget to bring your own tongs!Allyman Camping Firepit
  • Bring your own bedding, food, drinking water, and toilet paper! There’s plenty of running water–men and women’s restrooms as well as a separate shower room for both men and women. There’s also an area for washing dishes; however, you’re on your own for drinking water. Also, the showers are Korean style, meaning it’s just one large room with several shower heads. No stalls for privacy! So if you’re not comfortable showering in a space where someone can walk in and see you in your birthday suit, be prepared to be stinky or just shower really early in the morning when all the Koreans are sleeping off their night of soju consumption. ;-) And ladies, guard your toilet paper. Don’t leave it in the bathroom with the intention of sharing it with your camping neighbors. Someone will take it.
  • Bring your own gas canisters for the gas range and gas lanterns. You can find them at Emart or Homeplus. We took a 4 pack, which was plenty.
  • You are responsible for separating your trash–paper, plastic, glass, cans, regular trash, and food trash. The best way to do it is to take extra plastic bags and separate as you go. Collect all your food trash after each meal and dump it into the food trash bin immediately. While we haven’t seen or experienced any wild animals at the campground, there are plenty of bugs and birds looking to get into your garbage. There’s also a designated area to dispose of the embers/ashes from your fire pit.
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