Holidays Away from Home

Although this isn’t my first year living on my own, it is my first year living so far from my friends and family. In the weeks leading up to the holiday season, I was a little skepticle about how I’d spend Thanksgiving, my first holiday in Korea. But as Thanksgiving day approached, plans became more concrete and I was prepared for nearly an entire week of celebrating with friends and plenty of food.

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The first holiday invitation to come was from the woman that my coworkers and I take Korean lessons with. She invited us to her home on Thanksgiving day to enjoy a meal together. It wasn’t your traditional Thanksgiving fare. Rather, it was a table set with Korean food, including some tofu for me. We spent a few hours talking with her and her husband, hearing stories from their time living in the United States and also talking about our own experiences before coming to Korea.

Earlier that week, I have dinner with one of the many friends I’ve made in Korea, and once again I enjoyed some traditional Korean foods made specially without the meat. We stayed together long after the food was gone, filling the room with laughter and warm memories.

With the weekend came Friendsgiving. While I’ve celebrated Friendsgiving in the past, this one was special because all of us were spending our first holiday away from home. We all crammed into a studio apartment and ate mashed potatoes, stuffing, squash, soup, and for the meat eaters, chicken. As we began to eat, we shared what we were thankful for. For many of us, it was that our lives all converged together at that moment in time. That we had each other, and that whatever it was we were running toward, or from, had brought all of us together in that room.IMG_1655

For dessert, we had korean pancakes with cinnamon sugar filling, fruit, truffles, and apple pie. The room was filled with laughter and stories from people who came from all over the world. It was everything I could have asked for this year.

But it doesn’t end there. The following night was the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the International Church. This event is the one everyone looks forward to because it is all the foods of Thanksgiving–turkey, stuffing, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce, and even pumpkin pie. Where they managed to find all of those things in Korea, I’ll never know. But it didn’t matter, because sitting in the crowded church basement surrounded by my friends I felt right at home.

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As an expat, holidays can be difficult. We’re reminded of just how far we are from wherever it is we call home. But for me, I spent the week surrounded by caring people. I was reminded of the kindness of others and the importance of community. This Thanksgiving has given me so much to be grateful for.

Life in Jinju: A Week of Eats

Since moving to Korea, the most common question I get is how’s the food? Living in South Korea has altered my diet in a few, significant ways: I drink way more coffee and I eat way more rice.

For the most part, I have been doing quite a bit of my own cooking. It’s easier for me to throw together simple veg friendly meals in my own kitchen then try to muddle my way through a menu written in a different language, but I have found quite a few places that serve up some great food. So without further ado, a week of eats in Jinju.

Drinks

 

Like I said, LOTS of coffee. Back in the States, I hardly ever drank coffee, and when I did it resulted in some pretty intense side-effects. I had completely cut out caffeine, and when I drank it I’d have an elevated heart rate, shakey hands, all of it. So I’ve been quite surprised that I’ve been able to drink coffee again with few side effects.

Food

 

Above are some meals from this past weekend (if you can call french fries a meal). Bibimbop is incredibly common here in Korea and is almost always a safe, meat-free option. Every bibimbop I’ve had is different. This one featured some shredded cabbage and the sauce was delicious. When I first arrived in Korea, my first meal was bibimbop with a side of pickled radishes. That bibimbop featured some tasty mushrooms and other veggies. The french fries were incredibly American: deep-fried potatoes are similar no matter where you are in the world. They made for a delicious dinner before a night out.

Birthday Treats

 

Not even a month after getting to Korea, I celebrated my 24th birthday. My coworkers got me a birthday cake and my supervisor brought some more traditional treats from the open air market, including corn, sweet potatoes, and some baked goods. Everything was delicious and I am so appreciative for such a kind birthday surprise.

Home Cooking

I do a lot cooking at home, especially on nights when I work. My go-to meals typically involve mushrooms, sprouts, and whatever other veggies I have in my fridge. I also love rice noodles, so they typically appear in my home cooking. I’ve also been experimenting with tofu, trying to find just the right way to cook it to maximize crispiness. I think I have finally unlocked the key to perfect tofu: really heavy objects on top of it to drain out as much water as possible followed by some time in the freezer.

My diet in Jinju is a lot different than it was back in the States. Sometimes I find myself missing my standard American fare, but for the most part, the flavorful, spicy food of Korea has been excellent. If I’m really missing tastes from home, the international section at the store usually has something I can whip up, or I can go grab a vanilla latte, and all is well again.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

Easy Banana-Almond Butter Granola Bites

The weather in Northeast Pennsylvania has been all but predictable lately. With back-to-back Nor-easters, it’s easy to imagine that everyone gets sent into a panic about what the impending storm will bring. Due to fears of heavy and consistent snow, I got a snow day from work today, which gave me a lot of free time to catch up on some much needed cleaning I needed to do around my apartment. Once that was finished, and my GRE studying was complete too, I was at a loss for what to do with myself.

I really needed to use up one lone, over-ripe banana. I knew that one banana would not be enough for banana bread, and besides, I have given up bread for Lent, so that was out. I purused on Pinterest, but couldn’t find anything that really peaked my interest, so I decided to try a recipe of my own. The result was tasty, crispy, granola bites loaded with almond butter, flax seed, sunflower seeds, and banana. So if you have a banana laying around and aren’t quite sure what to do with it, why not give these quick and simple granola bites a try?

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of oats
  • 1 over-ripe banana
  • 1/4 almond butter or nut butter of your choice
  • 1 tbsp flax seeds
  • 1 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • Other nuts and seeds of your choice

Directions:

  • While pre-heating oven to 350, toast oats on the stove over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring and flipping often
  • Mash banana in a small mixing bowl until well-mashed and no lumps remain and add almond butter
  • Pour warmed, toasted oats into the almond butter and banana mixture and stir until well combined
  • Sprinkle in flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and any additional seeds you want to add! I just used whatever was available in my pantry
  • Form into patties in a small muffin tray and bake for 12 minutes

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This recipe is really so simple, yet so delicious. It can also be customized with whatever nuts, seeds, or spices you have in your cabinet. Next time I make this, I may try adding in some shaved apple and cinnamon! Let me know in the comments if you tried this recipe, what you think, and how you made it your own!