I am What I Eat

“I bought a 22 pound turkey. It was the biggest one they had!”

My mom always announced the weight of the bird as if to declare the start of the holidays. The huge Butterball, still encased in plastic, bobbed in the one of the two basins of her stainless steel sink. The size of the turkey always bothered me, but it probably represented (whether consciously or subconsciously) the bounty of blessings my parents have had since they immigrated to this country over 40 years ago.

With fall around the corner and Thanksgiving on its coattails, I’ve actually started thinking about this year’s menu. It is my favorite holiday and one where the feast for our family is truly Korean American – not in the fusion sense, but in the smorgasbord sense. We never celebrated Chuseok, or Harvest Moon Festival (Korea’s Thanksgiving) when I was growing up, primarily because Korean foodstuff wasn’t readily available and my parents found it a hassle to follow the Lunar calendar. In their efforts to assimilate into their new country, they decided not to celebrate the Korean holidays and adopted the American Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving feasts included the obligatory (hormonally and genetically modified) Butterball turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, and stuffing. I eventually became responsible for this part of the meal which over the years has been an opportunity for much experimentation. My mom started preparing the other 10 – 12 Korean dishes two days before the holidays, many of them being vegetable dishes. My favorite was a trio of vegetables called sahm sek namul, which literally translates as “three color vegetables.” The color white was represented by doh-rah-ji bokum, a sautéed bellflower root. Brown was represented by gosari namul, sautéed fernbracken. And green was represented by chi-namul, sauteed Korean bitter greens. Even as a kid, I really savored these dishes and loved how well the sharp bitterness of the chi-namul and meatiness of the doh-rah-ji complimented, never overwhelmed, the more subtle or bland flavor of the turkey and the savory, saltiness of the stuffing and gravy. The gosari namul had an earthy flavor and the texture came close to “pencil thin” asparagus. One very full forkful was followed by a bit of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce alternated with kimchi. Though, if the cranberry sauce and kimchi merged on the same spoonful, it was not a tragic collision. I didn’t mind the clash of sour, sweet, tart, and salty. It all worked. The textures and flavors of the Korean and American dishes complemented each other so well. How could you have Thanksgiving dinner any other way?

This year Thanksgiving is going to be celebrated at our new house. Although it’s not the first Thanksgiving meal I’ve prepared, it’s the first one that will include some of my mom’s Korean dishes. This holiday feast best represents our family as Korean Americans. I’m sure this is a universal sentiment with families and their respective cultures. There are so many stories behind family traditions and dishes that give us an idea of where we came from. Every dish has a bit of each generation before us. It is clear to me that my mom’s passion for cooking and food has trickled down to me. I really can’t wait to prepare this year’s feast and am looking forward to my two toddlers to take part in this family holiday. While they may scream for mac ‘n cheese this year, I know (with time) they will inherit my family’s passion for food in all things Korean and American.

Note: This post is an entry for the first challenge of Project Food Blog. If you made it this far in the post and liked what you read, then please take a moment to register on Foodbuzz and follow my progress. Voting begins on Monday, September 20th and ends on the 23rd.

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  • Vero

    Good luck for the PFB2010

    • Amy

      Thank you!

  • http://junblog.com Jun Belen

    That bird looks so pretty! I’m actually very excited that Fall is here and it’ll be Thanksgiving soon — my favorite holiday! Looking forward to more stories and Korean recipes from you!

    • Amy

      Hi Jun! Thanks for dropping by! Fall and Thanksgiving – my favorite season and holiday!

  • http://www.youfedababychili.com/2010/09/03/bo-ssam-roasted-pork-butt-wrapped-in-lettuce/ Ben

    Way to knock it out of the park, Amy! I think this is my favorite of your posts so far. We also had Butterball turkeys with cranberry sauce the shape of tin cans. Along with kimchi and about 10 banchan from previous days. I don’t remember the flavors as vividly as you do, but I do remember Thanksgiving being the one day when I would eat until my stomach was taught, like a basketball. Like Esme, I was otherwise a pretty small eater at that age.

    • Amy

      Wow! Thanks Ben!

  • Chihana

    Amy, what a great article! thanks for sharing a bit about your wonderful childhood and the wonderful food your mom made for you. I am salivating now.

    • Amy

      Hey Chi – Thanks for reading! Remember that Thanksgiving in B’more? I hope to bring it up a couple of notches this year!

  • http://www.caseyangelova.com Casey Angelova

    Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday, even better than ones that give presents. The way your family blended the the two cultures was deliciously inspiring. Best of luck in the competition.

    • Amy

      Thanks! And I always look forward to all the cooking and chaos! Best of luck to you too!

  • http://ClassicKitchenTwist.blogspot.com ClassicKitchenTwist

    Great post! Good Luck!

    • Amy

      Thanks! Good luck to you too!

  • http://www.duchessinbrooklyn.blogspot.com Duchess

    Food looks wonderful! Best of luck, sweet entry.

    • Amy

      Thank you! I just read yours…what an awesome entry! Best of luck to you too.

  • http://www.sippitysup.com sippitysup

    Came to check out the competition. You look strong! Good Luck! GREG

    • Amy

      Thanks for dropping by and for the compliment! I do not envy the PFB judges…

  • Kim

    So, I can’t speak to the Korean angle of your blog….however, the first sentence sends this American girl whirling down memory lane. Are you sure you weren’t overhearing my mom?

    Nice job Amy. Keep up the ggod work.

    • Amy

      I’m sure all moms in Massena were fighting over the turkeys at P&C or Great American! Thanks for reading Kim! Give me a ring-a-ling if you’re ever in the NYC area!

  • t.luke

    We eat to live. You remembered so many different foods you ate
    while you were growing up.We are glad that your mom introduced
    many a Korean dishes esp. on such holidays as Thanksgiving days.
    A few of Korean cuisines are favored internationally, as a low cholest
    erol,cardioprotective food.Your promotion may help general
    health of Americans. Good going!

    • Amy

      Thanks Dad!! :-)

    • j.k.


  • Michelle

    Great entry Amy. I can’t wait for Thanksgiving…of course, Ko-American style!

    • Amy

      I know…I’ve already written out my menu for this year. A little nervous since Dave’s parents are joining us! Will the Sokol clan be a family of 4 this Thanksgiving??

  • kim2480

    I am What I Eat??? Interesting blog entry. Very, very interesting. To piggyback on t.luke’s comments, there are deep-fried entrees. We know what they are. Hee hee. Good luck on your food blog and bon appetit.

    • Amy

      Thanks, Mike. Yes, we can’t forget the deep-fried shrimp and fried mandoo! All in moderation….all in moderation.

      • jkwon

        i think you should do the pork chop w/ sour kraut recipe. i’m sure that has never been done on this planet with mom’s secret ingredient. i’ve done it for lucas and he likes the kraut.

        • Amy

          what secret ingredient??

  • LK0621




    • Amy


  • http://dreamaboutfood.blogspot.com fooddreamer

    This is a wonderful, wonderful post about your love of food and cooking and where it all comes from. Great first PFB post! Love how your mom would announce the weight of the turkey the minute she came in the door.
    Good luck with the contest! And thanks for your comments on my blog.

    • Amy

      My turkey won’t be quite as huge, but we will have one nonetheless. Thank you for stopping by!

  • kitty

    Ruben and I are ready to climb into the pics … they look so yummy!

    • Amy

      Thanks! I remember the feast that you prepared years ago at Ruben’s house! Now that we’re close by, we need to have you guys over for dinner soon!

  • http://kopiaste.org Ivy

    That bird is cooked to perfection. Good luck with the competition. Shall be looking forward to your posts.

    • Amy

      Thanks for dropping by!

  • http://lemonsandanchovies.wordpress.com Jean

    Amy, you’ve also just described Thanksgiving in my home. “Fusion in the smorgasbord sense”– I like this. I’ve been in charge of turkey for the last 10 years and it’s always fun. Yours looks perfect, the color, everything. Much luck with PFB! It will be fun. :-)

    • Amy

      Thank you! I’m a big fan of your blog! Best of luck to you too! And, yes, let’s have FUN!

  • http://www.houseofannie.com Nate @ House of Annie

    You got my vote! Cheers and Aloha.

    • Amy

      thanks! best of luck to you two!

  • jkk

    i guess i should stop responding to your responses. good job documenting all of the family chow-downs. it’s making me hungry…

  • http://www.foodiehouse.blogspot.com Lauren Zabaneh

    yay!!! I love it. great post, Amy. You’ve got my vote, girl.

    • Amy

      right back atcha!

  • julie

    i am spaghetti and meatballs today.

  • http://www.dansgoodside.com Dan Clapson

    Great post! I am just doing my last look-through for the PFB entries. You got my vote!

  • Ethan

    I love the story and the assimilation of all the foods and traditions!
    good luck and you have my vote:)

    • Amy

      thank you! tastes better with friends and family, right?

  • http://www.lickmyspoon.com @lickmyspoon

    good luck! you got my vote :) that turkey is huge!!!

    • Amy

      thanks! like i said, my mom likes the big turkeys!

  • http://mamawithflavor.blogspot.com Sommer J

    Awesome post, Kim! My FAVORITE part of reading food blogs is learning about the blogger’s traditions and stories behind the meals. What a great post!!! And of course your wrote about my favorite holiday! I would love to experience a smorgasbord of different cultures on my Thanksgiving table. I have a feeling my son would thoroughly enjoy Korean food. My husband went to a restaurant in my area a few weeks back and thee food was amazing, and we showed our son the photos and he was very jealous! Sorry this is so long- I really admire your blog. Have a good ‘un!

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