(Bi bim bap with beef, carrots, bean sprouts, spinach, and gochujang)
This week had been so busy that I barely had the time to cook: there were nights when I ate plain rice and furikake directly out of my rice-cooker. Tears. Even though it is still technically the beginning of the school year, it feels like it is mid-November for me already. I either waste my time watching an endless marathon of Japanese/Korean TV drama, or I overwork and go on a diet consisting of caffeine, caffeine, and caffeine.
It’s good to feel human again. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to walk in the sun, while humming the theme songs of Katamari and knowing that I don’t have to wither away in the library for the rest of the day (苦笑).
As a little reward, I prepared a bento for Friday. Since I was already so exhausted, I just wanted to have something simple and reassuring like bi bim bap. There are countless recipes online for bi bim bap already; for a “fancier” one, you can find it here at My Korean Kitchen. For the simpler version you see here, here’s my recipe. I didn’t really follow a recipe but just sort of made this based on my recollections of bi bim bap from Korean restaurants.
Usually the bi bim bap at restaurants are vegetarian, but I decided to “beef” mine up anyway (okay, bad joke). The local supermarkets here don’t offer very good beef cuts for Asian dishes (i.e. slices for stir-frying and whatnot). Instead, I used a small chunk of whatever-steak and tried to reduce it to smaller pieces. I wished that there was a higher fat ratio, because beef + fat = good.
Overall, bi bim bap is a very ideal dish for bento: it has a perfect balance of meat, vegetables, and carbs. It also tastes great at room temperature and is cheap to make. The bean sprouts were only six cents! I only picked up enough for making this bento. It was so ridiculously little that the cashier could not help commenting.
He was probably right. My guess is that the bean sprouts should only have costed three cents, while the plastic bag accounted for the other half of the cost. Oh well.
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Lately, I have been musing on the idea of “just right.” This thought came from a passage that I found in Michael Ashkenazi and Jeanne Jacob’s book, The Essence of Japanese Cuisine:
In the same way that a Japanese garden is perfect when there is nothing more that can be taken out, so it is with Japanese cuisine. When there remains nothing more that can be subtracted from a dish, that is when it is perfect. And this applies as much to the adornment on food, as the food itself. (142)
In other words, this is like a bell-shaped curve, with the x-axis representing amount of embellishment and the y-axis measuring beauty. Of course, the optimal point will differ for each object (or bento, for the matter).
Another idea that is so obvious, so taken-for-granted that I don’t even think about it until someone points it out. But like other seemingly-simple things, this is a quality that is the most difficult to achieve. When do we stop adding? When do we stop subtracting?
It is too easy to be excessive.
I am having similar doubts with carving my name stamp. I started to work on this project last weekend. It was more or less a spontaneous act: I was sitting in the library and working when I decided to pack my stuff and go to the arts and crafts store. Since they had nothing made for stamp-carving, I bought a large chunk of rubber eraser and began from there. Being the impatient girl that I am, I started carving without first making a blueprint.
“Xin” (or “yan” in Cantonese) is my Chinese name. My name and my little brother’s name combine to make up the phrase “xin-xin-xiang-rong”/”yan-yan-heung-wing” (欣欣向榮), which roughly translates into “happy and thriving.” That is one reason why I chose to carve a little plant, aside from the fact that it resembles the letter “Y,” the English initials of my Chinese name.
The problem now is that I think the stamp is missing a third (and final) element. Maybe it is fine as is, but I feel that it is incomplete. However, I can’t quite figure out the next step. The tricky thing with carving is that once I make a cut, I can’t turn back.
So where do I go from here?