Number 20: Finding My Balance

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(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. 

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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).

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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.

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“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?

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4 comments

  1. Cyntilla

    Just popping in to say that I like your name stamp the way it is now, really meaningful. =)

  2. 34:14:2, gotta land at the mean! (Sorry, standard deviation GRE prep still has my system infected though I already did it on Thurs.)

    The bibimbap looks beautiful. And definitely, the meat in most Mtl supermarkets is very questionable. When I made hayashi rice, I went all the way to the Korean market on St. Caths for their thinly sliced beef, but I think I would have been much better off just slicing a decent/good steak (as an episode of Shin Docchi no Ryouri Show did).

    I wish you would come to Toronto sometime. I wish very much to introduce you to some of the best coffee you will drink.

  3. Leiko

    Do you have a middle name or family name you can add or depict? I think odd numbers, especially 3 is good luck in japanese . . . I love how you used the plant as a symbol and it also looks like a Y. My initials are YY so I can make many graphic images with it, like a diamond shape, etc.

  4. Leiko: The Y is taken from my middle name, which is technically my Chinese name. The initials of my Chinese name are also YY! What a coincidence. :D

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