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Vacation Reflection

As I am sitting here, with a hot toddy in hand prepared with some fine Scottish whiskey by my dear husband, I am beginning to reflect on our 11 day winter vacation that is coming to a close as soon as the alarm clock beeps us back to reality in less than 12 hours. Before our vacation began, we had two choices, travel to some exotic land and bask in the sunlight or take it easy and fully relax and enjoy our last eight weeks of working in Korea and save a few pennies. We chose the second option and to many we did "nothing" over this time. But to me, we were overly productive and one hundred percent relaxed the entire time. Our days were filled with watching movies we've been meaning to see, reading books that have been opened and closed many times but never finished, and eating delicious food.

The holidays to me should be centered around good food, even better company, and of course wine. On Christmas Eve, we set out to accomplish all of these. Over a pot of coffee, we added the last few things to our shopping list. I set out to the local produce market and butcher and picked up the freshest ingredients that I could find in the middle of winter. Since I frequent the markets almost daily, I have become rather friendly with the shopkeepers and always notice a few extra apples, tomatoes, or onions in my basket as "service," which I have come to learn is the Korean way. The city market is such an interesting place as local farmers come into the city to sell their daily harvests amidst the hustle and bustle of people rushing off to the subway located only seconds away. After I visited all of my usual vendors, I double checked my list to make sure that I had everything that I needed. My next stop was the butcher. It was here that I had a little trouble with my online translation for pork tenderloin. The butcher did not agree that this cut of meat would be good, probably due to the lack of fat on the selection he had, so he insisted on some other cut of pork. I smiled, nodded, and placed it into my basket, and started thinking of ways to prepare it. At the same time as I left for the market, Bob gathered his mitts and toque and set off on his bike to do our "alcohol run" for our vacation. He returned with 7 bottles of wine, a wheel of brie, a 12 pack of beer, a log of pepperoni, and a jar of pineapple salsa. Our feast was going to be out of this world.

I began the day by baking up a loaf of my garlic herb crusted bread, not only to enjoy the aroma all day, but to use as the backbone for an olive, lemon and toasted walnut spread that I would prepare later in the day. My peanut butter Hershey kiss cookies that I premade last weekend had been removed from the freezer to be thawed in time for dessert. I concocted a chicken taco like filling to later go inside of crispy wonton wrappers topped with melted cheese. It has always been a tradition in my family to enjoy a Christmas Eve meal of soup and salad, usually which is my mother's famous Minestrone soup. But since we just made several pots of it a few weeks ago, I opted for something new. After lots of searching, I decided on a recipe for Sweet Potato soup loaded with cinnamon, nutmeg, and green onions. It definitely added to the aroma of the house and fulfilled my desire for the smell of "hominess" that I ever so miss during the holidays.
As it was approaching midday, we sat down to watch some classic Christmas films and enjoy some wine and appetizers. We topped the wheel of Brie, which is a semi luxury in a country that hardly produces any of its own cheese, with strawberry jam, green onions, and garlic and baked it in the oven for a few minutes. Once it began to ooze, I removed it and served it with fresh apples and crackers. Bob sliced up some pepperoni and cheddar cheese and made a nice platter garnished with the festive looking olive dip and fresh bread. We agreed on a bottle of Chilean red wine to accompany our appetizers and movie watching. When we felt the urge to eat again, I heated up the soup and popped the chicken taco stars into the oven. While I waited I heated up some olive oil, garlic and apple cider vinegar to prepare the base that would be eventually mixed with some maple syrup to coat our spinach salad. I garnished it with walnuts and sliced cucumbers. Everything was ready to go and round two officially began just in time for movie number two. For the first time in a long time, I managed to save room for a small portion of dessert. To me this day was complete bliss!

Christmas arrived with a few flurries falling from the sky so that the phrase "White Christmas" could semi apply to us here in Seoul. I woke up early and turned on the coffee, since I am still on my "work schedule" of wake up calls. When my body finally realizes that I don't have to get up early it will be time to go back to work again. I got started on Christmas morning breakfast, Stout Bacon Pecan Rolls. The sweet, malty aroma got Bob out of bed quicker than usual. I wish I could say that this recipe was an original of mine, but it is not. It is borrowed from a place on the internet in which the name escapes me. As soon as I find it again, I will properly give credit to the right person. It was at this point that Bob surprised me with tickets to the musical Nanta for later in the evening. I was so excited because I have been looking forward to seeing this show for a long time!
We had an early dinner of rosemary, garlic, and olive oil crusted pork topped with ginger apples, sautéed garlic scapes, and accordion potatoes topped with sharp cheddar cheese and garlic. After we cleaned up, we ventured to the subway station and walked rather quickly as the air was a little more brisk than we had thought. When we arrived at our destination station, we walked up to the street and tried to make sense of the directions on the theatre's website. Luckily Bob is better with directions than I am, so we made it there with enough time to grab a cup of coffee before the show. There was a little mix up with our tickets so the theatre compensated and gave us front row seats! As the lights dimmed and the traditional beat of the drums began, I knew we were going to be in for a good performance. The lights gradually turned on as the narrator cam onto stage and introduced the plot of the play, four chefs preparing for a wedding feast with only a few hours to do it. The chefs quickly set to work chopping vegetables, making soup, and baking a cake. Amidst all of this preparation, a love story was mixed in as well as competition between the four chefs to do the best job. Comedy and satire were major themes as the chefs entertained us with knife tricks, dancing, and plenty of jokes. There were even times when the audience was involved in the show and luckily for me I got pulled up on stage to try and remove a trash can from one of the chef's behinds ... slightly embarrassing, but very funny. The show ended with a successful preparation of a feast and an audience satisfied for hours with laughs. We made our way back to the station and were welcomed with a light snowfall that made the streets glisten underneath the glow of the street lamps. What a night!

The rest of our vacation was filled with many very similar days. Although, we did get out of town for two out of the eleven days. We headed to Busan, which is located about 5 hours southeast of Seoul, right along the coast. Most people ride the KTX or bullet train to get there, but we opted for the bus so that we could enjoy the scenery. Unfortunately this did not really happen as the bus windows were covered with condensation most of the way. Once we arrived, we found our way to Gwangali Beach and took a stroll along the beach. It was nice to take in the salty sea air, a smell that had almost been forgotten. We didn't have any plans for today, other to wander and see what we see. Later on in the evening, we had hoped to see a friend of ours who lives in the area, but that will have to wait until tomorrow. We scoped out a place to stay and found a dodgy little place behind the main street, since all of the places looking out onto the ocean were either previously booked or insanely expensive for our budget.
Nearby, we found a little kimbap restaurant and had some delicious cheese pork cutlet, the infamous cheesy dongkatsu. On our wander back to our hotel, we stopped at a few hole in the wall bars to get a few beers and have a few dart challenges. After all we could handle of the yet to become smoke free bars, we made our way back to our hotel and called it a night.

The next morning we woke up fairly early and set out to meet up with our friend, who we would meet to go onto the Geumjeong Fortress with. We met her and had a quick bite to eat before boarding the bus opposite the subway station. The ride to the mountain top was an interesting one, as everyone was holding on for their dear lives as the driver twisted and turned the bus to match the curves in the road. Once we arrived we made a dash for the postings that described the history of the wall. It was built centuries ago and destroyed during the Japanese occupation of Korea before the Korean War. During the mid-80's efforts began to restore the wall and the project is still in progression. We were able to look down and get a beautiful view of the city. We continued our climb up the rocky hills surrounding the fortress. We were not really prepared for this hike and had on terrible footwear to safely attempt the entire hike, therefore we partook in a sissy like type of climb. Regardless, it was a beautiful to get outside and enjoy the natural surroundings that circled the city. Once we descended down the hill, we made our way back to the bus stop to catch a ride back into town. The ride down was worse than the ride up. I think I may have taken out a few toes ... oops! Once back in town, we parted ways with Jadwega and made our way back to the inner city bus terminal at Nopodong to find our way back to Seoul. While at the station, we ironically ran into another one of our friends, Jami, who was also visiting Busan for the weekend. What a small world it proves to be sometimes! Our journey back to Seoul took over 6 hours this way due to Sunday afternoon traffic and the arrival of more snow in Seoul. We are taking about a snowstorm here-about three whole inches of snow was waiting for us when we returned. This is by far the most snow I have ever seen in this country at once!

That brings us to the rest of our vacation. Let's see, we went to the post office one day, we met up with some friends for wing night another day, we went to the bank to take care of some business, and we picked up a package loaded with the most delicious Christmas cookies baked by my parents. But the best thing we did was lounge around in our pajamas for days upon end, reading a plethora of books and stopping only to cook another meal. I got really creative with our meals and tried to create new dishes out of things we already had in the fridge to avoid having to go to the store every day. Since I am very interested in reading about food, the books I was reading inspired me as well. For example, one day I jumped out of bed as I was reading a chapter about homemade pizza and decided today we must make a pizza. I ran to the store and got yeast. I made the dough, while Bob chopped the veggies and pepperoni that would soon become our toppings. We smeared on some sauce and since Bob worked at Pizza Hut for many years during his wee lad years, he was in charge of making sure that everything would stick to the cheese in just the right way without the cheese sliding off with your first bite. We slid the pizza into the oven and waited for about 10 minutes and watched as the cheese bubbled and got nice and golden brown. We jumped from our chairs when we heard the ding of the timer to retrieve our treat from the oven. Since it was only 10:30 am, we hesitated for a quick second about opening a bottle of wine to go with our meal, but that hesitation like I said only lasted for a second since we are on vacation! This was the best pizza we ever ate! Not sure if it was the taste or because we made it ourselves. Next time we will have to request an "outsider" to be our taste tester.

All in all we had a wonderful vacation and I wouldn't have wanted to partake in any other kind this year. We have lots to look forward to in the upcoming year such as our big move back to Canada, a trip to Egypt, my little sister's wedding, my youngest sister's graduation from university and the list goes on. We deserved a break from the everyday commotion and in turn created a very peaceful environment for ourselves for 11 days of delight. We are already looking forward to next year's winter break!

Beer Bread Pecan Rolls
Recipefrom Allrecipes
Makes 12

For filling:
4-5 pieces of bacon (optional)
1 / 2 c. pecan pieces
1 c. brown sugar
2 TBS cinnamon
1 / 2 tsp nutmeg
1 / 8 tsp cloves
5 TBS butter

3 c. flour
1 1 / 2 TBS baking powder
1 / 4 tsp salt
3 TBS sugar
12 oz bottle pecan ale (nutty ale), room temp.

3 TBS butter
2 TBS brown sugar
3 / 4 c. raw pecan pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350 °. Get beer to room temperature.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add beer and stir with wooden spoon until a moist dough is formed. Flour hands and knead.
3. Cook bacon. Remove most of the grease. Add pecans to bacon grease pan and toast. (If not using bacon, toast bacon in dry skillet.
4. Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
5. Roll dough into 1 / 2 inch thickness. Brush melted butter over dough. Sprinkle filling over the dough and top with pecans and bacon. Roll it like a log.
6. In the same pan, melt 3TBS butter with brown sugar to make topping. Stir until dissolved. Add pecans. Remove from heat.
7. Cut cinnamon log into slices about 1 1 / 2 inch thick. Add rolls to cast iron pan. Brush rolls with butter. Cook for 25-30 minutes. Invert rolls to serve.

Quick and Easy Pizza Dough
Recipe from
Makes 1 pizza crust

1 pkg. dry yeast
3 / 4 c. very warm water (120-130 degrees)
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1TBS olive oil
1 TBS honey

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Soak yeast in water for 5 minutes.
3. Add flour, salt, sugaroil, and honey mix to blend.
4. Knead for 2-3 minutes until flour is well blended.
5.Cover and let rise in a warm place for 15 minutes.
6. Roll dough to fit a 12 inch pizza pan.
7. Top pizza with tomato sauce and toppings of your choice. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is browned and bubbly.

Note: I added rosemary to the dough, then rubbed roasted garlic on the dough before smearing sauce on the dough.

Green Olive and Walnut Spread

Recipe from Taste of Home
Makes 8 servings

1 / 3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup stuffed olives
1 cup walnut pieces
1 / 2 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 / 2 cup chopped green onions
1 / 2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Assorted crackers or slices baquette bread
1. Combine first seven ingredients in a food processor. Cover and process just until the spread holds together. Do not over process; mixture should have a coarse texture.
2. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with crackers.

Note: I made without a food processor allowing for a chunkier version of this recipe and it was delicious.

Chicken Taco Cups
Recipe from Taste of Home
Makes 36

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 envelope reduced-sodium taco seasoning
1 small onion, chopped
1 jar (16 ounces) salsa, divided
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese, divided
36 wonton wrappers
Sour cream, chopped green onions and chopped ripe olives, optional

1. Sprinkle chicken with taco seasoning.
2. In a large skillet coated with cooking spray, cook and stir the chicken over medium heat for 5 minutes or until juices run clear.
3. Transfer chicken to a food processor; cover and process until chopped.
4. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, onion, half of the salsa and 1 cup cheese.
5. Press wonton wrappers into miniature muffin cups coated with cooking spray.
6. Bake at 375 ° for 5 minutes or until lightly browned.
7. Spoon rounded tablespoonfuls of chicken mixture into cups; top with remaining salsa and cheese. Bake 15 minutes longer or until heated through. Serve warm. Garnish with sour cream, green onions and olives if desired.

Note: I made this recipe without the food processor and just finely chopped the chicken and it was fantastic!

Creamy Sweet Potato Soup Recipe
Recipe from BonAppetit
Makes 6-8 servings

2 Tbsp (1 / 4 stick) butter
1 cup chopped onion
2 small celery stalks, chopped
1 medium leek, sliced (white and pale green parts only)
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 1 / 2 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 5 cups)
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth (use vegetable broth for vegetarian option)
1 cinnamon stick
1 / 4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1 / 2 cups half and half
2 Tbsp maple syrup
The leafy tops of the celery stalks, chopped
1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add chopped celery stalks and leek, sauté about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 2 minutes.
2. Add sweet potatoes, chicken stock, cinnamon stick, and nutmeg; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
3. Remove cinnamon stick and discard. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return to pot.
4. Add half and half and maple syrup and stir over medium-low heat to heat through. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool soup slightly. Cover and refrigerate soup and celery leaves separately. Bring soup to simmer before continuing.) Ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with celery leaves.

Strawberry Green Onion Topped Brie
Recipe by Me
1 wheel of brie cheese
3 TBS chopped green onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup strawberry jam

1. Preheat over to 350 F.
2. In small saucepan, saute green onions and garlic with 1 tsp olive oil. Add strawberry jam and mix until heated through.
3. Place brie on greased cookie sheet and top with jam mixture.
4. Cook for about 5-8 minutes or until melted in the middle.
5. Serve with sliced apples, pears, or crackers.

Sauteed Garlic Scapes
Recipe from

3 / 4 lb fresh garlic stems
1 1 / 2 tablespoons blended sesame / soy bean oil or vegetable oil
Stir Fry Sauce:
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon pure toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
2 green or spring onion, chopped
1 / 2 bunch chives, chopped
2 cloves garlic, rough chopped
1. Wash garlic stems in cold water and drain well.Cut stems into one inch lengths.
2. Heat a pan over high heat then add oil.Add garlic stems and stir fry until tender, three to four minutes.
3. Add soy sauce, sugar, and salt and cook for an additional one to two minutes. Add optional ingredients and sesame oil and cook for 30 seconds.
4. Transfer to serving dish and garnish with sesame seeds.

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