One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Sunday, December 26, 2010

7 Step Recipe for a Korean Christmas

I thought it would be unbearably hard to spend Christmas thousands of miles away from home in a country that doesn't really celebrate the holiday. (Korea has a fairly large Christian population as far as Asian countries are concerned.  However, Christmas is celebrated on a much smaller scale. I would say its a lot less commercialized.  For example: I asked my co-teacher if she was celebrating Christmas and, if so, what she was getting her (adorably cute) 3 year old daughter, Cherim. She said that she was getting her practice chopsticks (They're connected at the top to teach children learn how to use them. They're kind of like twisters.) and a pair of red shoes.  Christmas, I've learned is a much bigger holiday for couples than for families. It's a huge date night.)  So. Was it hard? Yeah, but I had a few things that made this season feel a little bit more like Christmas for me.

Korean Christmas Souffle Recipe
  • a sprinkle of snow
  • 3 teaspoons of gingerbread men cookies
  • a generous dose (roughly 1 cup) of a family substitute
  • a touch (5 grams) of Santa Claus
  • 4 tablespoons of holiday food
  • 1pack (250 grams) of skyping with friends and family
prep time: 1 month      cooking time: 20 minutes

Step 1: sprinkle a touch of snow (or more to your liking) in a medium sized mixing bowl.
With perfect seasonal timing, we experienced our first snow in Daejeon about 2 weeks ago.  Korea doesn't see much snow (no more than a few centimeters at a time and mostly melted by midday), but even the smallest amount seems to coax holiday songs from my lips.  What was that?  "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!" or "Dashing through the snow on a one horse open sleigh.." 

Admittedly, I was just as excited for the first snowfall as the kids were. During the 10 minute breaks between classes you could find (me and) dozens of the kids playing outside in the snow-- the girls were delicately crafting small snowmen while the boys taunted them with their increasing larger balls of snow with aims of either A) driving them away screaming, leaving no trace that a snow figure was ever there at all or B) provoking the girls to retaliate with their own equally large snow ball. I was there to capture evidence.

This is one of my first graders. I shouldn't have favorites, but inevitably, I do. Every time I see him in the hall he literally runs to me and yells "Jessica 선생님!" and grabs me around the waist.   선생님 translates to "teacher." Its romanization is "seon-saeng-nim," but for those who are not good at linguistics, myself included, to me it sounds like "sun-sang-nim."  Funny story about this boy. He peeped his head into the teachers office one day and saw that I was sitting at my desk. "Jessica seon-saeng-nim!" I motioned for him to come over. I keep candy in my desk for anytime the kids in class need extra incentive and I also keep stickers for letters. I placed both in his hand, "shhh,(motioning my finger to my mouth) It's a secret."  He scampered off. Twenty minutes later (like a modern day pied piper), he came back to my office with 4 others in toe.  I had to laugh. I gave them the same treatment. So much for secrecy.  
Step 2:  add 3 teaspoons of Gingerbread men cookies to your sprinkle of snow. Stir well.
Jella (my main co-teacher) and I held a party for class 5-8. (They've been our observation class for 2 open classes and have put in a lot of extra practice and hard work this semester). With it being close to Christmas, I was dying to make gingerbread cookies for the party.  Some of the women in the subject teachers office wanted to help make them. Pictures as follows:

From the left: Jella, Ms. Ahn, the Science subject teacher (I'm not sure on her name), Mrs. Kim, and Shi On. They are all leaving next year (Korean teachers rotate schools every 5 years. Sometimes more frequently than that.) I will miss them so much.

Note: I did Mrs. Kim's hair (back right). Sometimes we have hair shop in the office. We joke that we're going to open a hair and bakery shop.  "hair -10 dolla'! cookie- 2 dolla!'"

Gingerbread cookies!

None of them were familiar with gingerbread cookies prior to this, but they were all eager to cut the shapes and decorate them. It made me smile.

This is class 5-8s party. The next two photos are pictures of the presentation they made for Jella and I. It consisted of singing and dancing. I couldn't tell you what it was about though.

The girls from class 5-8

Having spent so much time with 5-8, I've gotten closer to these kids. Each student and I took a picture together in what Jella called the gingerbread man cookie ceremony. She insisted that each of them hold up their cookie for the picture. They later got copies.

Step 3: Add a generous dose (or roughly 1 cup) of a family substitute with whom to spend Christmas to your snow/gingerbread mixture.  Beat with an electric mixer until light, fluffy peaks form.
You can't spend Christmas alone and this year I spent it with a really wonderful group of EPIK teachers. We went to dinner on Christmas Eve at a traditional Korean restaurant (the kind where you sit on the floor and cook the food on burners on the table in front of you.) We went back to Megan and John's apartment, the couple that hosted the party, drank wine, played games, and eventually passed at around 4 in the morning. Megan, our expert chef, woke up early on Christmas to make everyone breakfast. I eased out of a comatose state with the sounds of a hushed conversation from the kitchen, a sizzling and popping sound and with the smell of bacon in the air.

Step 4: In a separate bowl add a touch (or roughly 5 grams) of Santa Claus.
Santa made it to Korea! We had planned to do a secret Santa gift exchange and stockings for Christmas. Everyone brought their own stocking and  bought a gift for another person and 11 small items to be stuffed into all of the stockings.  After breakfast everyone broke into their gifts from Santa.

Step 5: Mix 4 tablespoons of holiday food into the Santa bowl. Fold Holiday and Santa mixture into the snow/gingerbread/family substitute mixture. Start on the outside and fold inwards.
We had a really delicious Christmas meal around midday. Our master chef provided us with all of the holiday essentials: ham, stuffing, cooked carrots, corn pudding, cooked cabbage, and roasted potatoes.

Step 6: Pour the souffle mixture into a pan and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  While the souffle is baking, melt a pack (250 grams) of Skyping family and friends in a medium sauce pan. Once the souffle has cooled, drizzle over the top.
I got to call my family on Christmas Eve and skype them on Christmas day. They weren't expecting the call on Christmas Eve. My dad answered the phone. "Hey Dad" pause "Hey baby!" Then came my tears. I can be a pretty emotional person (I've always been this way, I accept it now), but something about that man can melt my heart and make me cry more than any person I know. He's aware that it embarrasses me when I have these spells. We have an unspoken agreement that he doesn't draw attention to it.  My mom and sister jumped on the other phone lines and we talked for a good hour. (I'll be curious to see that phone bill. yikes!)

The next day for them (that evening for me) they skyped me in for presenting "opening."  Why is "opening" in quotes you ask?  Isn't that what you do with presents? You open them.  Well, yes, for most families, that is what you do; but mine, bless them, is special. Non-traditionalists, non-conformists, .. call them what you will.  They explained that not one of them actually wrapped anything this year. They put the presents on the kitchen table (because they didn't put up the tree) and threw a blanket over the top. Then when it was time for gift giving, like a magician ripping a table cloth off a set table, surprise! There are the presents!  I'd be lying if I said that I didn't love them for this quark. I've already threatened them with a very festive Christmas next year to make up for the one this year.

Step 7: Cut into the Korean Christmas Souffle and enjoy. Repeat.


  1. Jessie. You are the most adorable thing ever. And I love and miss you. :-D Thanks for sharing your Korean Christmas with us! I enjoyed reading.

  2. Also, I LOVE that picture of the three little girls in the snow! Also, you look super beautiful in all of the pictures. Love that white sweater!

  3. Also, my mom says "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!"
    hahaha sorry to dominate your comments :-)

  4. Love ur outfits and sure does seem like you have had a good christmas there and different as well i i expect some chopsticks from down there as my gift in the next festive christmas that you have planned already!!!

  5. Thanks Jen. I love you. The picture of the 3 girls is one of my favorites too! They're posing, but something about it feels really candid too. Maybe the falling snow gives it that feel. Tell your mom that I say Happy Holidays!

    Thanks Laxmi. You got it, girl. Chopsticks are coming your way!

  6. I am glad you got to spend time with your family via Skype and I am the same way with my dad they just have a way of bringing tears to our eyes..I love you and miss you tons! Hope you have a wonderful new year!

  7. Hi, I'm an English teacher in Korea now and am on the hunt for gingerbread men! Where'd/How'd you get those?!

  8. Hey Jennie! I made them. I had to make some substitutions and omit other ingredients from a standard gingerbread recipe.. BUT they still taste like gingerbread, in my opinion. A few things: ground ginger (obviously, is the most important ingredient) and it can be difficult to find, but I know that you can buy it online for sure. Also, you can find whole ginger pretty easily. In which case, you'd have to grind it. I happened to get some from a woman who ground hers. Also, most recipes call for molasses and you can't find that here in Korea, but I used syrup and added brown sugar to make it darker and sweeter. It's close enough. Those were the two big things.. the rest you should be able to find.. including gingerbread cookie cutters in home plus or e-mart. Hope this helps =)