Let’s Talk Lunch

Two months have whirled by in Korea and I am finally on the up and up. My six-week-long cold ended up being a chest infection and I spent a lot of time resting and recuperating. I’m happy to report I’ve since spent more time socializing and getting to venture around my area now that I’m feeling well. I’d like to think a big part of the healing process came through both modern medicine (thanks to my English speaking doctor and pharmacist across the street!) and the scratch made meals every day at school.

Clockwise: spicy chicken with vegetables, orange slices, kimchi, potatoes with peppers and ham, cabbage soybean soup and white rice with purple forbidden rice

School lunches are always a hot topic, but especially with last year’s video of Japanese lunch culture surging again in popularity. I know there were mixed reactions from people, particularly in regards to the kids cooking, preparing, serving and cleaning up the meals. However, there are many similarities here in Korea when it comes to school lunches. For example, at both of my schools (and nearly all in Korea) all students and staff eat lunch together at the same time in the cafeteria. Everyone eats lunch from the cafeteria, as it’s the norm and seen as a good way to bond with other classmates and coworkers while eating. It’s also a great way to partake in a hearty, healthy meal that doesn’t break the bank for about $4.00 a lunch.

Clockwise: Korean pear, spicy sesame tofu, kimchi radish greens, yukgaejang (spicy beef and vegetable soup) and rice with millet

School lunches in Korea are what every parent hopes their child will be served: a variety of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and protein. They’re as balanced as possible and use a plethora of produce and ingredients sourced from within Korea. My school even has a little garden where some of the vegetables for lunch are grown! I’ve developed a love for the steel lunch trays that perfectly divide each dish and keep it from spilling over into the next compartment. It’s also the best way to taste a bit of this and that without getting overwhelmed with one item. This is especially beneficial on days when I’m fond of one banchan (side dish) over another and I haven’t committed to just one of them as a side dish, which would be more typical in a Western meal.

On average, 3-4 lunches every week have been pescatarian, highlighting all kinds of seafood, soybean sprouts or tofu. I say pescatarian because even though there may not be visible fish or shellfish in the dish, dried seafood and fermented seafood sauces are used to enhance the flavor and aroma of many dishes. Kimchi is also to be expected, whether it be the more common napa cabbage version to diced radish or even radish greens.

Clockwise: chili onions and carrots, grape frozen yogurt, smoked duck, tofu cabbage soup and white rice with purple forbidden rice

I’m allergic to tree nuts, but there’s maybe one or two days out of the whole month where there will be a dish with nuts in it. My main co-teacher, Koo, not only prints the lunch menus out for me each month, but she highlights the dishes that contain nuts. My Hangul is a work in progress, so it’s life saving that she translates the information for me! There are eighteen dietary restrictions designated on the menu, so you know there is great care that goes into making sure everyone stays safe from whichever item(s) may be a problem.

I can’t complain about the mostly favorable and hot meals I get Monday through Friday, along with the feeling of comradery with my co-teachers and students. They’re also a far cry from the lukewarm meat casserole and mushy vegetable blends I had for school lunch as a kid. Not saying this can’t hit the spot from time to time, but the lunches here are colorful and vibrant. You can also tell the cafeteria kitchen team puts pride and care into the dishes they cook and serve up with a smile and Mashikehmogoseyo, which means “Please enjoy your meal.” I look forward to every school lunch when I can taste and experience a new Korean dish!

What are some school lunches that stick out in your mind? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Checking in from Korea

March 19th marks the one month anniversary of my time here in Korea. I’ve packed so much into this initial month and I figured it was time for an update to share what I’ve been up to since landing in the currently very cold South Korea!

The flights over were incredibly long, but bearable. The Olympics were still going on at the time and we even had a few athletes on our flight, which was cool. Orientation was the first week and a half and consisted of heavily scheduled days and nights filled with classes on everything from learning Korean to general information on being an English teacher in Korea. We even had a fun field trip day out to Jeonju Hanok Village. The highlight of this, for me, was learning the history behind Bibimbap in the birthplace of Bibimbap! In Korean, bibim means mixed and bap means rice. Therefore, the dish literally translates to mixed rice. Our teacher emphasized the importance of using odds and ends of whatever vegetables you have on hand to craft the dish. Basically, Bibimbap has been on the food waste fight train long since before it became trendy. You can’t be mad about that or with how gorgeous the dish looks below!

Bibimbap from Jeonju Hanok Village

The last day of orientation we found out where our teaching placements were. Native English Teachers (NET aka myself) are placed all over South Korea, with a different NET teaching at a different elementary, middle and/or high school. I’ll be honest, I freaked out when I found out I was placed in Pocheon. Try googling it. Nothing pops up and if it does, it’s all desolate farmland. After many long, deep breaths and waiting to see where I actually lived before freaking out further, I thanked my lucky stars when I discovered my apartment is in the town of Songu-ri, one of the most populated and accessible towns in Pocheon. I also knew I was going to be okay when my school took me out for a welcome dinner to the most swaggy Korean barbecue restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. The photo below may make you drool in hunger, beware. They also call Songu-ri the Gangnam of Pocheon. If you’ve heard Psy’s song Gangnam Style (here’s a refresher for you, in case you need one), then you know Gangnam is an extremely affluent area of not only Seoul, but South Korea, in general. Restaurants and shops are bountiful and varied. My apartment is mere steps from anything I could possibly need. If you’ve watched my Instagram stories, you also know of my new obsession, Homeplus. I can walk there in two minutes to grab groceries, houseware needs, clothes and anything in between.

Galbi (seasoned beef) sizzling away

I teach at two elementary schools, one that’s a 15-minute bus ride out into the country and one that’s a 15-minute walk from my apartment. I teach grades 3-6, which is different because of Korean age. This would equate to around 2nd-5th grade in the states. I’m enjoying both schools, but really like the school I’m at out in the country. I teach there more days of the week and teach the after school classes. I’ve had more of a chance to bond with the kids and especially loved our lesson this week on St. Paddy’s Day and Dr. Seuss.

Reading Dr. Seuss and noshing on Green Eggs and Ham

My Korean is still shabby, but I’m practicing every day and picking up more words as I go along. I live in an area where very few people speak English outside of my school, so learning Korean is a must. When all else fails, thank goodness for Google Translate. It has saved me on more than one occasion!

That’s all for now, but stay tuned for next month’s post on all the great Korean dishes I’ve been dining on so far. Until then, follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for updates!

TNC Foodtracks Vol. 3

Here’s my last stateside Foodtracks for a while. Thanks to all my sweet friends for making these family dinners and food memories happen before I leave. It’s been bittersweet being able to spend time with everyone before I venture off to the other side of the world, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. See you on the other side for Vol. 4 in South Korea!

1. Mama Carlton’s Bolognese

Deep in the heart of Duplin County lives some of the sweetest people, specifically the Carlton family. Mama Carlton whipped this up for us on our girl’s trip and I still lick my lips and daydream of how great this Bolognese is. Slightly spicy, tons of vegetables and yummy pork sausage. I mean, it is DuCo, after all!

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2. Quinn & Paten‘s Chicken and Pastry

The Soulfull Sisters continued their hospitality in the Triangle by sharing a piece of their family history with me in the tangible, tantalizing form of chicken and pastry. This version uses Anne’s pastry with crisp sweet peas and egg for added texture.

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3. Gran’s Chicken and Pastry and Southern Hospitality Spread

Sweet Gran lives down in Four Oaks and uses Atkinson’s pastry in her chicken and pastry. Not to be outdone by that delicious dish in and of itself, she crafted a bounty of all the area’s finest: creamed corn, butter beans, field peas, hush puppies, pickles and relishes and chicken salad.

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4. Mocktails with The Whimsy One

Nothing better than fizzy seltzer with a heavy splash of lemon juice. Refreshing in the middle of winter or on a scorching summer day. Bonus points for the gorgeous mug and garnishing ala Tony B.

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What’s in my bag?

After scouring the internet for all things South Korea and suggested items to pack, I’ve finally consolidated the list and feel confident I have enough of the comfort staples to get me through the year without feeling like I’m bringing all of my worldly possessions along for the ride. Korea is also a readily-accessible country, so I’ll most definitely be shopping at local shops, too. I’m also thankful for the friends who will be able to visit and bring me any items from home I may be missing.

Clothes

I love a good deal on wardrobe items I need, along with hitting the thrift store racks to supplement other clothing essentials. My work dress code will be pretty casual, but I’ve packed a few pairs of dressier pants and casual pants to alternate, depending on the weather and occasion. The majority of the blouses/shirts I’m taking are easily packed without wrinkling, which will be great not only for packing but when I wash them in Korea. I’ve heard washers are readily available in apartments, but not dryers. So that’ll be great when having to air dry everything.

Shoes

Who doesn’t love shoes? When it comes to shoes, I’m all about efficiency in them for multiple occasions, as well as ones that will be comfortable enough to withstand the wear and tear of many miles spent exploring a new country. I’ve packed a variety including boots for the extreme winter weather as well as my latest obsession, flats from Rothy’s. I’ll be packing a pair of cozy Tieks along for the adventure, too.

Work essentials

All the necessary needs not only for teaching, but for documenting my time abroad! Laptop, tablet, phone and GoPro (now you know why I really needed that GoPro, right, Elliot?!) along with all the appropriate adapters so I can properly charge up without frying them when I’m in Korea. I purchased one universal adapter (pictured in next section), as well as a few individual adapters specific to adapt to a C/E/F outlet. It was relieving to see a majority of my electronics were already in the right voltage range for both the U.S. and Korea. Here’s a handy little reference guide if you haven’t had to deal with this issue before. Another thing I made sure to do before leaving is convert my money from U.S. dollars to Korean won. Just one less thing to check off the list now and not stress about once I land in Seoul.

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South Korean money is pretty

General travel essentials

I fly often for work, but it’s not my favorite pastime. Anything I can do to make this upcoming 19 hour flight more relaxing, I will do! First off, this travel pillow is a beast because it’s super supportive as well as offering “cooling” or “warming” sides. Water bottles are key to keep me hydrated and keep me moving back and forth to the bathroom. Another sexy accessory I will be rocking are compression socks. DVT is real, people, and I do not want to experience it! I also bought a Brita water bottle to use for when I land in Korea, as I’ve read the chlorine taste is strong in the water. I’m a little obsessed with dental hygiene, so as you can see, I am bringing my own stash of toothpaste, too. Not pictured are the many toothbrushes and dental floss to accompany them.

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A few travel staples

Snacks

South Korea is a mecca for all foods I love, but snacks are essential to tide me over in the interim times between traveling and settling into my new home. I also think most people have some sort of portable snack in their bag at any given moment. Or am I biased because I hang out with dietitians and that’s our normal?! Seeing as I’ll be in orientation for a week or so before setting up my apartment, it’s going to be even more crucial I have these on hand so I don’t get hangry. Nobody wants that, regardless of what country you’re in.

88 Acres bars, seed butter and granola

Hannah from 88 Acres was so generous to provide a slew of samples for me when I let her know I was moving out of country and looking for nut-free, portable protein options! These goodies hit the spot and are perfect if you don’t have a huge sweet tooth (me). They’re packed with enough ingredients and flavor going on so as not to just rely on the “sweetness” so common in many bars I’ve tried in the past. I’m really digging their triple berry bars because the tartness from the berries perfectly balance out the slightly salty, crunchy seed blend. The dark chocolate & sea salt seednola has been awesome over plain coconut yogurt for an afternoon pick-me-up or a late night snack. Lastly, their dark chocolate sunflower seed butter is HEAVEN. The richness of the dark chocolate flavor hits the spot for me when I want to dip an apple or pear into something or, let’s be honest, just a spoonful by itself!

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Thanks for the samples, 88 Acres!

Somersault Life Co.‘s sea salt and dutch cocoa sunflower seed crunchy bites

These bad boys have been in the snack rotation for a couple of years now. Again, I prefer salty over sweet items, so the sea salt ones satisfy when I need a savory snack on the run. I’m also the person who prefers 70%+ dark chocolate, so their dutch cocoa bites are equally addicting. The true cocoa flavor is almost bitter and I love it. Sometimes I’ll even put a few of each in a snack container so I get my fix of both. Super wild, right?

This is by no means comprehensive of everything that made it into my two suitcases and two backpacks for the trip, but I figured it’d be fun to share to see what I thought I needed and look at it later to see if there were a few things I could’ve done with or without.

What do you pack when you’re traveling? Does my list match up with some of your must-haves? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog so you can stay updated with my adventures in Korea!

TNC Goes to South Korea

Well, it looks like I’m heading to South Korea!

I’ve been accepted to teach English as a foreign language in South Korea and will be moving there in February. This once in a lifetime experience was presented to me and I jumped at the chance to take on this new opportunity. I’ll be teaching for one year in Gyeonggi, the province surrounding Seoul in northwestern South Korea.

As a GET (Guest English Teacher), I’ll be able to explore two of my passions: teaching and cultural cuisine. This position will allow me to tour through the food and nutrition of South Korea as well as build upon my teaching and culinary skills. I can’t wait to teach the elementary kids English by incorporating fun cooking and nutrition topics into the mix, too!

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I’ve always wanted to travel to South Korea and I can’t wait to venture throughout the country to absorb what makes each city so unique and special. I’m also super excited as a few friends are already planning to visit me while I’m there. I know that’ll help cure some of the homesickness I’m sure to feel at one point or another!

Of course, I do have some nerves about moving halfway across the world. It’d be silly to say it’s only going to be all butterflies and daisies. However, I know it ultimately will be a great experience to challenge myself and grow as a person both professionally and personally. I hope you stick along for the ride to see my adventures here and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Have you been to South Korea? Do you have any must-see sights or must-stop food spots? Comment below so I can check them out!

Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss next week’s post on what I’m packing for the big move!

Easy Three Pasta

A new year is here, but there’s one thing that won’t change. Simple, nutritious recipes on my blog! This one can’t get any easier. Three ingredients: sauce, pasta and protein/veggies of choice. Yes, that’s it! You can get more creative with it to add in bits of this and that you may have leftover in the fridge, but you can’t go wrong with the original three ingredients.

The real standout for this one is Nellino’s Sauce. Nellino’s Sauce comes in three flavors: Marinara, Hot & Spicy and Pomodoro. Each has their own distinct, yet subtle flavor profile without being overwhelming. Nellino’s is also the only brand I’ve had where I didn’t need to doctor it up with this or that to be palatable. If you haven’t tried Nellino’s yet, I suggest giving them a try for this recipe. Not only does the sauce taste great, they are huge proponents in giving back to the local food community through their #SauceSelfie social media campaign.

Easy Three Pasta

Ingredients:

One (24 oz.) jar of Nellino’s Sauce, any flavor
One pound of cooked pasta, any variety (whole wheat, gluten free, high fiber)
One pound of cooked protein (shredded pork, ground turkey, soy crumbles) or roasted vegetables

Directions:

1. Mix together all ingredients until well combined.
2. Serve Easy Three Pasta hot or cold, diner’s choice!

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Easy Three Pasta

A big thank you to Neal McTighe, owner of Nellino’s Sauce Co., for the product samples. They’ve been put to good use!

TNC Bites at Little Caesars Arena

Thanksgiving break included not only a visit to see family, but also the amazing opportunity to see the ins-and-outs of the new Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit. This mammoth houses the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Pistons and many other entertainment acts throughout the year. We received an all-inclusive tour from Mike Berend (Director of Hospitality) and Tim Martin (General Manager). With a combined career total of over 50 years in hospitality, it’s safe to say these guys know just what it takes to successfully run an entertainment arena seating anywhere between 19,500-20,000 people, depending on the night.

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Pristine arena prior to puck drop

 

This season marks the 100th anniversary of the National Hockey League (NHL), which has given fans many years to admire stadiums across North America while watching one of the most exciting sports, ice hockey! What better way to celebrate this momentous year than by opening the doors of Little Caesars Arena. After attending a game and then receiving the tour, it’s certainly any die hard Red Wings fan’s heaven.

Mike and Tim both work for the arena, but hospitality operations are ultimately run by Delaware North. Tim shared that Delaware North is a company focused on culinary inspiration and talent. All chefs employed by the company must be certified in order for them to maintain the quality of their operations around the world. This is evident in the many company-branded restaurant concepts throughout Little Caesars Arena. Delaware North initially started selling popcorn at movies before branching out to the original Tigers stadium to sell hot dogs and popcorn. This partnership was Delaware North’s first Major League Baseball client back in 1930 and it really is something to see them still working together nearly 90 years later.

From top to bottom, this eight-floor arena covers everything you could ever fathom of needing at a game, concert or event. Upon driving up to the stadium, it’s visually unlike any other stadium I’ve been to. The exterior is brick, blending in seamlessly with the other downtown buildings. Once inside, you feel like you’re walking around a mall, as the arena itself is set back, giving patrons plenty of room to peruse and walk around looking at the restaurants, swag stands and concession stands. There are so many dining options to choose from, regardless of what your taste buds may be in the mood for. Don’t be worried if you’re looking for the original popcorn and hot dogs, those are still available, too!

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Cheesesteak all the way with peppers and onions

Little Caesars Arena features six types of club level experiences to partake in that all receive VIP parking, concierge service and all-inclusive food and beverages. The most badass (sorry Mom, no other synonym will do) of the six has to be the Comerica Players Club level. This club features a glass lined hallway so you can view the players coming on and off the ice. You can also view plenty of player and team history photos and statistics on the back of the club (in the photo below).  I mean, talk about the ultimate fan experience. In order to take in any of the club experiences, you have to be a season ticket holder. However, if anyone’s looking to get rid of an extra ticket over the next few weeks, I’ll be in town. Can’t hurt to throw that out there, right?!

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A History of Excellence at the back of Comerica Players Club

Whether you’re a Red Wings fan or not, you need to add Little Caesars Arena to your stadium bucket list. The rich history and love of Detroit is clear, as it’s been integrated throughout the stadium in the materials used and from the lively people working inside. Lastly, a huge thank you to Mike and Tim for taking time to show us every nook and cranny of Little Caesars Arena on game day. We can’t wait to head back!