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Friday, December 03, 2010

A New Favorite Blog

I've recently been reading a lot of this blog called "Casaubon's Book." The author, Sharon Astyk, "writes about dark things - our long history of demographic and ecological crisis, and how they may play out again. " In an attempt to establish "a way of life with a future, using a fair share of the world's resources,"she and her husband moved to upstate New York, where "now she's up to her knees in chickens and laundry, milking goats, making jam and splitting wood, while also writing books and this blog about food, energy, climate change and whatever else strikes her fancy."

Sounds pretty great, right? It's always a good day when she posts something new. It's even better, though, when she does a year-in-review post and links to her 10 or so best articles, all of which were new to me. I'll pass on a few of the ones most relevant to me and my issues:

"Should Americans Cut and Run?" is about the dilemma faced by Americans - or anyone else, for that matter - who are frustrated with or terrified of the path their country is heading along: stay where you are and try to make it work, or head somewhere where things are already better? I'm often occupied with thoughts of this sort; should I stay in Korea and find a farm? Go back to the States? Head to India or China? I've also been asked, both in India and in Korea, both rudely and politely, why I didn't stay in my own country to do my good. Astky decided to stay put; the article explains why.

Fairness, Personal Action and Al Gore's House" gives her take on why it's important to make small changes (small in terms of the size of the problem, not in terms of the effort or sacrifice required). I'm often asked why I bother eating vegan and riding my bike when, in the grand scheme of things, I'm pretty insignificant. I often ask myself, too. Her answer is fairly compelling.

"Blood on Our Hands: Dealing Ethically With the Problems of Husbandry," on why she and her family choose to raise and slaughter animals on their farm. Also convincing. If I were an apprentice at her farm, I don't think I'd stay vegan.

"Why I Hate Earth Day," concerning...uh...why she hates Earth day. Sounds weird coming from an environmentalist, but it's true. I hate it too.

If that's not enough, there's a sequel: "Why I Hate Earth Day II: The Road to Hell in Baby Steps"

I like to think she's a lot like me, except smarter, and she writes better, and she has more followers, and she lives on a farm. I suppose that's what a role model is??? So, if you like my blog, you will probably like hers more. And if you don't like mine, well, maybe you'll like hers more, because it's better. Or maybe, for that same reason, you'll like it less. I don't know. Have a look.

Unauthorized Guest Post 크는 먹걸리 만들었댕

My future round-the-world-bike-trip accomplice has just done a most awesome thing: made his own Makkeoli (a kind of traditional Milky rice wine). I immediately felt that, thanks to its themes of food independence and deliciousness and such, it would fit in very well in my Mat-nan Masticatables section, which is kind of hurting for content.

Follow the link to the original, or just read on.

막걸리 만들기!!!! Making Makgeolli!!!!

I finally made the attempt, and I'm happy to report that not only am I not blind, but I just finished off my first cup of cool, refreshing, 내가 직접 만든 makgeolli! Actually they sell commercially produced makgeolli here at the grocery store, but it's not refrigerated, and has been imported, so I guess it's gone through some sort of pasteurization process or something, resulting in flat, nasty makgeolli. Now the nitty gritty of how to make yummy makgeolli goodness in your own home. Oh and if you'd like to look at the Korean wesbsite where I got the recipe, well click on 'recipe'.


  • 광목천-straining cloth. I used regular old cheesecloth, layered a few times for a finer mesh.
  • A glass jar(s) big enough to hold how much ever makgeolli you want to make
  • A big pot to boil water for sterilizing your glass jars, as well as for steaming your rice
  • Some kind of steaming apparatus for your pot (I just used one of those flower petal-shaped steamers that you put inside a regular pot, but you could use something different)
  • A big plastic or glass bowl for mixing your rice and yeast, as well as for straining your final product
  • Tongs, a big wooden spoon, maybe even a spreading spatula would be nice
  • Glass or plastic bottles/jars to hold your finished product


  • 1 part rice. I'm sure Koreans would insist that you use Korean rice, but I used short-grained Japanese sushi rice, because that's what's readily available here. Same same.
  • 1.5 parts water. All the water that goes into your makgeolli needs to be purified in some way, either boil it or use distilled water.
  • 0.007 parts yeast. Regular baking yeast.
  • 0.02 parts 누룩 (nuruk). Nuruk is malted wheat, which is probably only available at strictly Korean grocers. I ended up using the Japanese equivalent, koji, and it seems to have worked well. If I can get my hands on some nuruk, I'll try that next time.

I started with 1.25 cups of rice, not quite 2 cups of water, a quarter package or so of yeast, and a couple teaspoons of koji, and it turned out fine, so I guess precise measurements aren't super important.

Step 1:
Soak your rice for 2~3 hours.

Step 2:
Drain your rice for 1 hour.

Step 3:
Wrap your rice in the cheesecloth, place it in your steamer, and steam for an hour, then let it sit for about 20 minutes. (make sure there is enough water in the steamer)

Step 4:
Remove the rice rice from the steamer (but not the cheese cloth) and spread it out on a flat surface to cool. Mix in your nuruk with a wooden spoon/spatula until it is evenly distributed.

Step 5:
Dissolve your yeast into a very small amount of water.

Step 6:
Put the rice/nuruk mixture, water, and yeast/water mixture into your big glass jar/container, give it a good stir, and seal the lid tightly.

Step 7:
Keep it at room temperature for two days, stirring once or twice a day.

Step 8:
Keeping it at room temperature, remove the lid, replace it with dense cheesecloth rubber-banded to your container's opening. Leave it this way for 5 more days, making sure to stir it a couple times every day.

Step 9:
About now it should be smelling like alcohol, and there should be a layer of alcohol on top and the sediment on the bottom. Your makgeolli may ferment slower or faster, so you may have to experiment with time. If you think it's ready, get your big bowl out, as well as a big sheet of cheesecloth, and pour your little fermentation babies onto the cheesecloth (which is laid out over the bowl). Pour out just enough so that you can wrap the cheesecloth around it and strain out the liquid into the bowl. There shouldn't be much left of the rice, but if your cheesecloth gets clogged, rinse it out under tap water, wring it out, and repeat until you've strained all your makgeolli. Transfer the strained makgeolli into your jars/bottles, refrigerate, and enjoy! Actually the blog I linked to said to let it mature for a few days before drinking, but I didn't notice any difference with mine, but hey whatever you want to do.

Unfortunately, I only remembered to take one photo of my makgeolli, which I will upload shortly.

Monday, November 29, 2010

regnagelppod gnimalf

Some time ago, I quit watching TV because I thought it was too passive. I had great difficulty trying to find any enjoyment in just sitting around for a few hours being enter- or even info-tained. Granted, worthwhile shows and programs and channels exist; but they are few and far between, and even then, are often so filled with commercials that I wonder if, on balance, they do anyone any good.

Nowadays this video-antipathy has spread even to movies, through no conscious decision of my own. Pirated Korean classics and a digital stack of Bergman are filling up my hard drive, but I just get antsy and twitchy when I think about watching them. I can't imagine sitting still for two hours while a bunch of stuff is beamed at my head. There's something about the idea of diversion that makes me uncomfortable; what am I being diverted from and why do I want to be diverted from it? What effect would it have on society if everyone in my position - relatively well-off, well-educated, independent, young - sought the same sort of diversion? Or rather, what effect does it have, given that most do?

This line of thought leads me to prefer doing something "productive" or "educational" or "active" or "self-directed;" anything with a purpose I can be somewhat sure of, even if that purpose is just to get me thinking a little bit. This is one reason why I've been reading a lot lately, so much that I've almost stopped doing my Korean and Chinese flashcards. The other day, though, I ran across a passage - actually, just a pair of words - while reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated that gave me quite a shock.

The words were: "soggy effigy."

I remember that in Donnie Darko, someone claims that "cellar door" is purpoted to be the most beautiful pair of words in English. If that's true, "soggy effigy" has to be the most awkward. Whether it's because of the I'm-not-quite-sure-if-this-is-a-contradiction quality of the phrase (what good is an effigy if you can't burn it?) or if it's because there are not too many English words ending in -gy (search for them all here) and even fewer that you can but back-to-back, or because of something in the stress patterns, the uncanniness of the phrase stopped me in my tracks. I closed the book in mid-sentence to ponder whether or not that combination of words had ever been said before. I was betting it hadn't. What a feat!

A Google search turns up a measly 8 results, 13 if you keep it from filtering out repeats. Out of these eight, one is the version of Everything Is Illuminated on Googlebooks; two are people perhaps very much like me quoting Safran; one is a guy commenting on someone's blog, first saying that he'll urinate on the other's effigy, and then, eventually that he's kicking the soggy (that is, urine-soaked) effigy around [this post comes up twice]; two are from the index of a fairly quacko-looking book called Heart of the Living God by Michael G. Manness, LLC; and one is from some sort of random word generator. As the quack book was published in 2004, the urine comments in 2007, and E.I.I. in 2003, I'd say it's not crazy to conjecture that it might just be possible that that was the first time those two words had ever been put together.

I mentioned all that TV stuff above because, despite my contention that reading was a relatively cerebral, conscious activity, the way the soggy effigy hit me (what sound would that make??) made me realize that, hey, I was reading. Of course, in a banal sense, when reading, one always knows that one is reading. Even when I was sucked in to The Brothers Karamazov and read it twice during one winter back in 2003 or so, I still knew I was turning pages and spending the whole day in my room and probably not getting enough sunlight. But this felt different. I had to stop and reflect for a few moments on the way words were entering my mind, giving rise to thoughts and images and even sensations. On how Foer was nudging me towards anneurysm from across time and space. On how hard it must be to write so that the reader forgets he or she is reading; and yet, at the same time, how hard it is to write so that the reader remembers that he or she is reading, but in the right way. Though these are things that one knows, at some level, it is quite a different thing to feel them, to be schocked back into remembering them, if even for a few minutes. I must say, what I experienced in that moment was nothing other than a truly snazzy epiphany.

I'm very curious: have any of you had similar experiences? Has a pair or trio of words ever kicked you in the face? I'm not talking about an entire thought being superbly, beautifully and poetically expressed*; nor am I talking about an aphorism or one-liner full of wit and wisdom that you still have it memorized**. I'm talking about some incomplete description, just some little hunk of letters, that completely stupefied you for a minute or two, making you think about what's possible, and therefore impossible, in language and in thought.

Quotations from Ogden Nash need not be reported.

*The line I most recall of this sort is from Flaubert's Madame Bovary - "Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers."
**Nietzsche: "Is man merely a mistake of God's? Or God merely a mistake of man's?”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Several Anniversaries in One

I love to count stuff for no reason other than the sheer joy of it. What pleasure in knowing that I spent ninety-seven dollars and twenty three cents on fried rice in 2007, that I save 990 won every time I ride my bike rather than take the bus somewhere, that 22.5 km/h is a good pace on the bike, that it took David 10 months to get through a 2.06 pound container of garlic salt, and that Jamal still owes me $9.37 from college! I'm still disappointed that I haven't used google maps to figure out how far I travelled in Southeast Asia in 2008/2009.

It is thus with many elations that I report the following (pretend it's November 20th):
- Tolstoy died one hundred years ago today and I have still yet to read his "Confessions." I doubt I'll ever read "War and Peace," and I don't even really aspire to.
- I committed myself to vegetarianism precisely one year and six months ago.
- I committed myself to veganism sometime close to one year ago. No exact records were kept.
And, the big one: from the point of view of the present moment,
- I came to Korea 4 years ago, yesterday.
Also, a big event that for a while I thought would be important but which I guess I missed:
- Sometime in over this summer, the amount of time that's passed since I (and a few of you) finished school elapsed the amount of time spent in school. Is there a name for said milestone?