Monday, February 14, 2011

Chocolate Cake

Ahh Valentine’s Day. A time for love, candies, roses, movies so sappy they hurt to watch. Romantic dinners, Hallmark cards. La di da…

And of course we all know what my favorite part of this Valentine’s season is...


In Korea, we’re lucky to have not one, but two Valentine’s Days… kind of. The first, the typical February 14th edition, is the day when girls take their male partners out and buy them things and give them chocolates and whatnot. (Hmmpf) A month later, however, Koreans celebrate White Day, the day when boys reciprocate the kindness of their superawesomegirlfriends and take their girls out and spoil them with chocolates and gifts and so on. This two separate Valentine’s Days situation works well for me – as a single girl at present, I don’t have to spend anything on a guy come Monday, but as long as I have found myself a boy by March 14th, I get to reap the benefits of White Day. For free. Win win win.

But I digress. Monday is Valentine’s Day, and in honor of the holiday I decided to 1) spend some time with Kimchi, my furry little Valentine (who is significantly less furry after a certain recent haircutting snafu… I asked them to take just a little off, and they left just a little on. Don’t expect puppy pictures anytime soon…) and 2) bake a cake.

Wait just a second, you might be asking yourself. Didn’t you say back in July of last year how unlikely it would be for you to bake a cake, much less find an oven in Korea? Well dear readers, the time has come for me to admit to a six-month long blonde moment…

So my apartment came with a tiny toaster oven comparable in size to an EZ Bake oven. At most, it can potentially hold maybe two cupcakes at a time, tops. We’re talking tiny. Even worse, the temperatures on the dial start at 70 and max out at 230, meaning that to bake anything worth baking, I would need to leave it in the oven for maybe twice as long as usual, probably longer. It hardly seemed worth the effort to figure out such a tiny and strikingly inconvenient little toaster oven…

However, as I checked the weather one morning, it dawned on me that like everything else in Korea, the oven temperatures were probably just written in this Celsius thing the rest of the world uses. Whomp whomp. Intuitively it should have clicked months prior that there would be no reason for the lowest setting on any oven to be 70 degrees (or room temperature). Needless to say, I’m embarrassed for myself (and worried about the futures of these poor kids I’m supposed to be educating, dear lord!), but simultaneously thrilled to have a working, (albeit still tiny) oven at my disposal.

So back to this chocolate cake I keep digressing from. I haven’t baked a cake in months, much less one entirely from scratch, but with a complete absence of Betty Crocker and Dunkin Hines boxes in my local Emart (combined with my diet which prohibits processed foods, preservatives, and ingredients I can’t pronounce), scratch turned out to be the way to go. Still having no Internet in my apartment (thanks to my now-shaved puppy and her teething tendencies…), I decided to keep it simple and follow the recipe on the back of the box of cocoa my parents so lovingly sent me from the states months ago.

Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake
2 c. sugar
1 ¾ c. all-purpose flour
¾ c. cocoa
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 c. milk
½ c. vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. boiling water

Although my natural- food diet is markedly accommodating of desserts, so long as they use just a few preservative free ingredients (making dark chocolate covered strawberries a veritable health-food), the very first ingredient alone made me start to shake with diabetes. I tried to think of substitutions I could make, but not having the trusty Internet to help me, I decided to do the next best thing and just make a half recipe. Whew. Same thing with the frosting…

“Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Frosting
1 stick (1/2 c. butter)
2/3 c. Cocoa
3 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups of powdered sugar?!?! Holy size 35 batman, it’s no wonder Americans are getting more and more obese! Even my flexible dessert-friendly diet couldn’t accommodate this one. I made a little less than half the frosting recipe, and tossed some chopped walnuts on top to trick myself into thinking I’m being healthy.

Voila! Although it is far from the most beautiful cake creation I’ve ever made, it’s my first janky Korean cake, and given my tiny oven and outright refusal to put a grand total of 5 cups of sugar into anything, I couldn’t be happier.

Happy Valentine’s Day!
- Christine –

Macro Mode

When I first moved to Korea, I was concerned about Bucheon not being a big enough city. I wasn’t really looking for it to be a Korean NYC, per se, but I wanted to make sure it was big enough to give me the urban feeling absent from my life in Ohio for the past however- many years.

Six months later, I’ve settled into my city lifestyle, adjusted to there being a 9-lane freeway outside my front door and a rainbow of lights lining the street that literally never turn off. I’m used to relying on bustling public transportation, vying my way for the next taxi in line, and having a coffee in hand wherever I go. You would think that at some point the novelty would wear off, that I would occasionally miss the quiet country bumpkin lifestyle I had back home, but there’s something so engaging and inspiring about living in this city amongst so many people who can’t speak my language, that I’m really going to struggle leaving!

I think part of my positive regard for Bucheon, as for city life in general, comes from the fact that I think there’s something inherently beautiful about cities. I’m not arguing that cities are beautiful in a traditional sense. Matching buildings blend together in grayish monotones of cement and concrete. Cigarette butts lie scattered on the gradually cracking pavement. Tacky neon signs light up at night, extending on for miles. Litter lies abandoned in the gutters, and on everything rests a thin layer of black grime. Of course, none of this is particular to Bucheon alone, rather the same could be said of every city I’ve ever visited.

I think what makes cities seem beautiful to me, in part, is the textures. From the patterns of the sidewalks to the grainy look of the asphalt on the streets to the intricate details on drain covers, to me, there’s something simply artistic about these little intricacies we pass over every day without notice.

Thanks to the fabulous Nikki Raasch, I discovered the macro setting on my camera, and decided to start documenting what I mean. In this group of pictures, I focused on mundane textures that I found around me in Bucheon. There’s nothing intrinsically Korean about any of these pictures, these sights are more or less universal and could be captured in almost any city in the world.

(Note: Feel free to click on the images, most of them look MUCH better full sized! Also remember this is my first time using macro mode, so please forgive me if I did it wrong…)

Thank you for humoring my faux-artsyness yet again. Finishee!
- Christine -