Saturday, 11 January 2014

WWOOF CSA: local, organic goodness delivered to your door

As someone who loves to cook but dislikes supermarkets, CSA is a dream come true. Toiling through crowded aisles and obscure specialty stores in order to find just the right ingredients can be a huge hassle. Add in the component of living in a foreign country where signs and labels are in a different language and going to get the groceries becomes an altogether stressful experience. Thankfully, on January 20, 2014, this can all come to an end for those of us lucky enough to be living in South Korea.

January 20 is the official launch date of WWOOF CSA. This means, if you are living in Korea, you have the opportunity to have fresh organic groceries delivered to your door! When I lived in Moncton, New Brunswick (Canada!), I loved hearing the weekly knock on my door and receiving my local CSA box. However, since moving to Korea, it's been old-fashioned grocery shopping. I am very happy about the WWOOF CSA launch in Korea - it's too bad that our time is coming to an end in 2 short months and we won't be able to enjoy it for very long.

All that aside, I was privileged to receive a sample CSA basket full of great products:

I decided to make the most of the  mushrooms, onions, garlic, and bread to make one of my favourite appetizers: 
Mushroom Ragout on Garlic Crostini.

Here are the pictures of the process followed by the recipe:

Mushroom Ragout

Garlic Crostini


500g mushrooms
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup of diced onions
6 cloves of minced garlic
splash of brandy
splash of red wine vinegar
1/4 water
1/4 cup of sour cream 
salt and pepper to taste 


Mushroom Ragout
- roughly dice mushrooms
- in a sauce pan, put butter and olive oil over medium heat until it foams 
- add mushrooms and a generous pinch of salt
- stir occasionally (mushrooms release A LOT of water-- allow them to boil in their own juices and when water has evaporated they will sauté in the oil and butter)
- Once the mushrooms have started to brown add a splash of Brandy and red wine vinegar
- When the alcohol has evaporated add water and sour cream -- cook for 5-10 mins or until desired consistency
- remove from heat and stir in raw garlic
- add salt and pepper to taste
- Enjoy finished product on crostini, pasta, rice, poached egg -- it goes well with so many things!

This recipe was LARGELY inspired by (stolen from) Chef John.

Garlic Crostini

- Preheat oven to 180 degrees
- Arrange baguette slices on a baking sheet; drizzle both sides with olive oil and season with salt
- bake until golden (8-10 mins on each side)
- remove from oven and rub the top side of each hot crostini with a clove of raw garlic
- cool to room temperate and enjoy!

For more information on WWOOF CSA check out the links below:

Monday, 23 December 2013

3 Winter Warm-up Tips to Combat the Freezing Cold of Korean Winter

It may come as a surprise to you that someone who claims 'The Great White North’ as home, is hardly able to bear the cold Korean winters. But, I have a few good reasons. Although Canada can boast of some of the coldest temperatures imaginable,(I remember, walking around Calgary in -53 with wind chill conditions and thinking I was certain to die at any moment unless I popped into a café for respite), Canadians rarely endure the pain of the cold. We have automatic car starters, well-insulated buildings, and some fortunate Northerners even enjoy wood burning fire places that keep us in t-shirts and shorts throughout even the coldest months. 

In South Korea sustainability trumps comfort when it comes to enduring the elements. SCHOOLS ARE NOT HEATED! Yes, you read that correctly. Public schools are not centrally heated. Thankfully, there ARE heaters in each classroom. However, when you step outside the classroom --to go to the photocopy room or washroom etc-- you must bundle up as though you are tackling the great outdoors. Windows are often open "for fresh air", and the trek from my upstairs classroom to the downstairs washroom is downright blustery. Thankfully, I can report that my school does provide the rare luxury of hot tap water during the winter months, unlike many public buildings, Yongsan Station included!

When I first arrived in Korea, I had no idea how to deal with this situation. I was literally* freezing. My classroom is huge and it takes 20-30 minutes to overcome its cold edge.
*If you think I'm using this word incorrectly
you should click on the link
and get with the times.
As a seasoned expat I now know a few great ways to combat the cold:

                    1. WOOL. WOOL. WOOL.
picture credit: Amanda Trizna
I have always liked the look of wool but found it scratchy and difficult to wash. These problems are small setbacks in comparison to the warmth provided by the preferred coat of the sheep. If you are thinking of moving to Korea --pack lots of wool and don’t forget a nice down filled coat-- you will need this any time you leave your classroom.

2. Jimjillbang
Another great way to warm up during the cold winter months is by visiting your local jimjillbang. After a long day of work, I am sometimes so absolutely chilled to the bone, I feel as though I have been on the ski slopes all day wearing nothing but jeans and a hoodie. The hot tubs and saunas at the jimjillbang are a great way to restore warmth to a body that has been freezing for more or less 8 hours straight.

3. Winter Warmers
I always love starting the day off with a nice cup of hot coffee. But a Korean winter calls for days and nights full of delicious hot drinks with cayenne pepper. Cayenne pepper is not only delicious but it is also extremely healthy and promotes circulation while being a natural decongestant. Here are 3 of the my favourite recipes for warming up from the inside out:

1. Cold potion
1 teaspoon Freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons honey
juice from half a lemon
½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

This delicious drink will warm you up and scare off any bugs that are trying to attack your system. This is the first thing I turn to if I feel a cold approaching. Crank up the cayenne quantity for an extra spicy drink.

2. Homemade Hot Cocoa

2 tablespoons of cocoa
1.5 tablespoons honey
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cayenne
pinch of chili powder
¾ cup of hot milk
¼ cup of boiled water

Adjust the recipe to your taste. I prefer a bitter hot chocolate with a generous pinch of cayenne (you probably won't . . . comment if you do...or if you don't). This delicious drink certainly warms you up from the inside out!

3. Turmeric Milk

1 teaspoon of turmeric
pinch of cayenne
2 teaspoons of honey
½ cup boiling water
½ cup cool milk

This is a nice warm drink to take in the morning as soon as you wake up, or in the evening just before bed. Apparently, turmeric is a great natural way to combat bronchitis and arthritis. I like mixing the drink with hot water and cool milk. It’s easy to drink quickly in the morning and it is the perfect temperature for a absolute comfort in the evening.

Here’s to a happy and warm winter!  

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Part III: Being Sick in South Korea: Recovery and care at Dankook University Hospital

Visiting hours on Day 2 started at 6:30am. I asked the nurse on duty if Josh's white blood count had gone down - it hadn't. I asked about the swelling of his brain: "It is more swollen" she said. Later in the afternoon, during Professor Kim's visit, I discovered that, once again, details had been lost in translation. The nurse had meant that Josh's brain was more swollen than a normal healthy brain- but, in fact, less swollen than it had been the previous day. 

3 times a day --morning, afternoon, and evening-- an attendant would announce when visiting hours were over and 3 times a day I would disregard the information. Since Josh had a severe aversion to light and sound, he had been put in a private room in the ICU. This meant that I could remain with him, undisturbed by the nurses, until the next visiting hours started. During this 30 minute window, I left to use the washroom and get something to eat and drink. I then returned freely and remained until the next visiting hours. Although this was not the perfect set up, Josh and I were both very thankful that we could be together. We were also very thankful for the compassion with which the ICU nurses treated us. The ICU was very busy and --because I was able to stay with him-- he never needed to wait for food, drink, bathroom assistance, or anything.

I had never spent an extended amount of time in a hospital, let alone unauthorized time in an ICU in a foreign country. Although sneaking around may have been fun under different circumstances, I was plagued by the constant fear of being discovered.

We were very blessed on Wednesday morning when a seemingly random woman came to Josh's room. She informed me that she knew a friend of ours and asked if there was anything she could do to help. I asked her if I could get special permission to come and go out of the ICU as I pleased. This was granted immediately and the ICU guards were given word to let me in and out of the unit regardless of time of day. The constant worry of being told to leave Josh was lifted from my mind. Josh remained in the ICU until Thursday evening - and so did I.

During the ICU days we were showered with love from friends and family. I read to Josh all the encouraging messages that were being sent to us from people from all over the world. There was always someone waiting downstairs at the hospital's coffee shop when I had a free moment to leave. During the nights, I was still keeping and hotel room. My dear friend Lisa acted as a constant support. She stayed with me every night and helped me with everything imaginable.

On Thursday morning, we received the good news that Josh's condition had improved enough that he could be moved to the neurology ward that evening. The timing couldn't have been better because that night Josh's parent's were scheduled to be arriving from Canada. We were surrounded by the support of our friends, family, and the wonderful staff at DKU hospital. Josh continued to grow stronger each day.

My 27th birthday happened to fall during this tumultuous time.
Our friends did not let this day go by without celebration. Despite being in a small hospital room, a birthday party I will never forget took place. I was treated to live birthday music, homemade cake, champagne, gifts, and so much love!

Champagne Birthday at Dankook University Hospital

Happy Birthday serenade
Tears of Joy

Friends & Family


A healthy Josh: the best gift of all
Although a Korean hospital may not be the most desirable place to spend summer vacation, it was during this time that we were reminded about the value of community, the peace of being able to turn to God in prayer, and the preciousness of life.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Part II: Being Sick in South Korea: A Time of Prayer and Community

If the next part of this story could be defined by one word it would be prayer. Prayer has been a integral part of our lives and it is often during difficult times that people are drawn closer to God in prayer. This was certainly the case for us.

It was impossible for me to comprehend the fact that Josh's condition could be fatal. Exactly one week earlier, I was out walking with my friend Carrie and the topic of death and loss came up. When the idea that one day we might be without our spouses trickled into our conversation we simply stopped talking. It was too painful to even imagine.

When I was told that Josh had bacterial meningitis, I felt a desperate need to get a hold of people and ask for prayer. It was hard for me to have an accurate idea of time – but for what seemed like hours -- I was either kneeling at Josh's bedside praying with all my heart for his recovery or on the phone begging for prayers from everyone and anyone that answered the phone.

After a few failed attempts, I was able to connect with Joanne (Josh's Mother). I knew that despite the fact that it was after 2:00am in Canada she would get family and friends together to pray for Josh. She was able to briefly speak with Josh and exchange “I-love-yous”. At this point I was quite frantic. I remember Joanne saying that Josh was in God's hands and so was I.

The next person I was able to get in touch with from Canada was my dear friend, Nathalie. She has always been a friend on whom I can rely. It meant so much to me that she got on the phone in the middle of the night to let people know what was going on and to convey my request for prayer. The following day I received messages from my other dear friends Holly and Rookie that they had connected with friends and family and asked for more prayers.

It was a normal Monday afternoon for our friends in Hongseong. The first person I was able to get a hold of was my friend Courtney. By this point, our phone had died and I was using May's cellphone. I caught Courtney between classes and, despite seeing an unknown number pop up on her phone, she answered my call. I frantically explained how serious Josh's condition had become and asked her to pray and to get people to pray. It was only later that I found out that she contacted all our friends and posted a message on our town's facebook page asking people to pray for Josh during any spare moment – even between classes!

It was in the frantic time between making calls, getting results, and looking up translations that Professor Kim came on the scene. She was the first medical staff at DKU Hospital that I was able to communicate with in English. She told me that she had never seen a patient with such a high WBC count (white blood cell) in a spinal tap sample (Josh had over 30 000 WBCs in his spinal tap-- a normal amount is between 0-5) She asked him “What is your name?” "How old are you?" "Where are you from?" Despite running a fever, being in severe pain, and having a swollen brain, he was able to answer all of these questions correctly. She said it was a very good sign that he was still conscious let alone coherent. This was the first bit of hope I had been given. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news”. From that moment on I was in love with Professor Kim  (my family and friends can attest to this fact!):
Isn't she lovely? Isn't she WONDERFUL?

Josh was given his first dose of antibiotic and we were told that we had to wait to see how he would respond to the medicine. That night would be the climax.

May --who remained by my side throughout-- was given a message by one of the nurses. She grabbed by hand and said we must run to book a room for Josh in the ICU. We arrived at the reception desk and put Josh on the waiting list for a bed. The clerk at the reception desk handed us a list of items we would need from the hospital store: tissue, wet-naps, diapers, towels. The difference between Korean hospitals and Canadian hospitals was becoming evermore apparent.

While making our purchases, May received a phone call. Our friends had arrived and they were waiting in the hospital lobby. The first faces I saw were Courtney, Braden, Lisa, and Chris. They had left after school and taken an hour long cab ride to the hospital. It was so comforting to see them and feel their love and support.

Throughout the evening more and more people arrived. By the end of the night it seemed as though all of our friends had come to the hospital. The comfort and support we received was very moving. At one point, while waiting in the lobby, we all held hands and lifted Josh up in prayer. It was during this difficult time that our Hongseong friends became our Hongseong family. Thank-you Courtney, Braden, Lisa, Chris, Mikaela, Bryce, Auroura, Kati, Clare, Yoon, Matt, Carrie, Gloria, and Mr. Gloria for all coming that first day.

I was surrounded by support and love as I waited for visiting hours. When they finally opened, I was very thankful to be with our Korean friend, Dr. Yoon, who helped to not only translate, but assess the situation from a medical point of view.

The ICU nurses were very gracious with us, and we remained long after visiting hours had ended. We found out that an exception had been made earlier for two men from a nearby English church. They had come to visit and pray for the expat who was in critical condition. The love and care we were receiving was overwhelming. It was so hard to leave Josh that night; I could hardly bring myself to move away from his bed. As we were about to leave, a particularly kind nurse gave me a comforting look and spoke to me in Korean- Yoon translated that she said "trust me".

By this time, a second wave of friends had arrived from Hongseong. Before leaving the hospital for the night we ,once again, gathered together to pray for Josh.

With the help of Yoon, we were able to find a nearby hotel where I could spend the night. My friends Carrie and Kati volunteered to stay with me. I was never alone. After arriving at the hotel I was finally able to get into contact with my mother. She had been in the USA for the weekend. Unable to reach her by phone, my sister left work and drove out to our cottage to tell her the news. By the time I reached her she had contacted friends, family, and the church to ask everyone to pray for Josh.

Surrounded by love and covered by prayers, we made it through the worst night.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Part I: Being Sick in South Korea

Life abroad has its share of adventures and eye-opening experiences. You meet exotic people and eat interesting --sometimes delicious-- food. You inevitably learn new ways to say "hello" and "thank-you". Even the mundane day-to-day things in a foreign country have their charm. Sometimes when I am walking to work I stop and catch myself thinking: I am on the opposite side of the world; I am surrounded by people of a different culture and heritage who have mysterious traditions; I can't communicate with most of these people; I am REALLY far away from my Mum...Wow.

This summer we hit our 18 month mark in South Korea. With our summer vacations around the corner we got hit by something completely unexpected. 
On July 19, Josh woke up at 5:00am with a terrible headache. He thought he had a migraine so he took an ibuprofen and tried to go back to sleep. Soon, he was vomiting and we decided it would be best for him to call in sick for work. I sent his co-teacher a message letting her know our situation and she asked if he needed to see a doctor. We thought that was a good idea and within 20 minutes two ambulance workers were knocking at our door. We thought the fact that his co-teacher had called an ambulance for what we assumed to be a stomach flu was quite a severe reaction. Regardless, off we went to the Hongseong hospital. Josh was soon running a fever above 39 °C and vomiting almost non-stop. We arrived at the hospital where we were met by Josh's co-teacher (Alice) and her daughter (May) who acted as our translator. We weren't at the Hongseong hospital long before another ambulance was being called to take us to --the bigger-- Dankook University Hospital in Cheonan (approximately one hour away). Everything was happening fast and everything was happening in Korean. I was thankful to have May with us translating as much as she could. All I knew for sure was the doctor suspected that Josh may have had what google translated to be “meningoencephalitis”. This did not sound good to me.

The ambulance ride to Cheonan was the craziest drive I have ever been on. May sat in the back with Josh to translate for the attendants and I sat in the front passenger seat trying ,unsuccessfully, to call our families back in Canada.

We arrived at Dankook University Hospital in record time. Josh was scheduled to have a CAT-scan immediately. It was at this time that I realized I wasn't going to make it for the opening ceremony of English Summer camp at 3pm. Everything was moving so quickly and Josh's brain was swelling.

The doctors suspected meningitis and ordered a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). It was at this time that the fear really started. I had to sign a Korean waiver that seemed to be in regard to liability in case of any spinal tap issues. Next, Josh was given some medicine to prevent vomiting in order that he could have a lumbar puncture.

While we waited for Josh to become stable enough for the spinal tap, a nurse --holding out a jug and paper cup-- said they needed a urine sample. The paper cup was for the first stream, and the jug was for the second. Hospitals in South Korea function very differently from Canadian ones. What happened next was messy. I will spare my audience the details.

Next, a blood sample was taken. They were nearly certain Josh had meningitis. It was either one of two semi-serious forms of the disease, or a third very dangerous and potentially fatal form.

The neurologist returned with the results. What he communicated in Korean affected the nurses and May in such a way that I knew Josh had the dangerous type of meningitis, bacterial. I started to panic and demand to know what results showed. The neurologist --through an accent--, told me “this condition is fatal”. At times like that, words like “can be” are utterly important. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Amazing Online Shopping in South Korea: My Top 3 Websites

In life before Korea, online shopping meant If I couldn't find the used book I wanted elsewhere, I went to Amazon. However, here on the peninsula, online shopping is part of everyday life: Food, clothes, home décor, and kitchenware. Anything and everything can be ordered --very efficiently-- online!

The first time I tried to order online from a Korean website I was entirely unsuccessful because I didn't use Korea's preferred search engine: Internet Explorer, navigate the convoluted security features, or know my address. Thankfully, my co-teacher let me use her account to make my order. The speed and efficiency with which my purchases arrived sparked my interest in learning how to order on my own. 

Now that I am a seasoned expat/online shopper, I feel able to confidently suggest 3 websites that will allow you to get your hands on any garment, food, or unwearable/inedible object your heart could desire:

The tagline is accurate. Gmarket has everything you can imagine: furniture, food, clothes, and everything in between. For example, I have ordered candles with lead-free wicks, craisins, clothing, and possibly one of the most specialized items: live kefir seeds. It really has everything.

If you want to use this site you will need 2 things:
1. A Korean Bank card along with a digital certificate, and
2. Your own, or your school's Address (assuming you are a teacher).

Earlier this spring one of my fellow health guru friends introduced me to This site is a dream come true if you are a health food junkie. It is not exclusive to Korea – but it delivers here and in good time: We made an order on Friday night and it was here by Tuesday afternoon.

If you enjoy a nice cup of fair trade organic tea but find it hard to pay 18 dollars for 20 tea bags, iherb is the answer to your problem. You will also be able to find specialty products like coconut oil, bentonite clay for detox, chia seeds, arrowroot starch, and paraben-free shampoo.

If you wanna use this site all you need is a credit card.
This website is almost exclusively for food, and not the healthy kind. I have used this website to order items like cranberry juice and sour cream. However, it has bacon, Doritos, taco mix, Macaroni & Cheese, and a variety of other treats that will take your taste-buds on a processed food high. There are also a decent amount of English Books available on this website.

If you wanna use this site you will need a Korean Bank card (so you can directly transfer money to ezshop's account from your own) or a credit card (from Korea or your home country).

Friday, 19 April 2013

Part 2: The Threat of North Korea: Living Below the Hermit Kingdom

As I previously mentioned, the name of my blog was inspired by North Korea which -for obvious reasons- has earned the nickname "The Hermit Kingdom". It seems when the Korean Peninsula makes headlines it is mostly due to the Northern half. However, there is a lot going on below the Hermit Kingdom which this picture demonstrates perfectly:

North Korea is one of the darkest places on earth. When I first arrived in the South, it often struck me that --although I was living in a country abounding in technology, food, entertainment, and general merriment-- it was the winning half of a divided whole. Before moving here the idea that the country of Korea was left this way after a bitter civil war had little meaning to me. I can recall my Mum telling me she had read that North Koreans were much shorter than South Koreans due to malnutrition. I remember thinking that was bizarre. None of this meant much to me until I moved here and really started thinking about it and devoting time to researching about my new Northern neighbours. 

I spent a lot of time in conversation, in reading, and in front of this computer watching videos about North Korea. The information is disturbing.  Prison Camps. Torture. Censorship. Starvation. Mind-control. Poverty.

I think being informed about the plight of the North Korean people is really important. An organization I respect is Liberty in North Korea. Their mission is to rescue North Korean defectors while seeking to change the perception people have of the northern part of this peninsula. They want to create awareness about how the people living in the shadow of this dictatorship suffer rather than constantly drawing attention the leaders of North Korea. Check out their website below:

In Hyeonseo Lee's Ted Talk, she details her escape and the challenges that face other escape attempts from the regime. Check out the video below:

Google Talks has an interview with Shin Dong-Hyuk. He is the only known person to have escaped one of North Korea's infamous prison camps. He discusses life inside, the power of hunger,  death of his family, and the torture inflicted upon him at the hands of the camp's guards.

I find most of the pieces VICE puts out to be very informative, albeit somewhat cynical, and always with an air of flippancy. This is a 3 part series and I have posted part I (open the video in to find the links to part II and III)