Bell Bluff, Buddha and the Brain, GigaBeam, and Bi Bim Bap!

     Last week my niece, Mikayla, came to visit.  The story was that Mikayla had been accepted to a couple universities in San Diego and came down to take a closer look, but I think she just wanted to hang out with us!  I am so glad she did–it was relaxing and fun and gave me an excuse to do all the things I like to do around here:  check out new places and things to do, go shopping, go to the beach, kayak on the lake, and of course–cook exotic and yummy peasant food and climb Bell Bluff!
     This is how the week looked:
  • Wednesday: University of San Diego –did you know this is the 4th most beautiful campus in the world?   And I have to say it lives up to that reputation with stunning architecture, landscaping and views! 
  • Thursday: prom dress shopping (anyone who knows me, knows this was super fun for me!) and yoga
  •  Friday: talk to the honors program and watch a water polo match (my first) at San Diego State University–my goodness, I had no idea how cool San Diego State University was.  In addition to a complete recreation and fitness facilities, they have an Aquaplex!  SDSU was just selected for the second year in a row to host the NCAA Women’s Water Polo National Championships in 2012.  It’s no wonder, the facility is quite impressive:  Five different pools, of varying depths to accommodate diving, water polo, lane swimming and recreational fun – not to mention a giant hot tub as well . . . the students study for exams in bikinis on poolside loungers – who wouldn’t want to go to school here??   Okay – the honors program is pretty cool too – only 200 kids out of 5,000 incoming freshman make the cut!
  •  Saturday: climb Bell Bluff and make Bi Bim Bap!  Mind you the Bell Bluff hike is not for sissies. It is about 9 miles roundtrip and takes five long hours–the first 4 miles are a gradual doable ascent, then the last half mile is a bushwhacking scrabble up the mountainside.  The hike was sweetened with the knowledge that our dinner plans were to introduce Mikayla to Bi Bim Bap – a Korean meal served in a hot stone bowl with rice and vegetables (steak and eggs optional) and a special chili sauce.  Yum–this is truly one of my favorite peasant recipes–and to think I didn’t even know it existed until 5 years ago!
  • Sunday: Dutch Easter brunch (my mom’s famous tradition featuring a collection of eggs, meats, cheeses, breads, chocolate and condiments), lazing around reading, and kayaking on the lake
  •  Monday: work on a surprise for Mikayla’s parents, go see the wave pool and boardwalk at Mission Beach, and go to a special class taught by a psychologist, Doug Brackmann, called “Zen, Buddha and the Brain”
     As you can imagine, we had a great week–but one of the peaks (literally and metaphorically) for me was hiking Bell Bluff and making Bi Bim Bap (well–also coming up with the surprise for Mikayla’s present, but shhhhh, it may still be a secret)
     The thing about hiking Bell Bluff, is it’s always somewhat questionable–once you make it to the base of Bell Bluff and start climbing straight up–whether you will actually make it to the top this time. Intense resistance and the urge to quit as exhaustion sinks in grows exponentially.
     Luckily, we simply impose a free whining zone for that last stretch–we take a deep breath and freely complain about all the bits and pieces of our bodies that are tired and hurting, but we keep walking.  Somehow paying closer attention to the body (instead of the “I can’t do this!” I’ll never make it!”  “What was I thinking anyway???” thoughts that begin to run rampant) helps.
     It turns out, while we didn’t especially make the connection, this mountain climbing tactic is essentially what we are learning in our Zen, Buddha and the Brain class and simulates what we practice when we meditate–whenever the mountain of life seems too steep–that is, when mental suffering sets in–bring your attention back to the body!  Notice what is going on physically, instead of the story generated by your thoughts.  Allow your thoughts to drift away naturally, bring your attention back to the breath.  mmmmmm–it’s so good!
     But, speaking of good, let’s get back to Bi Bim Bap–the real inspiration for writing this blog entry . . . it was actually during a time in the last five years when I was bipping and bopping up and down the east coast for work that I came to try Bi Bim Bap for the first time.  I could hardly believe that there was a gluten free ethnic dish of this quality that I had never even heard of!  At the time, Jay and I were working for GigaBeam, whose headquarters were located in Herndon, VA, not far from DC.  For a period of a couple years, we worked long hours and would be away from home for 2 – 4 days at a stretch almost every other week.  We got to know all the restaurants in the vicinity of work intimately.  Then one day a new Korean Restaurant opened very nearby (sadly that restaurant has since gone out to business.)  A colleague very excitedly told us we had to go there and we had to try the Bim Bim Bap – the Bee Bim What?  Well try it we did and it became our favorite dinner choice.
     Bi Bim Bap is traditionally served in a hot stone bowl (and then named “Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap,” which I am advised means Hot Stone Bowl with Mixed Rice.)  The hot stone bowl allows the rice on the bottom of the bowl to get crispy.  On top of the rice, a whole bunch of seasoned vegetables and mushrooms sit and for non-vegetarians some steak strips marinated in a sweet sesame, garlic and soy sauce mixture as well.  Then a fried egg is added, and the whole thing is smothered in Korean Chili sauce called Gochuchang, sometimes spelled Kochuchang (Hot Red Pepper Paste).  This sauce really makes the dish and tastes decidedly different from a Mexican or Chinese hot pepper sauce.
     By my way of thinking Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap is quintessentially peasant, but made exotic and interesting by being served in stone bowls.  Recently when my mom was visiting I discovered a great Korean supermarket, “Zion Market”, in San Diego (something like Uwajimaya of Seattle).  We were able to purchase some of these stone bowls and voilà can now make authentic Bi Bim Bap!  (But, don’t let the lack of stone bowls stop you from making Bi Bim Bap – it’s delicious either way!!)
     So in honor of one of the best things I got from working at GigaBeam . . . . an introduction to Bi Bim Bap . . . and in honor of Bell Bluff and Buddha Brain . .  I offer you one of my new favorite recipes:  Bi Bim Bap.  I have tried several different recipes, but have settled on the following one that mom found at allrecipes.com.
All Recipes.com recipe                                                My substitutions:
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup wheat free tamari
½ cup white sugar
(omit)
½ brown sugar
½ cup sucanat
¼ cup minced garlic
1/3 cup chopped green onion
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
20 ounce rib-eye steak, sliced thin
Omit for vegetarians – I use filet mignon
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups uncooked glutinous (sticky) white rice, rinsed
I sometimes substitute regular short grain white rice
6 ½ cups water
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
Omit or use whatever you have on hand
1 pound fresh spinach, washed and chopped
12 ounces cucumber, julienned
12 ounces carrots, julienned
Sesame oil
8 ounces bean sprouts
6 eggs
6 sheets nori, crumbled
I offer nori sprinkles on the side (or omit if I don’t have)
6 tablespoons sesame oil
¼ cup chili bean paste (Kochujang)
  •  For the non-vegetarian version:  Make the marinade for the beef.  Combine soy sauce or tamari, sugar, garlic, green onions, sesame seeds in a large bowl;  add the sliced beef strips to the marinade, and season with salt and pepper.  (note:  if you are making a vegetarian version – make some of this marinade and soak your vegetables in it instead.)  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (well – okay I am not usually that organized so I just marinade it while I am cooking everything else . . .)
  •  Bring the rice and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cover; simmer until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes.  (Or — do as I do and use a rice cooker and hit start.)
  • Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C), and place Korean stone bowls in the oven.  (Note:  I have tried the oven method with the stone bowls in the oven and I find it just does not get them hot enough.  I put them directly on the burners of my gas stove–as the Korean lady at Zion market suggested–to heat them instead.  And remember – don’t be deterred if you don’t have stone bowls, just put the ingredients in your regular soup bowls.)
  •   Place wok or frying pan over medium-high heat.  Cook carrots and cucumbers in a small amount of sesame oil to soften, stirring frequently.  Remove from pan, and set aside.  Add a small amount of sesame oil to the pan, and cook spinach in sesame oil for a minute or two.  Remove spinach from pan and set aside.  Add the meat strips and marinade to the wok, cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid reduces in volume, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  •  Transfer the stone bowls from the oven (or stove top) to suitable heat resistance surface.  Brush each bowl with sesame oil to coat.  Divide the rice into the bowls, and gently pack to the bottom (it’s perfect if you have gotten the bowls hot enough for the rice to sizzle as you arrange).  Arrange the cucumbers and carrots, bean sprouts, greens, shiitake mushrooms, and beef mixture over each portion of the rice.
  •  The allrecipes.com recipe now says to add a raw egg to each bowl, and to drizzle it with sesame oil and nori sprinkles.   But I always fry the egg over easy first and then add it to the bowl.
  •  Serve with the Kochujang sauce and encourage guests to smother the top of the bowl of food with the sauce.
     Oh, this is just the best!!  All yummy ingredients, an interesting sauce – pure comfort food.  But don’t trust my word, ask Mikayla!

1 Comment

Filed under peasant cooking, storytelling

One Response to Bell Bluff, Buddha and the Brain, GigaBeam, and Bi Bim Bap!

  1. Sounds delicious! Getting increasingly sick of rice, hummus, and soy beans as my standard school dining hall vegetarian diet…wish I could have some home cooked meals right now! Make Bi Bim Bap again next time I’m home?

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