Saturday, December 02, 2006

comme des goinfres

Thursday and Friday were the final days of class, and I spent them feeding two classes of ravenous students the way a mother vulture would, regurgitating hot, half-digested chunks of dog gristle and earthworm fragments into their young, eager mouths. "This is how Americans eat!" I declared between heaves. It was a delightful orgy, two hours of vomit bukkake, not soon to be forgotten.

OK, that's not really what happened.

The Thursday 11am Level 3 conversation class got the grand prize: a fondue moitié-moitié appetizer and spaghetti bolognèse main course. One student said she would bring a salad, but what she actually brought and assembled in class was a very cute salmon/caviar concoction-- small, thin pieces of smoked salmon nestled in lettuce cups along with minced onion, caviar, and peanut butter. I'd never had smoked salmon with peanut butter before, but it turned out to be quite delicious.

Because of the nature of my student's "salad," I decided that it would work better as a second appetizer, something to cleanse the palate after all the fondue. The fondue itself was a success: I bought and brought the ingredients, and my students did a great job of chopping the Gruyère and Emmenthaler cheeses into small cubes, then tossing them with cornstarch. We rubbed garlic and poured wine into my makeshift caquelon (just a non-stick saucepan), turned on the heat, added a splash of lemon juice, brought the liquid almost to a boil, then added the cheese mixture. After we started stirring, we sprinkled in some black pepper and nutmeg, and as the vapors rose, there were delighted cries of, "Wow, smell the wine!" The spirits were truly with us.

[NB: Some students hated the smell of Gruyère. "Smells like toes," they said, which gave me a chance to teach the expressions "toe cheese," "toe jam," and "cut the cheese." I can't blame the students for their mild revulsion: many Korean people eat cheese regularly these days, but there lingers a cultural undercurrent pulling people away from overripe milk products and back to the more familiar fart-stench of kimchi.]

Perhaps because they feel gluttony isn't sexy, many skinny girls lose momentum pretty quickly when eating in front of men, but my students have long known that I'm a big eater, so they felt fine just gobbling away. We got a large pot of water boiling and cooked pasta for the main course, while another student at another gas range began heating up my spaghetti sauce. A third student had already ground a wedge of parmesan cheese into a neat pile; she had used one of the "finer" sides of my four-sided slicer/grater. I'm a lazy bastard and hate hand-grating cheese, which is why I was quick to delegate that chore to someone else.

The spaghetti was almost perfect, though perhaps a wee past al dente. Not a tragedy if you're American; I'm not sure how many Americans actually like pasta al dente. Koreans, surprisingly, take to it quite well. I say "surprisingly" because Asia is the home of pasta, and Asians usually cook their pasta well beyond the al dente stage (cf. jjajang-myeon or udong, or even ramyeon); you'd think that Italian pasta would seem undercooked to Asians. But, no: Koreans generally prefer to eat Italian pasta the Italian way.

Dessert was fruit, mainly oranges and bananas. If I had had the energy, I'd have made Nigella's chocolate mousse, but that wasn't in the cards. The students were properly stuffed by the end of class, and that's what mattered. We did have one student whine about the lack of kimchi (Christ, it happens every time), but they managed to survive.

On Friday morning, my 7:50am Level 1 conversation class-- only two students-- sat down to a bare-bones meal of tangerines, canned coffee, and Pepero sticks. One of the two students had been coming to class fairly faithfully; the other had a one-week lapse before returning. Both were very quiet, which made the hour pass painfully slowly. They seemed a bit sad when they saw I had brought a ton of food and equipment to prepare breakfast for the next class, but hey-- them's the breaks. I can't cook a full meal for every single class; I do it only for the best ones.

When 9:00am rolled around, I sprang into action, and the next set of Level 1 students arrived with their own packages of goodies. The lone Japanese student had brought along materials to make Japanese-style "triangle kimbap" (onigiri, if I'm not mistaken), and other students arrived with fruit and grape juice and milk. I put everyone to work; as on Thursday, we had two burners going-- one for pancakes, the other for bacon, eggs, and sausage. The lady cooking the pancakes did an excellent job with them; she was a mom, and I could tell she was a grizzled veteran of the Pancake Wars. I did the bacon, which made for a bit of smoke because I generally prefer my bacon crispy, not soggy. The sausage I'd bought (couldn't find Bob Evans, alas) was a bit disappointing; it was simply spiced hot dog. But everything went well-- we had three teachers come in and eat with us, and everyone claimed to be full at the end, which is always my goal. Leftovers are for wusses. There are starving people in other countries, you know, and to prevent them from stealing your food, you have to eat everything on your plate.

That breakfast actually felt more like a family event, a real sit-down meal, than the previous day's lunch. It was a good way to end the semester, in all, and damn if the classroom didn't smell of bacon and syrup for most of the rest of the day.

In both cases, the students were great about cleanup, leaving me with very little to do. I always feel bad about this, because the students usually have to wash the dishes in the nearest ladies' room, and I always forget to bring along scrub pads and dishwashing liquid. Kind of a pain for all involved, but I think the meals themselves have left the students with some happy memories.

UPDATE: I once again had to correct a Japanese term above. Max wrote in to inform me that the triangle kimbap is onigiri. Umeboshi, the term I'd written (and misspelled) earlier, is actually a Japanese-style pickled plum; my student had used it as a filling in one of the onigiri she'd made. Very tasty.


No comments: