Sunday, October 11, 2015

Yankee Chinese

Saturday-evening dinner with Anterior Cruciate Ligament was American-style Chinese cashew chicken and shrimp, one of my mainstays. She enjoyed the dish for the most part, but I don't think she was thrilled about the green peppers, which may be an acquired taste for some folks. Ah, well. You can't win 'em all. The salad was delightful, though: it was a hearty mix of cucumber, apple, and carrot, done up in a very gentle kimchi-pickling style: very little apple-cider vinegar and a minuscule amount of salt. As I discovered, though, any amount of salt will initiate the pickling process, and plenty of liquid ended up being sucked out of the fruits and vegetables—to the point where I had to strain the whole thing in a mesh strainer to get rid of the juices. There might be some constructive use to which those juices could have been put, but I was too lazy to explore that question.

With my food mostly prepped, I left my place and met ACL at Jamshil to see "The Martian." A thought had been nagging me the entire trip over to Jamshil, though, and I confessed to ACL that I was worried that I hadn't shut off my gas stove. I had set the gas stove on very, very low heat in order to cook a batch of glutinous rice, and I honestly couldn't remember whether I had turned off the heat before leaving my place. Part of my brain raved that leaving the gas on would have been an amazingly stupid thing to do, so of course I couldn't have done that. Another, subtler part of my brain whispered that I couldn't remember having shut off the gas and having closed off the gas pipe's valve, so there was a good chance that, even now, the rice was burning, filling my place with smoke, mounting toward cataclysm.

I've had such stressful daymares before, even when I lived in Front Royal. It's a bit like being the guy who wants to look down at his pants to check whether he's zipped up his zipper: he suspects that his fly is down, but he doesn't want to draw attention to his crotch in public. There are moments—especially as I get older—when I honestly can't remember whether I've done something, and I end up freaking myself out because I'm sure I've killed thirty innocent people through inadvertent arson.

ACL saw the worry on my face and heard the stress in my voice, so she suggested I call my building's front desk. I'd had the same thought, but wasn't sure whether I should act on it. "Good idea," I said to ACL, and I went looking for the building's phone number. The most obvious Korean-language Google search (for "Daecheong Tower front desk number") yielded nothing relevant. Of course. So I looked up the Daecheong Tower website, scrolled to the bottom of the splash page, and found a number there. I handed the number over to ACL, who made the call on my behalf. "Let's hope that that number is up to date," I grumbled while she dialed. ACL did get through, and she told the front-desk ajeossi my problem. He said he didn't have a key to my place, so he'd go up and shut off the gas from the outside (I had no idea how that would be done). ACL relayed all this to me and, relieved, I slumped into my seat in the theater and enjoyed "The Martian" with no thoughts of an apartment building in flames.

When we got to my building after the movie, I saw that the mighty structure was still intact. I had told ACL my prediction that it would turn out I had done everything right and that there had been no need for urgency at all. The front-desk concierge we spoke to wasn't the same gent who had taken ACL's call, so he didn't know the story about the gas line. We shrugged and went up to my place: sure enough, I had dutifully turned everything off, and everything was safe. It was all for nothing. But when I tried to turn on the stove to finish off the chicken for the above-pictured dish, there was no gas. I suspected that we could figure out the gas-switch problem ourselves, and ACL gamely stepped outside, where she found a lever that she then turned 90 degrees. Voilà: gas restored. Another concierge came up belatedly to check on us, but I apologized and told him we'd figured the thing out for ourselves. He laughed cheerfully and went on his merry way. Thank God he was one of the better-natured guys and not one of the grumpier ajeossis.

Dinner went more or less well, although I startled ACL at one point when I made a ninja-grab for a gnat flying close to her head. "I thought you were going to hit me!" she chirped. I felt extremely guilty for not having thought through what my action must have looked like to other people. I apologized (second apology of the night), and we went back out in search of crêpes.

I had originally wanted to trundle over to Dongdaemun to visit the crêpe guy, but ACL said she knew of a crêpe place in Jamshil Station's enormous underground arcade. (Everything about Jamshil is enormous these days—even more so than in the past.) It was a place called Marion Crepes... but the circumflex was over the "s," not over the first "e," which indicated to me that whoever had designed the place's name had no notion of French, and/or no notion of what a circumflex is for. That was a bad sign for a place purportedly making crêpes à la française. Marion had a wide variety of offerings, but ACL and I went for the classic Nutella crêpe. I ordered mine with banana; ACL got hers with just Nutella.

I watched the lady as she made our crêpes. First, she didn't ladle on enough batter to give the crêpes a pleasant, soft thickness: she instead went for paper-thin. She was also rather violent with her râteau à crêpes (lit. "crêpe rake," for spreading the batter in a circular pattern; see here), raking the batter so thin that it was almost transparent on the iron. She then spread the Nutella on in a rapid, negligent manner, added sliced banana to mine, then perfunctorily folded the crêpes into their classic wedge shape, wrapping them in wax paper and handing them over to us.

I'll say this: the crêpes were pleasantly warm when they hit our fingers, so they had that going for them. ACL and I found it to be way too hot in that part of the underground arcade, so we headed for an exit to the surface. I held on to my dessert, planning to eat it once we found a place to sit down. We walked and walked, finding no usable benches at all. The benches we did find were still soaking wet from a recent rain, so I shrugged and bit into my crêpe.

It shattered like a flaky croissant. That's how thin and brittle it was. ACL complained that her crêpe's main body had hardened as soon as it had hit the cool night air. Mine had seized up as well: the brittle edge of the crêpe, once eaten through, led to a tough, chewy middle that was more mollusk than confection. Neither of us was very happy with our desserts, and ACL expressed regret for having taken me to Marion. I told her we'd hit the crêpe guy next time around, so she could have some real crêpes.

All in all, though, an afternoon and an evening well spent.


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