It wasn't enough to have just one baby shower with all the giggling girlfriends, so we threw a shower for my sister and her husband that included family at the future grandparents' house in Orange County. On Mom and Dad’s patio, overlooking the golf course, we had a barbecue, or, as I like to call it, a Baby Q.
This party was one that I had almost no hand in planning. The preparation and menu were all up to my Mom, though she did ask me to help with dessert – not because she wasn't organized enough to get a cake or pie or ice cream together herself, and not because she didn’t want to muster all the Korean females, pass around a veritable panoply of paring knives and sit around the kitchen table peeling fresh fruit and strategically placing sliced apples, oranges, pears and persimmons on serving platters as if onto some secret Axis and Allies maneuvering map.
No, Mom just knew I'd probably keel over with if I didn't spend at least 20 minutes in the kitchen cooking or baking as my contribution to the party. At the special request of my then 8 months pregnant sister with an insatiable hormonally-induced craving, I baked a cheesecake (“a normal one this time, okay, Sarah?”), and since the shower was back in October, it was pumpkin. By the way, no matter how much a pregnant ball of raging, cranky hormones tries to perpetrate normalcy and denies it, everything you have ever heard about hormonally-induced anything as related to pregnant women is 100% absolutely true.
Mom went all out, and when I say “all out,” I mean that by the time I had arrived (early, presumably, “to help”), she had already completely covered the kitchen table with hors d’oeuvre and appetizers and snacks in a display that could have been Station 1 on a mini Vegas buffet. There wasn’t even enough room for a tablescape, which says a lot, since my Mom takes quite a bit of pride in her flower garden and usually takes every opportunity to display her fresh-cut glory. Our family is Korean, my brother in law’s family is Chinese, and all of the friends fill in the blanks, so I think my Mom was trying to make sure that there was something for everyone. Either that, or she just lost her mind at the grocery store. There were typical Korean ahn-joo type snacks (dried seaweed, fruits, nuts, and squid), Japanese crackers, edamame, ?? (mahn-doo - fried won tons), shrimp cocktail, vegetable crudité, an impressive cheese plate (in honor of our representative from the Midwest ;) ), potato chips, other chips, tortilla chips and salsa. Guacamole! Where’s the guacamole?! Mom pitched some avocadoes to me and I knew exactly what to do. Please. Guacamole.
If the kitchen table was the Epcot Center of appetizers, then the kitchen’s breakfast bar was Koreatown. Christina, one of my sisters’ friends, made her famous potato salad, which may sound like an all-American Fourth of July, but trust me, if you ever go to a Korean barbecue restaurant and scan the bahn-chan, you’ll understand how very Korean potato salad is. Potato salad is Korean, just the way Spam and American cheese metled on top of ramen are Korean, too. :)
Mom had prepared everything else: ?? (jahp-chae: transparent noodles made from sweet potato starch, sautéed with vegetables), bin-dae-dduk (pancakes made from mung bean flour, filled with vegetables), ho-bahk jun (zucchini fritters), ?? (saeng-sun jun: fish fritters), and even a clay crock pot of ???? (doo-boo jji-gae: spicy tofu hot pot), bubbling away on the stove top. There was also the typical bahn chan of shi-geum-chee namul (marinated spinach), ??? (kong namul: marinated bean sprouts), and several types of?? (kimchee). It was a feast fit for the little princess on her way.
The best thing on the breakfast bar was a foil-covered plate of mook, receiving many a surreptitious lift of the foil, a quick flash of chopsticks, then re-shuffling of what was left on the plate. Mook is gelatin prepared from flour or powder derived from acorns, buckwheat, peas, or mung beans, the color ranging form translucent white to gr
ayish brown, depending on the base. The plain jelly is cut, often decoratively, but not always, then served with a slightly spicy soy sauce and vinegar seasoning sauce. I couldn’t help sneaking a few pieces. Mook is not something we just keep lying around the refrigerator, and if it hadn’t been for Mom’s watchful eye and a laughing “Sarah-ya!” I would have finished at least half of it before the other guests arrived.
Though I would have been perfectly content to sidle up to the breakfast bar, plop myself down on a barstool with a pair of chopsticks, and pick pick pick away at the buffet of Korean foods (hell, I wouldn’t have even needed to sit down), Mom had marinated galbee (short ribs) from the equivalent of a herd of cattle. When I arrived at the house, Dad was outside on the patio cleaning the grill, and as more and more guests arrived, the usual segregation of the sexes began. The women stayed inside to gossip about weddings and babies and shoes and how La Prairie works wonders, and the guys huddled in a primordial half-circle around the grill. There was nothing on it yet, though, so I have no idea what prompted the occasional grunt.
The galbee went on the grill, and just when I thought that was the beef, my Mom busted out with an enormous soup pot filled with dae-jee galbee (pork ribs) that she had par-boiled. Or blanched. Or something like that. She glazed each one with a sauce similar to the galbee marinade, but slightly spicier and thicker with goh-choo-jahng, and more syrupy with sugar. Those received a brief charring on the grill, and when the entire potful was done, we were all ready to eat. Again. The appetizer section had already been grazed over heavily. Would anyone actually be hungry for the main event?
Of course. With so many guests, we lined up church-picnic style, wielding a plate with a scoop of steamed white rice in one hand and chopsticks in the other. Each person passed through, piling a little bit of everything, a little more of any favorites, into a pile that totally reflected his or her taste and sense of style. I wish I had taken pictures of each plate. My parents and the rest of the first generation filtered into the formal dining room and sat down at the dining room table. I raised my eyes heavenward and thanked someone for giving me the night off from the Rule of 72 and Everything Comes from China. Everyone else, the second generation, and the soon-to-arrive first member of our Delicious third generation, wandered out onto the patio with their overflowing plates. Just as we had done when we all arrived, we separated like Quakers, guys to one table to talk about sports and girls to the table under the heat lamps to talk about make-up. Stereotyping? Absolutely.
I don’t have to go into the individual tastes of each item my Mom had prepared. Everything was pretty much awesome, and I wouldn’t have expected any less from her. Though the girls remained lady-like and “saved room for dessert,” the guys weren’t shy about going back for seconds, some even for thirds. And fourths (I see you, Jeffrey P!). And even still, there was enough food leftover to feed everyone there again for lunch the next day. Trust me. I had Korean leftover Baby Q in my fridge for several days (except the mook), and I most certainly am not complaining.
It had been a long time since I’d seen Mom get so excited about having a party at her house, and even longer since I’d seen her put out that much variety of that much food. Was she like me, excited at any opportunity to entertain? Was it simply that it had been long time since she’d had the chance? Was she crazy?