Chuseok 2011

Songpyeon. © Cheese Curds and Kimchi

I patted the dough gently. Did it feel like an earlobe? With my flour-crusted fingers I gave my earlobe a quick pinch. I have no idea. But that's what the recipe says. Knead dough until it feels like earlobes.

Sometimes our adventures into Korean culture feel similar to following a new recipe. I'm not sure if I'm are doing it *right*. I only hope that after all these unfamiliar steps, the food will come out somewhat edible, and if the kitchen gods are with you, it will be good. You season to taste, adding a little more of this, a little more of that. And in the end, you have something unique to you.

I thought about that as I was making songpyeon, a traditional rice cake, for our first Chuseok celebration. Chuseok is a three-day celebration, honoring family and food. It's one of the largest holidays in Korea and can be compared to our Thanksgiving. (See THIS POST for more information about Chuseok.)

(Oh, by the way, Chuseok jal ji nae sae yo! That's the traditional greeting for Chuseok. You can also say Chuseok jal bo nae sae yo.)

Seeing as this is our first Chuseok with Little Man home, it felt important to begin the groundwork for incorporating some Korean traditions into our lives. A challenge since we've never attended a real Chuseok celebration and what we know has been gained through YouTube videos and books. So, like following a new recipe, we are "seasoning to taste" and making it uniquely ours.

Jap Chae! © Cheese Curds and Kimchi
On Sunday, the first day of Chuseok, The Man and I both had races. So the three of us spent the day together, outdoors, doing what we love. Spending time enjoying one another and the beauty of the world is absolutely going to be part of our holiday tradition.

Yesterday, I tackled another part--the food. Traditional foods are jab chae, soup, fruit, and songpyeon. I had visions of a lush spread, much like what I do with Thanksgiving, with the three of us eating until we were stuffed. Well...it was a little difficult to do a huge meal with a grumpy, teething toddler demanding my attention. Shockingly, I managed to make the jab chae and songpyeon.

I followed THIS recipe for the vegetarian jap chae. And it was freaking incredible. Seriously. Like, I-can't-believe-I-actually-made-this good. I omitted the bed pepper and substituted bean thread noodles for the potato starch noodles. I also used reduced-sodium soy sauce, and used less than called for. It was a huge hit and next time I will double the recipe. There wasn't a noodle left over when we finished.

I loved making the songpyeon! They say that you can't have Chuseok without them. The hardest thing about making these was 1) figuring out what ear lobes feel like, and 2) stealing finding the pine needles to steam the dumplings on. Turns out that the local telephone company building had plenty of the right sort of pine trees, with branches that hung over the road. (That makes them public property, doesn't it?) I couldn't taste any added flavor from the pine needles, but ours seemed a bit dried out. Maybe I need a new pine needle source.

Filling the songpyeon. © Cheese Curds and Kimchi
Rice cakes in their steam bath atop the pine needles. © Cheese Curds and Kimchi
I followed THIS recipe (and handy video). I substituted regular rice flour for the frozen, so I just added more water when mixing it. I did make two types of filling, a sesame and a red bean, but the red bean was sort of messy and I liked the sweeter sesame filling much better. It's traditional to make five colors of songpyeon representing the five basic elements that make up our universe, but this mommy only had time to make two. (See the link below for a brief explanation of songpyeon and why they are shaped in half-moons and cooked on pine needles.)

After all that cooking (which is exactly what most Korean mothers do on this holiday!) we sat down to enjoy our meal. It wasn't exactly like I had envisioned. The Man got home from work a bit late. Which meant the noodles weren't hot. And when we sat down to eat, Little Man was screaming his head off. He ate a few mouthfuls of noodles and wasn't interested in the songpyeon. So, we wolfed down our dinner and rushed him off to bath and an early bedtime. Which suited him just fine.

The third component of the holiday is honoring family and ancestors. Traditionally, you would visit your parents home (specifically the husband's parents), and visit the graves of family members. This is where I start to get a bit lonely. Our family is on the west coast, and we are so far away. I miss being able to spend time with them.

I haven't figured out just what we'll do tonight to honor our family and ancestors. We do believe in acknowledging that much of who we are has been forged from the experiences and lives of those who came before us. And, it's good to stay connected to the memory of family members who have already passed.

So that was our first Chuseok! We do have one more  celebration to go--in early Oct. our Korean adoption group will be gathering together for our annual party. Can't wait! When we went last year, our home study had just gone to Korea and I remember watching all those adorable children, many in their hanboks, running and playing and hoping that one day we would see our son among them. And this year, we will! 

How Chuseok is Changing {WSJ}

Chuseok: Korea's Harvest Thanksgiving Holiday {Seoul Eats}

No Chuseok without Songpyeon 

Chuseok exodus begins {The Korean Times}

Chuseok traditions {EzineMark.com}


  1. Wow. This was great! It's so nice to see your working your cultures today...I liked the idea of it being like a recipe, that is so true!


  2. It looks amazing!! And I'm going to try that jap chae recipe. If you want the sweet potato noodles, let me know - we have a great Korean market that we can hook you up with when you are in town for an event. So glad you are all coming in October!! It will be awesome to have LM there with you - can't wait!!

  3. Yum! Can I come over next year? Looks great. I went to the Korean Market during Chuseok but that's as far as I got this year. But I have scoped out what they have and I'm ready to start cooking again. ;) Thanks for this post!!!


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