Dec 262016


Today is the birthday (1537) – O.S. January 7 – of Yi I (Hangul: 이이; Hanja: 李珥) one of the two most prominent Korean Confucian scholars of the Joseon Dynasty, the other being his older contemporary, Yi Hwang (Toegye). Yi I is often referred to by his pen name Yulgok (“Chestnut valley”). He is not only known as a scholar but also as a revered politician and reformer.

Yi I was born in Gangneung, Gangwon Province in 1537. His father was a Fourth State Councillor (jwachanseong 좌찬성) and his mother, Shin Saimdang, was an accomplished artist and calligraphist. He was the grand nephew of Yi Gi, prime minister from 1549 to 1551. In his early years he was the student of Baik In-geol, successor to the master Jo Gwang-jo. It is reputed that by the age of 7 he had finished his lessons in the Confucian classics, and passed the Civil Service literary examination at the age of 13. Yi I secluded himself in Kumgang-san following his mother’s death when he was 16 and stayed for 3 years, studying Buddhism. He left the mountains at 20 and devoted himself to the study of Confucianism.

He married at 22 and in the same year passed special exams with top honors with a winning thesis titled Cheondochaek (hangul:천도책, hanja: 天道策, “Book on the Way of Heaven”), which was widely regarded as a literary masterpiece, displaying his knowledge of history and the Confucian philosophy of politics, and also reflecting his profound knowledge of Taoism. He continuously received top honors in civil exams 9 times in a row. His father died when he was 26. He served in various positions in government from the age of 29, and visited the Ming Dynasty as seojanggwan (hangul: 서장관, hanja: 書狀官, document officer) in 1568. He also participated in the writing of the Myeongjong Annals and at 34, wrote Dongho Mundap, an eleven-article political memorial devoted to clarifying his conviction that a righteous government could be achieved.


Due to his vast experience in different offices over the years, Yi I was able to establish a wide vision of politics and with the deep trust of the king, became one of the central figures of politics by the time he was 40. His many documents and theses were presented to the royal court but when political conflicts escalated in 1576, his efforts proved fruitless and he returned home. Following his return, he devoted his time to studies and education of his students and wrote several books.

He returned to office at 45 and while holding various ministerial positions, wrote a great deal to record crucial political events and show his efforts to ease the political conflicts that were rampant at that time. However, King Seonjo was noncommittal in his attitude and it became difficult for Yi I to remain in a neutral position in the conflicts. He left office in 1583 and died the following year.


According to legend, he had a pavilion built near the ford of the Imjin River in his lifetime and instructed his heirs to set it ablaze when the king had to flee northward from Seoul, to provide a guiding beacon. This took place during Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea at the Imjin war.

Yi I was not only known as a philosopher but also as a social reformer. He did not completely agree with the dualistic Neo-Confucianism teachings followed by Yi Hwang. His school of Neo-Confucianism placed emphasis on the more concrete, material elements; rather than inner spiritual perception, this practical and pragmatic approach valued external experience and learning. Unlike Yi Hwang, who suffered through tumultuous times and did not enjoy being in politics, Yi I was an active official who thought it important to implement Confucian values and principles to government administration. He emphasized learning and self-cultivation as the base of proper administration. Yi I is also well known for his foresight about national security. He proposed to draft and reinforce the army against a possible Japanese attack. His proposal was rejected by the central government but his concerns proved to be well-founded soon after his death, during the Imjin war.


To celebrate Yi I I am going to wax lyrical about kimchi for a spell. Kimchi ( 김치), also spelled kimchee or gimchi, is, for me, the quintessential Korean side dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings, and I like to keep some on hand at all times although in some places where I have lived in recent years it is not always easy to get hold of. Commercially available varieties work well enough, but they do not reflect the huge variety and complexity of products available in Korea. In traditional preparations, kimchi was stored underground in jars to keep cool and unfrozen during the winter months. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi made from napa cabbage, radish, scallion, garlic, ginger or cucumber as the main ingredients.

The term ji was used until the pre-modern terms chimchae, dimchae, and timchae were adopted in the period of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. The word then was modified into jimchi, and is currently kimchi. Red chili pepper flakes (gochugaru) are now used as the main ingredient for the flavor and heat for many varieties of kimchi. In the 12th century, other spices, creating flavors such as sweet and sour, and colors, such as white and orange, were added.

Kimchi is, hands down Korea’s ultimate national dish. During South Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War its government requested U.S. help to ensure that South Korean troops could obtain it in the field. South Korean president Park Chung-hee told U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson that kimchi was “vitally important to the morale of Korean troops.” It was also sent to space on board Soyuz TMA-12 with Yi So-yeon after a multimillion-dollar research effort to kill the bacteria and lessen the odor without affecting taste.

Kimchi varieties are determined by the main vegetable ingredients and the mix of seasoning used to flavor the kimchi. The Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul has documented 187 historic and current varieties of kimchi. Ingredients can be replaced or added depending on the type of kimchi being made. The most common seasonings include brine, scallions, spices, ginger, chopped radish, garlic, saeujeot (새우젓, shrimp sauce), eoriguljeot (어리굴젓, oyster sauce), and aekjeot (액젓, fish sauce).

Kimchi can be categorized by main ingredients, regions or seasons. Currently there are over 180 varieties of kimchi. The most common variations are baechukimchi (배추김치, napa cabbage kimchi), baechugeotjeori (배추겉절이, unfermented napa cabbage kimchi), bossam kimchi (보쌈김치), baekkimchi (백김치, white kimchi), dongchimi (동치미, water-based kimchi), chonggakkimchi (총각김치, chonggak radish kimchi), kkakdugi (깍두기, radish kimchi), oisobagi (오이소박이, cucumber kimchi), and pakimchi (파김치, green onion kimchi).


Kimchi from the northern parts of Korea tends to have less salt and red chili and usually does not include brined seafood for seasoning. Northern kimchi often has a watery consistency. Kimchi made in the southern parts of Korea, such as Jeolla-do and Gyeongsang-do, uses salt, chili peppers and myeolchijeot (멸치젓, brined anchovy allowed to ferment) or saeujeot (새우젓, brined shrimp allowed to ferment), myeolchiaekjeot (멸치액젓), kkanariaekjeot (까나리액젓), liquid anchovy jeot, similar to fish sauce used in Southeast Asia, but thicker.

Saeujeot (새우젓) or myeolchijeot is not added to the kimchi spice-seasoning mixture, but is simmered first to reduce odors, eliminate tannic flavor and fats, and then is mixed with a thickener made of rice or wheat starch (풀). This technique has been falling into disuse for the past 40 years.

White kimchi (baek kimchi) is baechu (napa cabbage) seasoned without chili pepper and is neither red in color nor spicy. White radish kimchi (dongchimi) is another example of a kimchi that is not spicy. The watery white kimchi varieties are sometimes used as an ingredient in a number of dishes such as cold noodles in dongchimi brine (dongchimi guksu).


Different types of kimchi were traditionally made at different times of the year, based on when various vegetables were in season and also to take advantage of hot and cold seasons before the era of refrigeration. Although the advent of modern refrigeration — including kimchi refrigerators specifically designed with precise controls to keep different varieties of kimchi at optimal temperatures at various stages of fermentation — has made this seasonality unnecessary, Koreans continue to consume kimchi according to traditional seasonal preferences.

Traditionally, the greatest varieties of kimchi were available during the winter. In preparation for the long winter months, many types of kimjang kimchi (김장 김치) were prepared in early winter and stored in the ground in large kimchi pots. Today, many city residents use modern kimchi refrigerators offering precise temperature controls to store kimjang kimchi. November and December are traditionally when people begin to make kimchi. Women often gather together in each other’s homes to help with winter kimchi preparations. “Baechu kimchi” is made with salted baechu filled with thin strips of radish, parsley, pine nuts, pears, chestnuts, shredded red pepper, manna lichen (석이 버섯), garlic, and ginger.

After that little discourse you are on your own. Find whatever you can. My common habit is to eat kimchi with rice, or make it into a soup or stew (kimchi-guk or kimchi jjigae). It’s your choice whether to make it with or without pork. I usually don’t but it makes a hearty meal with it. Without the pork I just heat all the ingredients in water for a few minutes and garnish with green onions.


Kimchi Jjigae


2 cups chopped kimchi
½ lb pork shoulder (or pork belly), cut into bite sized pieces
2 tbsp hot pepper paste
1 tsp sugar (optional)
2 green onions, chopped
14 oz tofu, cut into bite sized cubes


Place all the ingredients except the tofu and green onions in a heavy stock pot and cover with cold water. Simmer until the pork is tender (40 minutes to 1 hour).

Add the tofu and continue simmering until it is warmed through (10 minutes or less).

Serve in deep bowls garnished with green onions and accompanied with rice.

Aug 132013

International Left Handers’ Day is held annually every August 13th. It was founded by the Left-Handers’ Club in 1992, with the club itself having been founded in 1990. International Left Handers’ Day is, according to the club, “an annual event when left handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality [left-handedness] and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left handed. . . . In the U.K. alone there were over 20 regional events to mark the day in 2001, including left-v-right sports matches, a left-handed tea party, pubs using left-handed corkscrews where patrons drank and played pub games with the left hand only, and nationwide ‘Lefty Zones’ where left-handers’ creativity, adaptability and sporting prowess were celebrated, whilst right handers were encouraged to try out everyday left-handed objects to see just how awkward it can feel using the wrong equipment!”


Handedness is a vague term that does not have a fixed or agreed upon definition. Although the terms left and right are enough to define handedness in an ordinary sense, they do not suffice for scientific research. Handedness can be defined two ways scientifically. It can be defined as the hand that performs faster or more precisely on tasks, or the hand that a person prefers to use, regardless of performance. In a scientific study, it should be recognized that handedness is not a discrete variable (right or left), but a continuous one that can be expressed at various levels between strong left and strong right. There are four basic types of handedness: left handedness, right handedness, mixed handedness, and ambidexterity. Globally, roughly 12% of men and 10% of women are left-handed using the definition of the hand that is more adept at tasks.

People who are strongly right or left handed are in the vast majority worldwide. Mixed handedness refers to those people who prefer different hands for different tasks.  True ambidexterity, the lack of preference for right or left, is exceptionally rare.  Below is the remarkable Chen Siyuan, 24. She can write different things simultaneously with her right and left hands, which includes writing vertically with one and horizontally with the other, as well as writing in Chinese with one hand and in English with the other. She learnt to do this in order to cope with masses of homework in high school!


With a moment’s thought the complexity of the nature of handedness is apparent. For example, a strongly right handed person who learns to play violin (or most other stringed instruments) must develop fine motor skills and co-ordination with the left hand that often surpass the right.  Piano players, to be successful, must have balanced skills with the right and left hand.  A predominantly right or left handed baseball player can learn to bat from the opposite side to become a switch hitter. Thus there is both a genetic and a learned component in handedness.  The genetic component is represented by a single gene. All strongly right- or left-handed people can become more adept with the opposite hand with practice. People with injuries to the dominant hand perforce learn to use the opposite hand, and can attain considerable skill.


Human cultures are predominantly right handed, and so the right-sided trend may be socially as well as biologically enforced. This is quite apparent from a quick survey of languages. The English word “left” comes from the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) word “lyft” which means “weak” or “useless.” Similarly, the French word for left, “gauche,” is used to mean “awkward” or “tactless,” and “sinister,” means “left” in Latin.  On the other hand (!), in many cultures the word for “right” also means “correct”. The English word “right” comes from the Old English word “riht” which also means “straight” or “correct. “Dexter” is the Latin word for “right” giving us the English “dexterous.”

Scientists generally agree that based on standardized testing, such as IQ tests, there is no statistically significant difference between right and left-handers. But it seems likely that the brains of many left handers develop differently from those of right handers. This phenomenon is due to the fact that the human brain is asymmetrical, with the left and right hemispheres controlling different functions.  For example, the left hemisphere in most people controls the right side of the body and also language. Thus, writing with the right hand involves co-ordination within the right hemisphere, whereas writing with the left hand involves co-ordination between the right and left hemispheres.  Incidentally the notion that the left brain is logical and the right brain is creative is a popular misconception.  There is a degree of laterality for these processes, but BOTH sides of the brain contribute to both. (It is also a misconception that we use only a tiny percentage of our brains. According to well established neuroscience we use ALL of our brains – but we use different bits at different times. Although in my experience, a fair number of people don’t use any of their brains, ever).

Defining “left” is actually quite tricky and cannot be done without reference to natural phenomena.  One common way is to define left as the side of the body that is towards the north when the observer is facing the rising sun.  This method has been used since antiquity, hence one Biblical Hebrew word for “left” is also used for “north” (and “unlucky”). Before the use of magnetic compasses the direction of the rising sun (the east) was the cardinal direction of orientation for maps (and “orient” means “east”). Below is Pietro Vesconte’s 14th century world map, oriented with the east at the top, and north to the left.


There is a popular belief that the term “south paw” for a lefty derives from the fact that baseball fields were originally laid out so that a batter faced east and hence did not have to contend with the setting sun (in the west) in late innings.  Thus, a left-handed pitcher’s left hand was towards the south.  This is bogus on two counts.  First, the term “south paw” was in use before the invention of baseball, and, second, early ball fields had various orientations.  It is true, however, that being right or left handed, as a pitcher, batter, or fielder is of major strategic importance.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

For some reason it always comes to my attention when someone I meet or see is left handed. I invariably notice, for example, when a movie or television actor writes with the left hand, leading me to the, probably false, conclusion that there is a higher percentage of lefties in acting than in the general population.  I’ll leave you to spot them.  It’s also a rather odd fact that since Gerald Ford, 5 of the 7 presidents of the U.S. (Ford, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, Obama) have been left handed.

U.S. President Barack Obama signs his first act as president, a proclamation, after being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States in Washington

It was also very convenient for the Beatles that Paul is left handed, meaning that he and George could share a microphone (for better balance) without their guitar heads clashing, plus when they turned sideways there was a nice symmetry.


Being left handed is a distinct disadvantage in the kitchen given how many culinary tools are designed for right handers – can openers, serrated knives, shears, and so on.  All of these tools are available in left-handed versions but finding them is not easy.  I have taken today’s recipe from the blog, City Pages, devoted to the Twin Cities. It is the signature dish of Thomas Kim chef/co-owner of The Left Handed Cook (named for obvious reasons), featuring Asian fusion takeout. The dish is called The Notorious P.I.G. There is no recipe in the blog, just a photo and a general description.  So I have had to recreate it for myself.  It’s basically a base of a Korean pancake (pajun) with scallions, vegetables, and kimchi, then fresh chimichurri (an Argentine salsa), a heaping of shredded braised pork with scallion and ginger sauce, melted cheese, and topped with fresh arugula and pickled daikon. It’s really not a hard dish to make but it does take time. This monster is packed with flavor. Right handers should have no problem making it.

Courtesy of

Notorious P.I.G.


6 kimchi pajun (see below)
12 tbsps chimichurri (see below)
1 ½ lb ginger and scallion braised pork shoulder, shredded (see below)
1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella
arugula for garnish
pickled daikon strips for garnish


Heat the broiler on medium.

Place a cooked pajun on a plate.

Spread with 2 tablespoons of chimichurri.

Mound ¼ lb of braised pork shoulder in the center of the pajun.

Top with a ¼ cup of mozzarella and place under the broiler just until the cheese begins to melt.

Garnish with arugula and pickled daikon.

Repeat for the other 5 pajun.

Yield 6

Kimchi Pajun (Korean Pancake)


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups water
1 large egg
1 ½ tsp salt
2 cups kimchi chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and julienned
1 small zucchini, julienned
4 green onions cut in 1 in. sections
Ground black pepper to taste


In a large bowl, beat the flour, water, egg and salt. Set the batter aside to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Mix the vegetables and kimchi into the batter plus a few grinds of black pepper (to taste).

Preheat a 9” skillet on medium heat. Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the skillet.

Ladle 1 cup of the batter mix into the skillet and swirl it so that it evenly coats the skillet.

Cook about 5 minutes checking the underside to be sure it does not brown too much.  By the time the bottom is cooked the top should be dry.  Shake the skillet to be sure the pancake is free and then flip it over.  If you want to be sure the pancake does not break, slide it on to a plate, invert the skillet over the plate, and then with your hand under the plate turn the plate and skillet back over. Cook another 4 to 5 minutes or until the second side is cooked.

Yield 6



2 cups packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled
¼  cup packed fresh oregano leaves (or 4 tsps dried oregano)
¼  cup red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil


Put the parsley, garlic, oregano, vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper (to taste) in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped but not reduced to a pulp.

Add the oil in a steady stream while pulsing.

Transfer sauce to an airtight container and refrigerate at least 2 hours (overnight is preferable). Will keep up to a week refrigerated.

Yield 2 cups

Braised Pork Shoulder in Ginger Scallion Sauce


2 lb boneless pork picnic shoulder
extra-virgin olive oil
4 scallions chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 cups dry white wine
kosher salt
3 bay leaves
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
¼ cup Soy sauce
2 tbsps vegetable oil


Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Sprinkle the pork shoulder with salt and ground pepper.

Heat a Dutch oven over high heat, add the vegetable oil, and brown the pork on all sides.

Remove the pork from the pan and reserve.

Lower the heat to medium and add the scallions. Cook the scallions until they start to take on color. Add the garlic and ginger and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Add the wine and bay leaves and reduce by half.

Return the pork to the Dutch oven and add the stock and soy sauce. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover and put the Dutch oven in the preheated oven.

After 1 hour, turn the pork over, adding more liquid to the pan if the liquid level has reduced too much. Cover and return to the oven for 1 hour.

Turn the pork back over and return to the oven without the lid. Cook for 45 more minutes to reduce the cooking liquid.

Remove the pan from the oven, remove the pork and reserve for 15 minutes, tented with aluminum foil.

Skim any excess fat from the pan and reduce the pan juices,if needed. Shred the pork with two forks and mix with the reduced liquid.