Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Look Bad, Taste Good!

Sadly, our delightful Korean neighbor, Ja-eun, sold her house to move to another state. She stayed with us for a week while she sorted through some boxes she'd stored in our front room. The house was quite busy with people coming and going as she distributed her goods. I mostly stayed out of the way.

One evening, Ja-eun called me into the foyer to introduce me to a couple, Youn and Myeong, and their 8-year-old son Seungmin. Seungmin was incredibly excited to meet Caleb (my medical alert dog) since Jindos are indigenous dogs from the Jindo Island off of South Korea. Ja-eun chatted with the family in Korean while I stood, smiling politely. Finally, she turned to me, laughing, and said, "Oh, boy like dog so much he want come every day play with him."

I chuckled, agreeably, "Oh, that's cute."

Ja-eun continued, "But I tell him 'No! Once a week only!Jay work Thursday? They come Thursday 5 o'clock."

Wait. What? She apparently told them the same thing in Korean, and they walked out the door. Well, okay then! 

I thought it was pretty funny until I realized that Ja-eun was leaving on Wednesday.

Me:  Um, Ja-eun, you’re leaving Wednesday. What am I supposed to do with them when they come on Thursday?

She:  Anything okay.

Me:  Do they even speak English? The only Korean words I know are “bulgogi” and “kimchi.”

She:  Is good! Need American friend so can learn English.

Me:  Okaaay. Um, will they be hungry? Am I supposed to serve them dinner? 

She:  Anything okay. 

Me:  What would I make? What do they like? What don’t they eat?

She: Anything okay. 
Well, okay then.  Ja-eun left Wednesday, and Thursday, at 5 PM sharp, Myeong (pronounced me-YOUNG—a great name because everyone confesses youth when they call her) showed up with little Seungmin (SING-men) in tow. He ran outside to play with Caleb while Myeong and I attempted conversation. She was shy with her English, so I just babbled nervously, hoping she understood some of it.

Jay was going through a stage where he wanted to learn how to cook, and he was in the kitchen making Stuffed Shells. The third time I heard him mutter (loud enough for me to hear in the den), "There's not enough stuff to stuff these shells with," I knew it was a cry for help. I excused myself and went to check on him. He already had one tray of shells stuffed and in the oven, but there was a pile of empty pasta shells next to a nearly empty bowl of stuffing. 
Puzzled, I looked over the recipe and remarked, "Odd. You'd think the 4 cups of ricotta cheese alone would be more than enough to stuff all the shells--even without adding the rest of the ingredients."

Jay responded, "Oooh, the ricotta..." Oops.

I opened the tub of ricotta cheese. Myeong wandered into the kitchen and wanted to taste it. Unsalted skim-milk ricotta is pretty flavorless, and her expression said that only her lovely Korean manners kept her from spitting it across the room.

I pulled the pan of shells out of the oven and scooped out the stuffing. The mozzarella topping was half melted and some of the tomato sauce from the bottom of the pan got mixed in, so after I added the un-stuffed-stuffing to the ricotta cheese, it looked like someone had thrown up in the bowl. Not pretty.  

Myeong took one look at the vile mixture and earnestly informed me, “We eat home.  We not eat here. No. Eat. Here.”  Korean food is supposed to look beautiful as well as taste good, so I understood her reaction.

“You don’t have to eat this,” I assured her as I re-stuffed shells. “You no eat--is okay. Jay and me eat. Food for Jay and me.” Although, the way it was looking, I wasn’t sure I wanted it either.

She responded with something indecipherable that I assumed was about dinner

But then she walked out the front door

And drove away

Well, okay then.  

I looked into the backyard. “Um, Jay, she left. And, um, her kid is still here.” 

“What!” Jay looked out the window, panicked.

“I have no idea what she said. Maybe I agreed to babysit or something."

We called Seungmin in.

Me (trying to sound casual to not cause alarm)H
oney, your mom just left. Do you know where she went?

He (entirely unconcerned):  No.

Me:  Do you know when she'll be back?

He:  No. 

Me:  Do you think she went to pick up your dad from work?

He:  Maybe.

Me:  Do you know where your dad works?

He:  No. 

Me:  Do you know where you live?

He:  No.

Me:  Do you know your mom’s cell phone number?


Me:  OK. Go play.

Seungmin skipped back outside while Jay paced the floor, fretting, “Did we just agree to adopt their kid? What do we do if she doesn’t come back? We don’t even know their last name!” 
I thought this was the most interesting thing to happen all week and cheerfully steamed broccoli and threw some garlic bread in the oven. After about 45 minutes, Seungmin and I were too hungry to wait any longer and dug in. Jay was too agitated to even take a bite, although the Stuffed Shells actually were quite tasty.

Myeong finally returned with Youn, much to Jay’s relief. He offered Myeong some Stuffed Shells, which she emphatically declined. Youn was exhausted from working a 12-hour day and starving. He looked askance at the pasta, but since Seungmin hadn't turned green or passed out, he allowed Jay to put some shells on his plate.

Youn put the first bite in his mouth and exclaimed, with undisguised shock, "Oooh, is good! Look very bad, but taste is good!"

After watching Seungmin and Youn eat with enthusiasm, Myeong finally cut one shell in half and placed the lonely half-bite in the middle of her plate. 

A dinner serving of Stuffed Shells, in Myeong's opinion

Bracing herself, she tried it. “Oooh, is good! Look very bad, but taste is good!”   

They asked for second and third helpings, repeating their favorite phrase (sounding utterly amazed) literally every few bites. Seungmin’s mouth was never empty enough to comment.

We'd baked sugar cookies from frozen dough during the meal. When we offered our guests the cooled sugar cookies, they kept saying, "Is not cook. Is not done," and we kept answering, "They're sugar cookies. They don't get brown. Is done."

Jay had run through a gamut of emotions in the past two hours, so he handed Youn a cookie and uncharacteristically commanded, "Eat!"

Dubiously, Youn took a bite and exclaimed, "Oooh, is cook. Look very bad, but is good!"

Shortly afterwards, they left. As they were going out the door, we heard, “Okay, see Thursday. Five o’clock!” Well, okay then. Ja-eun instructed us to meet once a week, and apparently that's what was going to happen.  

I decided to continue our trend of serving unsightly meals. We made casserole the next week, spaghetti with meat sauce the week after, and then pizza, and so on. You know exactly what they said after tasting each one!

Verse of the day: 
(Romans 12:13) "Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." Some of us need more practice than others.


Follow up:  On their second visit, Seungmin shyly said that he didn't have any relatives in the USA and asked if he could call us Aunt Pamela and Uncle Jay. That warmed my heart, but I was completely hooked when he offered to give Caleb a bath. He's been our honorary nephew ever since. They've been coming to our house for seven years and counting, even though we haven't served a pretty meal yet!

For another Korean story, see "House Guest Hash (Not a Recipe)."

Jay (happy to discover a source of free labor),
Seungmin (too young to know that washing a dog is a chore), and
Caleb (miserably wondering what he did to deserve such punishment)


  1. Posted with the approval of all involved, by the way.

  2. LOVE THIS STORY!!!!! :-) Especially that I know this family has become part of our personal family after all these years. God bless Ja-eun for just putting your families together without allowing for ANY excuses...and for all of you for being willing to take such risks. Such wonderful blessings have come from complete strangers bravely extending love & warmth to each other! <3

    P.S. How about some a blog on some of the amazing Korean dishes you & Jay have experienced??


    1. We've eaten wonderful Korean food, but not funny Korean food. When she serves me eel with its eye glaring at me from the plate, then I'll write about the food.

    2. What about the purple potatoes & other stuff you're used to by now, but the rest of us aren't? ;-)


  3. As soon as I saw the title of today's post I chuckled, knowing what was coming. I've retold this story a few times myself. Excellent story for the blog.

    1. Now you can read it to people since I finally wrote it down.

  4. Great retelling Pamela :). I remember this too- brings back so many memories of living in Korea. I started thinking though- I'd rather "Looks bad/taste good" then "Looks good/tastes bad"! You have served this family so well!!

    1. You've heard my stories as they've happened in real time. I'm going to have to figure out something you haven't heard before. But I hope rehearing the stories make you laugh anyway.

  5. Replies
    1. Thanks, Rick! Jay asked, "Why are you so happy this guy you don't know likes your story?" I said, "Precisely because he doesn't know me! He hasn't heard me tell this story before imitating Ja-eun's cute accent. If he thinks it's funny, he's only going by what's written." So, (embarrassed confession) I was hoping you would comment, and it made my day that you liked it.

    2. For what it's worth, it takes a LOT to make me laugh audibly. That's not to say I don't have a sense of humor, I'm pretty sure I do. But I typically LOI. (Laugh On Inside) I will readily admit that I have laughed audibly on more than one occasion while reading your tales.

      For what it's worth, they still haven't come up with a replacement for Erma Bombeck. Just sayin...

  6. Great story! Makes me hungry for Korean food!

    1. We drove by Inter Korea restaurant in Matthews today. They have the BEST Korean food. I wanted to stop, but we had both dogs with us, and it was too hot to leave Zoe in the car. If you haven't eaten there, you must. It's incredibly good.

  7. Haha, I'm so glad that this Korean family found a wonderful and amazing person like you, Aunt Pamela! You and Uncle Jay have been a wonderful part of our life in America. Btw, this Seungmin kid sounds like a pretty awesome guy. Too bad he learned that washing a dog is DEFINITELY a chore. :)

  8. That Korean family is one of the BEST gifts God has EVER given us! And that Seungmin kid IS pretty awesome--except that he no longer washes my dog for me. He'd be even more awesome if he'd do that again. Then again, he'd have to be awesome because he has amazing parents. They're great people to have put up with Jay and me (and our bad-lookin' cookin') for so many years.

    1. Pander to your audience, much? ;-)

    2. No apologies for pandering. Especially when I have more stories about them I want to use in my blog. Myeong was a little unsure how she felt about me sharing this story with the world, so I have to keep them on my good side. Maybe it's time for another ugly (but yummy) casserole...

  9. You are hilarous!! :)