Weekly Menu Series: On Cravings

After posting many of my near-neurotic meal schedules on Facebook, I was encouraged by friends and acquaintances to not only share the week’s plans re: food, but also to discuss why and how I come up with such plans. For every other entry, I’ll post my numnum calendar on “Exposed Eats with Yejin” for the week and discuss one of the many elements that determines the direction of my menu.

Note: Eventually, as I become more sophisticated as a blogger (good luck with that, Yejin), I can start incorporating recipes into the menu, and maybe even a list of grocery items for the week. Yes? No? Maybe?

As you know by now, a lot of my behaviors are dictated by anxiety, and my methods of planning, cooking and eating are no exception. I have anxiety around unused produce or meat going bad; anxiety that my husband and I won’t enjoy our meal; anxiety that I don’t know what’s coming next. To some, it may appear that my obsession with creating, organizing and arranging these meals is just a symptom of my mind’s ailments-perhaps that is a little bit true. Or a lot bit true. But I would say that the process that I’ve crafted serves as a weirdly beautiful release for my excess disquietude. And the result is usually pretty tasty!

Other elements that go into this process include:

  • Cravings
  • Budget
  • Weather
  • My mood (yes, like a freak, I can often predict my mood a week in advance)
  • Whether we’re having guests
  • Leftovers
  • My feelings about my body
  • How much cheese I want to consume any given week (this is real)
  • A lot of other stuff
    I don’t want to scare my readers away by listing all the crazy things I consider when developing the week’s menu. Plus, I feel like I should leave a little mystery, no? Look at me, being all coy and restrained.

Today, I want to talk about cravings.

So…I was bulimic in high school.


Sorry, readers – I’m sure you weren’t ready for that, but I swear this is relevant. And since I’ve already bummed you out with my last entry, I promise not to go into that sad little piece of my history, today. We’ll leave it for another time.

Once I told my mother about my bulimia, we cried ugly and wonderful tears together, and then she took me to see a nutritionist. My memory, as you know, is crap. So I don’t remember how frequently I saw this person, and whether I felt much better after my sessions were completed. But I do recall learning (and retaining) a very important lesson about cravings: don’t repress them. Embrace a craving, even if it is fatty or sugary or chocolatey or buttery (ugh, that all sounds so good, no?). Because for me, depriving myself of something I wanted was a form of self-inflicted punishment. Girls who aren’t doing well in math don’t deserve a slice of cake. Girls who aren’t toned, skinny, and blonde/brunette haven’t earned the right to eat all that pork belly. Girls who can’t control the most basic elements of their lives shouldn’t get mac n cheese. By learning to lean into my cravings (and doing so in moderation), I slowly began to disassociate the act of eating (or binging or deprivation) with the act of self-loathing. FREEDOOOOM.

Now, I allow my cravings to gently dictate our weekly menu.

This week, I wanted pork. Pork pork pork. So we purchased bacon, pork chops, and sausages, and I came up with the following schedule:

  • Farfalle all’amatriciana + salad with romaine hearts, endives, radicchio, and sliced apple
  • Sticky honey & soy pork chops + jasmine rice + sauteed bok choy in garlic sauce
  • Fusilli with sweet Italian sausage, broccoli, and hot pepper flakes + salad with romaine hearts, endives, radicchio, and sliced apple
  • Fried tofu with spicy ginger, garlic and scallion sauce + jasmine rice + gai lan with oyster sauce
  • Farfalle alla peperonata + salad with romaine hearts, endives, radicchio, and sliced apple
  • Cabbage, cannellini bean & Italian sausage soup

I find pork to be very comforting, and I often want to consume it with equally comforting sides, like mashed potatoes. But because the meat can be heavy, I tried thinking about ways to make the whole meals a bit lighter so I could eat a lot without feeling gross afterwards. I incorporated the bacon into the Farfalle all’amatriciana, and decided it should go with a light and mildly bitter salad to cut the rich and fatty sauce. For the chops, I chose a vaguely Asian marinade for the pork chops so I could have it with rice, which keeps the meal a bit brighter and lighter.


And I thought it would be nice to split the sausages into one pasta dish and a soup to make sure we aren’t consuming too much meat in one week (too much makes me insanely sleepy and inarticulate). I added a tofu dish for good measure. Because that means that I’m healthy, right? Right?

I don’t think that giving into cravings is inherently unhealthy. In fact, I believe healthiness and happiness are both subjective experiences whose boundaries are constantly changing and moving. One of the ways that I keep up with my changing needs and desires is to sometimes give into stuff that I want. Sadly, you won’t find me exclusively eating pork belly for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while binge-watching House of Cards and The Wire until the day I die, but I will let myself enjoy that extra cookie, extra slices of bacon, and second servings of mac n cheese. And I do that because I deserve to understand and love myself in a way that feels right, and in a way that tastes delicious.

Coming Up: On Identity Politics, Being a Bad Korean, and a Recipe for Ddak Bulgogi (Korean BBQ Chicken)

Mnemonic Meals and Paprika Chicken Stew Recipe

Disclaimer: Possible trigger warning around death of a loved one. This entry is pretty personal, and maybe a wee bit sad. Feel free to run for the hills!

My memory is crap. Occasionally, a close friend will fondly bring up something from the past and sweetly ask, “Do you remember?” I’d try to sound nostalgic/excited whilst exclaiming “I would never forget!” but folks could tell by the vacant or worried look in my eyes that I did not, in fact, recall a damn thing. Someone could fabricate a narrative involving the most absurd characters and elements, insert me into it, and have me believe that the anecdote was truth. Suckaaaa! After an in-depth internal investigation, I’m loathe to announce that there is no substantive or reliable historical archive in this noggin of mine.

Though I can’t recall actual facts or occurrences with any semblance of accuracy, I do remember how I felt about certain people and moments, and I do that with great aptitude (read: I have lots of feelings). And nothing jogs these implicit emotional memories quite like food and their associated smells, which is probably why my adoration for cooking and eating is so severe.

My mother cooked a lot of Korean and non-Korean food when I was growing up. And for some reason, the dish I most associate with her is Paprika Chicken Stew over Jasmine Rice. When I was somewhere between the ages of 11 and 17 (you see how terrible this brain is?), she told me that she needed a great ‘sous-chef’ in order to cook this dish and I volunteered with intense enthusiasm. I had never cooked before, and it sure seemed like it would be fun to touch a dead bird, throw flour around the kitchen, and chop vegetables like a ninja. Mom was always kind and encouraging; she kept calling me the ‘sous-chef’, even though I was chronically using sugar in place of salt. In any case, this has long been my go-to dish when I seek comfort and love in my belly and soul, even though she is no longer here to cook it for me.

mother, holding baby yejin

mother, holding baby yejin

Meet mom. Look at this magnificent human being! She was, for a long time, my everything: my muse; my source of encouragement, self-love and strength; my friend. Nine years ago, she left this world for another, one she suspected was filled with infinite amounts of clay for a happy eternity of pottery-making. She was suddenly gone, and my memory did nothing to keep her close. It didn’t matter how tightly I squeezed my eyes shut – shortly after losing her to breast cancer, I couldn’t hold onto something as tangible as the sound and timbre of her voice. It didn’t matter whether I journaled or shared detailed stories with friends, because my reality had always been (and continues to be) inextricably linked to actively living and growing with something or someone. And without her by my side, my brain can not reconcile the cognitive dissonance associated with remembering someone who no longer exists, someone who is no longer real. Components of memories that are palpable for most people, like images, sounds, words, sequences of events, those were the pieces of her that dissipated, first.

So, I no longer drive myself crazy when I want to feel my mother’s presence. Instead of trying to bully myself into recounting images, sounds, words, and sequences of events, I cook or eat something that smells and tastes like a moment or a feeling. For a happy moment, I make Paprika Chicken. Not because I (probably inaccurately) remember the time she taught me to cook the dish, but because upon taking one bite, I can close my eyes and feel what it was like to be loved by her. The tenderness of the chicken in this recipe, the creaminess of the stew, the way in which the rice soaks up the fatty goodness, the fragrance of sauteed onion, garlic, and hot paprika, all of these elements help me to re-feel and re-experience how much I loved her and how much she loved me.

It’s taken me a few years to embrace my fallible and feelings-based memory, and to accept the fact that I will probably always have a contentious relationship with my brain when it comes to remembering the words, images, and sounds of those who molded my heart and soul. But I have learned to take solace in the mnemonic possibilities of food. For me, smells and tastes can magically conjure feelings of love, righteous indignation, anger, happiness, or camaraderie, and help me to acknowledge important people and moments in my life.

I really love making and eating stews – they are hearty and comforting, like a tight hug from a loving and flannel-clad lumberjack. Though some stews require a good amount of preparation, I find them to be easy to manage since they’re largely cooked in one pot. For obvious reasons, this one is a favorite of mine. Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Paprika Chicken Stew


4-6 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes


Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning chicken
3 to 3 ½ lbs of bone-in chicken drumsticks and thighs
2 medium white onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 green bell peppers, julienned
3 tablespoons of flour, to lightly dust the chicken
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
2 tablespoons of smoked paprika
½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups of water (or chicken stock for a heavier stew), plus more if needed
1 can of diced tomatoes, liquid drained
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter

For thickening agent:
3 tablespoons of flour
¼ cup of water
½ cup of sour cream

2 cups of jasmine rice (also delicious served with egg noodles)


  1. Pat chicken dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. This will help to ensure that you brown your chicken with perfection!
  2. Liberally season the chicken with salt and pepper. Once seasoned, toss chicken in a large bowl and toss with three tablespoons of flour. Make sure each part of the drumsticks and thighs are lightly coated.
    Dusting meat with flour before searing/browning is optional, but I use this technique whenever I eventually want a thicker sauce. Here’s a great article from The Reluctant Gourmet called Why Flour Meat Before Browning
  3. In a large dutch oven or a pot with a heavy bottom, heat olive oil on high heat for one minute. Shake off any excess flour, and place pieces of chicken in the pot, skin side down. Do not overcrowd. Leave the chicken for 5 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Flip the meat and cook for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate, and continue with remaining drumsticks and thighs.
    One thing that I’ve learned is not to tinker too much with the meat while it’s browning. The purpose of browning meat is two-fold: (1) to render excess fat; and (2) to beautifully caramelize the outside of your meat to maximize flavor. If you smell something starting to burn, turn the heat down to medium-high and adjust the piece of meat. Here’s a great article from The Kitchn on How to Sear Meat Properly.
  4. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat rendered from the chicken and reduce heat to medium. Throw in 2 tablespoons of butter, add chopped onions and stir frequently for 2-3 minutes.The moisture from the cooking onions will grab some of those delicious brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.
  5. Add chopped garlic and cook/stir for another minute.
  6. Add paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and freshly ground black pepper, and cook for another minute until the spices are very fragrant. Make sure to stir – burning the spices can lead to a bitter taste.
  7. Add can of diced tomatoes, water and gently stir. Return chicken drumsticks and thighs to pot. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover the chicken, add a little more. Once the stew comes to a gentle boil, lower the heat and cover the pot. Let it simmer for 45 minutes.
  8. While the stew is simmering, mix sour cream, flour, and water. Set aside for later use.
  9. Take the lid off the stew and add green bell peppers and the sour cream and flour mixture. Stir the pot. Cover and let it simmer for another 30 minutes. Taste and add salt based on your preferences.
  10. Meanwhile, cook jasmine rice as per package instructions.
  11. Put cooked rice into a bowl, place desired number of chicken pieces on top of rice, and ladle sauce over. Enjoy!

Initial Exposure

There is an array of amazing work articulating the ways in which the body can/should be understood as a site of knowledge, desire, pleasure, and resistance. Many posit that power and oppression are inscribed onto our bodies, but that we can use our corporeality to resist violence and attain psychic agency. I promise not to quote Michel Foucault or Judith Butler in my inaugural blog post, but I will say this: as someone who has internalized ugliness and beauty, self-loathing and confidence, cultural shame and pride, my body has been both my enemy and my saving grace. And, by extension, my creation and consumption of food has become an important element in disassembling and understanding these dichotomies.

Hello! I’m Yejin, author of this cooking blog and the far-too-exposed-and-vulnerable word-vomit above. I’m a lot of things that are sure to be boring, if listed. What I’m not is a bonafide chef or cook. I don’t make many fancy things, and I don’t always use proper techniques. But I really love to cook and eat. As someone who doesn’t really understand how to have a hobby (without incorporating unachievable expectations of vaguely ‘winning’ something), cooking is the closest thing to an enjoyable activity that I’ve got (unless binge-watching TV counts). Though, to be fair, eating something delicious is kind of akin to my mouth winning a prize, no? You’ll get to know that I’m a pretty high-strung, anxious, and obsessive person, but I’ve found a way to direct these somewhat maniacal energies into something tasty: a weekly menu of meals. Yay for my belly!

Actually, the paragraph above is too reductive. I love cooking, not just because it is a kind of pressure valve. I love the process of preparation, because I can literally categorize everything neatly into boxes (my obsession with categorization and compartmentalization is not always relevant or helpful, in life). I love watching the transformation of a dish’s ingredients. I love being catapulted into a memory by a simple smell. Maybe more important, I adore eating. Food is so fucking amazing. Sometimes, my body doesn’t know how to handle such pleasure, and it produces tears. TEARS. My body can be so dramatic.

This is how I generally feel about food.

This is generally how I feel about food. It excites me.

So, at least to start, I’m going to post two entries per week: the first will share my week’s menu, along with an explanation of why and how I decided on those meals; the second will feature one particular dish and recipe, and I’ll write about the stuff it brings up, for me. It is totally possible that the format and content of the blog will change (AH!), so please bear with me as I figure it out. If any of you have suggestions on better ways to present the schedule of meals or anything else, please let me know! I’m nothing if not willing to improve myself and the stuff I do.

Without further ado, here’s a list of this week’s meals:

  • Broiled salmon filets + jasmine rice + sauteed bok choy in garlic sauce
  • Spaghetti aglio e olio + arugula salad with roasted asparagus, fennel, toasted pine nuts, shaved grana in lemon vinaigrette
  • Marinated steak burritos (in the style of Chipotle – it’s ok to judge me)
  • Penne alla puttanesca + arugula salad with roasted asparagus, fennel, toasted pine nuts, shaved grana in lemon vinaigrette
  • Paprika chicken stew + jasmine rice + arugula salad with roasted asparagus, fennel, toasted pine nuts, shaved grana in lemon vinaigrette
  • Sriracha and soy sauce baked tofu + jasmine rice + gai lan (chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce
  • Margherita pizza + white pizza with speck and sliced onion

I’ll wait to explain my meal selection process for entry #3, since this one’s already long enough to make your eyes cross. Coming up: Recipe for paprika chicken stew + memories of mother.

Before I let you go, I wanted to end the post with this: you’ll learn that I’m simultaneously a person of control and excess. A product of my anxiety, I try to control every element of my life. I am a chronic worrier and over-preparer, and have no idea how people improvise anything (I may have married a jazz musician just to figure that out). Yet, all that control is systematically dismantled and then re-fueled by my excess of feelings, thoughts, and desires. All this to say: I already love you in excess. Thanks for taking part in my journey!