My Body as a Site of Failure / Self- Love, and a Recipe for Korean Chicken Soup

Disclaimer: this entry is pretty whiny.

My body is hell, and I hate it. I’m not talking about my self-image (at least, not today), but more about its functioning. As you may know, when I started my job as director of development in May, I was eager to use the opportunity to grow and learn and absorb in all aspects of my life. With what I thought was a healthier approach to my career (not having it consume every waking moment of my life), I ventured into the territory of newness, of actually doing shit I had always talked about: leading a team in a full time job, joining a board or advisory committee, taking Italian tutoring lessons, volunteering with the students at my school, exercising, making lots of new dishes (and cooking for 1-3 hours/day), committing to this blog (with a goal of posting at least three entries/month), taking advantage of all that NYC has to offer (the most adult-feeling thing I did in the last few months is become a member at the Brooklyn Academy of Music), and spending lots more time loving and supporting my friends and family. Well, I’m doing all that, and my body is revolting.

My stupid body responds to stress by shutting itself down. I get migraines. My immune system says “NOPE NO MO” and becomes defenseless against the silliest colds. I am prone to ulcers and GERD. The muscles in my neck turn into steel rods. This is really annoying. Have I told you how annoying this is? How it makes me feel like an epic failure?

I have this chronic fear that I’m lazy, and that if I stagnate, my soul will die.  I know it’s a problem that I only value myself when I have something to show for my efforts, but it’s not something I can change easily. So until I can transform that manic energy and anxiety into something healthier, I’m trying to figure out how to not feel like my body is sabotaging my desire to live a happy and successful life.

I was a pretty sickly child growing up. With chronic asthma, a slew of stomach issues, and a sadly underachieving immune system, I was a mess. My father recently told me that I would frequently become painfully ill before piano competitions (high fevers), but that I would force myself to go. One time, I made myself play at a recital with a 102 fever, bowed, and then collapsed. Though mama was one of the reasons I pushed myself so hard, she realized what was happening and once told me something interesting: “Isn’t it nice that your body will tell you when it’s just too much?”

WHAT. How on earth is it nice that my weak constitution and seemingly fragile body get to determine what I can and cannot do? Why should my illness-prone body that I inherited from my mother (why couldn’t I get her brain or looks, instead?) get to set limits on my future? I look around at my family, my peers, my friends, who do so much with their lives, who work endless hours, and still manage to find time to be the dopest people of all time. Why can’t my body let me do more of that? Sure, these questions may make me sound petulant and bratty. But I can’t help but be appalled by my body’s inability to match my desires and ambition.

I spent the last few days trying to tend to my ailing body and spirit. And I thought a lot about my mother’s gentle, powerful, and irritatingly leading question. If I take away the whole “my life only has value if I’m doing a shit ton of stuff” element, perhaps it truly is a blessing that something can tell me, “hey, slow down for a second.” Maybe my body provides me with a visceral litmus test. Perhaps my physical health is an indicator of my mental/emotional health. Maybe, instead of being a site of failure, my body is actually trying to love me into submission.

Of course, all of this is purely conceptual. I still feel like a big fool for not being able to do everything I want to do without getting sick. I don’t know what to do about it, but I know how I should try to feel. Perhaps some other time, I can think about how to actually chill out.

And now, a recipe for a Korean chicken soup that made me feel less like a disaster zone!

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Yeong Gye Baeksuk (Korean Chicken Soup) Recipe
Recipe adapted from
6 Servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes


2 cornish game hen
1 whole head of garlic, peeled (8-12 cloves of garlic)
1 whole onion, peeled and left whole
4 green onion stalks
5 slices of fresh ginger
10 cups of cold water
salt and pepper to taste
sauce for chicken – 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce + 1 teaspoon of white vinegar
2 cups of jasmine rice, cooked per instructions


  1. Discard the giblets inside the Cornish hen’s cavity. If there’s a lot of fat near the breast area or the bottom, trim the fat as much as you can. Wash the chicken under running water and pat it dry with paper towels.
  2. Add chicken, garlic, onion, three stalks of green onions, and ginger to pot and add 8 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil.
  3. Once it’s boiling, simmer at medium low or low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Check if the chicken is fully cooked by piercing the area between the thigh and the belly to see if any blood comes out. Cook for a few minutes longer if you see any redness.
  4. Take the chicken out onto a plate and let it cool for a few minutes. Chop up the green onions.
  5. Serve the soup with rice, pieces of the chicken, and green onions in a bowl. Serve with salt and pepper so it can be seasoned at the table. If you so desire, make some vinegar-soy sauce for dipping the chicken meat.

Coming up (I promise)…Our States, Our People, Our Food: Chinese Immigration to Mississippi and a Recipe for Salt and Pepper Shrimp

The Problematization of “Authenticity” Series: On Italy, Traditions, and a Recipe for Pasta e Fagioli (aka Pasta Fazool)

Longest title of all time.

I harbor deeply ambivalent feelings on the utility of “authenticity” as both a concept and a measure of something’s realness. Because there is so much to unpack, and because I don’t want to subject my readers to longass entries, I decided to start a series within the blog on this particular subject. Today, I will use my status as the wife of an Italian to talk about Italy and tradition. I offer no solutions or answers about authenticity in this entry, only the questions that bounce me back and forth between the benefits and detriments of the term. And, cuisine provides us with an interesting, safe, and delicious entry point into this conversation (isn’t it more comfortable to talk about an authentic recipe, as opposed to what it means to be authentically southern, black, Asian, etc?).

Here’s one of the things I hate most about authenticity re food: it necessitates an essentialized understanding of something that is, at its core, socially constructed…the nation-state. And, even if you break the nation-state down into smaller counterparts for the sake of precision, how do we identify the originary thing?

I was once gently admonished by a bona fide Italian that my Pasta e Fagioli was inauthentic, because it wasn’t cooked with lard and bits of pancetta. Boy, did I have feelings about that (top among them, an intense longing for lard and pancetta). Many of the Italians I know (and I do have a fair sample size, since my husband is an immigrant from what I call The Country of Cheese) identify with their province or region of birth, not with the country, which is pretty green in its current form as a republic. So, asking them whether something is authentically “Italian” is a bit senseless. You can, however, ask them about the foods of their region, and they will have very strong opinions about: (1) what ingredients should be included in a dish; (2) what ingredients should and should not be combined; (3) which region in Italy makes the best of [anything]; (4) blahblahblah. Tradition is everything.

(A word of advice: Never tell an Italian to put chicken in a pasta dish. They will make a disgusted and baffled face, and endlessly make flailing hand gestures)

Here’s a hilarious example of what happens when someone tries to de-Italianize a recipe:

But, even within each of these towns that are filled with their own histories and traditions, everyone’s mama makes food a bit differently, and isn’t that a beautiful thing? But, where does that leave poor little authenticity? I love Italy for its endless supply of cheese, wine, salumi, pasta, risotto, etc – whenever I’m there visiting Nico’s family, I end up eating my weight in amazing food. I think so much of the country’s great culinary accomplishments have to do with tradition. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. When the food is so goddamn good, and comes from hundreds of years of practice and perfection, why change anything?

But Italy isn’t really a country of innovation, and it’s also not a country that is doing all that well in welcoming immigrants with different experiences and palates (sorry, Country of Cheese…I do love you). My point is this: not only is it kind of a silly pursuit to identify an originary taste or dish or meal, it’s also an inherently exclusionary position, especially if you are heralding all things authentic (when authenticity has to do with Italian ‘pedigree’) and poopoo-ing all things divergent. I think there is a way to honor tradition while simultaneously absorbing new people, contexts, histories, and tastes. Look at Spain! Look at France! Italy…if anything will jump start a process of culinary innovation and inclusion, it’s the knowledge that you are falling behind…France.

I have what may be a totally “inauthentic” recipe for Pasta e Fagioli (lovingly known as “pasta fazool” in this country), but it’s pretty yummy. It’s informed by Nico’s taste-based memory of his mom’s soup, and a little by my mild disdain for dishes that have zillions of ingredients.

As you know, I made a bunch of stock last week, which left me with enough for this delicious soup. I’m a little baffled by how many recipes on the internet are trying to recreate The Olive Garden’s version…yikes…?

Anywho,  I sometimes include pancetta in this dish (which I’ve included in the recipe), but since I made three pounds of incredibly fatty pork belly, this week, I thought I would keep this soup a bit lighter. I also did something weird and topped the pasta fazool with sauteed swiss chard. The dish is naturally sweet from the vegetables, and I like to balance that with a bit of bitter, salty, and spicy flavors.

If you’re looking for a comforting, thick, creamy (but not heavy) soup, try this out! Here it is:


Yejin’s Pasta e Fagioli

Servings: 6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes


2 tablespoons of olive oil
4-6 ounces of pancetta, diced (optional)
1 white onion, chopped
3 large carrots, roughly chopped
2 ribs of celery, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
4 cups of chicken stock (homemade or purchased)
2 tsp of kosher salt
2 cans of cranberry/roman beans, drained
egg noodles
¼ cup of freshly grated grana
Sauteed Swiss Chard w/ Garlic, Anchovies, and Crushed Red Peppers (RECIPE BELOW)
Drizzle of quality olive oil to top


  1. In a large and heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. If you’re using pancetta, add to the pot and cook until the fat begins to render, about 5 minutes. I like to take the pancetta out of the pot and place onto a paper towel lined plate. After ladeling the soup into a bowl, I like to sprinkle the pancetta on top. You can also keep the pancetta in the soup…up to you! Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a medium low and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender (can be easily pierced with a fork), about 20 minutes. Add cranberry/roman beans and cook for another 5 minutes.
  3. Pour the broth/vegetable mixture into a large mixing bowl. Do your thing with an immersion blender or a regular blender (I don’t use the immersion blender in my nice pot). I like to puree the whole thing so that the soup is creamy perfection, but some people like to puree half and keep the other half as is. Add more broth or water if you want to thin the soup out.
  4. Return your soup into pot and taste for salt. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally.
  5. In the meantime, bring water to a boil in a separate pot. Cook egg noodles according to package instructions. Drain and use a slotted spoon to place noodles in your serving bowls.
  6. Ladel soup over the noodles in your serving bowls.
    (Cooking the noodles directly in the soup will mean that your leftovers will be filled with overcooked pasta…no good!)
  7. Sprinkle with desired amount of shredded grana (and pancetta), top with sauteed swiss chard, and drizzle quality olive oil.
  8. ENJOY

Sauteed Swiss Chard with Garlic, Anchovies, and Crushed Red Pepper

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes


1 bunch of rainbow swiss chard, tough stalks discarded and leaves cut into ribbons
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 anchovies, finely chopped
¼ tsp of crushed red pepper


  1. Place swiss chard leaves in a bowl with cold water. Rinse out the leaves thoroughly to remove sediment.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add swiss chard leaves. Cook the leaves for 5 minutes in boiling water, drain, and place under cold running water. When the chard is cool enough to the touch, squeeze the water out.
  3. Heat a saucepan on a medium heat setting. Add the olive oil, minced garlic, anchovy, and crushed red pepper and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the swiss chard leaves, bring heat to medium-low, and continue cooking for 5 minutes.

Coming up: On Being Healthy + A Recipe for Pork Belly