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Meet the viral TikTok star veganizing classic Korean dishes

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korean vegan

In a time when identity can be divisive, Joanne Lee Molinaro has curated a space to bring people together: Korean, vegan or otherwise.

The first time I encountered Molinaro, also known as the Korean Vegan, it was through her TikTok. The app’s algorithm, always uncannily certain of the type of content I would want to watch, delivered me a video of hers. It eludes me now which one I saw first, exactly — but I remember immediately going to her profile and scrolling through dozens more.

@thekoreanveganCheck out my bio for my meal planner!♬ original sound – Anthony Molinaro

In a little more than a year, Molinaro has amassed 2.7 million followers on TikTok. Her most viral videos feature cinematic shots of her hands preparing food, carefully wrapping rice paper, shredding tofu, ladling clear broth, chopping scallions. The TikToks are draped in a signature color palette of dark greys and blacks, a cool-toned aesthetic which also envelops the pages of her cookbook. She speaks in a gentle, firm narration, sharing experiences from her life and family history. The stories cover her success as a corporate lawyer, her long-distance running, her family’s immigration story, her connection to Korean heritage, resilience, love, heartbreak. 

When I spoke to Molinaro for NextShark, I found the same warmth and generosity in our conversation. She explained that this was a space she had been working to cultivate over the years, both in her blog and on social media since she started the Korean Vegan in 2016. “I wanted to create a space where as many people as possible could feel welcome, while also starting important discussion, particularly on race,” she shared. “I realized in 2017 that if I simply just said, ‘Hey, this is a place about race, and we’re going to talk about racism,’ a lot of people would just tune me out. So it was important for me to find a way to get into people’s hearts and minds without having them be sort of defensive and guarded from the get-go.” 

To combat this, she focuses on herself and her own experiences, something that people can’t deny. “The one thing that I’ve learned is: turn it back to me. This is my experience, this is my feeling, this is how I feel. You cannot question my credibility and authority on these things. I am the most authoritative person when it comes to my experience and my feelings.” 

@thekoreanveganSoondooboo ##foodtiktok ##먹방 ##Love ##koreanfood♬ original sound – Joanne L. Molinaro (이선영)

Becoming the Korean Vegan

The sense of warmth and generosity in Molinaro’s content extends to her feelings about veganism as well. She describes her experience becoming vegan as a journey. At first, she was afraid that changing to a plant-based diet would disrupt her sense of identity. “For a lot of us, that’s our one big tie to our cultural identity,” she said. “For people like my mom and dad who can’t go back to North Korea, that’s not an option for them, and for refugees in particular, it’s not an option to go back to their native countries. So food becomes one of the few things they have left of their homes.” 

When her husband proposed that they both become vegan, she said it caused a lot of tension because she felt that as a white man, he didn’t completely understand the depth of what he was asking of her. “This idea of threatening to take that from me was a big point of contention… I really felt like ‘You’re asking me to give up my Korean-ness, and you have no idea what that means to me.’” 

Eventually, she says that paradoxically, her journey of becoming a vegan ultimately helped her become closer to her Korean heritage. “One of the joys of veganizing my favorite dishes has been that it actually brought me so much closer to my cultural cuisine. A lot of times, especially second-generation Asian immigrant families, they sort of take for granted these things. ‘Oh yeah, I don’t need to figure out how to make kimchi-jjigae, it’s always been done this way.’ Well, when you have to veganize something, at least for me… I want to learn.”

Molinaro does extensive research while creating her recipes, digging into the origins of the Korean foods she adapts. “I want to know how it was made originally. I want to know how to make the broth and what other things are in there. Because then it’s my job to veganize it. And that process has brought me so much closer to Korean food, to my own family and to my own heritage.” 

She also says she understands the hesitation of many Asian Americans in going vegan. What helped her most, she explained, was taking things step-by-step and eliminating animal products gradually. Some things were more difficult than others — dairy traditionally does not play a large part in Korean cuisine, so that was less of a challenge than eggs, which are more ubiquitous in all kinds of cuisine. “I think my advice for anyone would be, practically speaking: go at your own pace. There’s no rule that says compassionate eating, whether it’s for the animals or yourself or the planet, or whatever reason it is, has to look exactly the same way as everyone else’s.”

Regarding the decision to become vegan, she shared, “I don’t just value my Korean-ness, that is a part of who I am. I also value things like longevity, living as long as I can, living healthy… And that’s okay. You can value being Korean and also value having a long life, having a healthy life… I think the challenge is trying to figure out a way that those two values could coexist in my life.”

The Cookbook 

The cookbook Molinaro wrote is called “The Korean Vegan Cookbook: Reflections and Recipes from Omma’s Kitchen.” Over the course of more than 300 pages, Molinaro shares recipes in categories such as Basics, Bbang (breads), Jjigae (stews) and more. Also nestled throughout the cookbook’s sections are stories of her family’s history and perseverance. A natural storyteller, Molinaro shrugs at the idea that she has lived a particularly inspiring life. She told me that people often ask her how she has so many poignant experiences to share with her audience, to which she responds, “You have as many stories as I do… We’re all just walking chapters, we’re all novels. We’re all walking around and we have these beautiful stories inside of us.”

@thekoreanveganCome hang out with me and get a signed copy of my book!! @avery_tarcherperigee ##booktok ##foodtiktok ##storytime♬ Pieces (Solo Piano Version) – Danilo Stankovic

The beginning of Molinaro’s cookbook goes into an in-depth analysis of common ingredients in Korean cooking. There’s a loving description of soy sauce, doenjang, gochujang and many other staples. Molinaro takes care to give an introduction to the ingredients — for some who might not have heard of them at all — and also frames them in a new context for readers who may already be very familiar with them. With soy sauce, for instance, she explains the complexity and history of the ingredient, discussing how there are hundreds of ways to prepare it, each with their own varieties and flavor profiles. 

There’s also a note at the beginning of her cookbook which I think reflects her overall gentle but firm approach to sharing parts of herself with others. Just like in her stories on TikTok, she strives to create a space where people feel welcome, but also where they understand the importance of following the house rules. In the cookbook, this takes the form of a small warning at the beginning: “So, while I know you’re itching to make that jjajangmyun dish, be sure you know the difference between ‘black bean sauce’ and ‘fermented black soybean sauce.’”

I asked Molinaro about this approach and how she feels about the broader discussion of other people cooking Korean cuisine. “Number one, I would say: I just want the food to taste good. And I know that if you make this with paprika, it ain’t gonna taste good! That’s the most fundamental thing… This gentle insistence is more like, fine, I’m just warning you. If you use this, it’s gonna taste weird!”

I felt this remained remarkably consistent with Molinaro’s approach. She has created a community centered around her vegan-ness and Korean-ness, but never to the exclusion of any other identities. Her content, fundamentally, comes back to a simple human experience. She’s gathering us all together to share a meal and some stories. 

The Korean Vegan Cookbook can be purchased on the book’s website. You can also find Molinaro’s recipes on her website and on TikTok

Feature Image via Penguin Random House and The Korean Vegan

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Biden to give away 400 million N95 masks starting next week

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Biden to give away 400 million N95 masks starting next week

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting next week, now that federal officials are emphasizing their better protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19 over cloth face coverings.

The White House announced Wednesday that the masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand. The masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers across the country. They will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week, the White House said.

This will be the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In early 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration considered and then shelved plans to send masks to all American at their homes. President Joe Biden embraced the initiative after facing mounting criticism this month over the inaccessibility — both in supply and cost — of N95 masks as the highly transmissible omicron variant swept across the country.

After facing similar criticism over a winter shortage of COVID-19 at-home test kits, Biden this week launched a website for Americans to order four rapid tests to be shipped to their homes for free, with the first tests to ship later this month.

The White House said the masks will be made available at pharmacies and community health centers that have partnered with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its guidance on face coverings to more clearly state that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks offer the most protection against COVID-19. Still, it didn’t formally recommend N95s over cloth masks.

The best mask “is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week.

Details were not immediately available on the specifics of the program, including the sort of masks to be provided, whether kid-size ones will be available and whether the masks could be reworn.

The White House said that “to ensure broad access for all Americans, there will be three masks available per person.”

N95 or KN95 masks are more widely available now than at any other time during the pandemic, though they are often more costly than less-protective surgical masks or cloth masks.

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Vail Resorts is threatening immigration status of foreign investors in Mount Snow project, Vermont regulators allege

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Vail Resorts is threatening immigration status of foreign investors in Mount Snow project, Vermont regulators allege

Vermont regulators this month issued a cease-and-desist order to Vail Resorts, alleging that the Colorado-based ski giant is reneging on an agreement with roughly 30 immigrant investors that could lead to their deportation.

These foreign investors came to the United States under the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program — created by Congress in 1990 to facilitate economic development in exchange for the chance to receive a green card, or permanent U.S. residency status.

In 2014, more than 100 people invested $500,000 with Peak Resorts — which Vail Resorts bought in 2019 — for the purposes of building an improved ski lodge and upgraded snowmaking facility at Mount Snow in southern Vermont. In return for their capital and job creation, the investors received temporary residency, with the ability to become permanent U.S. residents in the future.

But Vermont regulators, in their Jan. 7 order, said Vail Resorts is trying to return money to dozens of investors involved in the Mount Snow project before their immigration petitions have been processed by the federal government — which, the state argued, would violate Vermont security laws and could result in investors losing their legal status to remain in the country.

“If your application hasn’t been decided yet and you get refunded, you’re out of possibilities to get your permanent green card,” said Michael S. Pieciak, a commissioner with Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation, which filed the cease-and-desist order. “That’s a very serious outcome for these investors.”

Quinn Kelsey, a Vail Resorts spokesperson, said in a statement that the company is “evaluating our legal recourse” but that it is “confident our practices are fully compliant.”

“Since the Mount Snow EB-5 Project’s formation in 2014, our communications with investors have been transparent, clear and compliant with securities laws,” Kelsey said.

Vail Resorts did not respond when asked why it was refunding the Mount Snow investors.

These investments are primarily an avenue for people to get a coveted green card, rather than make a significant return on investment, Pieciak said.

The state became aware of the refunds in late November and early December when investors told them they had been contacted by Vail Resorts, asking them to complete a form with bank wire transfer instructions.

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These Colorado towns are great in winter – even if you don’t ski

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These Colorado towns are great in winter – even if you don’t ski

Not being a skier in Colorado is the equivalent of blurting “Voldemort” at Hogwarts. People look at you in shock. How dare you not ski?! The thing is, skiing and snowboarding can be pricey — season pass or lift tickets, skis or snowboard, boots, helmet, and layers of cold-weather gear. Plus, trying to get anywhere in the mountains along  I-70 is so … trying.

So what else is there to do, then?

Turns out, there’s a lot more to Colorado in the winter than shredding pow. You can snowshoe to a glorious, four-course dinner, spectate at an elite ice climbing competition, soak your muscles in a hot springs, or ride through a snowy wonderland by train. Read on for tips for finding winter fun off the slopes.

Daniel Brenner, Special to the Denver Post

A competitor loses an edge during the 72nd Running of Leadville Skijoring on March 8, 2020, in Leadville.

Leadville

Billed as the highest city in the country, Leadville is surrounded by fourteeners and is home to snow almost year-round. You could try summiting a peak, but this is recommended only if you have experience climbing in winter. Fortunately, you don’t have to climb one to enjoy great mountain views. There are world-renowned trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Or take the 1-mile trail to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse for a four-course dinner with a backdrop like no other.

Plan your visit around Crystal Carnival Weekend (March 5-6) and enjoy the skijoring — kind of like waterskiing, but instead of water there’s snow and instead of a boat there’s a horse. That’s right! A horse and rider gallop down the street towing a rope — and on the other end of that rope there’s a person on skis. They race through downtown in a series of jumps. It’s a hootin’-hollerin’ good time! And if someone in your group does want to ski, Ski Cooper is a short drive away.

1642600101 966 These Colorado towns are great in winter – even if

Provided by Ouray Ice Park

The town of Ouray offers a few glimpses of natural waterfall wonders, but this man-made (and free!) ice park is truly spectacular. It’s a mecca for climbers and non-climbers to behold, too.

Ouray

This southwestern mountain town isn’t always easy to get to (keep your eye on storms), but once you’re there, you’ll quickly understand why it’s called the “Little Switzerland of Colorado.”

Ouray is a winter dreamscape nestled in a valley between high mountain cliffs. Every year, staff at Ouray Ice Park turn Uncompahgre Gorge into frigid walls of ice fit for the most talented climbers. You can try the sport yourself or simply watch others. Visit in January to watch the best ice climbers in the world compete.

There are plenty of other activities, if ice climbing isn’t your thing. You can soak in the hot springs, walk around Box Canyon Falls Park, drive along the Million Dollar Highway, or hike the Ouray Perimeter Trail. If someone in your group does want to ski, it’s not far to Telluride.

Cortez

If you’re looking for a perfect après ski atmosphere without ever skiing, head to Cortez, between Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park. It’s a great area in winter since crowds are minimal and the views are endless.

Finding sustenance (in both liquid and solid form) is easy on Cortez’s main drag and in surrounding towns. Grab a pint at WildEdge Brewing Collective, Main Street Brewery, or J Fargo’s Micro Brewery and pair it with pub favorites (the beer nachos are incredible at WildEdge). Dolores River Brewery and Mancos Brewing Co. are good options if you venture further from town. The Farm Bistro just off Main Street has a new lounge that serves only Colorado beer, wine and spirits. Plus, it offers a true farm-to-table experience described as delivering “comfort food with style.” Yum.

1642600101 159 These Colorado towns are great in winter – even if

Liz Copan, Summit Daily News via AP

Dog-sledding guide Tim Thiessen of Leadville brings his huskies down a trail off Tiger Road on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, at Good Times Adventures in Breckenridge.

Buena Vista

Opt to warm yourself instead of freeze on the slopes with a trip to Buena Vista. There’s a large concentration of hot springs in the area to soak the weariest muscles.

Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort offers pools of varying temperatures and even a 400-foot water slide. Or rent a private cabin at Antero Hot Springs or the Merrifield Homestead Cabins for more of a secluded retreat. Head south to find Joyful Journey Hot Springs or Salida Hot Springs and Aquatic Center to swim in one of the largest indoor hot springs pools in the country.

If something more exciting beckons, try Monarch Dog Sled rides. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be in the Iditarod? It’s not as easy as you might think to stay standing on a dog sled. Not to worry, though, if you don’t want to drive the dogs; you can stay seated up front. Make sure to bundle up and wear goggles since snow is bound to get kicked up into your face.

Cripple Creek

Cripple Creek is known for the casinos lining its main street, but there’s more to this town than you might realize. Visit in February, and you’ll find the downtown corridor transform into a sea of ice as the town hosts the state’s largest ice carving competition. Artists from all over try their hand at creating masterpieces from hundreds of pounds of ice. There’s an ice maze for kids to outwit, an ice slide for those who are a kid at heart, and even an ice martini bar! It’s a lot of fun for the whole family.

Draft horses with Horses Are Us, ...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Draft horses pull sleigh rides during the Georgetown Christmas Market on Dec. 8, 2019.

Georgetown

You may have to fight ski traffic for a bit to get to Georgetown, but it’s worth it. It’s the perfect family-friendly day trip from Denver. Every December, Georgetown’s Sixth Street transforms into a quintessential Christmas postcard. Stringed lights illuminated downtown and the smell of roasting chestnuts fills the air; you may think you’ve stepping onto the set of a holiday movie. Take a sleigh ride around town, listen to carolers, and stroll through vendors to pick out gifts for the whole family. After you’ve filled up on eggnog, head to the Georgetown Loop Railroad. Every year it features holiday excursions that traverse Santa’s Lighted Forest and might even include a visit from the jolly man himself! Every kid goes home from the train ride with a special treat and smiles for days.

1642600101 868 These Colorado towns are great in winter – even if

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

The skies are full of stars above the unique formations of the Wheeler Geologic Area in the Rio Grande National Forest on Aug. 7, 2020, near Creede.

Creede

You might not think of Creede as a winter destination, but there are few prettier scenes than this little town, nearly surrounded by mountain cliffs blanketed in snow.

Plan your visit to take in the annual Chocolate Festival, where local business owners showcase delectable chocolate specialties. January brings the annual TommyKnocker Pond Hockey Tournament. Whether you’re on the ice yourself or just spectating, there’s plenty of live entertainment and good food. If you’re “officially over winter” by February, head to Creede for its aptly-named Cabin Fever Daze. There’s live music, night skating, curling, bonfires, improv theater, and all-around good fun.

1642600101 468 These Colorado towns are great in winter – even if
The Springs Resort and Spa in downtown Pagosa Springs is like a water park for hot springs lovers — and its just a 30-minute drive from Wolf Creek Ski Area. There are 25 pools in a lovingly manicured resort along the San Juan River. The mineral-rich water will soothe body and mind. (T. Carter, The Springs Resort and Spa)
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