Catching Up

It’s been a while.

Caramel Cappuccino Cheesecake (June 2013)

Caramel Cappuccino Cheesecake (June 2013)

The last time I updated this blog I was twenty years old and had just reached five feet and five inches. Now I’m five weeks away from twenty-three, and in the time that it took me to shrink back down to five feet and four and three-quarters inches, I’ve been… busy. I became a senior in college, castrated some twenty male rats for my senior neuroscience research project, tried raw oysters and Russian donuts, gained seventeen pounds, head cheffed a gourmet meal for eighty, graduated from college, moved back to my hometown, started work, took the MCAT, got my drivers’ license, and tried to find a new, concrete, semi-permanent normal.

And just yesterday I was rejected from my dream medical school.

Asparagus and Tomato Frittata (June 2014)

Asparagus and Tomato Frittata (June 2014)

Just a few days ago, I was joking with my dad that I couldn’t possibly ever be too stressed to eat. Quite the opposite, actually – I always took advantage of my college’s no-swipe dining hall system to eat a double-digit quantity of meals during midterms or finals. But right now, as I read that email titled “Not Selected” over and over and over, I feel like I could never eat anything again, even if I tried. Nothing will ever taste good again because I didn’t get into my dream school.

Raw Tuna Salad in Avocado Wrap (August 2014)

Raw Tuna Salad in Avocado Wrap (August 2014)

Which is super melodramatic, I know. Realistically, what’s going to happen is that as soon as I manage to put on a decently human-looking face and clothes that are not snot-stained from crying too long, I’m going to go to Chipotle and get two burrito bowls for myself. Then I’m going to the creamery and getting three ice cream sandwiches, and then all-you-can-eat sushi, and when I’m washing it all down with my first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season I will drown out those ever-present post-grad ghosts that tell me that I’m stuck and lost and will never amount to anything because I failed and didn’t pass at life. And I will play Kelly Clarkson’s “Cry” in my head through it all, because she got my through my chronic adolescent angst and maybe she can kick my ass out of this too.

Tiramisu with Homemade Ladyfingers (July 2014)

Tiramisu with Homemade Ladyfingers (July 2014)

In the months, and now the years, following college graduation, I’ve been so good at pretending like I’ve gotten everything figured out. Near the end of my senior year, I had memorized a perky and quirky quip to routinely and robotically respond to the inevitable question of what I would be doing after college. Once I moved back to California, I started taking the classes that I needed. One incredible part-time job opportunity fell into my lap, and then another, and I gave everyone my best smile and told them that I’m so happy, everything is going so smoothly, I’m making friends, I’m getting so good at my job, I love every single aspect of my life, and if you can dream it, you can achieve it!!

I became so skilled at telling that story and maintaining that façade that I truly believed it.

Assorted Chocolate Truffles (December 2013)

Assorted Chocolate Truffles (December 2013)

But what my college friends and new acquaintances don’t see as they scroll through my carefully-formulated social media feed are the anxiety attacks that I had by myself in the back room of the clinic where I work. No one else heard my heartbeat pounding through the soundtrack of my mind, like someone is chasing me and winning, that I heard when the anxiety starts to bubble up from my stomach. No one witnessed me curled up in the fetal position, gasping for air and coughing through waves of chest pain, when I had panic attacks at two in the morning.

Pork and Chives Dumplings (August 2014)

Pork and Chives Dumplings (August 2014)

It was easy to tell myself that I was okay because no one else ever saw me at my worst episodes. Receiving that email rejection, however, was external confirmation of everything that I feared: you suck! You’re stupid! You’re fat! You’re lazy! All of this is why you will never go to medical school! And their acknowledgement – no, their assertion – of my inferiority makes it difficult to pretend anymore that everything is dandy. Post-grad is hard. It’s hard to make friends, both of my jobs are really challenging, and I feel like I’m doing everything wrong. I’m wistful that I took college, where I lived ten yards away from my best friends, for granted, because now I’m lonely much of the time and watch way too much anime. There, I said it. I feel like one of those forty-two-year-old otakus who lives in his overworked single mother’s basement and is paid a dollar above minimum wage at an unfulfilling desk job and has such a shitty diet that the closest semblance to vegetation that he consumes is the fake taro powder that they use to make his overpriced bubble tea.

VEGEBLES (July 2014)

VEGEBLES (July 2014)

As I wait for responses from other schools, I am bracing myself for a very difficult season. But you can’t have resolution without change, so I think that I am going to stop pretending that everything is okay before I explode into a million pieces. A composed and premeditated demeanor is important to me, but maybe it’s been a long time coming that I relax and allow my genuine sadness, when it rears its needy head, to be visible. It’ll make other people feel awkward, but I’m not going to apologize for needing a break – especially when I’ve let them be comfortable complaining about their own lives for so long. You have problems? Me too! Let’s commiserate. Lets eat everything. LET’S HATE THE WORLD TODAY.

Matcha Cheesecake with Sesame Chocolate Crust, Almond Nougatine, and Milk Chocolate Ganache Glaze (August 2014)

Matcha Cheesecake with Sesame Chocolate Crust, Almond Nougatine, and Milk Chocolate Ganache Glaze (August 2014)

Maybe I’ll get into all of the other medical schools I applied to. Highly unlikely, but I don’t want to give up on dreams and dreaming just yet. Maybe I won’t get into a single school and will be miserable forever. That’s the only reality that I can see right now, but before I fall too deeply into a self-shaming cesspool of sorrow, I’ll let myself loose through all of the realities that I have actually lived: the thrilled embarrassment of having nothing to say when my Dolci dinner patrons gave me a standing ovation; animated frenzy debriefing a night of inebriated debauchery with my partners-in-crime; the most heavenly combination of sweet and salty upon the first bite of a homemade roasted fig and goat cheese flatbread; reckless frozen kisses in the middle of the street during a Philadelphia blizzard. And more recently: the relieved smile of a nervous patient when I was able to assuage his very specific fears about his upcoming procedure; familiar shin splints as I made it to the top of Mission Peak after a two-hour uphill hike at sunset; my students running across the library to meet me, excited to start their European history lesson on the Enlightenment.

And perhaps I’m just fooling myself again, but one day, soon, please, please, one day, dear universe, please let me add a white coat ceremony and my next first day of school to that list.

Pumpkin and Traditional Cream Scones

Isn’t coming home supposed to be glorious, comfortable, and a fleeting sort of happy-ever-after?

they’re happy, at least until I eat them.

they’re happy, at least until I eat them.

Junior year was brutal. You know that feeling when you try to jump over a fire hydrant but because you have stubby baby Asian legs, you end up tripping and fracturing your femur? (Not that this has happened to me or anything, of course.) Junior year was like that, but over and over and over again. I’m going to write a senior thesis! NO YOU’RE NOT YOU IMBECILE BITCH, says the neuroscience department. I resolve to lose weight and be fit and attractive! YOU FORGOT ABOUT WATER WEIGHT, HOPELESS NERD, ridicules my body. I’m going to have friends! HAHAHAHAHA u funnay. Love, the world.

we too love your misery because we’re carbs and you’re on a diet

we too love your misery because we’re carbs and you’re on a diet

So much for trying new things. Which is why it’s comforting to make the same caramel cappuccino cheesecake five times in a row. When academia and social life and even the sad conglomeration of overtired cells that you call your body fail you, the cheesecake will always come out perfectly creamy and rich yet subtle but altogether delicious, figuratively patting you on the back and telling you with sexy cinnamon undertones that there is still at least something that you can do right.

lol I’m an egg

lol I’m an egg

Coming home is supposed to be comforting like that, but this time it’s different. I was only home for three weeks, and now I’m back at school again for work. On top of this rare and frustratingly short stay, my cousin immigrated to the States just days before I came home and is living with us now. That and the fact that I started this fitness and diet challenge with a friend this summer (encourage me, life has no meaning anymore) means that I could no longer traipse around the house in a bathrobe and wet hair, eating potato salad out of the carton. Now I have to eat spinach and wear clothes and dry my hair and my life is just really hard and it’s all so discomforting. #firstworldproblems

my kind of workout

my kind of workout

poser cake wannabe

poser cake wannabe

Home’s not supposed to change, you know? Just give me three weeks of comfortable unchangedness so that I can forget about the trauma of the schoolyear. Change is hard, I should know, sings Zooey Deschanel, and she has really big eyes so you know she’s an honest manic pixie dream girl who would never hide the truth.

But then I look back at all of the weird new things I tried this past year – dancing, radio theatre, ginger powder, blogging – and they weren’t all bad. Small doses of change can be fantastic. Like scones. Making and eating scones were a big and open-minded step for me because historically, I hate scones. After marathoning Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, I’ve decided that it might be an American thing, but admit it. All the scones out there look like something that you should sit on, not put in your mouth.

perfect triangles or daggers that look like they’re made out of orange shit…

perfect triangles or daggers that look like they’re made out of orange shit…

Scones are hard to make as well because the wet to dry ingredients ratio is absurdly low. When kneading the dough, it looks like the entire mess is shedding giant flakes of pasty white skin and it’s hard to make one cohesive dough lump. In order to fix that, I’ve found that it’s vital to freeze the dough for at least a night before throwing it into the oven the next day. My dad thinks it’s weird that I freeze dough prior to baking, but he didn’t complain when he ate three freshly baked scones the next morning, so there.

unfff

unfff

scones whisperer

scones whisperer

Ancient Chinese Han dynasty secret to baking: listen to your food when you take it out of the oven; it tells you the exact texture and cookedness of the inside of the pastry. When I went to my boyfriend’s house this past winter, his mother made these chocolate lava cakes FROM GOD. When they were done, I went to the stovetop where the cakes were resting and put my ear to them to listen to their ~*voices*~. I’m sure Ben’s parents regretted their son’s choice in human beings then, but I have pulled them to the dark and informed side because one by one he and his family came over to hear the sweet whisperings of the lava cakes. And indeed they spoke to us: you could hear a quiet, tight crackling sound as realization dawned on their faces and they joined me in my madness. Speak, cake, and we shall hear.

It really works, though. Physically testing the cake is the safest method, but I hate it because makes everything punctured and ugly. Instead, listening to the cake as well as gauging its color is just as effective. If the cake gives a soft, controlled, tight crackling sound, then the inside is very moist, which is what you’d hope for with something like lava cakes. On the other hand, if the cake or bread or cookie or whatever you’re making gives a loud cacophonous crackling sound, it’s dry inside and might be a bit overcooked. This is the kind of sound you want from something like biscotti.

this is my scone army

this is my scone army

As for the scones, they were a bit loud but had a very dense crackling sound, which was a relief because it meant that while they were heavy, they were also moist inside. And guys, girls, nonbelievers – they tasted amazing. A little raspberry jam spread on the side and my god. You know that moment when you look at someone and you realize that it is meant to be and that the stars have aligned in both your lives to bring you to this very specific and spectacular moment and now the future is not an enigmatic mystery but rather a wondrous flight of fantasy because from this moment on, whatever you brave, you brave together, and your tears will never be unwiped, your sorrows unheard?

It was like that. But possibly better, because scones will never not text back.

Pumpkin Scone with Cream Cheese Glaze

Pumpkin Scone with Cream Cheese Glaze

I’m too lethargic to find any takeaway from this, besides the newfound knowledge that English food is not as nasty as it looks and that you should never judge a pastry by the American version sold in Starbucks. Still, it’s kind of promising, right? Sometimes you need that one random, small, absurd, unimportant thing to go well to remind you that you’re still capable of brain and life. I’m in humid Vermont for another eight weeks, so it’s a welcome reminder that I’m still okay. It’s my first East Coast summer, and the novelty of it is a bit disconcerting, but if turns out half as well as these scones did, then it won’t be bad at all. Cheers to that. And as the Brits would say, cheerio.

Recipe adapted from Lovin’ From the Oven and The Tampa Tribune. Pictures by Ben M.

Mango Royale

As much fun as college can be sometimes, it often just sucks.

life is just tragic.

life is just tragic.

There are just those days, you know, when the weather is just too chilly for your favorite shorts, when there’s dozens of freshman Intro Biology students swarming you during your TA hours asking how to run a T-test, when one of your friends is ignoring you and it’s really your fault, when people say things about you and it’s unwarranted and just not nice, and on top of that, there is just no way you can memorize all of the endocrine influences on meiosis II in the production of spermatids in the seminal vesicles.

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someone two doors down from me is passionately playing the bongo drums during finals week and it is helping nothing.

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isn’t this much better than reality?

Everyone has their own coping mechanisms, though, and like many a capable and wronged young woman, food will never not love me. But don’t get me wrong – I’m not one to wallow in grocery store brownies and Twix bars. That’s all fine and good, and but it’s like a short-term, shallow, superficial kind of comfort, a fling that’s devastating in hindsight. Everything is all right for the moment, but suddenly the chocolate is gone and you can’t even think about wearing clothes the next day because you feel sluggish and unattractive and empty, despite just having consumed 643 calories in Mars and Hershey products.

the bones of my enemies

the bones of my enemies

I’ve heard of people joining fight clubs or wrestling teams to get over a broken relationship or being fired from a job. A clever approach, I think, but for me to exert myself, there must be food. Consequently, I find refuge in making food rather than in just eating it. Bad grade on my last Endocrinology test? I’mma whip this cream until it turns solid. Woke up late for my music class? Gotta crush graham crackers until they are a mere semblance of their previous selves. One of your closest friends just yelled at you and took your food? CHOP MANGOES AND PRETEND THEY’RE HIS BODY.

BURY THEM!!!! #ANGER

BURY THEM!!!! #ANGER

But enough about my anger for now. There will always be anger. But you know what there won’t always be? Ripe mangoes. I decided to make mango royale, a Filipino ice box cake, in celebration of spring and a constant temperature over 50 degrees Fahrenheit. But life has killed the dream I dreamed, because the advent of Vermont spring does not bring with it ripe, plump mangoes the way it does in California or in Taiwan. Instead, it sheepishly offers mango-shaped bricks better suited for self-defense and not for eating.

This proposes a huge problem for mango royale. Most of the recipes I studied stated that it would be best to use very soft and slightly over-ripe mangoes. In baking with fruit in general, it’s best to use fruit that’s a little bit past its prime. But what to do about my predicament? Modern technology has the answer, and the Internet never fails: we shall MICROWAVE THE MANGO.

the master at work

the master at work

No, really. After browsing a couple of E-Hows titled something like, “How to Ripen a Mango in the Microwave”, I cut some holes in my mangoes to let the steam out and to pseudo-ripen them evenly, as suggested by said websites. Then I wrapped them in paper towels for – again for even ripening – and chucked them in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time. The E-How said for only 10 seconds at a time, but these mangoes were that rock solid. Like, if my ab (I currently have one general ab) felt like one of those mangoes, man, I… I don’t know what I’d do. I’d probably use it as an excuse to eat more.

look at that valiant effort. tiff vs. mango, lesgo

look at that valiant effort. tiff vs. mango, mango clearly wins

Unfortunately, E-How proved itself less than a guru in how to ripen very raw fruit in 20 minutes. Not only that, but upon taking the mangoes out of the microwave and beginning to peel them, I burned myself on one of the mangoes. Who’s ever heard of anyone burning themselves on a mango? You have, now, that’s who. There goes my chef cred.

It turned out okay in the end, though, because the cream filling of the ice box cake was so unbelievably sweet that the unusually tart flavor of the mango was actually very welcome. The only problem was that they were a bit hard, especially because I had put the cake in the freezer for three hours to set. This made the consistency of the cream delightfully like ice cream, but made the hardness of the mango like ice.

layers. layers like an ogre

layers. layers like an ogre

obligatory fork shot

obligatory fork shot

Still, the cake tasted fantastic. I thought the cream part would be uncomfortably heavy because it incorporated an entire can of condensed milk, which is viscous and thick as hell. Freezing the cake lightened up both the flavor and the density of the cream part, however, which then complemented the crushed graham cracker crust beautifully. Like I said, the only lacking part was how hard the mango pieces on top were, but you can’t have everything. And given the awkward state of the mangoes to begin with, I’d say the mango royale turned out pretty well.

smile! there's cake!

smile! there’s cake!

It inherently proves, I think, the efficacy of my method of dealing with life’s problems. When life gives you lemons, my God, you make lemon cream cheese cookie bars, obviously. While you make whatever food you choose, you take out your anger on that mixing bowl! Be as violent as you never could be in polite hipster society, and lose twelve pounds in the process. Then, when the food is ready to be eaten and you’re exhausted, devour everything you just made and gain back all those lost pounds. There’s been no net change, per se, but you know you’ll be okay. Even if the mangoes are unripe and you can’t memorize any more estradiol pathways, things will be all right. There will always be hope. And even when there’s no hope, there’s still cake.

Mango Royale

Mango Royale

Recipe adapted from Ang Sarap, NY City Eats, and A Thirst for Life. Pictures by Olivia C. and Ben M.

Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

College is not a time for eating well.

unf. sexy lady.

not well at all.

My supremely health-conscious, gluten-free, vegan mother would be appalled to learn of the 2 AM feasts consisting spicy Korean instant noodles and entire cookies-and-cream chocolate bars that my friends and I have the night before a huge Endocrinology exam. It’s like there’s this inevitable positive relationship between my grades and my caloric intake: the better I do in school, the fatter I get. A fine price to pay, I think. Bow down to the 20-year-old Asian female metabolism! You know you want it.

But there are some times when you want to put some effort into your poor dietary habits. If you can’t eat classy things, then you make your nasty shit comfort food with as much class as a college dorm kitchen can offer. Enter Hiroshima okonomiyaki, or the Japanese version of the ULTIMATE COMFORT FOOD.

action shot: sexy falling noodles hanging on for dear life

action shot: sexy falling noodles hanging on for dear life

yeah i'd tap that

yeah i’d tap that

In Japanese, okonomi means “what you like”, and yaki means “grilled” or “cooked”. It’s like the chef’s version of YOLO: instead of You Only Live Once, it’s I COOK WHATEVER THE F*CK I WANT, H8RS GON H8. In my defense (in case you’re reading this, Mom and Dad), there’s cabbage, green onions, and bean sprouts in it, which makes it exemplarily healthy. Going from bottom to top, you have: a layer of fried egg; a thick layer of spicy yakisoba; bean sprouts, seaweed, green onions, and cubed daikon; winter cabbage; and a crispy pancake garnished generously with seaweed and bonito flakes to finish. Oh, and bacon. Between the yakisoba noodles and the vegetables there is a sizzling layer of bacon, crispy at the edges and chewy in the middle – just how I like it, and oh, how I’ve missed it. Dining hall bacon is a travesty.

the state of college dorm kitchens is a greater travesty that you didn’t even think was possible

the state of college dorm kitchens is a greater travesty that you didn’t even think was possible

Unlike the popular Osaka version of okonomiyaki, which just tosses or mixes all of the ingredients together, Hiroshima okonomiyaki layers each of its ingredients. This makes it terribly difficult to put together, especially when you have to transfer layers of noodles and shredded cabbage across a stovetop into different frying pans. Okonomiyaki is usually cooked on a griddle so the transferring of okonomiyaki components as the dish grows taller throughout the cooking process is a bit more expedited and a lot less messy.

not the most efficient system

not the most efficient system

I also didn’t have okonomiyaki sauce, which tastes like a sweeter and thicker version of Worcestershire sauce, and you could definitely tell that the okonomiyaki needed it. But hey, I’m in the middle of Nowhere, Vermont, where highly specific and regional Japanese sauces are a little bit hard to come by. In the meantime, over-peppering the yakisoba noodles and using a little bit of pickled daikon (white radish) will make do.

The pickled daikon was offered to me graciously by my beautiful friend who was preparing ingredients to make kimbap over the weekend. We had driven for over an hour earlier in the day to go to the nearest Asian foods store for ingredients. The drive itself took an hour, but the entire trip to the Asian foods store took 45 extra minutes because for that extra amount of time we sat in the school parking lot trying to figure out how to start the rental car, which happened to be a hybrid. I’m from Northern California, so you’d think that I’d know how to drive a hybrid, but I’m a loser 20-year-old  who can’t drive (… BECAUSE I TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORT. EXTRA ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY. #BOSS) and she’s from Southern California so she of course has never been exposed to a hybrid.

DSCF1740

work in progress

We spent 45 minutes trying to figure out how to start the damm car. This involved pushing every single possible combination of buttons, rifling through the useless “How to Car” pamphlets in the glove compartment, and barging into some poor lady’s office in the building next to the parking lot, crying “WHERE IS ZIPCAR OFFICE HELP PLEASE” while – it was a rental car, remember – the minutes ticked away slowly.

Obviously we eventually figured out how to start the car, but my friend and I agreed that this embarassing tale would never be told, so lets keep this between you and me. (Forgive me, Tiffany.) The hour-long car ride had a therapeutic effect on our memory of this recent trauma. A big bowl of pho and screaming our heads off to Robyn might have helped a little too.

So in the end, we saved the day because we are just really clever. No okonomiyaki sauce, but at least the store had bonito flakes. They were horrifically expensive (could’ve gotten eight $1 sweet teas at Mickey D’s for that tiny condom-sized pack of bonito flakes what) but the taste does remind me of home. And home is comfort because the Asian foods market is a 2 minute walk away, not an hour drive. Vermont. God.

LAYERS! so many LAYERS! that's why it's so thick IT'S FULL OF SECRETS

so many layers that’s why it’s so thick IT’S FULL OF SECRETS

Like I said, okonomiyaki really is the ultimate comfort food. There’s bacon, which kind of explains everything, but there’s also fried egg, noodles, and a savory pancake – a crepe, really. There are vegetables to soothe your guilty conscience as you look at your exponentially expanding waistline the next morning when your orange skinny jeans no longer fit.

you can laugh at the fat girl or you can join her in eternal happiness

you too can find happiness

Still, I like to think that I live life without any regrets. I can’t exactly promise that the okonomiyaki helped with studying for my Endo test, but long after I forget the negative feedback pathways that glucagon has in the liver, I’ll know this: I’m never going back to instant ramen again.

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Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

Recipe adapted from Otafuku Foods and Cooking with Dog. Pictures taken by Ben M. and Tiffany P.