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.

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.

DSCF1825

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

DSCF1854

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.