Trying again

Blogging is a funny thing. It’s a form of catharsis, it’s a humble brag, it’s an attempt to be witty or intelligent or profound or all three. Writing my thoughts as if I have some sort of authority to say something important makes me feel self-conscious, as if I’m pretending to be something I’m not. But these large waves of insecurity are always studded with the reminder that practice makes results all the better, and this whole thing called “blogging” won’t get any more less weirder by thinking about it and weighing its merits.

So I’ve decided to write again. With the hopes that it will spark some sort of creative revolution that inspires me to do more with my life and discover new things by trying to articulate my thoughts and desires. I guess that has always been the theme of my posts, however scarce and scattered they may be. What’s that idiom about repetition again? Oh, a broken record. Wow that actually came from my mind without the help of Google. What a miracle.

Ok, so here are my rules. I’ll blog once a week, minimum. Maybe I’ll even post photos and start posting recipes again. I do miss that. And there’ll be no pretension, no hesitation — just attemptingly witty, intelligent, profound words that come from my own mind and heart, or so I will try.

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Coconut Rice Pudding

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So I stayed up all night yesterday watching recipe videos in a sinking spiral of late-night nausea and deepening depression that only emerges at 2 a.m., alone in bed, when there’s no one to keep you company but the bright computer screen. One good thing I came away with though: a hunkering desire to make rice pudding. Creamy, milky, sweet pudding with a soft consistency and an occasional bite from the rice. With a little big of egg and vanilla to add a custard-y flavor (one of my favorite flavors in the whole world). It’s just so comforting in the most elementary way.

My version conflates two different recipes and, as usual, left me with some kitchen lessons. First one: for the millionth time, Andrea, STOP using orange extract thinking it might be able to replace orange zest. (It won’t. And the fake taste will mercilessly mock you with every bite.) And with arborio rice, the pudding ratio for rice to liquid is approximately 2/3 cup rice for 3 ¾ liquid. The rest of the details are below in the recipe. P.S. the coconut here is very, very subtle. I would add coconut extract if you want the flavor to be stronger.

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Coconut Rice Pudding

If you want an orange flavor:

2/3 cup arborio rice
1 can coconut milk (1 ¾ cups or 14 oz)
1 ¼ water
¾ cup orange juice
Zest of one orange
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3-4 heaping tablespoons sugar (or to taste; just add the tablespoons gradually and taste in between)
1 egg yolk whisked with 1-2 tablespoons milk

If you want just coconut custard flavor:

2/3 cup arborio rice
1 can coconut milk (1 ¾ cups or 14 oz)
2 cups milk (or 1 cup milk, 1 cup water)
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3-4 tablespoons sugar (or to taste; just add the tablespoons gradually and taste in between)
1 egg yolk whisked with 1-2 tablespoons milk

Directions:

1. Pour everything minus the maple syrup and sugar (and zest) into a pan and bring to a boil.
2. Once at a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for about 30 minutes.
3. Add sugar and maple syrup (and zest) and keep simmering until it reaches the consistency you want. For me it was when the rice had absorbed as much liquid as it could (most of it) and there was just enough liquid left to bind everything, approx. 15 minutes.
4. Turn off the heat and maybe wait a couple minutes. To thicken the pudding, whisk in the egg yolk mixed with milk slowly. You should end up with a light yellow color. If you’re pudding is already thick enough for your tastes, omit the egg.
5. Refrigerate with plastic wrap covering the surface of the pudding, not the rims of the bowl, to prevent a film from developing. Chill overnight.

*Disclaimer: I played with my recipe while cooking a LOT. I initially only used 1/3 cup of rice and so had to microwave more arborio to add to the mixture. I let it continue cooking until it thickened even more. Ending fact: this recipe gives good guidelines but please do play with the proportions and timing.

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Solidarity

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But it wasn’t that she wasn’t giving me love, it just seemed to come at different times. Like, when I offered to do the dishes.  Or make dinner after she had a hard day.  Or, once we had a daughter, when I shared the responsibility of watching over her. I don’t think I noticed this consciously for a while.  It just kept happening. But I think it had an effect on me.  Because as our marriage progressed, I found myself offering to help out around the house more and more. And after each time, there would be this look she would give me.  This look of absolute love.  One that was soft and so beautiful. It took me longer than I care to admit to understand what was happening. But eventually it became clear.  Through giving, through doing things for my wife, the emotion that I had been so desperately seeking naturally came about.  It wasn’t something I could force, just something that would come about as a result of my giving. In other words, it was in the practicality that I found the love I was looking for. And what was even more interesting was that once I realized this on a conscious level, and started trying to find more opportunities to give, the more we both, almost intuitively, became lovey-dovey. And now, as I’m a bit older and a bit more experienced with this relationship, I’ve finally come to realize something. Something I haven’t wanted to admit for a long time, but is undeniable. 
I didn’t love my wife on that second date. I didn’t love her when we got engaged. I didn’t even love her when we got married. Because love isn’t an emotion.  That fire I felt, it was simply that: emotional fire.  From the excitement of dating a woman I felt like I could marry.  But it wasn’t love. No, love isn’t an emotion or even a noun.  It’s a verb.  Better defined as giving.  As putting someone else’s needs above your own. Why wasn’t I getting reciprocal lovey-doveyness when we were first married?  Because it wasn’t for her.  It was for me.  An emotion I had in my chest. And even when I let it out of my chest, it wasn’t love. Being sappy isn’t love.  Telling someone you love them doesn’t mean that you do. And that’s why my wife just gave me that half-smile.  She knew, even if I didn’t, what love really is.

This is it right here. (Read the whole article, pls) Maybe a little bit more extreme, I believe we have more than this but it’s a glimpse of everything I feel about relationships and everything I crave from mine with Chris. There is a hesitation between the both of us to give each other this true love, full of giving and commitment to putting the other person’s needs before our own. I feel that missing piece from him, the part of the bridge that he doesn’t want to forge, or maybe doesn’t know how – it could be either, or both. I asked Chris the other day whether or not he would do this all over again if he could and he couldn’t answer. He said it was impossible. It was an understandable response but it doesn’t align with mine, which would be yes, in a heartbeat. Because I love him and this is worth it and I learned so much about myself. And about him, about love, people, sacrifice and suffering. Partnership, loneliness, self-confidence, independence, selfishness and giving. Just so much, man, just from one relationship. The only thing I wonder is how much more I could learn if I dated other, different people, and how much I could teach those people too. I wonder if Chris and I will ever be able to achieve those dating butterflies again – no, I know I can, I still do, but he can’t and he doesn’t. I know part of it is my responsibility to trigger those emotions but man do I wish he tried to rev himself up for it.

But going back to the article. Love is about giving, about taking care of your partner and being there for them wholeheartedly, selflessly – not only because it’s the right thing to do as their partner but because you can’t help but put everything aside when you see them in need. Because you understand them so well that you feel an irresistible pull to fulfill their needs in the way only you can. It takes two to reach that equilibrium where your love for him/her and his/her love for you establishes a push and pull, where one gives so much that the other is obliged to give back and it goes back and forth. Each giving feeds this ever growing bond woven between you, adding thread by thread into something stronger. And I think I can and want to do that for him but I don’t do it as selflessly as I could because I don’t think he wants to do it selflessly. Or he does but he believes I have something to fix and learn by myself, that he doesn’t want to involve himself in. He doesn’t feel the absolute need to support or coax me, to slowly encourage me to do those things. And encouragement doesn’t just mean words, it means engagement, engaging in the growth process. His encouragement is sometimes selfish. Deep down in his heart, it is for me, but on the surface, in the every day, it is for him. This doesn’t mean I don’t have my share in this process – ultimately, this is my journey and my responsibility to both of us. It is within this context where I am trying and being thoughtful that I say these things.

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During my spells of depression, within the first 15 minutes he is sympathetic, but beyond that it reverts to an accusation that I’m choosing to stay sad, to be down, and choosing not to man up enough and handle those feelings. I get it, I really do but fuck it man sometimes you just have to sit down with me and be nice for longer than that. It can wear you down I know (and I’m truly sorry) but if you committed to accepting that 40 minutes of sulking (without exacerbation it wouldn’t be too bad), offered me some tea, gave me a nice hug and let me close my eyes for a peaceful moment without pressure or guilt, that would be so relieving. I would trust you more, I would give myself to you. Maybe you know that, maybe you don’t want all of me. Maybe that’s why I always want to take a break because I know I will not receive that totality from you. It might be a problem just for the now or it might be a problem forever – I don’t know. All I do know is that it’s persisted for four years and it’s only just started to get a little better. At least now you’ll give me the 15 minutes and be meaningfully soft and loving during that time – but why is there always a time limit? I’m sorry I don’t warm up fast enough, I wish I could but I’m slow and immature. And because my sorrow doesn’t feel fully accepted during these moments, it creates more opportunities to sulk and feel sad, demand attention and affection. It’s a dumb cycle – help us get out of it, I’m begging you. I can’t do all of it by myself because if I do, I know this relationship won’t develop into the  I want for the both of us. This is a chance to create a real sense of solidarity. I could change myself on my own but if I did I know it would deepen the pit of loneliness inside of me – the disappointment that you didn’t say yes and didn’t meet my outreached hand will be damaging. It won’t be the end, it won’t ruin our lives, but maybe in some ways it will ruin my perception of us. If you choose to say no, I’ll understand. I promise that. Please, though, reconsider your choices and don’t take too long because I’ve been waiting. I’m always waiting for all these changes to happen and with this one, I don’t think I can compromise, I don’t think I can wait that long. But then again, I say that every time and look where we are now.

Marinated Tofu with Bok Choy: Recipe HERE

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Watermelon-Mint Granita

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I have had so much to write about this summer but it’s only now that I’ve arrived in Korea and have started my documentary work here that I feel it’s necessary to record everything. So here begins a recap: this summer, I interned at Serious Eats as an editorial intern, which was not a very challenging experience but rather something that gave me exposure to a real work environment — albeit a very relaxed one. I realized my food writing needs a lot of improvement, that I need to be more curious about the food itself and the experience, history and science of buying it, preparing it and enjoying it. I’d really like to expand my vocabulary to be more sensory and accurate in describing tastes, textures and smells.

On another note, I’ve also realized that I need to be more curious about my relationship with Chris and I’ve developed a newfound dedication to improving our life together in a proactive way rather than falling into the same mistakes and bad habits over and over again. I think it’s working.

This summer was really another trial for my depression, my relationship and self-esteem. But in the end, it’s pushing me to move forward and quit my addiction to complacency. I think the key to breaking away from this complacency is creativity. What used to fuel me as a teenager was a love for art, music, reading. As my depression made me slowly lose interest in all my previous hobbies, I think I’ve lost a lot of color in my personality as well. There’s not as much tangible passion that leads to growth. A lot of it is bursting out in these random directions without any guidance or fruition. It’s developed into a jumbled, disorganized energy that can’t find any ventilation. Kind of like a restlessness that can’t be relieved and remains suffocated under this waxy dense layer of indifference, that loss of passion and interest in the world around me.

Journalism has been a great remedy for this, letting me at least gain some passion and curiosity back. But that’s only one sector through which I should be exploring and expressing myself.

I’m rambling. After I finished my internship and ended my summer in Jersey, I came to Seoul with my brother. He stayed for two weeks during which we spent equal amounts of time bumming and going out. It was a good time — especially before he went off to college (!!).

And now I’ve started working on my documentary project on LGBT life in Seoul with Sunny. Basically it’s been incredible — meeting so many amazing people, hearing their stories, discussing in depth the issues that pervade Korean culture, the history that has produced today’s society and so much more. It’s been invigorating to say the least. More details to come in my next post.

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Anyways here is my recipe for the most refreshing watermelon-mint granita. The flecks of mint leaves a tingly, cooling sensation on your tongue and the cold, fruity watermelon tastes as much like summer as any dessert could. It’s the perfect dish to serve when it’s hot and sticky out and you need something to immediately cool you off.

Ingredients:

Cubed seedless watermelon
White sugar
Mint Leaves
Orange or grapefruit juice (optional)

1. Fill a magic bullet with as much watermelon as you can fit. Add in two spoonfuls of sugar and 4-5 leaves of mint (2-3 if you don’t want it too strong). You can also add a tablespoon and a half of orange/grapefruit juice if you don’t want it to be one-note. My dad complained that the flavors were boring — I didn’t mind it.

2. Blend until everything has liquified. Pour into a bowl, cover in plastic wrap and freeze.

3. When the mixture is completely frozen, start scraping into it with a fork until the entire bowl has been broken up into tiny flakes of watermelon ice. Serve with a sprig of mint.

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A Dressed Up Veggie Burger

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I’m entering my second week of interning at Serious Eats and I’m already feeling the strain of summer in the valley. The tiring commute that steals 3 hours away a day, my money being sucked into a black hole of no return, laziness, excitement for something new and utter boredom. Working four days a week has not been enough to entertain me; I still feel jittery when unoccupied and bored when not hanging with friends — something that doesn’t occur very often anymore. The sizzling heat that I love so much has not yet arrived and the damp, chilly air of last week refuses to leave even though the rain has already petered off. I know I should be starting something, learning something new but I feel quite unmotivated to push myself into a challenging direction and surrender the ease in my days. Surprise, surprise.

I started looking through one of my former favorite blogs and have become slightly inspired again, though. Inspired enough to write this post and talk a little bit with myself in a productive way. It’s about time that I start cooking again and practice my photography and kitchen skills. There’s nothing like a diligent visit to the grocery store to restore some vigor. Cooking is an easy way to nudge my brain and tell it to come back from sleep mode.

Anyways, while I have yet to cook anything at home, I still have a good stock of photos of dishes I made while in school that I didn’t have time to post until now.

This veggie burger was one of many that I’ve consumed in the past few months. I’ve become hopelessly addicted to veggie burgers and I’m not sure how. They’re just so savory and delicious while still delivering the meaty satisfaction of a beef patty. I feel a little less guilty about them and they’re easier to finish off on schedule than a large package of ground beef. This one features some feta and Tahini to give it a Mediterranean flair I suppose and to dress it up a little from being just an ordinary veggie burger.

 

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Servings: 1

Ingredients:
1 frozen veggie burger patty
1 pretzel bun, split
Tahini sauce
Feta
Arugula
1 cucumber

Directions:

1. Microwave patty for approx. 1-2 minutes. Then crisp up in fry pan for about 3-4 minutes , flipping to brown each side — no oil necessary.

2. Split your pretzel bun and toast in toaster or in another pan.

3. Cut ends of cucumber. Then, with a vegetable peeler, slice thin slivers of the cucumber, lengthwise. Don’t use the first slice as that will be all skin, no flesh.

4. Slather Tahini onto top pretzel bun. Place hot veggie burger onto bottom bun then top with a thin square of feta or about one and a half tablespoons of crumbled feta. Pile on slivers of cucumber and arugula and then cover it all with the top bun. I suggest holding the burger together with a toothpick until ready to be eaten.

Ginger Fried Rice

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Fried rice is a genius dish, the perfect trifecta of savory, simple and easy. Whenever I’m in a bind, I simply drizzle some soy sauce and sesame oil onto a bed of rice and top it all with a sunny-side up egg. It’s the ideal solution for a hungry stomach on a tight schedule.

But while there’s little you can do to mess up fried rice, there are little details you can pay attention to to elevate the quintessential Asian dish. This recipe is one of those detail-oriented fried rice dishes, with soft, buttery onions strewn throughout the rice and topped with a sprinkle of fragrant fried ginger and garlic bits. It’s a college student’s take on Jean-Georges’s ginger fried rice, and while it might not be as beautiful as his perfected version, I find it a valuable recipe to have on hand.

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Ginger Fried Rice

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked white glutinous rice
1-2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
1 egg
Canola oil

Directions:

1. Mince ginger and garlic into tiny bits and pieces. Dice the onion.

2. Heat tablespoon of canola oil in a pan on low heat. Add garlic and ginger pieces and fry until golden brown. This shouldn’t take very long at all so be very careful and watchful. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel folded onto a plate.

3. Add tablespoon of canola oil to pan on medium heat and cook diced onions until softened and translucent.

5. Then add the rice and mix thoroughly.

4. Add sesame oil and soy sauce and mix until rice and onions are coated.

6. Remove everything from pan onto plate.

7. Fry an egg sunny-side up and slide onto rice. Top with fried garlic and ginger bits.

Chicago Cupcakes

The Motherload

The Motherload

I’ve personally never been caught up in the whole cupcake craze. I didn’t really understand why people freak out over these mini-cakes because, well, they’re just that – mini cakes. That is until I tried a few from Chicago Cupcakes, a cupcake truck that visited Northwestern campus a couple months ago.

There are three components that make up a Chicago Cupcake and those are the frosting, the cake and the crust. Each treat comes topped with silky Italian buttercream that adds an appropriate sweetness and smooth, creamy texture. The cake is infused with some kind of creamy diary so it tastes and feels more like a light, moist cheesecake rather than a traditional cupcake – brilliant! It’s absolutely delicious and the texture is both surprising and satisfying. And the finishing touch? A salty sweet crust that holds the entire beauty together; each crust is chosen to compliment different cupcake flavors.

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The first I tried was the Motherload and you’ll understand its name once you read the description: chocolate cake on a pretzel and brown sugar crust, filled with peanut butter and topped with a caramel Italian buttercream, chopped peanuts, pretzels and brown sugar. It is THE dream cupcake, everything you’ve ever wanted and more. Salty, sweet, creamy, nutty, decadent, light…shall I go on?

The second cupcake was the Key Lime, which had a fluffy cheesecake-like texture and a clean lime flavor that shone through. It came with a graham cracker crust and proved to be a simultaneously light and decadent treat.

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These guys at Chicago Cupcake really changed my perspective on what cupcakes can be. Try them out to learn the real potential behind these mini-cakes.