Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies


I can still remember the first time I ever made red velvet cheesecake brownies. I was home for spring break shortly after the Tohoku earthquake rocked Japan in 2011, and my sister needed some sweets for a fundraiser at her high school. I scrolled through recipes online, looking for something with a vague Japan theme.

For me and for many Americans steeped in the mainstream culture, red velvet conjures up images of Carrie and her posh friends enjoying red velvet cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery, a scene that made Magnolia Bakery a major tourist attraction overnight and set off the cupcake craze. Just the name red velvet sounds luxurious to the point of being hedonistic. The color scheme of the classic red velvet cupcake topped with perfectly white cream cheese frosting is reminiscent of candy canes and valentines and winter festivities.

Red velvet and cream cheese are also the same colors as the Japanese flag. There’s no inspirational reason for why I chose this recipe, no deep rationale attaching the positive connotations of red velvet to a country in need of encouragement. At the time, I was glad to have found a recipe so superficially suited to a fundraiser for Japan. Even better, the recipe was super easy.

Well, my sister came home and said the brownies sold out the fastest out of everything at the bake sale. Everyone had loved them, even the teachers. And I was satisfied.

Every now and then, I would think back to the tsunami. Those pictures of entire villages washed away were terrifying, but the pictures of all the missing people, of all the flowers and alters and people praying for their close ones’ safe return, those were devastating. And yet, after a year, the public’s memory faded. And now that it’s been a whopping two and a half years, the tsunami has ceased to be seen as a massive human tragedy and instead has become a political weapon, with reports of dangerous levels of nuclear leakages from Fukushima, right as Japan was in the process of securing the honor of hosting the 2020 Olympics.

Not to downplay the severity of leakage of nuclear waste, but the timing struck me as suspicious. All these doomsday reports came out of nowhere, with the conclusion that Japan was too dangerous to host the Olympics.

First of all, Japan has done a fantastic job of returning to normalcy. Maybe fantastic is too strong of a word, so instead I’ll use a comparison: they did a significantly better job than our reaction to Katrina. Years after Katrina, parts of New Orleans still lie in shambles, while Japan as a country worked to return many of the hardest hit areas to some semblance of normalcy in just a year.

Secondly, when I first saw the reports, I was extremely concerned, as I’m sure basically everyone who read the articles was. Once nuclear waste gets into the water, it makes its rounds, leading to health and environmental repercussions that are still unknown. But then I got mad. I got mad that for important news events like the Tohoku earthquake and Hurricane Katrina, which ruined countless lives and took many more, we have such a short memory, but we still remember so-called iconic scenes from Sex and the City, which stopped airing in 2004, almost a decade ago.

What is it about pop culture that makes us remember it? Is it because we want to, while images of people huddling in temporary shelters that become flimsy semi-permanent homes, of cities decimated, whether by natural disasters or by war, are too terrible to remember? We can relate to our favorite characters, but we push away real life suffering as something that we cannot fathom unless we too have experienced something as traumatic. Or at least, that’s the excuse.

As for those who have seemingly forgotten the tragic human aspect of the tragedy and have instead chosen to politicize the aftermath to discredit Japan, I truly question their humanity. (They’re also saying this to a nation who created sushi. Trust me, the Japanese care about the health of sea creatures just as much as, if not more than, all the haters.) Just as the Japanese flag represents the rising sun, so have the Japanese risen above tragedy, rightfully earning the honor of hosting the 2020 Olympics.

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Snickerdoodle Pumpkin Bars


Autumn has always been a fickle season. With autumn comes fresh-picked apples and butternut squash and trees swathed in beautiful fiery colors, but then there’s also sweltering days and frigid nights and those weird indian summers that fool you into thinking maybe this year, winter won’t be so cold.

Alas, in Boston, the winters are always cold.

Autumn this year has been particularly confusing. One day it was so incredibly hot that not even the professors couldn’t last until the end of class, another day, so cold, we had to turn on the heater. Just today, I was wearing shorts to the supermarket, but by nighttime, I had to change into jeans and a sweater because the temperature had dropped to 40 degrees.

In between the constant wardrobe changes and the insane amount of schoolwork, I’ve been savoring one of the quintessential symbols of autumn – pumpkins. A couple weeks ago, I made pumpkin lasagna, which came out delicious, but massively unphotogenic. And yesterday night, I made some fantastic, super easy snickerdoodle pumpkin bars. They’re sweet and soft and completely satisfying.

Speaking of pumpkin, it’s funny, canning has really made traditionally seasonal vegetables easily accessible at all times of the year, and yet, I rarely think to use pumpkin unless it’s autumn. I love pumpkin – it’s savory and sweet and hearty – but eating a pumpkin pie in spring just does not bring the same joy as a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. Trust me, I tried last year. It felt almost sacrilegious.

Despite it all, I still love autumn. If I had to sum up my affection for autumn in two words, I’d probably have to go with “apple cider.” But in all seriousness, despite the few days of intense heat and the many days of dead brown leaves and biting cold wind, those few beautiful days with the cool breeze and the red-orange trees make it all worth it.

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