Tomato and Sausage Risotto

IMG_1555Lately, I’ve found myself having to think extensively about what my biggest weakness is. (Seriously though, job interviewers, don’t you want to hear about how great I am in a less roundabout way?) After running through procrastination and all those conventional flaws, I began to realize that giving my all on everything, something I’d always viewed as a positive, might actually be my biggest weakness.

The first risotto dish I ever made wasn’t that great (read: it was actually pretty terrible). I became obsessed with getting every grain of rice translucent and coated in oil, which is basically impossible. Some grains of rice toasted and we ended up eating what felt like risotto mixed with corn flakes, like some misguided contemporary take on the breakfast for dinner theme.

Part of the beauty of risotto is that with simple ingredients, patience, and not too much effort, you can create a rich and delicious dish. The details aren’t important – at the end, all the separate components have melded together, giving risotto its creamy texture and complex flavors.

I used to psych myself out by breaking down tasks into such little pieces to the point that I myself was on the verge of a breakdown. Part of me continues to cling on to the details because they just seem so important, but lately, I’ve been learning to not become entangled in every little nuance and instead keep moving forward, one risotto recipe at a time.

(P.S. This is my fourth risotto recipe! For more risotto recipes, check out asparagus risotto verde, chicken risotto with caramelized onions, and mushroom risotto.)

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One Year Later

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It has not been one year.

No way.

Well, apparently it’s my blog’s one year anniversary. I feel compelled bake something cute to commemorate this. But for today, we’ll just have to make do with a tomato tart recipe. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a delicious (and super easy!) recipe, but if you know me, you know I like (to celebrate with) cake and everything sweet.

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Zebras a.k.a. the most photogenic animals ever.

Anyways, I’ve been thinking about my last post and what exactly I wanted to express. I felt some kind of unease in Africa, some embarrassment about my lack of cultural understanding, and guilt over what felt like exploitation of an entire country. Part of what I so ineloquently expressed is summed up beautifully by Spectra on her blog.

Part of what Africa made me realize was that yes, I am privileged. There’s no pretending that I, and most people I interact with, are affluent. And by going to Africa and donating some small sums of money to schools, and giving large tips to the service, I wasn’t saving anyone. I wasn’t changing anything. It’s unfair how much Africa affected me, and yet how little I could do in return. But I can’t pretend otherwise.

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Lil baby lions :)

Another aspect of my discomfort comes from the fact that as an Asian, I’ve faced cultural appropriation, whether in the form of white people flashing peace signs in photos with me, people wearing kimonos at Halloween, or people asking me to say something in Chinese, as if I must speak Chinese because I look Chinese. I understand what it feels like to be the token minority, like some kind of trophy.

And yet, in Africa, I felt that I was taking advantage of the Africans. When we visited the Maasai village, our tour guide specifically told us to visit because we would pity them. We sang and danced with them, but it was all just some show, done for each group of tourists that drove up to the village. We visited the house of a sick old woman. We heard her coughing, hidden beneath blankets in the darkness. We stopped by a school where children recited the ABCs. And we could do nothing. We were simply there to experience a neat little slice of African culture.

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All the Maasai men could jump ridiculously high.

I had always hated how people treated me like I was an outsider to mainstream American culture, how they always expected me to have different customs and speak a different language because I looked different. And yet, there I was, treating the Africans I met like they were some exotic oddity and feeling good about myself for giving them large tips. Exactly like some kind of Western savior.

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Snail Mail

IMG_1252Signs that I am getting old: I remember when I used to receive chain mail in a tangible mailbox.

I also used to have a pen pal. A girl I’d met at…circus camp. So maybe my childhood was a little unusual, but I promise you millennium babies, getting a letter in the mail used to be a normal occurrence.

When email took off in middle school, I loved getting chain emails. I loved all the pretty font colors and the suspense of scrolling through

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to get to the answer of some joke or riddle, or some ridiculous good luck charm.

Fast forward to now: I get so many emails, I sometimes dislike getting mail. One week, I went without internet except for classwork-related research, and I ended up with over 100 unchecked emails. Half of them were actually semi-important. Oops. And even the best of email filters can’t protect me from Joyce the Voice bombarding the radio station e-list with updates on her back surgery. Lady, we all hope you get better, we really do. But please, please stop emailing us an hourly status report. There’s other places on the internet (read: Twitter) for you to do that.

Receiving a letter in the mail has become a special occasion, almost as infrequent the birthday of a child born on February 29th. (No but seriously, I could count on one hand how many letters I’ve received in the past four years.)

Today, my friend JMeter sent me a beautiful piece of mail. It was so beautiful and so rare, I had to take a (crappy IPhone) picture. Scroll down to see the picture:

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(And why did I used to think these were fun and exciting? They’re freaking annoying.)

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Behold, a letter with a skull bead enclosed. It made my week.

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So beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes.

With the decline of our postal service and our cursive writing abilities (does anyone even still use cursive?), beautifully written letters on beautiful stationary are quickly disappearing from our society. What used to be a deluge of communications between distant siblings, friends, and lovers has now become a trickle of thank you letters and wedding invitations. But even as we turn to 140-character expressions of our emotions and the immediate gratifications of the internet, we still have not forgotten the joy of riffling through the mail and discovering a personal letter.

So you want to know how to make a far away friend’s day? Write them a letter. Thanks, JMeter, for making mine.

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The Rain Room

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This weekend, my friends and I woke up at 5:45am and stood in line until 11am to see the Rain Room, a room full of rain. Was it worth it?

Well, it’s complicated.

My immediate reaction is skepticism. We stood in the blistering heat, I ended up with blisters on my feet, and for the last twenty minutes of our wait (which, while blissfully air conditioned, were also the most painful minutes), we watched small children running through the exhibit as if it was a sprinkler at Central Park. As someone behind us said, “if they can bring their kids, I should be able to bring my dog.” The line moved agonizingly slow, as only ten people are allowed in the exhibit at one time. We spent less than twenty minutes in the exhibit itself.

Apollo, as represented by one real ballerina and three amateurs

That being said, the Rain Room really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We experienced being in a rain shower, yet not getting rained on. It allowed us to appreciate the serene beauty of rain without the annoyances of muddy puddles and soaked clothes. We also got some awesome silhouette pictures, courtesy of a bright white floodlight, the only source of light in the otherwise black room. (Though we were so busy posing that we only really enjoyed the quietude in the last few minutes.)

To see the Rain Room, you basically have to have a membership, since the museum lets members into line first. I happen to have a membership, but I felt a pang of pity walking past all those tourists who’d come from other states and countries to see the Rain Room, only to be stuck waiting for five hours or more. Nothing is worth standing in line for that long, and definitely not a 10ft by 10ft square of artificial rain.

It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, in that I will never do it again. But it was pretty cool to experience it once, and as my friend said, somewhat dubiously, “well, only 200 people get to see it per day.”

P.S. If you want to wait for a reasonable amount of time for something that is, in my opinion, more worth the wait, do try out this tomato sauce recipe. It elevates the pedestrian marinara to never-before-attained gourmet heights; it’s rich and delicious, the perfect way to use up all those cherry tomatoes.

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