Backlog Pt. 1

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Well, it certainly has been a while. But fret not, not much has changed – my food photography skills remain as questionable as ever.

So first off, I suppose it’s worth addressing the elephant in the room. Why did I stop posting, and why am I now returning?

For me, this past school year can generally be divided into a “before” and “after.” A before when I was still pretty okay, and an after when everything seemed to be imploding in an almost-comical tweenage “end of the world” kind of way.

In the beginning, I would start to write posts, then realize they were freaking depressing, and while great food is metaphorically made with “blood, sweat, and tears,” no one really wants to read a sob story when all they were looking for was a cookie recipe. So I’d delete and start again and the post would take another down and dispirited route. I tried to write about movies I’d seen, places I’d gone, about my friends and my family. I discovered that it’s surprisingly difficult to write about superficial joys – and not-so-surprisingly difficult to write about people when you’re ignoring their calls (sorry family members!). Every post I tried to write sounded artificially saccharine and after a while, I stopped trying.

Eventually, I reached the elusive “rock bottom.” At that point, I’d been living off almonds and dried cranberries and packages of dried seaweed and not much else. I felt as if I had lost everything that had been my identifiers – my innocence (which is the nice way of saying gullibility), my deep connection to classical music, my love for food, my confidence in my intellectual capabilities, my tendency to be easily excitable and inspired.

While this was all happening, I’d sometimes wish that I could just “wake up,” that I could sleep off the weariness and the insecurities and the nothingness. Looking back, I have no idea why I thought waking up was easy – the number of times I’ve slept through really important alarms (e.g. that one time I was five hours late for my flight) is, well, alarming. I finally recognized that I could not just wait to wake up one day and feel fine.

I am returning now to this blog, and to the life that I put on hold during these lost months, as part of my reclamation of my ‘self.’ I refuse to ever again fall victim to the names I have been called and the rumors that have been spread behind my back.

I’ve chosen to post this recipes because first of all, it is one of my favorites – an airy, ricotta-based lemon cheesecake that is delicately sweet with a tangy kick. It’s also my dad’s favorite dessert that I make, and if there’s one thing I’ve (re)learned from all of this, it is that my family unconditionally loves me, which I somehow forgot along the way. Finally, spring took it’s sweet time arriving in New England, but I can finally pack away the sweaters and proudly display my lingering “insulation” from the winter in tank tops and shorts, and what better way to celebrate than eat lots of (kind of healthy) cheesecake?

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A Little Late for Pumpkins?

IMG_1637I’ve always found it interesting that people associate pumpkins with autumn when really, pumpkins are available all year round. People associate corn with summer, yet have less of an aversion to enjoying some canned corn in the winter than munching on some pumpkin in not-autumn.

…it’s only been a year or so and I fear I’m already starting to get repetitive.

But hear me out here. Pumpkins are native to North America. The Native Americans first introduced settlers to pumpkins and apples and corn. And we repaid them with, uh, diseases (sometimes intentionally inflicted) and forced hikes and their very own fertile, highly desirable parcels of land.

Anyways, pumpkin has become a staple in American culture – what would Thanksgiving be without some kind of pumpkin-based dessert? Or Halloween with no carved pumpkins?

Things that become staples in American culture tend to become overexposed, like Cold Stone and cupcakes. (Or as my dad just suggested most sinisterly, the American dream of a suburban house with two cars.) We burn through popular things in a never-ending, ferociously turning cycle of fads.

And yet, some things endure because they somehow become enshrined, become something that we voluntarily enjoy only infrequently. Like Thanksgiving turkey, strawberry shortcakes, and pumpkin pie. Last I checked, turkey, strawberries, and canned pumpkin are sold in supermarkets all year round (and in the case of strawberries, at surprisingly high quality even in the winter), and yet, we save them for the right moment. We imbue them with special value.

Back to pumpkin – it’s interesting, the Native Americans just ate them roasted, as a staple part of their diet. But in those early years, cold-resistant crops must have seemed like some kind of godsend to the early settlers, something to be celebrated.

Guess we’re not so ‘native’ to this land after all.

Personally, I would make this cheesecake all the time, I love it that much. It might be my favorite new recipe of 2013. But my mom, who actually is an immigrant from Hong Kong, was shocked (and maybe even a little appalled) that I’d suggest such blasphemy. Spoken like a true American, mom. Guess I’ll just have to wait (with baited breath) for the next holiday season.

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Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies

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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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