Backlog Pt. 1

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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green pea pasta

Recently, my great-aunt and great-uncle spent three days with us. The first two days, the torrential downpour kept us trapped inside, so I spent a lot of time at the mercy of my great-aunt, listening to her discuss the finer points of ancient Chinese literature. I have the speaking ability of a young Chinese child, so needless to say, I really had no idea what she was talking about.

At some point, I drifted off, daydreaming about childhood days at my great-aunt’s house, eating kumquats and reading on the roof in the blazing California sun. About my great-uncle before his stroke, about his old record player and Chinese historical movies.

My great-aunt and great-uncle have been in America for twenty years. They can barely speak any English. When I was a kid, I used to look down on them because they seemed so out of place. They could only speak comfortably in Chinatown and the only interactions they had with their neighbors were smiles and waves. I never realized how unfair it was to condescend on them when they never judged me for not speaking what should have been my native language.

My great-aunt and great-uncle lived through the Cultural Revolution in China. My great-aunt fled the Communists for years before finally being sent to a hard labor camp and very nearly losing her life. They have lived hard and complicated lives that I once dismissed because they didn’t speak English. Lately, I have started to treasure the memories that I have with them, each as beautiful as the rainbows in the spray of my great-aunt’s garden hose as she watered her plants in the summer.


So many tasty ferns…

The final day of their visit was blessedly sunny. We visited Longwood Gardens, another childhood haunt that I had not been to since middle school. It was nostalgic to see the children’s garden, renovated but still vaguely familiar, and the waterlilies, their leaves smaller than I remembered. My great-aunt was happy, and my great-uncle was happy to see her happy.

Life rarely gives second chances, but I felt that I had been given some kind of chance to connect with two people who I had pushed away in my youth. My great-aunt pointed out all the edible ferns, much to my mom’s and my amusement. She also expressed her awe of the size of the grounds. Through her eyes, ordinary plants suddenly became a delicious delicacy, and the grounds that I had taken for granted became impressive in their vastness.

This dish is dedicated to them. It’s simple and light but delicious, qualities I know they would enjoy.

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