spiced tomato jam

It’s my last night in Cambridge, and I’m starting to realize that summer’s over, that I’m moving back to Providence in a few hours, that the quiet rustling of leaves outside and the languorous breeze that breathes through the mesh in the window every now and then is only going to be here for a little while longer before Fall sets in.

Is it possible to summarize an entire summer in just a few lines? (I guess I wouldn’t have this problem if I updated more regularly). If I could encapsulate these last three months and deliver it to you in a magic sensory box, you’d hear late night conversations with friends on the beach, waves crashing against the sand; see the fog-tinged color palette of San Francisco; smell the grass outside my apartment at dusk. You’d feel the grit of New York City and marvel at the relative quiet of Chicago, but find both enjoyable because of good company. Your legs would ache a little from carrying you all around Boston, but you wouldn’t mind; your brain would be racing from all the ideas you’d be thinking about after reading almost gluttonously (thanks, getpocket), kind of like how you’d eat the blueberries from the farmer’s market: in handfuls, trying to satisfy a craving you know’ll never be satiated.

This may or may not sound like a box you’d like to receive, but the reason I’m able to share all these experiences with you – even after working full-time – is because I’m starting to understand the whole balance thing. I realized this summer that it really all boils down to being honest: during downtime, it means being honest with yourself (Are you really going to pass up fireworks on the beach because you think you’re going to get through that Econ textbook? Come on now) and in the workplace, it means being honest with yourself to others.

This summer I had the privilege of being a strategy intern for an incredible design consultancy called Continuum, and it was my first experience really being on a team. One of the most important things I learned was that being straightforward (e.g. ‘This is what I think,’ or ‘This is what I can or cannot do’) is not a mark of selfishness but one of honesty, and is actually more considerate toward others because it lets them know how I really feel. I’m used to putting aside my thoughts and feelings out of consideration for others, but that’s doing a disservice both to me and to them; in actuality, speaking up helps everyone on the team get on the same page and encourages the forward momentum and growth of the project.

The simple (or not-so-simple) act of being honest with myself and with others has catalyzed various work- and non-work-related projects – so far it’s been really effective, and surprisingly liberating (Holy crap, I totally wrote about this in May. Thank goodness I’m not just imagining my own progress). I’m also incredibly grateful to have worked at a place, with a team, that values the opinions and contributions of their interns. With all this learning and the incredible breadth of experiences I’ve had, this has to have been the best summer ever (I’ve only had 21 so far, but you know).

One of the surest signs of summer is the vast abundance of beautiful tomatoes. I found these gems all over Massachusetts, from talented gardeners in my office to farmers at the market who carried 6 or 7 varieties at a time. I acquired a bit too many (I don’t even eat tomatoes that often) and had to figure out what to do with them before I moved out. This jam is just about perfect – it’s sweet, spicy, and um, delicious. I recommend making this before tomato season’s over and the less flavorful stuff returns to the supermarket.

Mark Bittman’s Spiced Tomato Jam (NYT original here)

1-1/2 pounds good ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup sugar (Mr. Bittman says to use 1 cup, but 1/2 cup is more than enough if your tomatoes are awesome)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (it’d also be good with a little zest)
1/2 – 1 tablespoon fresh finely minced ginger, depending on preference
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes to taste

1. Take those beautiful tomatoes and chop ‘em good.

2. Throw the tomatoes, and everything else, into a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.

the flavor arsenal, minus the ginger/lime/sugar/salt

3. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture’s jam-like. Taste and adjust seasoning; cool and refrigerate.

getting there!

there we go.

4. Make bread to go with it. Just kidding, don’t.

Honey wheat bread (this recipe was okay… not really worth sharing).

I mean you can if you want to. It’s not necessary.

P.S. Aren’t these little jars cute? I saw the ones the wonderful Tiffany of Social Colander put her friend’s nut butters in and had to find some of my own.

I put it on a slice with melted cheddar… This stuff is so good. It’s what ketchup dreams of becoming when it goes to sleep at night.

jam + goat cheese cheddar + honey wheat bread

strawberry banana muffins

In reflecting on the last year, I think one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that time is precious. A few weeks ago, after a long conversation about ‘the future,’ my mentor at Brown gave me a set of exercises from a course at Harvard Business School that’s supposed to help you pinpoint your strengths/weaknesses, interests, and beliefs in order to find your ideal career path. There was one question that asked about what I considered most valuable in my life, and I knew the answer instantly: the people. And a few months ago, if I were being completely honest with myself, my relationships definitely weren’t at the center of my life; I let myself get consumed with all my work and projects far too often. Time is simultaneously in abundance and in scarcity – how was I going to spend it to make sure that I was living life to the fullest? I became determined to turn myself around.

These last couple of weeks and months have been a blur of late nights talking with my roommate, taking a day off from my job to visit friends in Boston, going out to lunch and hanging out with more people in my department, using the hour before class to go to the farmer’s market with a friend I knew was hurting, hosting multiple dinner parties at our apartment, and finding out for myself what it means to be vulnerable (my wise friend Jade once told me, “only people who are strong can be vulnerable,” and it’s stuck with me – but that’s another entry for another time). I can’t tell you how much more centered, happy, and at peace with life I am. Obviously I have a ton of growing left to do (right now my project is learning to be more straightforward with people), but this was definitely a step in the right direction.

The hardest thing is reconciling all of this with the fact that my grades might not be the straight A’s I’ve been conditioned to earn my entire life. And yet, I would never, ever trade any of these experiences for perfect grades; I’ll take an intense, meaningful 3-hour conversation over finishing my homework to perfection any day – a year ago I doubt I could have said this. It’s truly a paradigm shift for me, but I’m working at embracing it.

Oh, so these muffins. I wish I had a good segue into talking about them, but I threw these together because I’d been in a rush in the mornings and didn’t have time to wake up early to make peanut butter sandwiches (sad, right?). I made a batch of these and they were both delicious and easy to grab on the way out in the morning to class; plus, making the batter and putting it into the muffin tin took me under 20 minutes. I hope you enjoy these too!

Strawberry Banana Muffins

2 eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 bananas, mashed
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sliced strawberries
turbinado sugar to sprinkle on top (I didn’t do this. I wish I had.)

1. Preheat your oven to 375F, and line a muffin tin with ~12 muffin liners (or just grease ‘em). In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, applesauce, oil, brown sugar, vanilla and bananas.

all mashed together

2. Dump in the flour, baking soda and cinnamon.

3. Stir until moistened – don’t overdo it! Slice your strawberries and stir them in until evenly distributed.

4. Spoon batter into muffin cups until completely filled.

5. Bake for ~20 minutes, til the tops are lightly browned.

fresh outta the oven (‘scuse my muffin tin. it’s been a couple years.)

Let these cool for a bit, and then carefully take them out with a fork (or you can flip the tin upside down if you’re really in a rush).

I think I added way more strawberries than the recipe called for because these were packed... Not that I was complaining.  Enjoy!

korean-spiced sweet potato fries

I think the lack of posting regularity speaks to the fact that I’ve been preoccupied with other things in my life – apologies! I have such a backlog of entries I want to publish but haven’t gotten around to. On a different note, I got an e-mail from a reader who remarked that I eat well for a college student… I’m absolutely flattered, but one of these days I’ll show you what I actually eat on a regular basis; it’ll be a whole post of lazy stir-fries, pasta, and peanut butter sandwiches (sometimes with bananas, sometimes without bread. You heard me correctly).

But honestly, things have in fact been a little crazy on this end; I just finished a 6-week winter session in which I took two courses on topics I’ve been wanting to learn about for a long time (Design & Entrepreneurial Thinking and Web Design) and then traveled to NJ both to visit a friend and to help lead a workshop for Design for America at Princeton. Now spring semester is in high gear, to say the least, and all I’d like is just a little bit of free time to decompress. The most common phrases heard around my department recently go something like:

“Have you made your portfolio yet? How many pieces are in it?”

“I need to update my resume…”

“Do you know where you’re interning this summer?”

I sympathize completely; in fact, I’m writing this post as an outlet because, like everyone else, I’m feelin’ the pressure. Right now it’s like everyone’s on edge, looking at each other’s work and freaking about how much more they have to do before their own resume or portfolio is ready.

But a lesson I’ve learned (and forgotten, and am constantly re-learning) is that my value and my worth aren’t derived from my resume, what I do, or even what I say. As Immanuel Kant would say, my value is inherent in who I am. I think this is something we easily forget when we get caught up in our work and projects; the feeling of inadequacy always kind of finds its way in when we observe the incredible things that others do. But our own work isn’t diminished because of someone else’s; it’s not like awesomeness is finite and someone else is using up a portion that could’ve been yours. What you create, who you are, what you will become – these are all things that have their own intrinsic value. It’s ok to look at and be inspired by the amazing work that others may do, but it shouldn’t negate the value of your own.

I hope what I’m saying is true – I want to believe it is. I was going to write that maybe you should take what I say with a grain of salt, but instead I think you should use it for these sweet potato fries (a tenuous connection, I know). Sesame and sweet potato is my new favorite flavor combination: unexpected, but delicious. And with the kick from the pepper flakes and a little salt, these fries are really quite extraordinary.

Korean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries

1-2 sweet potatoes (I used Hannah sweet potatoes – they look like regular potatoes but are as sweet as yams)
1-2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
pinch of salt to taste (I originally used soy sauce, but I found it a bit too wet)
1 tsp Korean red pepper flakes (as per your spice preferences)
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp black sesame seeds

1. Take your sweet potato(es) of choice and slice ‘em into fry shapes (peel the skin off beforehand if you like).

2. Assemble your crew. Mix up everything except for the honey and sesame seeds.

it kind of looks like this.

3. Toss the potato slices with the oil-spice-marinade mixture and splay them out on a sheet (I used a silpat so they wouldn’t stick to my pan)

4. Bake at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until desired doneness. Remove and let it cool for a few minutes; drizzle with honey and coat in black sesame seeds.

um, yum.

my favorite fries are the little ones that get extra crispy and crunchy.

A few days ago I had the ‘real thing’ (deep-fried sweet potato fries coated in corn syrup and sesame seeds) and I have to admit that I prefer these – they’re more subtle, and have the sweet-spicy-salty interplay going on. But if you’re not a fan of the spices I’ve chosen, no worries! The flavor combinations are  truly endless; use whatever’s in your pantry, or just straight up salt and pepper. You can’t go wrong!

honey and vanilla-glazed lemon bread

It’s funny how you can have so many plans, expectations, ideals about something only to realize that they’re pointless. Like how people expect buses to arrive on time, or for all fluffy animals to be friendly. Months ago – when I was a wee youngin’ of 20 – I thought that my 21st birthday would be some huge celebration in my apartment (decked out in strands and strands of Christmas lights) with lots of good friends and champagne and fruit tarts (my favorite food and namesake of my blog). But as last week approached, after pulling an all-nighter and successive four and five hour nights, I quickly defenestrated that idea.

I was fighting a headache in class Friday when I got caught up in a text exchange with one of my roommates, Tabitha.

“When do you get out of class?”
“NEVER”
“What? When do you usually get out?”
“6. Why? What are we doing?”
“Connie and I are taking you somewhere but we’re not telling you where!”

Needless to say, all symptoms of sleep deprivation quickly disappeared. I was blindfolded with Tabitha’s pink scarf and taken to a beautiful restaurant overlooking the river and skyline (Jacky’s, if you’re ever in the downtown Providence area) for a lovely evening in the company of two of the most delightful people I have ever known. Interestingly enough, Tabitha and Connie commented that I seemed like I was in distress when I opened my birthday present, but really it was just me struggling to express the depths of my gratitude. And it wasn’t even my birthday yet! I won’t bother you with the details of the rest of my weekend, other than that I don’t have any regrets about not having that party I previously envisioned. I certainly couldn’t have anticipated how restful and necessary my weekend actually was.

So anyway, this small loaf of lemon bread is just a minuscule manifestation of my affection, both for my roommates and for everyone else in my life. I’ve been meaning to make this for a long time for Connie since she loves everything lemon, but while I was baking/eating it I thought of everyone else who would enjoy it because it is ridiculously delicious – if I could, I would bake a loaf for everyone I know. I adapted it from an allrecipes recipe by lowering the sugar and upping the lemon like crazy, and then making up a glaze to drizzle on top just because this is a food blog and I feel self conscious about putting unphotogenic foods on here. My loaf happens to have flecks of crushed flax seed because we ran out of eggs, but I’m sure yours will be a perfectly pale yellow.

Honey and Vanilla-Glazed Lemon Bread
makes 1 loaf (8 x 4 x 2″) or 2 mini loaves

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar (or up to 1 cup if you like it sweet)
2 eggs
juice of two lemons
zest of one lemon
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup or so of milk
splash of lemon extract

glaze
~2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup or so of confectioners’ sugar
honey
splash of vanilla extract

1. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, lemon juice, and zest.

lots and lots of zest!


 2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; stir into creamed mixture alternately with milk until batter-consistency.

3. Pour into a greased 8-in. x 4-in. x 2-in. loaf pan, or two small loaf pans, or a cupcake pan, or whatever else tickles your fancy.

4. Bake at 350 degrees 30-45 minutes (depending on your pan of choice) or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

5. Combine glaze ingredients, messing around until you love it.

a drizzle of honey

6. Pour the glaze over your bread, and serve to people you love (who will probably then proceed to hug you).

spicy garlic shrimp

It is slowly dawning on me that only 2 weeks of my summer remain. As amazing a learning experience it has been, I am more than eager to return back to the midwest, where things are admittedly simpler and slower, because at this rate I’m starting to forget what it feels like to take a break and truly relax. In anticipation of this, I noticed I’ve been incorporating bits and pieces of home into my life here in Providence. I turn on NPR, and instantly I am taken back to car rides with my father in the mornings on the way to school; on Saturday afternoons I put on ‘Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!’ not only because I adore Peter Sagal, but also because it reminds me of spontaneous weekend trips out to lunch. I even felt a twinge of homesickness the other day when I heard an old couple speaking Chinese on the bus.

Food always has that component of nostalgia (remember Anton Ego in Ratatouille?). Take this garlic shrimp, for instance. One of my mother’s frequent meals at home is a plate of large tiger prawns, sauteed in fragrant garlic, ginger, and a bit of soy sauce. When I went to Whole Foods I had no intention of making this dish at all, but the friendly Whole Foods fish guy convinced me to try out these crustaceans. As I was contemplating the unexpected purchase, I thought I’d try to recreate her recipe, but then I decided I’d include a bit of a twist inspired by my own experiences. I decided to add a spoonful of Korean red pepper paste (고추장, or gochujang), a condiment that has become one of my favorites after a trip to Korea last summer. We rarely eat anything spicy at home because my father and brother’s palates can’t tolerate any degree of it, but an expedition last summer to Korea and Southern China has definitely adapted mine (I kept a short travel diary here). Balanced with honey, the flavor combination worked out perfectly.

I’ve never really handled whole shrimp before, but I love a challenge; deveining turned out not to be that bad (just be gentle!). Interestingly enough, my entire life when I would eat prawns at home I would be completely grossed out by my parents eating the portion inside the head, but after making them myself… There’s just something about lovingly and painstakingly preparing and cooking the shrimp (or any food, for that matter) that makes you not want to waste any of it. Plus, I learned how absolutely awesome that portion is: all the flavor is concentrated there! Ultimately, this was precisely what I needed, what I envisioned: flavors of home, with a kick of my own. It was entirely satisfying and delicious.

Spicy Garlic Shrimp
serves 1

1/2 lb (8 oz.) medium-size shrimp (whole)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp Korean red pepper paste (고추장, or gochujang. I love this stuff, though in a pinch I really think any hot sauce will work. Thicken with cornstarch or flour as needed)
rice wine (I used a combination of chicken broth and white wine)
1 tsp soy sauce
2-3 tsp honey
chopped scallions for garnish

1. Wash shrimp and pat dry. Devein, leaving heads on.

pre-deveining

2. Turn pan on to medium low, and heat olive oil. Add garlic and saute until fragrant. Add shrimp to pan and stir to coat.

3. Add soy sauce and red pepper paste to pan and stir.

adding the red pepper paste

3. Once the shrimp are almost fully cooked, deglaze the pan with wine or stock (trust me, you will want to deglaze this pan well. The shrimp essence is wonderful). Add honey to taste, and simmer until done.

4. Plate. Pour sauce on top, sprinkle with green onions, and serve. Eat as messily as you like.

avocado alfredo

I haven’t been sleeping or eating very well recently because my mind has been a bit restless. In the summer especially there are nights I lie awake in my bed (which currently happens to be an unopened mattress on the floor of my apartment) and think about what’s going to happen in the future, what I’m going to do with myself. I wake up in the morning at an ungodly hour exhausted but unable to fall back asleep for fear of losing productivity. This is especially exasperating on rainy days (like today) where I would love nothing more than to turn back into said bed and make myself comfortable again.

This is a side effect of the summer disease that seems to afflict me every year, but I don’t mind; this is an opportune time to re-center myself and figure out where my real interests lie. For instance, one of the realizations I’ve come to recently is that I’m not actually that interested in designing products… which is kind of unfortunate for a student studying industrial design (I was contemplating changing the name of this blog after this epiphany but I figured it’d be too inconvenient. I’m still a design student after all!). I won’t bore you with details but I can reassure you that all is going to be fine – all I know is that I want to create meaningful things for people. I enjoy ambiguity anyway – more opportunities! Maybe I’ll quit school and just food blog all day (Mom, if you’re reading this, I promise I’m just kidding).

Another side effect of summer, for me, at least, is the desire to eat light foods. I wish I could explain it more articulately, but basically I prefer my food especially simple and minimal (but of course, still delicious). This pasta fits the bill perfectly. I had an avocado that was perfectly ripe, and fresh basil leaves from the plant I had purchased for $2 (!) a few weeks ago. This flavor profile is one of my favorites: garlic, lemon, and black pepper are just perfect for each other, and the addition of basil complements it so well.

Avocado Alfredo from Oh She Glows
serves 1

1/2 avocado
1 clove garlic
juice of 1/2 a lemon
3 fresh basil leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
handful of pasta (I used spinach)

1. Bring water to a boil and start cooking your pasta (It should take about 10 minutes, which is more than enough time to put the sauce together)

2. Slice your avocado in half; store the other half for something delicious later.


3. Either place all the ingredients in a food processor or just finely dice everything (it’s still good, I promise).

4. Combine all the ingredients using a fork. If you like your sauce looser you can add some olive oil.

5. When the pasta is finished cooking, toss with the sauce (and possibly garnish with lemon zest and more black pepper) and serve.

I know it looks and sounds mildly suspicious, but I assure you that it is SO. GOOD. It’s somewhat rich, but not overwhelmingly so as in regular alfredo sauces. I’m sure it’d also go well with other things (i.e. a protein, other veggies) but the simplicity of this dish is why it’s so lovely. Also it’s incredibly healthy (this is… vegan?!?), though I didn’t notice until I’d finished devouring the entire plate.

Green, creamy deliciousness

perfect birthday cake

I’m always skeptical of recipes deemed ‘perfect,’ be it the New York Times’ perfect chocolate chip cookie (though I’m sure, as many food bloggers will attest, they may in fact be the best chocolate chip cookie in existence) or, in this instance, Dorie Greenspan’s perfect party cake. Upon first glance, the recipe (from the truly lovely blog A Tender Crumb) does sound delicious: moist lemon cake, raspberry jam, a light buttercream, and a shredded coconut exterior. However, I was inspired to try a cheesecake-influenced take on this cake. I replaced the buttercream with a light cheesecake filling and chose to use strawberry jam instead of raspberry (though I’m sure raspberry’d be just as delicious) and a light cream cheese frosting.

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