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!