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I was looking for a sweet potato pie recipe when I found this purple yam pie with its beautiful hue beckoning me to make it. It’s definitely a fun and tasty departure from pumpkin or sweet potato if you can manage to find these tubers at your Asian grocery store. I just ate the last slice of this pie last night and felt truly sorry that pie dishes don’t come in larger sizes.

The coconut milk and yam flavor blend really well together. The filling is super creamy and thick and well suited for licking-off-the-spoon. I almost think I could’ve served the filling itself in a bowl as a mashed purple yam dessert. Most of all, I love the fact that I can still see the pattern of swirls left behind when it was spread into the pie crust.

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Purple yam pie

Use the recipe for the filling from The Endless Meal but pair it with the tried and true buttery, flaky crust from Allrecipes. Be conservative with the cayenne pepper if you prefer a less spicy pie. I used half a teaspoon and it really gives it a strong kick. I might consider using cardamom instead.

Don’t be fooled by these Rainier cherries. They may look plump and juicy, but they are disappointingly bland. A few weekends ago, I went to Brentwood to pick fruit. I saw these bright red orange bunches hanging between the leaves, and my thoughts immediately turned to cherry pies, cherry galettes, cherry cupcakes. But my excitement was for naught. Somebody told us that this year’s cherries are particularly lackluster. I wonder if this is true everywhere else. Perhaps better luck next year?

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At least the blackberries were delicious. I didn’t even mind the prickly thorns. We gorged ourselves among the vines, picking until our fingers were stained purple.

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Do you like your peaches barely ripe, crispy, with a good crunch? Or soft and bruise-able, with its juices spilling into your hands at the first bite? There were white peaches at the fruit-picking farms as well. Unfortunately, the one good peach that I bit into also had a large insect surprise inside.

Speaking of peaches, I made this white peach galette a week before going to Brentwood with insect-free fruit. White peaches tastes more delicate and sweet than yellow peaches, but the latter seems better suited for pastries. In any case, I won’t be eating anymore peaches for awhile.

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Recently, I’ve returned to my normal hair style. The short bob, one that I’ve sported for years in grade school and college. As much as I wanted to have long hair, I had to admit that I have no patience for it. I’m the type of person that likes to spring out of bed and spend no more than the three minutes it takes to drag a brush through the tangled mess before sprinting out the door. So yes, I very much need hair that will withstand bed-headedness.

Yesterday, one of my mom’s friends looked at me with my mussed up nap hair and then at my mom with her pristine locks, carefully dyed each month and meticulously groomed each morning, before making this astute observation: “You must be very different from your mom, huh?”

Most definitely.

My mom is the embodiment of orderliness, beauty, femininity, cordiality and warmth. Whereas, I am slobness manifest. She makes a frumpy sweater look good. I make a frumpy sweater look frumpier. People gravitate towards my ever cheerful mom. People flee from my awkward social gestures. And when it comes to creativity, she’s the most creative mom I know.

I bake goodies because I can follow directions. But my mom knits because she’s technically skilled and aesthetically gifted. I’ve learned a long time ago to defer to my mom’s opinions for all things fashion related. Thus, everything that is presentable in my wardrobe has been her doing. I am 25 and I let my mom dress me. I am not ashamed. You would let her dress you too if you’ve seen my knitted sweaters, tunics, and scarves.

This is still in the works, but go take a look at my mom’s knitting blog at joyofknitting.wordpress.com. She makes the most adorable baby clothes with fine quality yarn. They would make perfect gifts if you’re looking for something special. She also takes custom orders if you want a certain design to be made with specific colors.

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Peach Pie from Smitten Kitchen

Vicky and I made this pie on a warm, sunny afternoon in her homey Cole Valley apartment, where I was seeking refuge from my own gloomy, fog-shrouded Sunset abode. I had been itching to make a pie with the eight ripe peaches sitting in my fridge–my last chance to make a quintessential summer dish before the season ends. We divided up the recipe; I took care of the crust while she handled the filling. Meanwhile, Bessie the cat snoozed on the kitchen chair. I didn’t do it here, but my favorite part of pie-making is when you crimp the edges of the top crust with the tines of a fork. It reminds me of the scene in Snow White where the birds use their feet to make the fluted edges of the pie.

Wow, I’ve finished my first year in graduate school. You’d think that I’d know more about brain science, but I really don’t. After all those hours spent in class and freaking out about tests and reading countless papers, I still feel so damn clueless about everything. Is it possible to feel like you’ve learned so much, and yet know so little? Yes.

I’ve spent so much time worrying whether I’d survive my first year that I haven’t had time to really breathe. But now that I’ve passed my pre-qualification exam, which basically demolished whatever illusions I had of my intellect, I’ve suddenly found myself with free time. No classes, no tests, and all this time to sit and think about my future for the next five years. So naturally, I freak out. The other day found me sitting alone in the break room trying to clear my head, catch my breathe. Because I am terrified. I’m also excited, yes. But a part of me is also beginning to see all the uncertainties in my life, my career, my faith, and my relationships. Despite how much I enjoy my work, feel secure in my faith, or cherish my relationships, there’s always a part of me that questions if I chose right. Am I doing what I should be doing? Am I where I’m supposed to be? Am I becoming who I am meant to be?

I’m turning 25 this month. When I was in high school, I didn’t think that I would have these questions when I’d be 25. I thought I would know exactly what I want and know exactly how to get there. But then again, I also thought I’d be tall, sexy, and intelligent. Haha, I guess I should be more disappointed.

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I haven’t seriously spent time in the kitchen for awhile now. Making this tart reminded me how much I miss it. Even when the flour flies all over the place, leaving streaks of white on my clothes. Even when I am left with a mountain of bowls to wash in the sink. Even when the dish doesn’t turn out the way I thought it would. I still love when everything comes together in the end. It’s those days where I bake for no reason in particular, other than because I simply want to, that I do my best and enjoy the most.

Maybe, I need to remember how to do science for no reason in particular, other than because I want to.

Berry Goat Cheese Tart from Pastry Affair

My first semester of grad school is drawing to a close.  It’s been great in some ways, and slightly disappointing in others.  Mostly, I wish that I had made more of an effort to talk to people in my lab rotation.  I spent more time reading papers and worrying about not getting any data when I could’ve been learning about the other projects in the lab.  But it’s no surprise that approaching people is not my strong suit; that shouldn’t be an excuse anyway.  It’s unfortunate that I realized this so late because now I just feel unsatisfied and disappointed in myself for not making the most out of this experience.  The only upside is that I’ll know to do better for my next two rotations.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve failed in some way.  Or that I haven’t given a very good impression to my lab mates.  It doesn’t help that this was the lab that drew me to UCSF in the first place.  I guess I wanted my rotation here to be so awesome that anything less seemed like a major letdown.

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Juan and I were so impressed with the lemon curd and gingerbread pancakes from Zazie’s that we bought a pack to take home with us.  On his last day here for Thanksgiving, we used up the curd to make lemon cream tartelettes.  These mini-tarts are so much easier to share with people than a regular sized one.  They also make very addicting after-lunch and after-dinner…and maybe after-breakfast desserts.

My friend gave me three very ripe mangoes to do something with, and I figured they’d best be turned into tartelettes as well.  To make mango curd, puree two or three mangos with some sugar, lemon juice, and an egg.  Strain the curd with a sieve if you want it to be smooth.  Heat the mixture over medium heat until the sauce is somewhat thickened; then chill it in the fridge with plastic wrap touching the surface to prevent a skin from forming.

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Maybe it’s because I put in so much more effort in this second round, but I definitely prefer the mango tarts over the lemon ones.

Lemon Tartelettes from Kitchen Wench

I didn’t really have plans for Halloween weekend, but somehow ended up watching a free screening of The Shining at Park Chalet on Friday night.  Red Rum! Red Rum!  Definitely will check back to see what other movies they’ll be showing on Fridays, especially since they offer happy hour priced drinks/food from 9 PM.  $3 beer?  $3 garlic fries?

Saturday night, my friend persuaded me to join the annual Journey to the End of the Night street game.  Basically, it’s a public zombie game where “humans” must travel by foot or public transit to five checkpoints in the city and make it to the finish line without being tagged by the “zombies/chasers.”  The turnout was amazing.  When we went to register, the line almost stretched from Cupid’s Span to the Ferry Building.  Numbers were definitely in the hundreds, which meant that there was a mad rush/stampede out of the starting point.

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The checkpoints we had to reach before the finish line were spread out across the city: Pagoda Pl (near Chinatown), Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, Levi’s Plaza (on Embarcadero), Broadway Tunnel West Mini Park, and finally end at Crissy Field in the Presidio.  Fortunately, each checkpoint is located in a safezone which includes several streets.  Bus shelters and train stations were also considered safe.

I don’t think I’ve ever ridden the bus so much since I’ve been here.  I’m terrible at directions, so I was really glad that my group was very smart-phone and direction savvy.  Our strategy was to use public transit to get as close to the checkpoints as possible and sprint when necessary.  Of course, there were definitely runner enthusiasts who just sprinted the whole way.  We were not that ambitious.

The purpose of the game was to also help acquaint you with the city.  And even if you are familiar with all the places, it’s still a thrill to run through these neighborhoods at night.  I especially loved the fantastic view from Crissy Field Beach where you can see the Golden Gate Bridge shine across the waters and hints of a light fog hovering near the coastline.

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To be honest, I didn’t think we would last very long in the game.  But when we finished our fourth checkpoint, I knew we had to push on to the end!  It’s actually kind of scary walking down the streets and not knowing if there were zombies that would pop out from a corner.  We were lucky that most of the chasers that we spotted didn’t notice us back, but we did have to sprint at one point to make it to our fourth stop.  We also had a lot of help from our zombie friends.

After a good four hours, we finally made it to the finish at midnight!  Whoo!  We didn’t win anything, but I left feeling very accomplished and somewhat confident that I may just survive a zombie apocalypse.

Panna Cotta Tart with the chocolate almond graham cracker crust that I used from the last post.  I paired these with roasted grapes that I roasted with balsamic and honey.  I would use a regular tart crust instead of a crumb crust if you don’t want crumbs to float to the surface, but mine tasted just fine.

Last week was Juan’s birthday!  Even though I couldn’t celebrate with him, I figured I could still bake him a tart and eat it for him.  Since both of us love chocolate, this double chocolate tart was perfect for the occasion.  And to show my appreciation, I thought I’d write about a moment in our conversations that really inspired me.

This is a post about my weakness.  About a moment that I am not proud of, but I will write it here so that I do not forget.

You’ve always said that you see so much good in me.  The truth is that it’s so easy to put up a kind face and speak kind words and do kind acts.  Sure, some of that may genuinely come from the heart, but more often than I care to admit to, I do it because I know it’s the right thing to do.  But just when I want to pat myself on the back for being so righteous, I see that I’ve never been Good at all.

Juan, I confess that I am fickle.  In love and in life.  I find it easy to be discontent because my heart always wanders to the things that I don’t have.  My eyes see all your deficits but are blind to my own.  And I love with a selfish affection–only when I feel like it and hardly when it’s inconvenient.

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It was a snide comment.  I can blame it on stress or fatigue, but neither can really justify my words because they were said with the intent to wound.  I knew they would, so I said it: “You’re not so bright, are you?”

Yea, I knew it was wrong, but at the same time, I took in smug satisfaction knowing that I had said the thing that would cut you the most.  And the most horrible thing was that I wanted to say more; I trembled to see just how far I can push you.

I never thought that I would judge you for your educational level, socioeconomic background, professional accomplishments, financial success, or even physical appearance.  Not only because it is not fair–you were not privileged, you were not lucky, you were not raised in affluence, you were not me–but because none of these “markers of success” says anything about strength of character.  Yet, my cruel words showed that I judged you for everything that I didn’t want to.  There was something inside me that wanted to say that you were not good enough for me.

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I expected you to be angry, yell or shout, maybe even cry.  But what you said in response completely blew me away. Instead of telling me off, even though you had every right to, you told me about your moment of weakness:

There is guy in my class who obviously grew up in the ghetto.  I could tell because he walked and talked like a guy from the ghetto: uneducated and pretentious.  It made me mad to see him act like he was better than everyone else.  I thought, “I’ve done better than him even though I had grew up in the ghetto too.”  After class, I saw that he was walking and trying to impress a girl; so I got into my car and drove past him, thinking that I can use my car to show off and make him look like he was less than me.  “He has to walk home, but I don’t.”  And it suddenly struck me that I was judging him for things that he probably couldn’t control.  But even worse was that I thought I was better than him.  This is not why I was blessed with this car.  So I stopped and asked God to forgive me.

And then you said:

I want to see our relationship like I see mine with Christ.  I may not always see Him all the time, but I know there is nothing else out there that can compare to Him.

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Juan, thank you for your story.  I can’t quite articulate why it “spoke to me.”  I just know that I was struck in that moment by your gentleness, steadfastness, and grace.  I knew that what I needed in a guy wasn’t riches or prestige, but someone who walks with God.

Thank you, for grounding me in the things that matter the most.  I may have been blessed with education and opportunities, but you…you were blessed with faith.

Feliz Cumpleanos!  Treinta y dos!

Chocolate Tart from Dulce Delight (I used almonds instead of hazelnuts)

A friend recently asked me, “What would God say?”  I was prepared to listen to his troubles, ready to commiserate and sympathize, taking care to leave my faith out of the conversation out of respect for his beliefs.  Because I figured the last thing a dejected friend needs is someone to preach at him.  So I was taken aback to have this question thrown at me.  I’m definitely not the fastest thinker and neither can I articulate very well in awkward situations.  All I could muster up was: “He would say, trust me.”

After stewing over this for a good couple of days, there’s nothing I would change about my answer.  It’s generic and cliche, utterly dissatisfying, I know.  But truth is, if we were looking to God for an answer to right all the wrongs in our lives, then I think we would be sorely disappointed.  He would never tell you what you have to do to get ahead in your career.  Or how to repair your relationships with your family and friends.  Whether you should make that decision or turn another direction.  He would leave those choices up to you.  But he would ask you to find him first.

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Maybe “trust me” isn’t what you want to hear when you’re down in the dumps, but maybe it’s exactly what you need.  We all pray when we feel helpless in our circumstances.  If you listen to those prayers, they’re all about getting into that particular school, getting that girl, getting that promotion, getting the perfect house; because we think that if we get all these things, then we won’t have to ask for anything more.  But there’s always another thing after that hurdle.  When we do get into that school, get that girl, or get that promotion, we rejoice: “Hallelujah! Our prayers were answered!”

But what do we do when things don’t turn out the way we want them to?  Are we prepared to say, that even though we have no clue how things can be solved, and even if he does not answer our prayers the way we want him to, and despite our confusion and despair, we will still trust that what he does is exactly what we need.  So the only thing that we ask for, above everything else, is that he stand by us for whatever comes.

If I can say this prayer genuinely, then I think everything else won’t be so difficult.  Oh, it’ll still be hard.  But at least now, I have peace.

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So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:31-34

Maybe the best thing you can do for yourself, is to stop trying so hard to solve everything.

White Balsamic Custard Tart from Bon Appétit