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Today I walked into a cacti and succulents show and walked out a proud owner of two fine looking specimens.

I’m in love with the patterns on the leaves.

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Almond Shortbread Cookies from House to Haus

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.

I don’t think I’m a cat person, but it’s hard not to like Bessie.  Especially when she curls up in your lap and and nudges your hand with her head because she wants to be petted, now, right now.  And while she’s purring away, my legs will go numb and my knees will ache, but I won’t move her.  It just seems like a crime to disturb a snoozing kitty.

Yet, after she’s done lapping up all your attention, no amount of cajoling will get her to show you any love.  No gratitude for my suffering legs or my unwavering petting services.  Just yawn, stretch, and leave.   The minute I turn my attention back to work, though, she jumps onto my desk and lays on my laptop. Well, what could I do except to start typing with one hand, while rubbing her tummy with the other.

Since my roommates are allergic, Bessie had to stay in my room for the two nights that I’ve had her over.  And let me just say that no amount of cuteness or adorable shows of feline quirkiness can possibly win me over at 3 AM when I’ve woken up for the tenth time because she’s dashing around my room like the crazed nocturnal monster that she is.  That’s when I kick myself for having let her snooze on my lap earlier instead of shoving her aside and chasing her around my room to wear her out.  While she’s busy hunting some imaginary prey or mewing up a storm, I’m busy trying to fight the urge to throw her out the window.  Grumpy as I am, though, forgiveness always come in the morning.

Still, as much as I enjoyed the lap company, I much prefer seeing Bessie during the day.  And only at my friend’s apartment.

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We could spend hours in the kitchen.  Juan would be stirring something at the stove, while I drown out every sound with my electric mixer.  Juan will perfume the house with the wonderfully piquant smell of sizzling garlic, while I fill the room with the sweet fragrance of bread and cookies.  And in between all the cooking and baking, we somehow manage to fight the pile of dirty dishes at the sink.

We get really excited when we make plans for all the foods we want to make.  But more than that, we just love being in the same kitchen.  I love sitting at the counter with my laptop, ruining my appetite by stealing pieces of chopped vegetables from Juan’s cutting board.  I love that he never wants to tell me what he’s cooking despite my persistent questioning.  I love watching him carefully place the finished product on a clean plate.  And I love the look on his face as he waits for me to take the first bite, eager to hear my thoughts on his newest dish.  It’s not often that we have somebody special to cook for–that’s a blessing bigger than the food itself.

Here’s some of the yummy goodness that’s come out of the kitchen this week.

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It has oats in it, which means it’s healthy, right?

I love the smell of baked jam as it emerges from the oven.

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Today, I came home for lunch to find this waiting for me–Juan’s special twist on the Bahn Mi.  Chicken marinated with sesame oil and soy sauce, stuffed into a loaf of french bread coated with a garlicky butter spread.  Cucumbers, carrots, and scallions soaked with rice vinegar made it a full sandwich with a nice, tangy crunch.  I wish he could make this for me everyday.

And of course, Juan’s favorite meal that he insists on making for me almost every chance he can get…brunch!

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Cheery red tomatoes, simply sauteed

Bursting through the skin with its own juices

Portobello, lightly salted and unadorned

Makes the perfect side to a homemade breakfast

A dash of cinnamon and hints of citrus

Frames every bite of these golden toasts of happiness.

You know that feeling of clarity, the one that comes with knowing exactly what you want to do and where you want to be?  It was what I felt when, marveling at the simple and eccentric behavior of a fish, I realized that I could spend my life studying the brain.  It was the excitement when, touring the UCSF campus, I saw clearly how naturally I could fit in.  It’s the restlessness I feel, now that I know what lab I want to join for the next six years.

I haven’t finished my last rotation yet, but I have a good feeling that I will be choosing my second lab.  It’s not what I imagined I would do–not what I had planned at all.  I came to UCSF thinking that I would use molecular tools to dissect the behavior in fruit flies.  On a whim, because I needed to find a third lab to fulfill my requirements, I picked one that studies songbirds so I could at least say that I tried something out of my field.  I’m really glad I did, because it turns out that I love my “get in, get out quick” rotation.

I don’t know how to describe what jumping fields from molecular to systems is like.  It involves learning a completely different set of tools.  No more genetics and molecular biology, all the things that I had been trained on.  Instead of asking questions at the intracellular level, I will be stepping back to study how activity is coordinated and processed through circuits to generate behavior.  I will be diving head first into electrophysiology, so that I can understand how information is passed along ensembles of neurons.

Isn’t it funny how doing something out of your comfort zone helps you understand yourself better?  But it’s not that I am doing a complete 180.  I am just rediscovering what I really want to do and why I decided to pursue neuroscience in the first place: to understand the underpinnings of behavior.  Behavior, it’s what floors me every time.  Sure, I could study signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms that could affect behavior somewhere far down the line, but to know the functional interactions between neurons will require that I reach beyond what I am familiar with.  And I am so excited to start.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am a peanut butter fan, love the creamy stuff.  I finish a jar every 1.5 weeks.  For these, I used Trader Joe’s PB with Sea Salt, and I cannot stop thinking about popping the next cookie into my mouth.

 

You know, I wouldn’t be a Christian either if I hadn’t let myself take a chance.  It’s just interesting to think about, isn’t it?

I had something to look forward to after two grueling weeks of school.  Juan came to visit for Thanksgiving!  On his first day here, we went home to Cupertino and feasted on my mother’s delicious cooking.  Which includes my favorite “mom dish:” stir fried shrimp in tomato sauce.  We spent the rest of the holiday in San Francisco where we walked through some pretty neighborhoods and I had an excuse to finally pull out my camera.

Our first destination was to the Mission District where I forced Juan to eat a taco with me at Pancho Villa Taqueria.  When he started licking the salsa verde off his plate, I knew that Mexican food has finally won him over.  Then we walked over to Clarion Alley where almost every inch of space is crammed with murals and street art.

These Koi fish are actually from a sidewalk near Mission Dolores.

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The old man picture on the left is one of my favorites.

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Looks like Escher’s “Relativity,” doesn’t it?

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I don’t really have to describe how beautiful the artwork was; it clearly speaks for itself.

We also tried a bunch of restaurants that were all great, but the one worth mentioning is Parada 22 in the Haight.  Few weeks ago when I discovered this small Puerto Rican eatery, I was super excited to take Juan there and see whether the food was legit.  And it was!  At least, Juan claims it actually tastes like his mom’s cooking.  If you ever try this place, order the Mofongo con Camarones.  The shrimp comes with a creamy garlic sauce that is to die for.

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I forgot how much I loved strolling through neighborhoods and taking pictures with Juan.  We covered a fair amount of ground.  Cupid’s Span and the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building (where they sell amazing flavored olive oil–perfect “grown-up” gifts!), North Beach and Russian Hill (to see the view from curvy Lombard street), Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, and then Chinatown for dinner.

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Fisherman’s Wharf.  We were tempted to buy some calamari, but we held out for dinner.  Instead, we amused ourselves at Musee Mecanique where they have the antique arcade machines (like Pong, Pac Man, and pinballs) and tons of those “fortune teller boxes” like Zoltar from Tom Hank’s “Big.” There went all our quarters.

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City Lights Bookstore is around the corner.  It’s sort of touristy and pricey, but worth browsing through if you like cozy independent bookstores with “San Francisco’s liberal flare.”

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Yes, we took a picture of Juan laying down with the bow and arrow in the background so that it looks like he’s getting pierced.

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I’m not a coffee connoisseur but Juan grew up on this stuff.  We visited Ritual Roasters (Mission), where Juan fell in love with the their “El Cipres,” which apparently is infused with citrus and carries no bitter aftertaste.  Not that my taste buds can discern such subtlety.  Blue Bottle Coffee at the Ferry Building tasted just like Peet’s, although that may be because the coffee at that location isn’t representative of the main Blue Bottle somewhere downtown.  And the Mojito Mint at Philz Coffee was MY favorite.  Juan bought three packs of their “Greater Alarm” light roast grounds to take back to Boston. 

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And finally, the best part about the holiday was cooking a meal together.  We made empanadas from scratch; I was in charge of the dough and Juan took care of the filling.  Even though we couldn’t get all the Latino ingredients, they still turned out fantastic.  We chose to bake these instead of frying them the traditional way, so they taste so much healthier.  Juan’s a miracle-worker when it comes to spicing up meat.  Mmm, can’t wait to make these again next month for Christmas.

This week, I moved into my new apartment in Inner Sunset.  So far, I’ve already tried soul food at Farmerbrown, which boasts live music and bottomless mimosas for Sunday brunch.  I’ve enjoyed Ike’s incredibly delectable sandwiches while chilling in Mission Dolores park. And I’ve tasted the Peach Ginger ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery.  Not to mention the many times I’ve dropped in at La Boulange in Cole Valley which is right next to my best friend’s apartment.  This is going to be a good year, I can tell.

The only misfortune has been my Ikea delivery, which was supposed to come on Monday, but somehow became a weeklong delay as I waited for them to deliver the last item — my mattress.  So for the past three nights, I have been sleeping on the floor with a sleeping bag.

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Last night, my friend, Vicky, goaded me into trying a free lesson at Quantum Martial Arts.  It’s a small dojo nestled in the Mission district.  Normally, karate is not my thing, but in the spirit of “new home, new experiences,” I decided to take a chance.  Besides, I asked her, it’s not going to be too hard, right?

Oh no, it’s a yoga/martial arts thing, she says.  Throwing the “yoga” in there to entice me.  She adds, and maybe some calisthenics.

What???  You mean push-ups?  I haven’t worked out for half a year.  And even then, the last time I did push-ups was in high school.  I maxed out at 7.

Don’t worry.  You’ll be fine.  Be sure to drink a lot of water.

It better not be like a boot camp.  It’s not, right?

Nah.

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We arrive at Quantum at 7:30, greeted by a friendly rottweiler and Master Rachel Evans who owns and teaches at the dojo.  She looks like–and I am not joking here–Sarah Connor from Terminator 2.  If she busted out in leather pants and a tank top, with a rifle strapped to her back, and proceeded to do upside down pull-ups, I would not even be surprised.  Because, holy crap, this woman’s got muscles.  I have no doubt that she can — if she fancied to do so–knock both of us out in ten seconds flat.

But despite appearances, Master Evans is incredibly friendly and enthusiastic about what she loves and does best.  She begins to explain the structure of the class; the first hour is “warm-up” which would be a mixture of yoga and heavy push-ups and crunches.  It’s not only important to practice martial arts techniques, but to really strengthen your core strength and engage your spirit.  This might be one of the hardest things that you will have to do, she warns.  I will yell at you, she says, looking straight into my face.  “It will be like boot camp.”

At this point, I could not wait for Master Evans to turn around so that I could shoot glares at Vicky.

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We are led to our mats where she hands us some plastic blocks.  You may need to use them as support when we stretch, quickly demonstrating some sort of wide leg split.  I turn to Vicky with a look of alarm that said, “I’m supposed to do what?!”  Master Evans notices my terror, because she laughs and reassures me that our bodies are designed to do this.  I am somewhat comforted.

But that comfort didn’t last long.  After the initial yoga portion, which Vicky and I were semi-able to do, we completely lost our cool.  First, we did crunches in sets of 30 with our legs held up in the air.  Master Evans kept count with piercing yells that would have scared me more if I weren’t too distracted by the burning pain in my abdomen.  After the third set, I thought with relief that we must’ve been done, but I was wrong.  We went straight into another set, and to my dismay, she goes right past count 30.  40.  50.  Omg, this woman’s really going for a hundred.  60.  70.  I really want to fry that sausage sitting in my fridge right now.   80.  90.  100.

I don’t even have time to breathe before we turn to the push-ups.  Which were not only impossible, for me, but super embarrassing.  Why make push-ups even more painful than they already are?  I think I completed five normal ones, before I tried one where I start with both my elbows sitting on the ground and try to push up with my clasped hands.  I push as hard as I can, I make straining sounds, my body shakes with exertion; it was not happening.  And it did not happen.

Thankfully, the rest of the lesson was much more enjoyable.  When I was younger, I used to watch my brother take his Tae Kwon Do lessons and think to myself that I could do that, easy.  But actually learning the moves, adjusting the angles of my stance, and balancing myself after a kick, were much more difficult than I had anticipated.  Overall, the experience, though physically painful, was awesome.  I really appreciated Master Evan’s energy and obvious love for the art.  I left with a newfound respect for karate, and a really sore body the next morning.

Quantum may not be for me, but I would recommend it to anyone who have thought about martial arts and wanted to test the waters out before committing.  Or, if you want a really good work out.  The first month is free.

Japanese Cotton Soft Cheesecake from Diana’s Recipes.

Juan and I were driving down Huntington Ave when I decided that we had to stop by and take pictures of The First Church of Christ, Scientist while it was caught in the last rays of the setting sun.  I like how late afternoon light always gives everything a nice warm golden glow and helps bring out the texture from the building’s reliefs.

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I’ve only been in the church once.  That was a year ago.  They have tours to explain the founding of Christian Science and to show off their gigantic organ pipes and stained glass windows.  I don’t remember much of what I learned, but, personally, I think the architecture on the outside is much more impressive than what I saw within.

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Before processing. Underexposed sky, overexposed building.

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After processing. Looks so dramatic. On some days, you might be able to catch a toy sailboat race in the reflecting pool.  Too bad I didn’t get a picture of it last time I was here.

It’s been a week since I left Boston and I already miss my ice cream runs in Cambridge.  I love Toscanini’s Grape Nut, Christina’s Khulfi, and Lizzy’s Ginger.  But my latest obsession was JP Lick’s Peach flavored ice cream, which apparently only makes an appearance during the summer.  It’s so refreshing and light that I forget it must be chock-full of calories. On any hot day, it doesn’t take much convincing to make me gravitate towards the nearest creamery.

One of the best afternoons was spent sitting at a booth in the original JP Licks store in Jamaica Plain.  Despite the long line of eager tourists and neighborhood residents waiting to get their sugar fix, we usurped the table to play an epic game of Risk that lasted four hours.  Long after we finished our cones, we were still duking it out on our board game.

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JP Lick’s peach was also the last ice cream I had in the city.  Emerging from the crammed shop with a decent sized scoop in a waffle cone, my friend and I headed towards the river by the Harvard houses.  Sticky cream was dribbling down the sides, almost faster than I can lick.  The heavy heat was bearing down on us, turning my frozen dessert into a sweet molten mess.  We finished our treats in a tranquil courtyard, the sound of leaves rustling above our heads and traces of peach lingering on my tongue.  Contentment.

Most people like to savor their ice cream; I inhale mine.  Not because I’m impatient (well, not only for that reason), but because I get stressed out when ice cream isn’t eaten before it begins to melt.  It needs to be in its pristine form!  That is why when Juan and I bought frozen yogurt two weeks ago, and he asked me not to start eating during the 5 minute drive home where we can both enjoy them together, I said, “Yeah right!” and proceeded to gulf mine down.

That is also why it was so torturous to take these pictures, because I almost could not stand to see the ice cream sitting untouched, in the heat of the kitchen.

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Juan had bought me an ice cream maker.  It only made sense that we should try to make our own peach ice cream.  Using Ben and Jerry’s recipe book, we chopped fresh peaches into large chunks, let it stew in some sugar for a few hours, and used the juices to flavor the cream.  As the machine churned the mixture, we poured in the leftover peach chunks.  The result was a quart’s worth of fabulous peach ice cream that was gone in three days.  If I had to change anything, I would cut the peaches smaller next time to avoid biting into large frozen fruit pieces.

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