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I’m in my second week of graduate school, but it feels like I’ve been here longer.  In the past two weeks, I’ve tried to cram a lot of material on Statistics, Matlab, and Action Potentials into my head.  Unfortunately, I must be doing a shoddy job because I can barely keep up with lectures.  It also doesn’t help that I feel like I’m the dumbest person in class most of the time.  Sometimes, I really just want to run and keep running and not think about anything.  Hence, I’ve been going to the gym a lot.  But as stressed as I am about understanding all these new material, it’s also pretty exciting just to be here and learn all this stuff.

A few weeks ago, I received a text message from my mentor and friend from Boston:

“I really miss your energy in the lab, no one walks past my bay with such great attitude as you! You are brilliant and beautiful, so don’t let anyone get you down!

I am sure I haven’t even touched the hardest part of graduate school yet.  And I am sure I’m going to go through a lot more moments of doubt and frustration.  But I hope I can remember this message and know that somebody else believes in me.  It means a lot.  Thanks D-!

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Two weeks ago, I bought some delicious almond butter from the farmer’s market.  I finished that jar in five days because it was just that good.  But I figured I could make my own!  It turns out that it’s incredibly easy to do, especially if you have a very efficient food processor.  Just throw two cups of almonds into the machine and let it go for about 15 minutes.  The oil from the nuts themselves will slowly turn the mixture into creamy “butter.”  It absolutely does not require additional oil.  I mixed in a few tablespoons of the lavendar honey, which I also purchased from the farmer’s market.  The result is a jar of heavenly goodness that is going to be a breakfast staple from now on.  I love eating almond butter toast in the mornings.  Who needs to buy almond butter when you can make my own?

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Sometimes, I literally just eat the butter by itself.  Spoon by spoon.

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Last weekend was hectic, but I managed to squeeze in some time to make Brigadeiros.  Or chocolate truffles.  They are probably the best and most successful thing I’ve done in the past two weeks.  I feel like I should’ve made them for a special occasion, but really, I just wanted to make SOMETHING and feel good that I’ve accomplished it.  They’re the perfect sweet snacks.  Bite-sized, chewy, and keeps well even if you let them sit on your counter top for a few days.   Since I still have another can of condensed milk left, I might use it to make another two dozen for my classmates/neighbors/whoever wants to help eat candy.

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Brigadeiros from 17 and Baking

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When I was a little girl, I used to do my homework on the dining table while my mom watched to make sure my penmanship was acceptable.  One time, I was wiggling my loose tooth with one hand while using my other free hand to write.  The tooth was so loose you can hear it squeak every time I wiggled it.  And I was positively enjoying myself, bending the tooth sideways to see how far it could go and then pushing it back into place.  Somehow I guess all this tooth-wiggling annoyed my mom until she insisted that she “help” me extract the tooth. 

I knew she was going to yank it out, just like she did when I accidentally stapled my thumb and she fooled me into letting her take a quick peep at the embedded staple (which ended up with me sulking behind the couch with teary eyes for a good hour after the “betrayal”).  So naturally, I fought tooth and nail against her coy tricks, screaming my head off as she cornered me in the bedroom.  All of the ruckus just riled her up more and in a moment of genius (?), she smacked my face.  Which only convinced me, all the more, that she was a psycho monster.  She smacked me again.  And the next thing I knew, she was smiling and holding up my tooth in her hand.  Now that I’m older, she swears that she was acting in my interest.  Twisted, is what I call her.  

Growing up, my brother and I were relatively well behaved kids.  Of course, once in a while we totally deserved a spanking.  Like when he peed in every corner of the house.  Or when I threw a tantrum and bent all the slats of the venetian blinds in my room.  When my mom pulls out the golf stick, we’d know there would be hell to pay—like cows when they’re standing in line to enter the slaughterhouse (I don’t know why I brought up that analogy, but it seemed fitting). 

Anyways, the golf stick was made of red plastic and used to be part of some toy golf game. It became my mom’s “discipline tool” of choice after my brother and I hid her bamboo stick.  Boy, I wish we had stuck with the bamboo because the golf club was absolutely fear inspiring.  We were never hit that hard, but a smart smack from the stick was enough to leave a bright red clubhead-shaped mark with grooves.  Somehow I don’t think the manufacturers of that game ever thought their product would be used for this purpose.  Of course, now that I can look back on these memories with amusement, I tell myself that I have to find my own golf club for when I have kids some day. 

When I think about my mom, I think about the warm smell of her moisturizing lotion that lingers on my cheek after she gives me a good night kiss.  I think about the story, “Boy who cried Wolf,” that she used to tell me when I crawled into her bed.  I think about her forcing me to memorize the multiplication table.  I think about her panicking to take me to the hospital when my fever hit 106 degrees. I think about her telling the saleslady, loudly, that I was definitely not a size 36 and needed to get a smaller bra. I think about her praises and encouragements.  Her tears and frustration.  The sound of her laughter and the weight of her embrace. 

I think about the pride in her eyes when she holds up my college diploma.  Because I was finally achieving the dream that she couldn’t fulfill herself. 

I’m so used to running to my mom to receive praise or comfort, that I forget to say that I am so proud of her too.  I want to acknowledge all the years she struggled to raise two kids in suburban America, far removed from her home in Hong Kong.  The efforts she made to read the English on my homework so she could try to answer my questions.  The money she saved to hire a piano teacher.  And learning to drive on the highway so she could take me to extracurricular events.  She is the most heroic person I’ve ever known. 

I hope she knows how much she inspires me. 

Last week I made a Strawberry Almond Cream tart for my coworker’s barbecue.  It was really simple to make since there was limited baking involved.  Most of the work was just assembling all the elements together, but the result was beautiful.  It almost looked store bought. 



I loved the smell of the strawberry puree warming up on the stove.  It thickens into a jam-like consistency and I wish that I had saved the leftovers to eat with bread or spoon over ice cream.  Mmm…  Since I used an 8 inch pan instead of the 9 inch called in the recipe, I halfed the amount of graham crackers needed for the crust.  I was worried that it would be a tad too thick.  I was considering using vanilla wafers instead, but I’m glad that I decided against that.  The cinnamon in the crackers is a better complement to the cream cheese. 

One of my coworkers said that he likes the close-up pictures of food on my blog.  I told him I only try to take close-ups because the rest of my kitchen is a mess.  I’m only sparing everyone the unpleasant sight of my apartment. 

We enjoyed the tart at the barbecue while watching Star Wars episode 5.  It really was a perfect day to grill food on their porch while dried flower petals fell around us.  The strawberry tart was the perfect finale to a wonderful meal. 

Thanks for reading.