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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

It’s not a good sign when you find yourself absentmindedly staring at the computer for twenty minutes and realizing that all you’ve done is click back and forth between gmail and NYtimes.  Bleakly, I shuffle the half a dozen articles strewn across my desk, left open on the page where I lost interest and skipped to another one.  “I’ll come back and finish them later” is what I told myself a week ago.  And if you look at my planner, I’ve written the same thing on my daily to-do list—everyday—for the past two weeks.  Most notably, “morning run” has been carried over for almost a month, and I have yet to hit the pavement and kiss the morning sun. 

Even baking has turned its back on me.  After investing a bunch of eggs, a pack of basil, and half a jug of milk, I have nothing to show except curdled custard and deflated dreams of creamy, delicious ice cream.  Determined to get something right for the week, I attempted Lemon Raspberry Bars, which turned out aesthetically mediocre and gustatorily disgusting.  At this point, I just gave up—both in the kitchen and at work.  I could not wake up in the morning without groaning, shove my way through the crowded train without mentally cursing, and sit at my lab bench without sighing.  Come the weekend, I promised myself, I would turn a new leaf.  I would bounce back with renewed rigor.  The weekend would be spent in a blaze of glorious productivity that would compensate for my lack thereof during the week. 

                    

Who am I kidding?  I probably would’ve lounged around all Saturday, beat myself up for being lazy, and do the same thing on Sunday.  At the end of it, I’d be neither relaxed nor productive.  Thank goodness I was going white water rafting in Maine.  It’s not the Caribbeans or fancy shmancy Europe, but the trip was a godsend. 

I had my misgivings about the trip.  Not only because I held out some hope that I would be productive if I just sat myself down at my desk, but I’m also not the type to chase after thrills.  I imagined my small body being thrown into the merciless waters, my head slammed against the rocks on the river bottom.  But at this point, I rather face potential death by rocks than endure a stinking hot weekend in Cambridge. 

                    

Our group headed out onto the Kennebec mid-morning on a dreary, cold day.  The water was a deep grayish green that was warm to the touch despite the chilliness of the air.  Tall evergreens lined both banks of the river; so dense was the foliage that you felt like there was nothing else besides you and this river.  I stared at the them, hoping to see moose antlers poking through the leaves.  With my chest strapped to a smelly life vest and feet stuffed as far as they could go into the foot holes, I braced myself for impact.     

I was completely drenched in the first few minutes.  Three to five foot waves crashed into our raft and toppled over the sides.  I tried to shy away from the oncoming deluge, but found it much more exhilarating to watch the tall peaks and deep troughs of foamy, white water rise up and fall around us.  I loved it.  Once we sailed out of the rough patch, I couldn’t wait to go through the next set of rapids.  But even the calm waters held a magic of their own.  Drifting lazily down the river, its surface broken by ripples and gentle waves, I was at peace.  An occasional bubbly spot marked the places where the current hit hidden rocks. 

                     

The sun finally broke through the clouds when we came back to our cabins.  I grabbed my camera and went for a walk.  The surrounding countryside was so quaint and rustic that my pictures really don’t do it justice.  They’re probably better than what I could put into words anyway. 

                     

                     

                     

                     

                     

                     

                     

                     

It’s been a week since I’ve been back, and life’s so good.  Not that everything is perfect—most of my experiments didn’t work and my cherry clafoutis was a bust—but I could find joy in the things that I do.  Sometimes when you stop trying to control your life, every little blip doesn’t seem so dramatic anymore.  Like when you’re riding on a raft, buffeted by the waves, realizing that there is nothing you can do except to ride it out.  It leaves you with a peace that comes with knowing that there is something out there bigger than you. 

Attempt #2 at making Basil Ice Cream was a semi-success!  This time I used a double-boiler to heat the milk and eggs to prevent curdling.  If you’re one of those people like me who hate mint flavored ice cream, then I’m certain you’d love basil.  Most people tend to associate its strong, bold taste with savory Thai dishes; but in ice cream, it becomes something rather delicate and refreshing.  The only thing I wish I had done differently was to let it churn for longer in the machine; otherwise, it would’ve been perfect.  But you know, I’m cool with that. 

                    

Basil Ice Cream from 17 and Baking