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It’s been a woeful week of working blues.  And I don’t think it’s just me.  Almost everyone I talked to seems to be tired or restless.  Lunch breaks are turning into hour and half affairs with all of us laying listlessly around the table long after we’ve finished eating.  Sighs and complaints are common, and the phrase “I can’t wait until the weekend” heard more than once.  A friend recently told me she found herself absentmindedly listening to the same voice mail on her phone over and over again before realizing she was hitting the repeat button.  Another stressed coworker is already planning to stay in lab again this weekend (the same one who, for awhile, vowed not to shave his facial hair until his project was finished—but eventually gave in out of disgust, thank god). 

                           

Two weeks ago, I was on fire—figuratively.  Everyday I arrived to work, eager to tackle the next experiment on my list.  Would I say I had passion in my heart?  Yes.  Did I have a strong sense of purpose?  You betcha.  I walked from bench to fridge to centrifuge to incubator, snapping tubes and pipetting liquids with fluid and effortless motion.  I was doing science like nobody’s business.  In other words, I own this shit.

                            

Not this week.  On Tuesday, I crashed onto the couch in the common room.  Usually I feel too guilty to sleep at work, but the late afternoon, post-lunch languor overwhelmed my sense of discipline.  And since we’ve installed a new coffee machine the in the lounge, I was able to snooze in a nice, cozy aroma of “Costa Rican Roast.”  Thankfully, I didn’t drool like I sometimes do when I accidentally push my mouth open—another reason why I try to avoid public napping.  I would never live it down if my coworkers caught me in a puddle of my own drool.  It’s just not ladylike.

I promised myself no more napping for the rest of the week, but Wednesday morning found me sleeping on my desk until I lost feeling in my arms.  Maybe it had to do with the crummy weather, or maybe it’s that time of month (if you know what I mean), but work has been unbearably joyless.  

                            

And you know what really does not help with bottled up frustration?  Whiny kids.  Rainy day, packed shuttle.  A father and his four year old sat down next to me at the back of the bus.  The kid is throwing a tantrum because he wants to sit closer to the front—for what reason, I have no idea.  One of the passengers chuckles.  But 10 minutes later, he ain’t chucklin’ no more.  “Cute kid” has reached obnoxious decibels with his crying.  Pouting and scrunching his face as if he were in agony, he whines, “I don’t want to sit at the back.”  Then he dissolves into tears.  Unbelievable.  Sir, kindly allow me to smack your kid if you won’t. 

Twenty years later, that kid is going to have major issues.  I imagined him getting rejected by a girl—“B-b-but I want to go out with you!”  He’s going to be one of those guys who can’t admit he’s an ass.  Lose his job?  Probably mumble something about his boss being a prick and how he didn’t like his job anyway.  I am sure of this. 

I digress, but I talk about this because these are the kind of thoughts I have when I’m in a sour mood. 

                            

Thursday evening, as I’m riding home on the train, I decided that what I needed—and what my coworkers needed—is a morale booster.  I bought a bar of milk chocolate, cream cheese, and milk and hit the kitchen.  For three hours, I forgot about the papers that I have yet to read and just focused on mixing, beating, and stirring.  I always did enjoy the process of baking than the end product itself.  It’s warming to the heart to see the batter come together or to pull out a fresh, fragrant cake with a perfectly golden top.  After a week of fruitless labor, I think I really needed this cake. 

And judging by my coworker’s reactions, I think they needed this cake too. 

                  

                            

                            

This is the first cake I’ve made from scratch and it turned out better than I expected.  Usually, I try not to use recipes that calls for more than a 1/2 cup of butter, but I made an exception here.  By far, this is the most indulgent thing I’ve made.  But oh so delicious.  The cake was dense and flavorful, but the frosting itself was even better.  I’m so glad that it survived the commute to work, even though I couldn’t find anything big enough to hold the cake.  I resorted to carrying it in a bowl with saran wrap sealing the top. 

On Friday, after cake time, I was finishing the last bit of my experiment.  For a moment I sat there with the salty smell of broth (for brewing bacteria) and the whirring of centrifuges in the background, and felt proud to be there.  Wouldn’t trade it for anything else. 

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Shavings from Tell Love & Chocolate

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I have the worst memory for books.  I inhale them, like a long drawn out breath where for a single glorious moment, my head becomes giddy with characters come to life, shining in a vibrant, imaginary world that abruptly fades away as soon as the last page is turned.  Ask me about any book I read more than a month ago and I would find it hard to tell you what happened.  All that would be left is a memory of how the story made me feel and a vague idea of the basic plot line.  Any references to specific events that transpired would be lost on me.  Apparently, this is how I am with movies as well, much to the dismay of my boyfriend who is a movie fanatic and enjoys quoting obscure lines that I never get. 

                  

I like reading books that are beautifully written so that each sentence seems to flow and wind, gracefully and flawlessly into the next one.  Phrases that catch me off guard and echo in my head, and which I can almost feel the words roll, ever so smoothly, over my tongue.  But while I am picky about writing style, I tend to fly over the pages in my impatience to know what happens.  And this is why I think most of the books I read never stick. 

                   

In an effort to retain what I read, I signed up for a book club that meets monthly in Cambridge.  This week I sat in on a discussion of “Little Bee,” by Chris Cleave.  Funny, I actually liked the book before I walked into the meeting.  I thought it was a “charming” story about an African refugee’s search for peace and a sense of belonging (which sounds incredibly cliche, I know).  However, most of the people at the meeting thought it was superficial, unrealistic, and choppy near the end.  It’s true, I agree.  It’s a book that handles a heavy subject with a touch of lightness that borders on fluff.  But I think that’s how the author intended for it to be; and that’s why I like it.  Above all else, the most attractive quality of the book was the imagery in the parts where the main character recounts her memories of her homeland.   I think that’s what really sold it for me. 

                   

Speaking of beautiful imagery, I love the Adobe Photoshop that my boyfriend bought me for our one year anniversary!  Granted, I don’t really know how to use the program yet, but so far it’s made my pictures look so much better.  Maybe someday I’ll find the confidence to post them on foodgawker. 

Kiwi Blueberry Cream Cheese Tart from The Other Side

(I used strawberry jam instead of apricot)

I just want to write.  About anything at all.  I want to feel my pen scratch across the surface of this page, leaving behind words that say who knows what.  I want to be lost in what I am writing, without caring exactly what it is that I am trying to convey.  Charging forward without an inkling of a theme or topic.  Hoping that somehow in the process of forcing my hand to move, I can pierce through the sluggish soup that is my mind.  Giving voice to something that I am itching to express, yet caged by a rigid brain that refuses to relax.  My deepest fear is that…I truly have nothing to express.  That I am without perspective and opinion, without likes and dislikes, without self.


When people ask me what kind of hobbies I do, I always feel pressured to recite a laundry list of exciting facts about my recreational life.  But all I can ever say is that I like to bake.  And read.  I’m one of those people who are constantly chasing one interest after another, without committing to any of them.  In my room there is a pair of ballroom dancing shoes that mark the one semester in college that I joined the ballroom dance team.  In another corner is a tennis racket that I bought even though I know that I am athletically disinclined, but in a fit of delusion, I managed to convince myself that I would actually force myself to play.  On the shelf, collecting dust, is a box of plastic beads in an assortment of colors, shapes, and sizes—the only remnants of the one summer that I joined a jewelry making class.  And back home, is an untouched acoustic guitar that I could not stop myself from purchasing, so enamored was I with the idea of plucking out a sexy tune while softly crooning to a crowd of admirers.  There was sea kayaking, swing dancing, even Go (the ancient Chinese board game).

The passage I wrote above is one that I scribbled in my notebook in an attempt to break through a writer’s block.  I think the frustration mirrors what I feel when I think about “my hobbies.”  To think that I spent all this time trying to find the one activity that best expresses Me, when I could have just chose one thing to excel in.  And my fear is that I would end up with nothing at all, except for a smattering of knowledge in everything.  What does that say about my person? 

If I had endless energy and resources, I would leave the lab after a 8 hour work day, dance to the blues in a Swing club, leave in time to catch the sunset while kayaking on the Charles, return home to cook myself a gourmet meal, pull out my guitar and strum a few chords, and if I tire of that, I’ll just switch to my sketch pad and pretty new pastels, or fashion some home-made bead earrings, while researching about graduate schools.  And maybe before I go to bed, I can squeeze in an hour’s worth of reading from my science textbook.  Instead, I come home after work and I’m too exhausted to do anything but veg out in front of my computer. 

At least baking is here to stay. 

I’ve been meaning to make cupcakes for a long time, but was afraid that the frosting would melt before I could bring them to work.  And I couldn’t possibly eat a dozen cupcakes by myself.  I could, but there would definitely be consequences.  But I was inspired by Cupcake Camp Boston which was hosted by a lounge in Union Square.  It’s an event where professional and amateur bakers volunteer to bring cupcakes to share with the public for free.  As I leaving work early, I told my postdoc adviser that I was going to Cupcake Camp (which I had to say twice because he must have thought he heard wrong).  Yes!  Cupcake Camp!  And I was unabashedly excited. 

My coworker and I got there half an hour early so we were one of the firsts in line.  I was so glad, because the minute we entered the lounge, everyone just went crazy.  There were plates and plates of cupcakes.  Swirls of buttercream frosting, sparkly pink and blue sprinkles, blooming flower patterns, mini and jumbo cupcakes, even Elmo cupcakes.  People were just piling on the cupcakes in their trays and I felt guilty for the huge line of people who were still waiting outside to get in.  Out of pure generosity, I only took three.  Well, I couldn’t eat more than three anyways, the amount of sugar was overwhelming.  I also did not think to bring a tray. 


Last week I finally chose this Key Lime Cupcake recipe to be my cupcake debut.  These were incredibly easy to make and delicious.  The cupcake itself has a nice crunchy topping and a soft, fluffy interior, filled with prominent lime flavor.  The tartness of the lime also balances the rich cream cheese filling.  I halved the quantity for the frosting recipe and that was enough to cover 12 cupcakes; I also opted out of the food coloring even though I really wanted pretty light green cakes.  Originally, I wanted to pipe the frosting into nice neat swirls, but I realized I don’t have the right piping tips.  Maybe my next cupcake endeavor. 

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.