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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

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My Armenian landlord greets me as I walk up the steps to my apartment front door.  He’s here to collect the rent and I just came back from jogging around the river.  “Running to lose weight?” he asks.  I shake my head, “For health.” 

I didn’t use to be so health conscious.  In fact, I never would have thought that I’d be running for fun after PE stopped being mandatory after sophomore year of high school.  My most painful memories include being the second to last person to finish the mile—with the one asthmatic boy trailing not far behind.  And gosh, I can still remember the dark and bitter day when I came in after Asthma Boy.  Tears streaming, classmates cheering? Jeering? 

                     

Not that I was overweight or anything.  I was actually quite a slight girl; but for someone with such a petite frame, I ran like I weighed 200 pounds.  If running is all mental, then I must have had the willpower of a brittle twig.  That all changed one day during my third year of college—back when I could still scarf down burritos and hamburgers everyday with no qualms and repercussions.  On a visit home, I climbed onto my scale (because I didn’t own one in my college apartment), and thought that the damn thing had broken.  Because it could not possibly be telling me that I had gained 10 pounds in one month.  There is no way.  Oh, but isn’t it cruel that the most terrible things in life are usually not mistakes?*

How is that even possible?  You hear about Freshman 15, but that’s usually in the course of one year.  This means that I had gained 1/3 of a pound each day for one month.  Well, I guess the numbers aren’t that impressive.  And not too unrealistic considering what I had been eating for that month.  I knew exactly, exactly the evil source of that extra weight. 

Bagels.  Goddamn bagels with sundried tomato cream cheese. 

My brother happened to be working part time at Noah’s Bagels, and everyday he’d come home with a huge mound of extra bagels that didn’t sell.  Literally, he would stuff garbage bags filled with little round disks of pure carbohydrate into his car trunk and drive around the neighborhood, giving out free bagels to his friends.  Thinking that I could score a month’s worth of free breakfast, I hauled one of those bags back to college and devoured two or three each day.  “Take all things in moderation” is probably the best advice that I ever ignored. 

                      

That was reason enough for me to don on running shoes and hit the pavement.  For nearly a year, I went to the gym three or four times a week.  I pedaled, tread milled, ellipticalled with only one goal in mind—to lose weight.  For someone whose best mile time was nine minutes, this is drastic.  Life changing.  But if exercise is supposed to be a stress reliever, then I was doing it all wrong.  Each time that I missed a run because I was too tired became a guilt trip.  I could not enjoy running because all I could think about was my jiggly calves. 

I gave up after college.  Strangely enough, I never did lose those ten pounds when I was obsessed with losing weight.  But ever since I’ve moved to Boston, I’ve shed almost all of it.  Partly because you have to walk everywhere to get anywhere here.  Mostly because I have to survive on my own cooking.  But definitely not because I made a pointed effort to exercise.  Not that exercise is a bad thing.  In fact, now that I don’t have an ulterior motive, running is so much more gratifying.  After work, I’d jog to the river, rest at the Harvard foot bridge, and admire the Charles in the twilight.   Once in awhile, I even let myself splurge on a burger—maybe even a bagel.  

Coconut Mango Rice Pudding from Evil Shenanigans

This recipe isn’t much different from the Thai dessert using white glutinous sticky rice and coconut milk.  The one thing that really gives it an oomph is the addition of cardamon.  Now it tastes like kheer, but with a rich, creamy coconut taste.  I absolutely love that stuff.  I love how the rice is speckled with the ground cardamon.  And I love how easy this was to whip up.  If you’re feeling like a quick dessert on a weeknight, then this would be perfect to make.  Next time, I may use nectarines, instead of mangos, to complement the pudding. 

*I kid.  I’m not actually comparing 10 pounds of weight gain to the “most terrible things in life.”  I’m really not totally insensitive and ignorant of the major issues of our generation—Afghanistan, human trafficking, and oil spills, to name a few.