Black and White

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Black and white.

In the past few years, I’ve learned that life is anything but. Instead, it is composed of shades and nuances of gray. Although having clear cut rules may seem to simplify life, they actually limit one’s growth and experiences. In order to enjoy life (and be sane), we need to be flexible, not rigid. We’re all raised with certain ideas and beliefs. As we grow up, we realize that some of those ideas and beliefs no longer fit us and we need to modify them. But for some, it can be a struggle to leave that familiarity for the unknown. There is no longer a right or wrong and no one really has an answer. And so, we stick to those rigid rules, out of fear and to make sense of the world, until we feel so suffocated by them that we have to change. But as hard and scary as it may be to change, we must for our sanity and health. Life is too short and precious to spend it forcing oneself into a mold that no longer fits (or maybe, never even fit).

For me, moving from a world of clear, crisp lines of black and white to one filled with blurred edges of every shade of gray feels like jumping off a cliff. As I’m falling down through the air, with nothing concrete to grasp and no one to save me, I realize that all I can do is blindly trust that I will be ok. And perhaps, this is what life is: free falling and trying our best to have a soft landing.

Blue Doors

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Over the past year, I’ve developed an interest in fashion and have learned a lot by following fashion/lifestyle blogs. I tend to prefer following fashion bloggers in the Bay Area since I love trying to figure out where in the city they take their photographs. My friend, Edwin, and I were walking around Lower Pacific Heights when I spotted these beautiful blue doors. I thought they looked vaguely familiar, but couldn’t quite put my finger on where I had seen them before. Since the doors matched my skirt fairly well, I asked Edwin to snap up a few photos of me trying my best to be like a fashion blogger. Not sure how well I accomplished that… Haha.

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Later that night, I visited one of my favorite SF bloggers, Gal Meets Glam, and realized that she had posted photos of herself standing in front of the same blue doors!

Of course, my style is no match for Julia’s and my iPhone photos pale in comparison to her quality DSLR photos. But it’s pretty cool being able to stand in front of the same doors and pretend to be a fashionista once in a while! Haha.

Learning Life Lessons the Hard Way

Sorry for the long hiatus! I tried coming back earlier, but life and writer’s block got in the way.

This past year has been ground-breaking in my development as a researcher and an individual. Up until recently, I had a fairly naive outlook on the world and how life ought to be. My perceptions and (mis)conceptions about life were challenged and broken. Since then, I’ve been trying to rebuild my beliefs and ideas such that they are more aligned with reality. It has been a struggle finding out who I am, figuring out what I stand for, and accepting all of that.

I’d like to use this blog more of a space to record the lessons I’m learning as I stumble through life and discover more about myself. Having spent most of my life walking on a paved road with a map and compass in hand, it’s been quite difficult to adjust to being lost and wandering on rocky terrain. One of the biggest misconceptions I had about life was that it was a straight path. This past year has showed me that life is anything but that. In fact, it consists of unexpected twists and turns. And that’s ok. I’m still struggling with accepting that fact. Life is all about dealing with these detours and roadblocks. I’m slowly realizing that they’ll only stop you from reaching your destination if you let them.

I feel like this sounds a bit cheesy since we’ve all heard variations of this growing up. But for me, I suppose I never really comprehended the meaning. Perhaps because I was too young to truly understand or too stubborn to believe that this advice applied to me. Either way, I’m slowly learning the tried and true lessons of life. My father tried to warn me of these lessons and used to tell me all the time while growing up, “Well, you’ll just have to learn for yourself.” Despite my father’s best efforts to guide me to avoid making the same mistakes, I couldn’t fully understand and take his advice and it’s only until after I’ve stumbled and fallen that I realize he was right all along. It’s rather unfortunate that I can’t prevent these mistakes due to my blindness, but I suppose that’s just how life goes.

Ooey Gooey Deliciousness – Momofuku Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies

I’m a little late on jumping on the Momofuku bandwagon. For the past few years, I’ve been hearing all of the hype about Momofuku, especially the desserts from Milk Bar. There are raving reviews of the inventive cookie and cake creations of Chef Christina Tosi, from the corn cookies to the birthday crumb cake. So when I saw her cookbook, Milk, was at my public library, I put my name down on the waiting list to check it out. I was so happy to finally get my hands on those crazy recipes!

Having heard about some of Tosi’s desserts before and how complex they were, I decided to tackle one of the easier recipes. The Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies were just a slight departure from the classical chocolate chip cookie recipe, but had enough craziness to satisfy my preference for non-traditional, exotic desserts. These cookies add a twist to normal chocolate chip cookies with a cornflake crunch and marshmallows.

Before trying this recipe, I looked it up online to get some tips from food bloggers who had tried it before. Tosi and other bloggers strongly recommend using a stand mixer (i.e. Kitchen Aid mixer) to cream the butter and sugar. Luckily, my roommate got one for a Christmas present a few years ago and added it to our kitchen. (I want to say that using a hand mixer would be a fine substitute for a stand mixer, but since there is so much emphasis on using  a stand mixer and I didn’t try this recipe using a hand mixer, I’m not qualified to make that claim.)

The cookies bake very quickly and ended up spreading out quite a bit. It was a little difficult to tell when they were done since they were so thin and the marshmallows melted and puddled into the dough. So, if you like thin and crispy cookies, this recipe is for you! I think the two sticks of butter may be a bit excessive and all of the fat probably caused the cookies to spread out so much. I probably also should have made smaller sized scoops of cookie dough to reduce the spreading.

Despite having a few imperfections, these cookies were AMAZING! I can’t tell you how many compliments I received from friends and lab mates who ate them. Some people said these cookies reminded them of rice crispy treats with the cornflake crunch and marshmallows. FYI: you can definitely tell these cookies contain two sticks of butter, not only from the taste, but also from the slight greasiness of the cookies. These cookies are the definition of indulgence, from the buttery dough and cornflake crunch to the gooey marshmallows and chocolate chips. Although I experienced a few mishaps with these cookies, they were definitely worth the effort!

Winter Adventures in the City

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Christmastime in Union Square!

Unfortunately last month, my laziness got the better of me, hence no posts in December. Sorry. :( However, the lack of posts is not an accurate indication of my activities this past month. December was filled with holiday parties, fun adventures in the city, and lots and lots of shopping! I also got to spend time with my family and friends – they’re what make the holidays so special.

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December was also filled with a bunch of firsts, including running my first half-marathon! I’m so glad I live with runners. I’ve always wanted to run a half-marathon, but never had enough self-motivation to do it until now (thanks to the support of my housemates!). Although running for two hours straight is not the most enjoyable activity, I had a blast and can’t wait to do another one!

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My first half-marathon medal! Hopefully more to come!

The day of the half-marathon also happened to be Santacon, an annual event that happens in SF in which thousands of people dress up like Santa or other holiday objects. It’s basically a huge Santa-themed bar crawl. I couldn’t miss out on participating, so after spending two hours running, my housemates and I dressed up like Santa and went out into the city.

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In front of City Hall, on the way to Polk St for Santacon!

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My friends and I celebrating Santacon!

Even though the weather is much colder and cooler in December, I’ve recently realized that December is one of my favorite months. Although the holiday decorations are beautiful and the holiday spirit is so warm and infectious, it’s really the time we spend with our loved ones that make the holiday season so special. I had so many fun adventures this past December with both friends and family and I’ve learned that it’s really the people who you’re with that make each and every experience worthwhile.

More Nail Trends

Half-moon manicure in coral and gold and teal/turquoise and gold

On Pinterest, I’ve frequently seen the nail trend of half moon manicures and I finally decided to try it out. A lot of people suggest using reinforcement holes for loose-leaf paper to make the half-moon shape, but since I didn’t have those stickers available, I just free-handed it.

I’m a pretty indecisive person. So in true Cynthia-fashion, because I couldn’t decide on a color, I painted one hand teal/turquoise and gold and the other hand coral and gold. Both colors turned out great in my opinion, so even though my hands didn’t match, they still looked awesome! Haha.

Pop of pink and chevron

Another nail trend I’ve seen is the mixed print nail design. I chose to do a chevron pattern on my ring finger. Again, as a tip, many people say to use scotch tape or nail tape to create the chevron pattern. But being too lazy to cut up tape and having rather bad experiences with scotch tape peeling off my nail polish, I did the design free-hand. To make the uneven-ness of the zig-zags less noticeable, whenever I showed off nails, I flashed my hand very quickly, so people would only see the design briefly. Just long enough for people to admire the nail art, but  short enough so that they couldn’t see the mistakes. :P

Lightning bolt

One last nail design I decided to try was the lightning bolt by Nailside. Her tutorials are really easy to follow and she has some beautiful nail art. I first did only two colors, teal and black. Then decided to add silver to my ring finger for a little pop!

Lightning bolt with pop of silver on accent nail

I love trying new nail designs and trends. For someone with very limited artistic talented, nail art is one of the few creative, artsy things I can actually do. Haha.

October Fun in the City – Indulging in Childhood Fun

Beautiful view of San Francisco from Dolores Park

October was a month filled with a few life changes, new experiences, and tons of fun adventures in the city! All throughout October, it was Indian Summer in the Bay Area, which meant that the weather every weekend was absolutely gorgeous! Obviously, I had to go out to the city to take advantage of the beautiful sunny weather! Luckily, there is always something fun going on in San Francisco.

Listening to The Head and The Heart at Hardly Strictly!

The first weekend in October was one of the busiest San Francisco has ever had. With Fleet Week, a post-season Giants game, and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival going on, it was estimated that a few million people came into the city that weekend! And you could definitely tell. The BART and buses were packed with people. My friends and I biked to Golden Gate Park, where Hardly Strictly was being held, and there were so many bikes parked there (some were even locked up to light poles) that we had to bike a mile further into the park just to find some open spots.

It was my first time attending Hardly Strictly and it won’t be my last! The free concert features bluegrass music, but also lots of other good music. We went to go see one of my favorite bands, The Head and the Heart. They were so good live! I had such a great time soaking up the rays of sunlight, jamming to some of my favorite songs, and enjoying the company of friends.

Looking out at the city and Pacific ocean from the top!

The next weekend, my friends and I ventured into the city to find the 16th street stairs that I had heard about through a friend and on Yelp. Leading to a very tall and steep hill in the Inner Sunset district of the city, these steps are decorated with small pieces of glass and tile to create beautiful mosaics of the sun, moon, and stars.

The famous 16th Avenue Mosaic Tiled Stairs

The following weekend was spent exploring the relatively new playground in Mission Dolores Park, which is a million times better than the playgrounds I grew up with. The playground is huge, with multiple slides, swingsets, and climbing things. It might seem a bit weird for a couple of 20-somethings to be playing in a playground, but we’re all kids at heart. With the difficulties we face as adults, sometimes it’s just nice to push all those troubles aside for a moment and pretend to be a kid again.

Dolores Park Playground

As I grow older, I’ve realized the world is really not as cut and dry or black and white, as we thought as children. With this realization, the world and people automatically become more complicated. Issues become more complex and one might realize that what he or she once thought were his or her beliefs may not actually be consistent with who he or she actually is or has become. Without us even realizing it, as adults, our actions have more weight and there is no longer anyone to tell us what is right or wrong or what we ought to do. Yes, friends and family can give you advice or help you think through and analyze situations. But only you can make the decisions. That heaviness we feel with all of those decisions we have to make can be tiring and can make our shoulders and back sore. Sometimes, even for just a short moment, we need to cast off that boulder we carry and let go. Indulge in the lightness and freedom that we unknowingly enjoyed as kids. (But just for a few moments. After all, we’re now adults and have responsibilities. :P)

Playing like a kid with a giant parachute!

Never waste – Green Onion Sesame Rolls

One of my roommates loves to go grocery shopping, which is great for us because we always have a stocked fridge. However, sometimes she buys things that we don’t end up using until it’s too late (i.e. the food has started rotting). Last month, she bought a large pack of green onions, but no one cooked anything with them. I always feel bad throwing out food. Growing up with parents who were farmers in China has taught me not to waste food. Since my parents know firsthand how difficult it is to grow food, they don’t like to waste food, even the smallest amount. So when I saw this recipe for green onion rolls, I knew it was the perfect way to use up our sad, wilting green onions.

         

This recipe is pretty straightforward. Just make a basic bread dough, chop up lots of green onions, and roll out the dough. Then, generously sprinkle the dough with green onions, roll the dough into a log, slice the log up and bake. After slicing up the log, you’ll get these beautiful looks rolls, chockful of green onions. Sprinkling black and white sesame seeds on top gives the rolls as nice pop of color too.

These green onion rolls baked and browned absolutely beautifully! And they smelled so delicious from the oven! However, I was a little disappointed in the flavor. They tasted good, but I felt something was missing. In my critical opinion, they were a tad too bland. Perhaps I should have added a bit more salt or some spice? Regardless, these green onion rolls were tasty, proven by the fact that my roommates gobbled them up so quickly.

In spite of the slight blandness, these rolls were a great addition to our dinner that evening. I’d suggest making these for a potluck or a dinner party – you’ll definitely impress the guests. And it’s a great way to get rid of lots of green onions all at once!

Green Onion Sesame Rolls
Adapted from Priscilla Liang’s Easy Fluffy No-Knead Bread

For the Dough:
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons yeast
1 egg
2 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter

For the Filling:
Several stalks of green onion
1-2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Egg wash (1 egg beaten with water)
Black and white sesame seeds to garnish

1. Dissolve the sugar in warm water and sprinkle yeast on top. Let rest for 10 minutes or until foamy.
2. Combine and mix the flour and salt in a large bowl.
3. Add the yeast mixture, egg, and butter to the dry mixture.
4. Mix the dough until it comes together. Move the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for several minutes until dough is smooth. Add additional flour as needed.
5. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and allow it to double in size, roughly one hour. (You can also refrigerate the dough overnight, but make sure to let dough sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to warm up before rolling).
6. Punch the dough with your fist. Roll the dough into a rectangle of approximately 1/3 inch thick.
7. Spread the olive oil and sesame oil onto the dough.  Sprinkle the salt and green onion evenly over the dough.
8. Roll and cut the dough into 16 pieces.
9. Line two loaf pans with parchment paper and place 8 rolls into each pan.
10. Cover the pans with a damp cloth and let the rolls rise in a warm place for approximately 30 minutes.
11. Brush the rolls with the egg wash and sprinkle the tops with black and white sesame seeds.
12. Bake at 400F for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a roll comes out clean.
13. Serve with dinner or enjoy as a snack!

This post has been Yeastspotted and submitted to Bake Your Own Bread.

Perfect Fall Nails

Unfortunately, it’s finally starting to feel like fall here in the Bay Area. Our last few days of Indian Summer have gone and have been replaced by chilly, cloudy days (which means it’s in the high 50s to mid 60s… I know we’re spoiled here in California :P). Luckily, I was still able to enjoy those last few days outside, basking in the sun and taking in the breathtaking views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and that beautiful Bay. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of living in the Bay Area. Most people around here are natives and rarely ever leave the area. I can totally understand why.

Even though the leaves don’t change colors here like they do almost everywhere else in the country, I still decided to paint my nails appropriate for the new season. I first saw this nail design on Pinterest and fell in love with it immediately. It’s super easy, so beautiful, and perfect for fall!

Here’s a link to the original design by Glitter and Nails.

Although I didn’t use exactly the same colors as she did, I think I did a pretty good job in recreating this nail design. If you’re looking for fun yet fairly easy nail art for the fall season, I’d definitely recommend trying this out. (However, be warned, the glitter will get everywhere. :P)

Even though it’s no longer Indian Summer here in the Bay Area, sometimes it’s nice to have a change in weather. It helps remind us that time is moving and life goes on. It’d be nice to stay in summertime, but after a while, it’d get tiring right? (Well, to be honest, probably not haha). At least now, it feels more like November and the weather change makes me more excited about the upcoming holidays. Without changes in life, we’d get stuck in a routine of being simply content (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but may result in a life without excitement or spontaneity. I suppose I associate change with growth and so I think without change, we cannot grow. So here’s to a new season and a new round of experiences and growth.

Celebrating in SF – Giants Victory Parade and Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

Celebrating the Giants’ World Series Win in San Francisco

It was awesome living in the Bay Area this past week, with the Giants winning the World Series and the gorgeous weather. (Sorry, not trying to rub it in people’s faces or be insensitive, especially after Hurricane Sandy. My heart does go out to all the people affected by the natural disaster this past week.) Even though I’m not a huge baseball fan, I was excited to celebrate the Giants’ victory. So, I convinced two of my friends to skip school with me for a few hours to watch the victory parade last Wednesday. I figured it’d be ok to play hooky for a bit since it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity, even though the Giants won the World Series two years ago. :P

In the crowd of people trying to watch the parade

There were so many people celebrating at the parade. We got there about 30 minutes late and we were so far back in the crowd that we couldn’t see much, especially me (I was at least a foot too short). However, despite not being able to see much, I still had a great time. I love being around people who are excited and passionate about something. There’s something so exhilarating and addictive about their energy. But after a while, since we couldn’t see much, my friends and I resorted to taking pictures of ourselves at the parade.

Might as well take pictures of us since we can’t see the players

Unfortunately, I don’t own any Giants gear, so to be festive for the parade and Halloween, I painted my nails orange and black.

Black and orange

I also decided to bake some cookies for Halloween. I spent a while perusing Halloween desserts on Pinterest and foodgawker, but couldn’t find a recipe that was fairly quick and easy. So I decided to just make something seasonal instead: pumpkin oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate Chips and Dried Cranberries (aka the longest cookie name)

These cookies were pretty easy and straightforward to make. However, just to warn you, this recipe makes a ton of cookies. I baked four cookie sheets worth of cookies and some of them were pretty big cookies. Since I ended up with so many cookies, I took a third of them to a Halloween potluck and another third to my lab. I left the remaining third at home for my roommates, with a cute little note wishing them Happy Halloween. At each location, people gobbled up the cookies extremely fast – so fast that within an hour or two, they were completely gone.

I tried to draw a vampire, but obviously failed :P

These cookies aren’t too sweet, even with the white chocolate and cranberries, which is refreshing compared to the sweet Halloween candy I’ve been eating lately. Unfortunately, the pumpkin is rather difficult to taste. I’d say these cookies taste more like spice cookies (with maybe a hint of pumpkin) than pumpkin cookies. Either way, they’re a perfect dessert to bring to an autumn party or just a sweet way to end dinner. These cookies will definitely get you in the mood for fall, if you aren’t already. And be warned, these cookies will be devoured extremely quickly.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate Chips and Dried Cranberries
Adapted from My Baking Addiction and Annie’s Eats

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¾ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter; softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
3. Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until light and fluffy.
4. Add the pumpkin, egg and vanilla extract to the butter/sugar mixture and mix well.
5. Add the flour mixture and combine until all ingredients are incorporated.
6. Fold in the white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.
7. Drop 1-2 tablespoons of dough onto the prepared baking sheets.
8. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.