Gratitude Notes: 2016 in 100 Words

2016 has been a crazy year: a year of new friends, a year of relationships come and gone, a year of travel and adventure, a year of smiles and tears and lots of heartfelt laughter. Here’s to sharing some of my favorite moments with all of you in photos and 100 words (per category, of course!).

dapper day

Dapper Day, Disneyland! (November)

challenge course

Challenge Ropes Course with last year’s Global Sibs (January)

Cookie Con

Sweet times at the LA Cookie Convention (February)

grandma-edited

Spanning four generations of wonderful on Chinese New Year’s (February)

Swimternity

Swim meet with some of my favorite swim club alumni <3 (March) 

snick

 Guess who works for Nickelodeon now??? (July)

Richard Graduation

Graduation celebrations with one of the coolest kids I know (June)

 Swim Alessio

A pic with this guy before going off to visit him in Bari, Italy in August! (June)

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 Meeting Peter Pan for the first time in Kensington Gardens, London, UK (August)

swim club

Swim club end-of-year banquet (June)

bonfire

Our Global Sibs’ big victory celebration at the end-of-year bonfire (June)

rock climbing

My first big outdoor rock climb! (October)

ice cream cone

The usual order at Disneyland: double-scoop chocolate-dipped sprinkle waffle cone with cookies ‘n cream and cookie dough (October)

peruvian students

The bright group of Peruvian high school students who came up one day and wanted to chat all about American culture! (October)

Disneyland Greg

The best Disneyland adventures partner ever (April)

hollywood bowl

 Hanging out at the Hollywood Bowl with one of the most amazing friends and confidantes a girl could ask for (May)

pokemon go

Remember Pokemon GO? Yeah, we were pretty cool with our water Pokemon raids (July)

Blarney Castle Alex

The best 48 hours ever in Cork, Ireland with an amazing friend (August)

abhik dapper day

When you couldn’t ask for a better partner-in-crime and ice cream adventures at Disneyland (November)

thanksgiving dinner

This year’s AMAZING new Global Sibs family! (November)

5k

We didn’t really run the city, but they gave us medals anyway so…and we accept.Read more

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Chocolate Souffle Custard Cake, a.k.a. Chocolate Magic Cake

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So remember how last week I wouldn’t shut up about this Vanilla Souffle Custard Cake (a.k.a. “Magic Cake”) that I made, and then some of you tried making it right away and it was a total hit?

This week I made the chocolate version (AGAIN–yes, this is a repeat recipe, it’s that friggin’ good) and nobody else who tried it will shut up about it, either. So really, I’m just the messenger here, and all chocolate lovers in your life will thank you for it. Cue the Chocolate Souffle Custard Cake choirs!

For those of you who are wondering why this recipe is called “Chocolate Magic Cake,” let me sum it up for you: one simple batter -> pan -> magic happens in oven -> three-layered dessert. Cake on the bottom, creamy chocolate custard in the middle, and a pillowy chocolate souffle on top! If that isn’t science magic, I really don’t know what is.

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This Chocolate Magic Cake, which I also adapted from the wonderful Jo Cooks, holds a particularly dear spot in my recipe file. The first time I made it, I shared it at a friend’s farewell party before she left the States and headed home for Spain. The second time was this past weekend, when a huge group of us gathered for a Friendsgiving party filled with dance battles, a wooden table groaning under dessert dishes, and one very boozed-up Mannequin challenge. And now I’m making it for our Thanksgiving family dinner, alongside the original Magic Cake that will forevermore remain in my top 10 favorite desserts.

What makes each of these experiences so beautiful for me (besides the obvious fact that they involve a chocolate dessert!) are the incredibly mixed feelings of love that I associate with them. I miss the old days when I would bake the same recipe over and over again because it was a significant other’s or close friend’s favorite dessert everbut sharing this single cake with so many amazing people in my life recently has been a whole new kind of blessing: it has been a reminder to me that as we grow older, we continue to love in new and even bigger ways than we ever imagined possible when we were young.… Read more

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Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Brownies & Chocolates, Cakes & Cupcakes

Vanilla Souffle Custard Cake, a.k.a. “Magic Cake”

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This week more than ever, we all need a little magic in our lives. I’ll be the first to admit that while writing and talking with friends has helped me process last week’s election results, the tension and atmosphere on campus, coupled with the flood of frankly terrifying news this week, have led to more than one late-night baking session on my part this week.

But kindness begets good, and that’s how I ended up in my kitchen making this Vanilla Souffle Custard Cake at 2 AM one night. I first stumbled across the recipe at Jo Cooks, where the promise of cake, custard, and souffle all wrapped up in one snuggly pan reached out through the screen to me. The name magic cake comes from the fact that even though the dessert consists of three clearly defined layers, it only requires one batter: magic!

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I’m making this cake again for both Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving this year–and if you’re a blogger, you know that repeating a recipe just because it’s so darn delicious is kinda a BIG deal. (I’m also making and sharing a CHOCOLATE version of this magic cake next week: stay tuned!) My favorite part of this dessert is the contrast in textures: the creamy, custard-y filling in the middle offers the perfect foil for an airy, light souffle layer that simply melts in your mouth. Just make sure when you make this not to completely fold in or whisk away the egg whites: the lightness of those whites, coupled with the denseness of the rest of the batter, is the key factor that will turn an ordinary cake into a magical three-layer cake (with minimal effort)!

Sending best wishes to my friends all across this country and the world round. May your Thanksgivings and holiday season be filled with love, laughter, and lots of magic cake!… Read more

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Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Cakes & Cupcakes

Love When It Is Difficult: Moving Forward After Election Night

I still remember the worn paper sign that hung in the corner of my old tenth-grade English classroom, behind our teacher’s desk by the window. The half-faded words stamped across it that looked like they had been coughed out of an inkjet printer in its dying breath, but their message was nonetheless clear:

Why do we kill people to show people who kill people that killing people is wrong?

When I think about what happened last night during the election, I think back to that sign. It’s true that this is a “historic moment” in every sense of the term, though my heart aches to type those words: for the first time in the history of the United States, we have elected a president-to-be who has never held public office or served in the military. We have elected an individual who has demonstrated repeatedly his fundamental lack of respect for women, minorities, the LGBT community, the list goes on–as well as his inability to comprehend the importance of international cooperation in a post-sovereignty world, to understand that united with the world we stand, divided from it in aggressive assertion of our superiority–we fall.

But the hate, the misogyny, the racism, and the ignorance that has spewed forth from the now president-elect’s campaign are only part of the problem here. What has been clear from the start of this very strange election cycle was that both sides built their campaigns around a foundation based on suspicion, mistrust, finger-pointing, and othering the opposition. One critical question, however, that for me has unpinned this grueling months-long process remains unasked, and so I ask it now:

Why do we hate people who hate people to show that hating people is wrong?

I am under no delusion that scapegoating and mudslinging are “new” concepts in the political arena.… Read more

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Risotto Al Funghi (Mushroom Risotto)

In a way, it’s a bittersweet feeling to sit down and write what I suddenly realize will be my final (dedicated) post about my travel in Europe this summer. It’s been over two months since I returned from the final leg of my visit in Italy, yet it’s hard to imagine how differently my summer would have panned out–how different everything might be right now–if I hadn’t decided 5 months ago to take this trip. So with a bowl of this creamy mushroom risotto in hand (it’s one of my favorite Italian dishes and not as difficult to make as it sounds, as long as you’re patient–you can find the recipe at the bottom of this article), I wanted to spend this post reflecting on a few important lessons that I learned from my summer visit abroad.

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What I learned during my three weeks in Europe:

1. Take the road less traveled. One of the main reasons that I wanted to take this trip in the first place was to experience something completely new and outside of my comfort zone. Unlike most vacations that I’ve taken in the past, this sojourn was carefully engineered to include both a healthy mix of tourist destinations and some wildly unfamiliar places that I never would have visited otherwise. My decision to visit Alex in Cork and Alessio in Putignano, in particular, was motivated by the fact that I knew nothing about either of those places and would be a complete stranger to the regions when I arrived. Allowing myself to be more spontaneous than I usually am and simply experience these places with no expectations not only opened up new opportunities, but also helped me appreciate every single moment for what it was.

2. Surround yourself with the people who bring out the best in you and are happy just to see you happy, not because they want something out of it in return.Read more

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Creamy Tomato Penne Pasta with Jalapeno Poppers

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #20MinutesToTasty #CollectiveBias

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I’m taking a break from talking your ears off about my Europe trip today to tell you all about what went down this Halloween weekend with this mm-mazing Creamy Tomato Penne Pasta with Jalapeno Poppers! (Which, I suppose, is Italian food, so I suppose we’re still talking about Italy today. Bite me, Italy rocks.)

This weekend we invited over our new “global siblings” family for a Halloween potluck & party. The fam is part of a program that helps international and domestic students connect throughout the year in an open, welcoming environment, and this year Anson & I are co-coordinators for our 30-sib group! About twenty of us crammed ourselves into my cozy apartment on Saturday night, dressed to the nines in pirate gear and oblique Game of Thrones costumes involving dragons. We all had such a blast, getting to know each other and mingling and chowing down and, in typical grad student fashion, drinking. Four hours prior, however, the fun had already begun–A had brought his bluetooth speakers and we were jamming out to 80s dance music in my kitchen while exchanging costumes (I was young Ellie from Up, he had a kangaroo onesie) and cooking up a storm with this bomb-amazing pasta!

Halloween Kangaroo

Diligently preparing pasta–perfect for entertaining season!–for our sibling potluck

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One of the things that I love most about this pasta is that, amidst all the bustle and business of trying to get ready in time for the family party and the rest of the entertaining season, it only took 20 minutes to make from start to finish. Knowing under what time crunch we’d be operating on Saturday afternoon, I had made a trip over to Walmart the day before to grab a box of Farm Rich jalapeno poppers and another of breaded mushrooms in the frozen food aisle of the store, thinking that I’d toss them into one of our pasta potluck dishes. … Read more

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Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

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There are no “foodies” in Italy–there’s simply food. As I quickly learned during my week-long stay in Putignano, food is a way of life, not simply a packaged bar of high fructose corn syrup that you snatch while dashing out the door for work. While food has always been a central part of my Chinese family and culture–think lazy Susan’s groaning under the weight of 15 or 20 dishes, chopstick wars over the last piece of fried tofu, literal battles between relatives over who is going to pay the bill–being in Italy felt like landing on an entirely different food planet altogether: one made of family friends, 10 o’clock dinners, and lots–I mean LOTS–of cheese.

Aside from enjoying homemade meals with Alessio’s family, I was invited to taste (quite literally) a whole sampling platter of Italian dining experiences throughout the week. One of my favorite meals happened on my second night in Putignano, when we drove over to the countryside home of one of their family friends for a pizza party. No, not a pizza party of 90’s Chuck E. Cheese glory–we’re talking 2 kilos of homemade pizza dough, dozens of fresh meats and vegetables, authentic brick oven right on the patio, the whole shebang. Better yet, we went through something like six courses (a crust “test run,” individual pizzas, dessert pizza with Nutella, gelato, fruit, and cake), so that by the end of the night I thought my stomach was going to burst straight through the too-snug button on my jeans. Seated along a long table that seated all 15 or 16 of us, everyone seemed content to sit and eat and chat as the early evening faded into evening proper, then late night. The pace of Italian life during the summer offers an incredible contrast to the hustle & bustle of American day-to-day, and as someone who spends half of her solo meals typing away at the computer, it was amazing to be granted this glimpse into a truly mindful culture of eating.… Read more

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Watercress Pesto Pasta

 Europe trip recap! If you haven’t caught up on my three-week sojourn in the other hemisphere, so far I’ve talked about British bakeries, spending my birthday abroad, real-life Harry Potter encounters, some personal details from my trip in the UK, the beautiful city of Edinburgh, and lots of food (and Guinness!) in Ireland. And of course, the adventures continue below!

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Italy was a world in and of itself. I had visited Rome and Venice once in seventh grade, but this trip–taken nearly 14 years later–was something special. After a one-day layover from Ireland to England, I hopped on a plane that would take me to the final part of my Europe trip in the south of Italy. Bari, where the airport is located, is about an hour north of Putignano, a quiet town with a population of about 28,000 and home to Italy’s oldest annual Carnival. My friend Alessio picked me up from the airport and we took a tour of Bari (complete, of course, with my first taste of authentic Italian gelato) before heading south to the large countryside home where we would be staying for the week.

As a girl who can barely afford 500 square feet of living space in cramped Los Angeles, the idea of living in a second home in the country three months out of the year was completely unfathomable to me. When we rumbled up the narrow dirt lane that led to Alessio’s house that evening and his family came out onto the beautiful stone-laid patio to greet us, however, I could feel blissful imagination meld into a reality more romantic than anything that I could have dreamed up on my own. The country home was a converted ranch with a rustic outdoor seating area, several well-tended gardens bordering the patio, and rolling fields of grass that stretched to the outer edges of the property. … Read more

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One-Pot Chocolate Guinness Cake with Chocolate & Cream Cheese Frosting

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I can’t talk about my time in Ireland without talking about Guinness. I might as well have eaten at a Michelin-star seafood restaurant and told you all about the bread basket.

According to the friend I was visiting in Cork, there are two things you cannot visit Ireland without trying: the chocolate, and the stout. Now, I was all for the chocolate (obviously), but Guinness? Beer? Stout? Hops? Imperial pints in the UK/Ireland are huge and I had never drunk so much as a can of beer before visiting Europe (the taste of beer reminds me of that nasty Chinese herbal medicine we used to drink as kids), so I felt a bit nervous about what I’d do when faced with a whole glass of that dark, intimidating liquid. All the same, I certainly hadn’t come halfway across the world to sip on sparkling water–so when Alex proposed that we go out for a couple of rounds at the local pubs, I was ready to give Guinness my best shot.

Verdict: Turns out, I am actually a fan of the well-poured Guinness! Alex explained the process to me while we waited for our bartender to finish pouring,* then we found seats outside and enjoyed the live music wafting through the town streets while we sipped on glasses that were nearly overflowing with creamy white head. We later met up with a group of his school and university friends, who were probably the friendliest folks in the northern hemisphere and made me feel absolutely welcome. Of course, the second pint of Guinness probably helped! Best of all, Alex and I got home the first night at 1 AM, poured ourselves some cereal with milk, and watched Louis Theroux documentaries into the wee hours of the morning before we were too tired to stay up any longer.… Read more

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Game Day Recipes: Easy Picante Cream Cheese Dip + Rollups

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MakeGameTimeSaucy #CollectiveBias

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Ha–I did it! After five years of avoiding the Rose Bowl like the plague, I finally hitched up my shorts two weeks ago and attended my first-ever grad school football game. Since our team was playing my alma mater’s rival, I was doubly invested and ready to shout as loudly as I could about “taking off that red shirt,” if ya know what I mean. Plus who doesn’t love a socially acceptable excuse to be obnoxious and rambunctious and generally just a tad madwomanish?

As it turns out, the weather on game day was insanely sweltering and, as our seats in the student section were full-blast under the sun, a few of us ended up spending the entire first quarter wandering around outside and looking for food instead of actually watching the game. This meant that we missed the only touchdown of the entire game, scored by yours truly–er, well, until the other team scored not one, but TWO touchdowns in the final 2 minutes of the game. Derp. My friend was majorly upset (it was her first-ever football game), and my dad texted me right after the game because he simply could not stop cracking up at our misery. “Heart broken loss,” his message read. Annnnd to me this is why food > football forever, hands down.

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Speaking of food and football games, though, there is one reason why I still love the sport even though my team is a heartbreaking hot mess on the field this season sometimes disappoints me. In my book, you can never go wrong on any occasion where all sorrows can be drowned in food, food, food. To celebrate the start of a new season, I popped down to Walmart the following weekend for a few game day edibles and ended up snagging a bag of chips, some corn tortillas, a few blocks of cream cheese, and a bottle of mild Pace® Picante for that extra flavor kick.… Read more

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Filed under Appetizers, Dips/Spreads, Lunch & Dinner