life

knowledge for love

reposted from yesdarlingido — though I’m not this exclusively, I can totally relate

APPETITE

People say they’re hungry for knowledge, and I’ve always wished I could say the same without feeling like I was lying. Sure, I love learning and what a gift it is to be both a learner and a teacher, but I have struggled with knowledge. I don’t crave it like good students do. I am hungry for love—and I’m not talking about romance. I am hungry to love you, and everyone else. I don’t always feel this way—I’m not claiming selflessness, but this is the ultimate theme driving my life. I only feel fulfilled in life when mine is actively demonstrating love. I’m starving when I’m not extending or receiving it. I am hungry for love that welcomes, engages, nurtures, and frees. And so, my desire is for a specific branch on this tree of knowledge. Knowledge with a purpose—that’s the only kind I’m after. Wisdom values knowledge, but not on the basis of itself. I’m not interested in knowledge alone. I want to grow in knowledge because as we shed ignorance, opportunities to utilize our knowledge in ways of love allow us to be a gift. And being a gift means having more to offer than a good GPA. Our external form encases heart and mind, so being a gift to this world means using both for the benefit of others. Heart—the source of compassion; mind—the source of action. Compassion is where justice and mercy collide and wisdom is learning how to balance between the two. This is a worthy pursuit.

I’m a daily seeker and gatherer of knowledge that equips me to feed a deeper hunger. I want to feed my brain to mature my heart; I want to feast on knowledge that builds my character. Maybe this is why I struggle to make time for things that don’t immediately gratify my pursuit of love. Maybe this is why I’ve been such a mediocre student all my life—struggling to care about generic knowledge that I couldn’t connect with. I’m sure if I pondered this long enough, I’d realize that all knowledge can equip me to love in some way or another, but that’s hard for me to accept when I think of the power-points and deadlines. I have a deep appetite to grow in knowledge that awakens my understanding of people’s needs, emotions, longings, fears, and struggles. I crave the knowledge that strengthens an awareness of injustice, inequality, and suffering so I can know the oppressed and stand against the oppressor. I want to know the brokenness so I can be a propelling force towards healing; I want to know truth so I can live as a banner exposing the lies. People say they’re hungry for knowledge, but be specific. What is it you want to know, and why do you want to know it? Knowledge without application is powerless. Knowledge without love is empty. Knowing without growing is worthless because it generates potential without implementing purpose or cause.

also:

“As you get older you start doing things in reverse. You start cutting people out from your life. Your Christmas list becomes practically nonexistent. You don’t need to be the first in line for everything. You take less pictures because some memories are best kept in your heart and not your hard drive. And instead of looking for love, you dig for it from within.”   — bookmarks in my life 

motherly love

“Make time for your mother on your birthday. It’s a special day for her .”

^In reference to the first quote, I’m sort of ashamed to say I’ve never even thought of that! Came across this adage today, and definitely taking it to heart: I want to make it an effort to call my mom every birthday now. I mean, she only thought about my potential birthday for at least 6 months, and has celebrated it with me the past 2 decades. Thanks Mom for being amazing…you are the best ❤ 🙂

earl grey macarons with vanilla buttercream

Macarons are one of the few desserts every person…or at least every female…seems to be absolutely crazy about. Unfortunately, satisfying this desire can get quite expensive. In all fairness, I realized after trying to make them that the cost is not all THAT inflated. First of all, a key component of macarons is almond flour, which is really hard to make on your own at the consistency required for good looking macarons. Almond flour/meal by the pound is pretty expensive by itself. Plus, add the delicate flavorings, and the reputation of these cookies for being extremely temperamental, and you can see why these are a ‘delicacy’. BUT the good news is that many bloggers (and people in general) have tried recreating these cookies in their homes, to great success, and sharing them online 🙂 So making them yourself is totally and completely possible.

When I went to Canada to visit my cousin this weekend, he brought up the idea to make macarons. He had tried them once but failed to get ‘feet’ (the little puffed layer on the bottom of macarons), and was eager to try again. I can’t say no to making macarons! For the recipe, we used a combination of tips and ingredient proportions from Bake at 350Food Nouveau, and FN’s SUPER comprehensive troubleshooting guide to making macarons.

Things about macarons that make them so fickle all have to do with maximizing the potential of the cookies to puff up properly (form proper feet). These include the need to…

1. …maximize the potential of your egg whites to incorporate air. The classic way is to ‘age’ them, aka separate them in advance to allow moisture to leave, then allowing them to reach room temperature. The idea is that the less moisture in the eggs, the easier they will incorporate air when whipped. However, since we didn’t have time to age the egg whites this time, a 10 second zap in the microwave turned out to do the trick. (according to Bake at 350, you don’t need to age the egg whites at all!)

2. …sift the almond flour and powdered sugar, to eliminate clumps that will collapse air pockets within the egg whites and make for smoother cookies. This definitely helps.

sifting the almond flour with the powdered sugar...and adding ground earl grey tea leaves

sifting the almond flour with the powdered sugar…and adding ground earl grey tea leaves

3. …actually whip enough air into the egg whites. You need to first get them to be able to form soft peaks before adding granulated sugar a bit at a time, and then beat the eggs to the point where they form pretty stiff peaks. The volume of your egg whites should have doubled by the time you’ve finished whipping, and the mixture should be so stiff as to pass the ‘flip bowl over test’ — aka not budge even when you flip the bowl upside down. BUT as soon as you reach this spot, STOP. Don’t overmix!! (however, if you do overmix, Foodnouveau directs you to how to fix that :P)

your batter should be able to form 'stiff peaks', that look like this

your batter should be able to form ‘stiff peaks’, that look like this

4. …carefully NOT overmix when adding the almond/powdered sugar ‘flour to the egg white mixture. The key is to mix JUST enough so that the dry ingredients are JUST incorporated. The two recipe links explain the process quite well. I usually use anywhere from 10-20 strokes. Don’t worry about not mixing enough because as long as the ingredients are JUST incorporated, they will mix together in the pastry bag you end up using to pipe the cookies out (or, in my case, a gallon-sized ziplock bag with the corner cut off).

never fear! the flour and egg whites will mix in the pastry bag as you are piping them out

never fear! the flour and egg whites will mix in the pastry bag as you are piping them out

5. …leave cookies out for at least 20-30 min before baking them in the oven, so that they form a hard shell outside that will stay intact as the cookies puff on the bottom

shell-formation in progress. if you are a perfectionist, you can remove the residues of piping and smooth the shells, but we didn't really care that much haha

shell-formation in progress. if you are a perfectionist, you can remove the residues of piping and smooth the shells, but we didn’t really care that much haha

6. …be careful not to overbake! Usually as soon as the tops are hard and the feet have formed, the cookies are ready. When we made these, 11 min at 300 F was perfect.

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7. …make sure the cookies are cool COMPLETELY before trying to assemble them. Otherwise, they might collapse! Being patient is worth it 🙂 For the buttercream, we made a batch by combining 1 ½ cups softened unsalted butter with 2/3 cup icing / powder sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla. But honestly, you can fill the cookies with anything! (as long as the consistency is that of softened butter or jam…otherwise it can get runny)

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Finally, according to  Bake at 350, “macarons taste best after 24 hours, so place in a container between layers of wax paper and be patient. 🙂 After 24 hours, remove from the refrigerator and let the cookies come to room temperature, or close to it, before serving.”

If you find yourself with some food coloring and want to add some flair to your macarons, you can take a small paintbrush or rolled up piece of paper, dip it in food coloring, and then ‘paint’ the macarons to your desire!

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Doesn’t it add a nice touch? 🙂

Again, for full recipes and tips, check out Bake at 350Food Nouveau, and FN’s comprehensive troubleshooting guide to making macarons–they all are great guides with awesome comments and beautiful photos to  match!

apple roses!

This is a very belated post (made these apple roses about 4 months ago, when apples were all the rage), but since Valentine’s day is reminiscent of roses, what better time to (finally) post up the recipe than now?

To make these apple roses, I followed the recipe from Catalina Kolker pretty much to a T, but here it is reproduced with pictures from yours truly 😉

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INGREDIENTS:

1 puff pastry sheet
3 apples
5 TBSP sugar or splenda
2 teaspoons cinnamon

4 cups water
3 TBSP sugar
2 TBSP lemon juice

DIRECTIONS:

1. Wash the apples, cut in half, core, then slice in very thin slices, slightly smaller than 1/8 inch.

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2. In a saucepan, bring the 4 cups water, sugar and lemon juice to a boil and place the apple slices in. Boil for 2 minutes, or until the slices soften and you can easily bend them.

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3. Have a colander and a bowl close and when the time is up, fish the apple slices with a slotted spoon and let them cool, then dry in the colander. Optional: Arrange the apple slices on paper towels to cool down completely and also dry up a bit.

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If you are working with people and want to have fun, you can also make a sliced apple ‘cake’ haha:

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4. Prepare your work surface by lightly sprinkling it with some flour or just use a silicone mat and lay the puff pastry sheet down. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and evenly spread it over the pastry sheet; press down to secure.

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With a pastry cutter or knife, carefully cut long strips, approximately 1/2 inch wide, from the puff pastry.

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5. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

6. By now, your apples should be cool and almost dry. Take a few slices and place them on the strips, overlapping them so they do not fall out and also make the rose-like design (petals) of the finish product.

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Start rolling up the apples within the strips, making sure it is fairly tightly rolled. It should look like this in the end:

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7. Bake for 25 minutes, or until nicely golden. When you take them out, let them cool for about 5 minutes. Optional: sprinkle some cinnamon and powdered sugar on them before serving.

Enjoy ! 🙂

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red velvet white chocolate chip cookies

While making these cookies and crafting a blog post in my mind, I realized that all the cookie recipes I’ve posted on this blog have been white chocolate chip recipes…the white chocolate cranberry blood cell cookies, white chocolate peppermint cookies, and now red velvet white chocolate chip cookies. Ironically, I don’t even normally like white chocolate (on its own)! If I had a choice, I definitely prefer darker, more bitter and more complex chocolates…think dark chocolate with sea salt +/- caramel, or spicy, or fruit flavors.

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In all fairness, white chocolate in cookies does add a very good contrast to unique flavors, such as tart, mint or in this case, chocolate. Which is why I use it so much. And what better way to celebrate Valentines day than with gorgeous red velvet-themed desserts?? 🙂

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There is the more involved way to make red velvet cookies, and then there’s the lazy way…by using cake mix! The recipe I used for these cookies are a variation of the butter + egg + cake mix cookie magic that lies secretly in every baker’s kitchen. Most recipes using cake mix for cookies will ask you to get the cake mix for that cookie (i.e., red velvet cake mix for red velvet cookies, chocolate cake mix for chocolate cookies, etc) but since I had a lot of red food color and cocoa powder on hand, I decided to made the ‘red velvet’ portion from scratch. In the end, I think it worked quite well.

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Ladies and gentlemen alike, here’s an easy recipe to please that sweet tooth in time for Valentines day!  🙂

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RED VELVET WHITE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Recipe modified from: Buns in my oven
Yields: Approx 24 cookies

INGREDIENTS:
1 box Red Velvet cake mix*
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1.5 cup white chocolate chips
DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat the butter until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
3. Add the cake mix and beat until well combined.
*In my case, I didn’t have red velvet cake mix so used 1 box butter yellow cake mix, 3 drops of red gel food coloring (more concentrated than regular food coloring) and 1/4 cup cocoa powder.
4. Stir in the white chocolate chips.
5. Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
6. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until the top is set, but the center is still gooey.
7. Let cool before consuming.Share with loved ones (or anyone you want to share with…haha!)

Stay posted for more Valentines-day themed desserts :)!

the enemy of progress is perfection

…therefore, strive for PROGRESS, not perfection.

(So…I definitely missed the obligatory New Years post. But since it’s Chinese New Year, that’s pretty much the same right? 🙂 PS, I haven’t forgotten about the last 2 days of Chile…the rest will resume shortly!)

I have recently come to recognize that one of my greatest weaknesses is how accurately the first part of this quote applies to my life. A mantra that used to appeal to me was, “Shoot for the moon, and you’ll land among the stars”, which people use to motivate them to dream. Landing amongst stars isn’t bad at all; the problem is, for a perfectionist, this mantra is terrible. For a perfectionist, once we reach the stars, we realize that what we really want is still the moon, and anything less is devastating to our perfectionist EQ. So, similarly, for a time, I got discouraged from not reaching the moon. And, instead of forgetting about it, I reacted in the most unhealthy way: by thinking, “if I can’t reach my moon, why even try at all? It is all pointless, and society can produce great people that don’t have to be me.”

It was pretty bad.

Thankfully, I knew I couldn’t keep that mindset for long. People do not function by operating at extremes, either the extreme right or the extreme left.  I know I wasn’t happy trying to be perfect, but I still got stuff done, and I was DEFINITELY not happy NOT doing anything. Early on 1st year of med school, failing embarassingly on a project I signed up for taught me an important lesson: I needed to learn to say NO. I needed to learn my limits, learn to prioritize things I can do and forget things with low yield, and find that balance between underwork and overambition. In short, I needed to learn to be MATURE.

Self discipline is something many people struggle with, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t struggle to keep up with it. Self discipline is a vital skill in order to progress in life. It is also the bane of my existence. However, I learned the hard way that ignoring self discipline and trying to do windsprints to nowhere gets you to precisely that location: no where. Training for a half marathon was my first practice in self discipline and literally changed my life. I went from thinking I could never run more than 2 miles to running 13.1, from having no $$ to raising $1400 for cancer with the help of awesome friends and family, and realized that when there is a will, there IS a way. That way just means a PLAN, and what one needs to remember is that you NEED to have a plan, not just a will.

Two articles I read at the end of 2013 were reminders of my need to continue to progress on this life lesson of self discipline. I realized in 2013 that it is ok to have dreams, and you CAN reach them, but you need to be kind to yourself during the process and KNOW YOUR LIMITS. Make realistic dreams, so that 1. You can actually reach them and 2. You can go beyond them when you do reach them!  Two articles from waitbutwhy, on how to beat procrastination, and the Business Insider, on the secret behind Google’s productivity, were extremely useful in helping me establish this plan to accomplish my resolution for this upcoming year: to be consistently PROGRESSIVE. Progress does NOT happen overnight, but huge progressions in society DO occur OVER TIME. That’s all they need: time, and patience. No, I’m not going to be able to post 10 blog entries in a matter of one month, but, if I consistently progressively post at LEAST a couple a month, over the course of the year I have this whole collection of posts that didn’t take that much effort to begin with!

So there lies my new years resolution (albeit 2 months late :P). Yes, there are many more specifics, but my main resolution this year is to strive for PROGRESS, in multiple areas of my life, and not get discouraged by PERFECTION.  It’s not going to happen overnight, but at the end of this year, I want to look back and be proud of the progress, whatever size it is, that I’ve made with self discipline.

PS:

A brief slideshow of pics from my phone/point and shoot:

2013, the year I learned what it meant to listen to my limits, love myself, and fully rely on and give my career to God (now, just to trust Him completely for everything else :))…you’ve been so good. Thank you for providing people to get in the way of my overambitious goals and keep me in check. And thank you everyone for being  part of my 2013 🙂

Cheers to an equally awesome 2014–the year of the horse! 新年快乐!

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. –1 Corinthians 12:10

 

white chocolate peppermint cookies~!

I credit one of my best friends, J, to getting me to eat more of foods I otherwise wouldn’t really care for–being roommates and always sharing food helps 😛 On the savory side, there is cheese, and on the sweet side…enter white chocolate. I have always personally had more of a predilection towards dark chocolate, as I love the complexity in the combination of ‘bitter’ and ‘sweet’ and white chocolate alone is too sweet for me. However, when paired with something ELSE to contrast…something tart (re: white chocolate cranberry cookies), something spicy, or something minty (like in peppermint bark, something else J loves :)), I must agree it is divineee. While working on our gingerbread house for the contest, we bought a TON of candy canes and had a lot left over. Not wanting them to go to waste, but realizing how easy it is to get sick of JUST candy canes, I decided to grab some white chocolate chips and, reminiscent of the holiday spirit, make some white chocolate peppermint cookies! I pretty much followed the same recipe as for the white chocolate cranberry cookies (reproduced below), except substituting cranberries with crushed candy canes. Perfect treat just in time for all your holiday parties :)!

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Recipe: Soft-Baked White Chocolate Chip Peppermint Cookies
Modified from Sally’s Baking Addiction (check out her blog for more amazing recipes! :))
Makes 2.5 dozen cookies.

Ingredients
• 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
• 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1 large egg, at room temperature
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons cornstarch <–secret to amazing cookie chewiness!!!
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
• 1/2 cup crushed candy canes (about 6 regular sized candy canes, or 12 minis)

Instructions
1. Line an ungreased cookie sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Set aside.
2. Crush your candy canes. What I did:  I put the candy canes within a ziplock bag on top of a cutting board (so it was easier to clean up afterwards), and crushed them using a hard metal coffee can (if you have a rolling pin, that works too!). The candy canes ended up ripping the ziplock bag about 2 minutes in, so I was glad I had a cutting board underneath. The ziplock bag is ok ripped –as long as you don’t get candy cane all over, the baggie just functions to keep the candy canes together in one place. When you have crushed them to small enough pieces (about the size of rice grains). Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy and light in color. Mix in egg and vanilla. Scrape down the sides as needed.
4. Mix in flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Stir in white chocolate chips & crushed candy canes. Optional: Chill dough (covered) for 30 minutes or up to 3 days.
5. Preheat oven to 350F. Drop balls of dough (1.5 tablespoons each) onto cookie sheet. Bake for about 9 minutes, until barely golden brown around the edges. Do NOT cook them longer than 9 minutes. Remove and let cool for 5-10 minutes on the cookie sheet. Transfer to cooling rack.
6. Enjoy! Baked cookies freeze well – up to three months. Unbaked cookie dough balls freeze well – up to three months.

PS: Thanks M for letting me use your apartment :D!

a case for fiction and libraries

Transcript: Neil Gaiman on the importance of reading

Excellent, convincing argument by Neil Gaiman about the importance of reading, particularly fiction, and of access to libraries. Some of my favorite points include 1. fiction is important to expand the imagination, by promoting thoughts of escapism that will have us readers desiring more, and therefore, being motivated to MAKE more in real life, and 2. libraries being important as havens from children to be exposed to and grow a hunger for reading, without distractions of other things.

To play devil’s advocate, here‘s a commentary/criticism from Lee Seigel written for the New Yorker. Seigel comments on the very real possiblity that we are seriously overthinking the benefits of fiction…or really, of anything in general. As Seigel points out, it is fair to say that you cannot assume ’empathy’ always means the ‘good’ kind of empathy, or that the effects of fiction as argued by Gaiman are attributed purely to fiction. Correlation does not equal causation. In the end however, Seigel’s essay came off more as almost bitter and overly cynical, whereas Gaiman’s is open and welcoming. I mean, I certainly see no HARM in reading fiction vs nonfiction 😛 So I will keep my stance in agreement with Gaiman…the importance of reading must be maintained!