Wednesday, July 23, 2014

White Cardamom and Lavender Milk Jam

Real life does not look like this. Okay, fine. Maybe your life looks like that, and if so, major kudos to you. You belong perpetually in a magazine, or on a 24/7 instagram feed. But me? My daily life is messy and oftentimes full of droning dullness and unprettiness that no one else but me would want to see. There is plenty of ugly light in my house, lots of hand-me-down furniture from ikea, carpet stains from who-knows-where, not-really-very-charming 1970's house fixtures. I live through many totally not-instagrammable, not-facebook-share-worthy times, usually involving sitting in front of a computer, staring at numbers and code, or standing in the perpetually, interminably long line at the post office, or getting annoyed by the hammering noises coming from the construction next door, or taking out the trash. And, on top of all this, while I do wear hipster glasses, it's because I'm a nerd and need major vision correction so that I'm not walking around blind and crashing into things, okay?

I'm moving houses soon, to my new job, and when I've been telling people lately that I need to furnish my new place, they ask me, "Oh, what's your decorating style?" I keep getting taken aback by this question, since I don't find myself identifying with "modern" or "French country" or "beachhouse", etc. None of those are me, because really, at this point, how about it would just be nice to *not* look like I'm still living like a grad student. Like, I'm looking forward to the day when my couch no longer has a "slip-cover" of an old sheet over it, when my kitchen faucet is no longer held together by packing tape, and when my handed-down-from-previous-grad-student $15 ikea coffee table no longer has a majorly uneven surface from when I accidentally spilled a bunch of liquid on the fiberboard and it warped like crazy so now you can't put anything on it anymore....

Because I'm a food/travel photographer and that inevitably translates to being, at some level, a lifestyle photographer, it's actually become sort of a perplexing ethical question for me about what I shoot. So much of the work I have to do for clients--or for that matter, on this blog--really glorifies some idealised, stylized life. To some extent, that's fine. Beauty involves some editing (after all, what is a photographer's eye but an editor), but at what point does it become too much of a lie, and no longer true to the artist?

All this rant is to say that I have been struggling for a long time to figure out what should appear on this blog moving forward. I don't have that complete answer yet, but I do know that I don't want to miss out on recording moments that I want to remember just because they don't meet some sort of predetermined, magazine-worthy stereotypic standard of pretty. It's a blog, for goodness sakes. Let's not get all bent up about mismatched plates from different eras or god-awful, water-warped ikea coffee tables, shall we. Let's focus instead on capturing some of the truth of life, and hope that that truth leads us, in the end, to beauty.

One of my favorite events throughout grad school was when my friends and I would have pot-luck teas, usually for all of the girls in the lab (because go, ladies in science!). Everyone would bring a dish, and I would usually raid my prop closet for teacups and wooden serving boards as my contribution because I'd be too busy during the school year to bake anything, and we'd sit down for a long morning of wonderful food and laughter and company. This tea was from a few months ago, when I actually had enough wherewithal to make a white cardamom & lavender milk jam to contribute (also, I brought a precious jar of raspberry jam that my friend's Russian grandmother makes every summer, and that she smuggles out of Russia for me :)). The milk jam, all caramel-y smooth but robustly spiced from the cardamom and lavender, worked deliciously on blinis and rice pudding, but especially--and unexpectedly!--the milk jam went perfectly with these butternut squash custards that my friend Clara brought. I love it when potlucks so serendipitously bring together food that are good on their own but even better together! Such is the true beauty of the thing!

Read on for recipe....

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Gone fishin' (in Hawai'i)

It has not escaped my notice (and slight guilt) that this blog has gone dormant over the past few months. Increasingly exciting changes have been happening IRL off-line, and for some reason, I've been enjoying the analog memories and experiences, taking very few photos, writing down very few recipes, and spending the time instead just ... experiencing. Does that make sense? Even my typed, digital words feel too clunky.

For one, I graduated! Well, technically, my Ph.D. was awarded a few months ago, but graduation ceremonies didn't happen until May/June. So now I can be rid of the annoying "Ms." title and just be "Dr"! Actually, even better that that: as of July 1, I'm now officially "Professor", too. :D Well, technically, "Assistant Professor," but let's not split hairs during the summertime. And yes, that means I finished temp teaching at Berkeley and am moving to a new university, to a wonderful new department... and leaving this area on the SF Peninsula that I've called home for the past seven years. As I said, big changes. So big I can't write about them. At least, not yet.

In the meantime, I did take one real vacation. Technically I went to Hawai'i for a work conference on Austronesian languages at the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa. But we agreed not to split hairs during the summer, remember? :) Anyways, after the conference, we island-hopped over to Kaua'i for a real vacation. Filled with shaved ice, reading on the beach, reading on the porch, snuggling with cats, cursing feral chickens for waking us up at 3AM, hikes through ankle-deep mud and knee-deep stream-crossings, tumbling waterfalls from every mountainside you look, macadamia nut chocolates, poke, binge-streaming Sopranos in the evenings, passionfruit chiffon pie, pineapples that taste like sweet coconut, fresh-cut gardenias on the bedside table, green and lush and days of completely ignoring email. (Fine, fine, I did finish a paper while I was there, but technicalities, again.) I barely pulled out my camera for whatever reason, so here are the glimpses of Hawai'i that I did manage to record.

One of my favorite Hawai'i things: picking a fresh plumeria to wear in my hair.

[Above: Leonard's Malasadas; Below: shaved ice, Hawai'i lunch plate, poke, pre-hike bacon sandwich & smoothie from Hanalei Coffee Roasters, passionfruit chiffon pie]

[Above: morning rainbow over Hanalei Bay; Below: Kalalau Trail at the Nā Pali Coast]

[Above: view of Ke'e Beach from the Kalalau Trail; Below: Opaekaa Falls]