4: Newton News

I write this on my last day in Newton, Massachusetts. What started as a crazy day of taking the FSOT is now a midweek moveout after many evenings of laughter and cooking, as well as some other adventures in between. And of course, lots of music making. Here the gals singing their version of Mirrorball:

The gals are, from left to right: Me, Sophie, Lila, and Elizabeth. Lila and Elizabeth are friends of Sophie's from their Acapella group, the Radcliffe Pitches. They're all excellent singers. I've met them several times before and have had several meals with Lila, but this was a great time to get to know Elizabeth more. Her mom is also German, but her mom didn't teach her or her siblings German, which she's a bit regretful of. It was interesting to hear how much more American her life was, since her mom moved to the States when her mom was only a year old.

Most of my days were spent taking classes in the corner of Elizabeth's living room, attending class, and finishing the painting I showed last post. But it was fun!

Sophie followed a recipe that the Harvard University Dining Services shared with everyone for apple cider muffins, and they were excellent. There was a maple glaze!

Sophie and I also went for a walk one Saturday around the Reservoire near Elizabeth's house. It was really pleasant, and one of the last really warm and sunny days.

On Sunday, we all went apple picking with some other friends from Kirkland, which was really fun! we got a peck of deliciously fresh apples, plus some Cider donuts. You can see me serving the important role of tree climber, here:

It's hard to see but I'm tossing the apples down. I really had a lot of fun.

The other important part of this outing was that I used my now-valid 21-year-old ID to purchase some hard cider for us to enjoy later in the evening. The cashier was perhaps unamused by the enthusiasm with which I presented her my driver's license, but she accepted it nonetheless. And the cider was the best I've ever had.

....hiding the masks for the photo ;)

Resting on the couch after watching a movie--it was so nice to hang out at night like we were all in college, but in fact I was the only one enrolled.

I completed this painting of Sophie with the guitar!

Lila has already left, and now Sophie and I will drive away after all my classes (I have 4 consecutive classes)


much love!

3: Que Sera, Sera

(Whatever will be, will be)

This is on my mind as I ponder the upcoming two weeks--and, since it's around my birthday, as I ponder the year that lies ahead of me. It feels a tiny bit like my Birthday my other senior year, four years ago, when I bitterly took the SAT the morning of my birthday and got only a half-decent score, making it a waste of time and money since my ACT had been perfectly fine. Except this time, I spent the saturday after my 21st taking the Foreign Service Officer Test.

My brain feels very fried and tired, and it was amazing to eat some indian food afterwards. These next two weeks will be another college experience--Sophie and I are staying in the childhood bedroom of one of her friends from college (from her acapella group), in Newton, Massachusetts. We're living with another friend from the acapella group--so four of us in total: Sophie, Lila, Elizabeth, and me. I'm a little nervous to see how it will go since I'm less familiar with the gals and I'm also the only enrolled student. But those factors may work well together. Tonight we're going to a grocery store--I'm very excited. Newton seems to be a wealthier town--we went on a lovely walk this evening and it was so fun to see all the houses in their various Northern styles (some Tudor, some more gothic, some FUNKY McMansions).

Here is the requisite cake photo!!! It was such a delicious cake--chocolate with oreo cream cheese frosting. :)

Sophie wrote me a song for my birthday, which was incredible. Here she is with Lila's acoustic guitar! I'll show more photos of Elizabeth's home in the coming days, I imagine.

And finally, at long last I finished the painting I had been doing during the lectures, and I've started the second one!

That's all for now!

Much love!


2: Autumn, Tennis, and Macarons?!

Today I woke up, immediately settled into a zoom meeting teaching ESL to some adult learners from Boston's Chinatown. It was a little bit strange being on the other side of zoom learning, but I think that's one of my favorite parts of teaching this class, because I get the feeling of my professors. I developed so much more admiration for my Chinese teachers after I started teaching English, and I found myself using a lot of the same strategies they use on us, simply because they work really well. Anyway, after that, I had some curry for lunch, and settled outside on the swing, surrounded by a glorious leaf pile.

As usual, Sadie joined me. She's so majestic, and she'll get her staples out soon! Later, sophie also came out and we did some reading!

We migrated with our readings a few times, down to the pool (where I dozed a wee bit) and then onto the patio, where I dozed for around two hours. It was nice to nap, and sophie took this wonderful photo of me after I woke up, so it was clearly a very refreshing nap. Look at how happy I was with my bed hair hehe.

Then we headed out to play some tennis! This has been the 4th or 5th time I've gone with the Websters to play some tennis, and it's wonderful to get back into a sport I literally haven't done since the start of college. I think I played once, with Kat, last time I was in Vancouver? and so it's been nice both exercising and also getting back into the game. Sophie took this photo of me for the weekly Kirkland House competition--last week, my Lox bagel photo won me an honorable mention but no real reward, so I'm going to keep trying. You might ask, "Lara, what is your left hand doing out so far away?" and to that, I simply must explain. I was taught to always point at the ball with my left hand when taking high volleys, but whenever I did that for the photo, my left arm was very neatly in front of my face and obscuring mostly everything. So in trying to focus on NOT putting my left arm up high, I ended up extending it to heaven-knows-where. That's okay. It's like a Ballet/Tennis combination photo.

After dinner, Sophie and I made Macarons! These are Vanilla cookies with a blueberry-lemon-clove filling that I very much made up on the fly, which was fun. I kept adding cornstarch in a desperate attempt to get this stuff to thicken up, but it's delicious nonetheless.

Macaron posing in front of the ristra wreath was very important, too.


But now I've eaten so much sugar that my whole body feels kinda weird. Tomorrow I'll prepare healthier foods, perhaps.

Posting in freedom!

It's been a few days since I've gotten out, and I thought I would write a post on what I've been up to since then! So on Sunday, we all piled into the car and went to the beach for sunset! It was beautiful and I loved the ocean and the open air and everything!

A portrait mode selfie with Sophie. It's chilly hence the HATS!

The boardwalk out to the beach from the marsh road looked ghostly and beautiful after sundown.

When we got back, Sophie got to work making a cake while I did chinese homework and prevented her from melting the butter for the buttercream. This was a vegan cake apart from the frosting, though! Lemon blueberry :)

This past week, I've continued my method of painting during my larger lecture courses, which has forced me to slow down my process and think more deeply in between painting sessions, since when the lecture ends, I have other things to do and can't just race to the finish line of the paining.

I changed my mind a few times about the color of the things, and I'm still not sure about the background. But overall, this has been fun and a good way to stay connected. perhaps next week I'll try working on three different paintings for my three different lecture classes.

I need probably another lecture or two before I'm done--this took me 4 lectures to this point (including sketch)

Day 14: Readings and Walks, mostly

Today I mostly did my various readings for my courses--one on the sociology of music that was so boring I nearly fell asleep, some selections from Mencius (which I did fall asleep to, but not because they were boring--just because I was outside and it was sunny and I was comfortable), and two chapters from the Dragon's Gift. All in all, it's been a good day!

In the evening, I took a walk with Sophie, and we took some photos in her neighbors yards.

Here I am, with a jeep's plate that was made for me, and here's Sophie, near some flowers.

We also saw these fun yard signs. I must say, dog candidates notwithstanding, there is a lot of serious political content in Sophie's neighborhood, and the signs represent a wide range... the streets are fairly divided by "We support Law Enforcement Officers" signs and "Lenny Mirra for Massachusetts House Representative, and "Black Lives Matter" and "Hate has no home here" signs, as well as a smattering of "Black Lives Matter" signs and "Trump Pence" signs. There's apparently a jeep with a trump pence flag, but I haven't seen it yet. This is not an endorsement for Duke & Opie, by the way-- I've registered to vote and I'm getting my ballot in the mail, and I encourage all y'all to do the same!

When we got back home, we (mostly sophie) caught a chicken that had jumped the fence and was clucking around.

Back at the ranch... reading and snuggling once again.


Yeehaw! we're done!

Good night!

Day 13: Sadie appreciation ;) whoops

Today I had a good day--food-wise, it was uneventful as I was working on clearing through my leftovers: for lunch I had half a bagel with some onions, as well as a bowl of my soup from yesterday; and for dinner I had the last of the hand pulled noodles, with another bowl of my soup from yesterday. I now only have one container of it in the fridge. tomorrow I'll freeze it, I think, in to smaller portions. Anyway, that's why today is mostly about nothing!

I went to class, took a Chinese exam, and went to the Bok. Then, the most exciting part of today (and perhaps the week) was that I got to go to a zoom conversation organized by the Harvard Office for the Arts with Jameela Jamil, who plays Tahani in NBC's The Good Place. She is quite literally the only celebrity I follow on instagram, and I listen to her podcast while I paint, and I love her for her activism and constant desire to learn more. Anyhow, it was unreal to see her live. After that, I met with my blockmates and we had a lovely phone chat. I called Mama, and then Kat, who got to see me pull the noodles live (though I kinda doubt she felt very thrilled).

Then I watched some videos with Sadie, who was as loyal as a companion as ever:

Last week I managed to talk Sophie into watching one of my absolute favorite movies with me, a Belgian movie from 2015 called "Le Tout Nouveau Testament", or "The Brand New Testament". I love it for the questions it raised for me in the weeks after seeing it as I evaluated how I live my life and how weird the patterns are that humans in general follow as they live their lives.

It was cold to sit outside from like ten to one am so I was wearing... three layers of shirt (plus the green knit cardigan), two layers of pants, snow boots, and my balaclava and hat. whew! looking forward to watching movies indoors as the winter arrives.

As always, sadie was excited to see me. Here she is in her "Stapleface Killa" glory, as Rob has been calling her. The Groundhog bite is healing well, and she's much more sprightly now. Okay, now she's resting her head on my leg as I'm writing and it's probably a good idea to go to bed. She was just scooting on the carpet in a sitting position, though, which was hilariously adorable too.

I caught her mid-yawn which I'm pretty happy with too. She basically only holds still when she's asleep, so photos of this gal are TRICKY!

Much love! Penultimate day! Yeehaw!

Day 12: Goats instead of notes

Today I made my submission for the weekly Kirkland House-wide competition to submit a creative product. This week's theme was recreate your favorite dining hall meal--I chose my weekly lox bagel that I enjoy during Sunday Brunch. Now I know that I didn't use lox, but to be fair I did put aside some of the fried salmon I had made yesterday and saved that, cold, to put on my bagel today, so it had more of a "homemade" touch than lox, anyway. And as such, it had a heck of a lot more paprika than a normal lox bagel does. But yeah! This was a fun lunch and photo to edit! And it was darn good--I love everything bagels, especially with cream cheese, salmon, raw onions, and a tiny squeeze of lemon. Definitely a taste that I acquired during college, though--I did NOT like this when I was at home. Funny how that works.

Today I had a stunning 4 classes--all four of my classes either have a lecture or section today, and so, I was really tired, and I was thinking. Over the summer, I had been painting whilst listening to a podcast (iweigh, with Jameela Jamil) and when I look back at those pieces, I remember the conversation so clearly, and I got a lot more out of those podcasts as a result. Now I know college courses are not podcasts (but they feel like it, currently, which may not be such a good thing). However, my two General Education courses also FEEL like podcasts, in their subject matter and the nature of a massive lecture class. Normally, I would take notes during lecture to both organize my thoughts as well as have material to look back on in advance of exams. But these courses don't have exams (just projects and papers), and the material isn't organized enough to merit even a full page of notes after lecture (in my experience thus far). So I thought, why not give it a shot? And so, I sat in lecture, fully appearing the way I always do while I'm taking notes, but instead of notes, I'm painting goats! Well, actually just one goat, Rayla. She's a sweetie and she lives in the back ;)

I managed to finish Rayla in the two lecture classes I had today--here she is in all her glory!

Tonight I made a soup from this recipe (https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a55557/creamy-parm-tomato-soup-recipe/) which I really should have cut in half, because I have a ton left over... for at least 4 or 5 more meals. I reduced the pasta and broth amounts, thinking that would help, but no, it's definitely too much for me. oh well. Moving forward I'll experiment with how to spice up this soup to make it more exciting and different ;) and maybe I'll make Sophie eat some for lunch on Sunday. Tonight, though, Nancy gave me some wonderful grilled vegetables and swordfish, which I plopped into my bowl of soup and enjoyed the combination of summer grilled zucchini and my Italian tomato and cheese soup. I didn't have cream, so I added extra cheese, and that was a MESS to clean up in the pot and off the spoon.... lesson learned? probably not. I will be adding cheese to more things moving forward.

Day 11: Poaching and Coaching

Today was culinary-wise an excellent day, and otherwise very mundane.  I went to the Bok center for 3 hours, attended the plenary session of my China in Africa class, and crammed for a Chinese Quiz at 10:30 this morning. However, I have done nothing but eat well today--I had 30 minutes between the end of Chinese and the beginning of a meeting at the Bok in which to make lunch, and I set myself the ambitious task of making some noodles with a poached egg. At this point, my noodle dish does not really resemble Xi'an style Biang Biang Mian, but I find it delicious nonetheless. I think I'll call them Spicy and Sour noodles with Whatever You Want. The chile flakes I brought here are so potent that though it looks like I'm hardly using any, a few go a long way in any dish. I also use paprika and cayenne, and I do the traditional method of placing the spices/garlic/onion on the top of the dish and pouring smoking hot oil over them. I could eat this all the time but I'm pretty sure the white flour and oil in the dish make it very... basic, nutrition wise.

But the exciting addition today was an egg that I poached! I didn't want to clean another pan, so I poached the egg after boiling the noodles after Hannah told me she poaches eggs all the time and it's not that hard. I did all the things--added vinegar to the water, created a vortex of boiling water with a spoon, and cracked the egg into the center of the swirl! And then I left it alone for 5 minutes! and it was perfect! I couldn't believe how doable that was? Like yeah I had a few egg wispies that got all weird, but overall, I think I did an excellent job. And it was so soft and pillowy and wonderful and added great savory flavor (and some needed protein) to my noods.

After class, Sophie and I met outside and I gave her another taekwondo lesson--we covered the middle block and punch! We're well on our way to doing all the components of Tae Geuk 1! But I've found that after teaching for 45 minutes or so my voice gets really hoarse. I think a combination of not talking much during the day these past few days, and also the cooler air, and also having to speak louder than I would normally since I'm farther away makes it draining for my voice.

For dinner, I fried up the salmon Nancy got for me--I wasn't really sure what to do, since I'd never cooked fish before, but like most things, pan frying it felt the easiest. You can see in a panic of checking whether it was done or not, I may have cut it up a bit too zealously, but that's fine. I made a quick sauce out of lemon juice, garlic, and butter, which probably negates any health benefits of eating salmon--but it was exceptional.


I can't believe how quickly the time has passed--I feel like I'm so busy during the day between my tasks, school, and generally making sure that I am cooking and cleaning up, that I haven't really noticed how many days it's already been. I look forward to Sunday, my first Day of Freedom, but I just had a moment this afternoon where I let myself sit on my stoop in the sunshine and drink my coffee, and it was nice. I was really content.


Then I went back to being stressed and frustrated, but eh. Everything has its season.


Take care and much love!

Day 10: the daily buzz

hehe. good one. I know.

Today was a really buzzy day full of classwork and meetings--the course I'm in about China and the African continent meets on Wednesdays only, so there's usually a lot of prep work for that class to do today. However, it's shaping up to easily be my favorite class this semester--I genuinely love the readings and I think the class is well structured for the online world (unlike, unfortunately, my other courses)

So, there's not much news today! I had a massive omelette for lunch (another duck egg was the culprit) and I made potatoes for dinner. Tomorrow I'll likely use the rest of my soy sauce and vinegar mixture and have some biang biang noodles again, but I've prepared a lovely overnight oatmeal to enjoy. I'm also slowly making my way through the half of a watermelon I got--emphasis on SLOWLY. this thing is big!

In the sad news department, IBM has apparently taken down their online Chef Watson tool, which paired ingredients and gave you links to recipes using the ingredient combinations it came up with. I am dismayed because I just remembered giving a presentation about Chef Watson to my Eating Culture class freshman year, and now it's been taken down and the old link to the site doesn't work. I get that this may be to encourage more people to buy the cookbook, but really? recipe books feel so unnecessary in the age of the internet--unless I really really care about how a certain chef or baker makes their things, I can't see myself being interested. And the neat thing about Chef Watson really was the online tool. Oh well.

(screenshot here--you can put in some ingredients you have on hand, and it'll suggest good pairings to you, which you can scroll through and evaluate)

IBM Chef Watson - example anise

However, last night, I caught Sophie in the kitchen very much enjoying whatever she was baking ;) hehehehe I'm a creep. sorry about that.


ttfn, ta-ta for now!

Day 8 and 9: Things fall down but we're getting along so here's a long post

Hello! Yesterday was a bad day so I didn't blog--sundays are always my least favorite day, because, much like the last day of the month, I just feel this unrelenting sense of dread on everything that's coming and everything that I haven't achieved. Additionally, I cooked something really lackluster for dinner and it was a disappointing experience to scrape the pan into the trash after nearly an hour of multitasking and cooking.

But, today was better! For one thing, I had three successful meals (overnight oats for breakfast that I made last night because I was so frustrated with myself). Additionally, going to classes that you've sort of prepared for is better than feeling like you'll never be able to prepare enough for them, and feeling like a failure. For lunch, I went for a comfort food: grilled cheese with tomato sauce and spinach, which was really nice. I also piloted a method I had seen on the Bon Apetit youtube channel: low and slow heating of the sandwich (ie, construct the sandwich in a cold pan and heat it as you go, but over low heat and patiently don't turn the pan all the way up), and using mayonaise instead of butter on the outside to encourage more even browning. I gotta say--success!

For dinner, I had two noodles.

Don't worry, though, because this is one noodle (I boil them one at a time).

I also fried a massive egg that might have been a duck egg from the websters' ducks! Not sure (since they're not labelled but you just go by the size difference) and some veggies. I flavored these noodles as traditionally as I could--cayenne, onions (instead of scallions), minced garlic, red pepper flakes, soy sauce & vinegar (instead of black vinegar), paprika (because why not), and some untraditional vegetables (peppers and celery and cucumber). My favorite thing about how these noodles are prepared is that you heat a sip of oil in a pan until it is smoking, and then you quickly pour it over the noodles with all the raw aromatics on the top, where it will bubble, cook the flavorings, and seep into the noodles. Not the healthiest, but it's definitely one of my favorite foods to eat and cook for myself.

Sophie asked how I pull the noodles from their gherkin shape into the proper shape, and it's really simple--you squish the gherkin into a flat rectangle, let it sit about a minute or two, and then pull each end slowly and gently! to encourage the glutens to loosen up even more, you can bang them down on the counter, holding each end and tugging and slapping the center onto the counter-top. I have watched a few videos, plus I watched my host mom do this a few times in China! But this is the first time that this has worked really well for me, because I was extremely generous with the oil coating on the noodles as they are resting, and I made absolutely sure to store them in an airtight container. It's so satisfying that this works, and that I can tear the noodle in half lengthwise and keep slapping, because the gluten has had time to sit, rest, and become stretchy and strong. Water, flour, oil, and time are all that is needed!

In the not-so-appetizing department, though, Sadie spent the day at the vet because she killed and partially ate a groundhog this morning. The groundhog had bitten her so she has facial stitches and is forlornly wobbling around the apartment, still under the influence of the anesthetic they gave her. Not to worry though, she was given shots for rabies and things and tonight I will keep her off the bed (I don't think she can jump up on it anyhow? she's in quite a state). I don't think her digestive system agrees with the groundhog (what a crazy pooch) and she's just leaning around and laying down sporadically... I'll give an update tomorrow!


Take care, much love!