this is an end-of-the-summer tartine


*I'm saying goodbye to California with this beauty of a tartine. This weekend I am leaving sunny California, with its beautiful people, fresh produce, and lovely weather, and am arriving in Boston just in time for Hurricane Irene. Joy.

*Before the hurricane hits, I'll enjoy the last bits of California - storing up the good vibes so I can bring them over to the east coast with me. I'll certainly need them.


Ricotta, Fig, and Arugula Tartine
Serves 1

1 slice sourdough farm bread
2-4 figs, sliced into rounds*
2-3 Tbsp ricotta cheese or spreadable goat cheese**
1 handful fresh baby arugula
1 tsp honey
cracked black pepper

*If desired, bake sliced figs at 350 degrees fahrenheit for 10 minutes to allow the juices to caramelize. The fig centers will turn yellow and the sugars will seep out. I used a combination of baked figs and caramelized figs.
**I used ricotta cheese because that is what I had on hand, but if I were to make this again, I would definitely use a sharper cheese like goat cheese or labneh for more tang. As such I recommend using a sharper cheese to accent the arugula and figs. Then again, if you like the mellow smoothness of ricotta, use that (I realized that I don't!).

Toast bread. Let cool for 1 minute. Generously spread ricotta cheese on toast. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper. Layer arugula on top, then the sliced figs, and finally drizzle with honey. Eat immediately (it's best with some milk tea in the morning or some red wine in the afternoon or champagne if it's brunch-time), put on some Beach Boys, and think about California.



this is how paris began

*It was grey and rainy that weekend, and after seven hours of transit, I took a hot shower under blindingly florescent lights at a hostel in seedy Gare Du Nord and went to bed with my hair soaking wet.

*The next morning I woke up and went downstairs to the hostel's continental breakfast. I drank some Earl Grey tea, had more bites of butter than I had bites of a croissant, sampled two different types of Camembert cheese and then I set off to wander through Paris. My first stop was Maison de Victor Hugo on the edge of Place des Vosges. I had read that Place des Vosges was a vibrant and lovely place for relaxing and sitting and chatting, but at 10 in the morning, it was absolutely desolate. The maison was still closed when I arrived, so I walked over to Pierre Hermes, bought a chocolate-hazelnut macaron, and ate it in two bites. Every girl I know croons and fawns over macarons, and I felt compelled to eat one only because everyone else said so. I hated it. It was cloyingly sweet and I left Pierre Hermes with a horrible stomachache.

*The morning was not terribly eventful. There was a fire drill at Maison de Victor Hugo and an entire elementary school class of kids had to be evacuated. Later I walked around the Marais district looking at pretty things I could not afford, then found this book with my name on it at a gallery bookshop, which was probably the most serendipitous moment of the morning. Even the Louvre proved to be exhausting. In spite of its acclaim or perhaps because of it, it was more a menagerie of tourists than an artistic haven. I walked around half-heartedly, and after running through a couple halls - as a perfunctory measure - I left.


this is ambrosial artistry

*Watermelon & housemade mozzarella salad with cacao nibs, sprouts, and truffle oil at Foreign Cinema in San Francisco. The sweet crunch of the watermelon, the creamy tang of the mozzarella, the smokey bitterness of the cacao nibs, the subtle accent of flavored oil, and the absolute necessity of sea salt and pepper to top it all off. The colors, the flavors, the textures - so quintessentially Californian.


this is peanut butter pie for Mikey

*Over the past weekend, peanut butter pies flooded the blogosphere. They were all for Mikey, the husband of blogger Jennifer Perillo. He passed away suddenly last Sunday evening, and she, with all the strength that could be mustered, asked bloggers to make a creamy peanut butter pie - Mikey's favorite - to honor and remember him. And bloggers did. Hundreds of them made peanut butter pie to in part, mourn a death, but mostly, to celebrate a life and a love.

*A peanut butter pie. It's nothing fancy or over-the-top, but it's not plain either. It's special, it's sweet, and it's comforting. Most of all, it's symbolic, and when objects defy their own physicality or their most basic, literal purpose by taking on something greater - an emotion, a memory, or an association - they become more powerful than ever. In fact, we all possess these objects - the trinkets that we keep because they seem to be the vessels for particular memories; we all possess these songs that are the vestiges of a person come and gone in our lives; we all know how the taste and smell of a certain food brings us back to the highest ecstasy or the lowest misery, a feeling that seems to exist outside of ourselves in a magical synthesis of ingredients. We know that objects and songs and books and clothes and food and sounds can be meaningless to everyone except ourselves, the possessors and builders of memories that stream out of moments and relationships and broken hearts. How can such trivial things shake us so? Because they are not so trivial at all.

*And when people see how a peanut butter pie can so encompassing as to hold both the grief and treasure of a family, they partake in it. Because they know how a little can mean so much. They have their own cookies that bring back a grandma's sweet scent, their own pasta dishes they've shared with loved ones, their own breakfasts that their fathers made every single Sunday morning without fail. Making peanut butter pie is an acknowledgment of all these things; even if they cannot ever fully grasp the interpersonal meaning of Jennie and Mikey's peanut butter pie, the recognition of peanut butter pie as so significant and loving and hurting is enough that they would make it, eat it, and share a slice of the same love and pain.

Peanut Butter Pie for Mikey from Evolution Multimedia on Vimeo.

*That empathy, love, support, and community can exist virtually is beautiful and surprising. It makes me optimistic. It fights back against the tragedies of an increasingly technological and wired world - the exploitation, the disconnection, the impersonal nature of a machine and device-based network. Hundreds of people making peanut butter pie in remembrance of a man whom they had never met means that people care, that people are good, that perhaps, in the wake of globalization and this ubiquitous connectedness, that there will be more opportunities to care and more people to care about. Maybe so many virtual encounters means that we will open up ourselves to more love and more relationships. Maybe.

*I guess it makes sense though, that if part of our lives exist online, we would want that part of our life to be full of the same things that make our non-virtual lives fulfilling - the things that are essential to our happiness: relationships, conversations, and love. Those are the things that stick with us through the thick and the thin, through progress and the changing of civilization. I'm glad so many people this weekend made and ate peanut butter pie because they knew that these things matter - people matter.


this is orange marmalade

*Today I was sick and just not feeling so hot - so toast sounded like a good option. Sometimes I forget about toast because it is so simple but when I'm sick and just want some comfort, it's what I crave - which goes to show how truly essential toast is. My daily toast.

*Spread with a newly-opened jar of Blue Chair Orange-Cardamom marmalade. Did you know that for the first 18 years of my life, I would not eat ANY fruit spreads except for orange marmalade? Actually, when I was really young, I refused to eat ALL fruit spreads, but then when I was 12 or 13 or 14 or so, at a hole-in-the-wall breakfast place in Hong Kong where the walls were concrete and the plates were plastic, I had a bite of thick, fluffy white toast with a 1-inch-thick slab of butter, smothered in orange marmalade and served up hot, and I decided then that orange marmalade was delicious.

*During my second summer in Northern Ireland, I stayed at the house of a cheery old woman named Lorraine who kept frozen yorkshire puddings, a large jar of orange marmalade, and a large jar of lemon marmalade in her fridge. In the mornings, when there was no one in the house except for Lorraine's cats and me, I would heat up a yorkshire pudding and eat it with orange marmalade or should I say - eat orange marmalade with a yorkshire pudding?

*Anyhow, this orange-cardamom marmalade is especially tasty because of the added spice and the fact that there are LARGE pieces of rind in it. Also, Blue Chair Jam is local and Rachel Saunders, the founder of Blue Chair, is just a pretty cool woman.


this is la bella lingua

* A couple weekends ago, I was waiting in line for the bathroom in the Ferry Market Building in San Francisco. It was Saturday morning - the busiest day of the week because of the huge farmers' market taking place, and the place was swarming with people - tourists and locals and peripheral-suburb locals like me. As such, the bathroom line was nearly a twenty minute wait.

*I stood there as most people do in bathroom lines - one hand crossed over my chest, the other hand holding my cellphone, weight shifted slightly onto one leg, the other hip stuck out little. I alternated between spacing out and mindlessly checking Twitter feeds on my phone. I wasn't really paying attention to the people around me, but I unconsciously eavesdrop (you can chalk it up to my good hearing or my nosiness), and I suddenly heard a sound that I hadn't heard for more than half a year - a mellifluous sound that rolls up and down like waves, a sound that makes me nostalgic and wistful and bitter at the same time - that sound is the Italian language.

*When I arrived in Florence in September of last year, I had no knowledge of the Italian language, save the words that everyone knows - the ones that have migrated into the English language (and consequently been butchered. Case in point: last week in San Diego I heard a man say "moo-zuh-rella." It was so absurd I could only laugh). If you think about it, there's a lot of words that Americans have usurped: opera, spaghetti, pizza, villa, espresso (let's not even get started on coffee), gusto, marinara, stanza, diva, piano, soda, tutti-frutti (it means 'all fruits'), etc. Obviously, that minor, fragmented introduction into the Italian language is reflective of the absorptive nature of the American culture and the beauty of romance languages - not of any true knowledge or linguistic ability. So here I was in Florence, fluent in English, Spanish, and Mandarin but not a drop of Italian, and I was expected to navigate the city alone as well as live with an Italian host family? In hindsight, I realize I must have been foolish or blind not to have been daunted at all by such a task. I dove right in.

*I picked up Italian fairly quickly. I guess that's what happens when learning a language is a matter of survival rather than whim. My host mother and sister did not speak any English, and the first few weeks were filled with many blank stares and helpless silences. Federica, my little host sister, grabbed my wrist to tell me where she wanted me to go, and she pointed out the things she wanted me to take note of. Italian class was also the one class in my academic program that I actually found useful. Spanish gave me a light foundation for the sound and structure of the language, and as a result, by October, I could carry on a decently fluid conversation in Italian. My host family was surprised and told me they had never seen anyone pick up the language so quickly. My accent was impeccable, they said. Had it not been for my skin and hair color, I might have felt a little less like a foreigner.

*Italian is an emotional language whose intonations are mountain peaks and valley bottoms. It is a language that cannot be mumbled, that must be spoken confidently and is most beautiful when articulated brashly. It is as much a loving language as it is a fighting language, and I took as much pleasure in speaking it as I took resentment in hearing it hurled in screams every morning at 7 am. I felt comfortable in its rhythm and flow, but as time went by, I began feeling barraged in part by its assertiveness, but mostly by its strangeness which grew in direct proportion to my homesickness. I have good and bad memories of the Italian language, but luckily, the good memories are the ones I hold onto.


*That day in the Ferry Market Building, I instantly perked up when I heard the old couple behind me speaking Italian. I wanted so badly to turn around and tell them, "I speak some Italian too! Parla italiano troppo! I can be a little bit of your home away from home!" A nervous ball of excitement welled up in my belly as I flip-flopped back and forth between bursting out with a discombobulated mess of Italian words and keeping respectfully silent. The latter wasn't much of an option actually - it was only a matter of how long it would take for me to push myself over the edge. After a few minutes passed by and the old man had walked away, leaving his wife to stand in the bathroom line alone, I turned around slowly, praying that I would not embarrass myself or worse, scare this woman away from America, I asked, "Sei d'Italia? Parlo un po' d'italiano perche ho passato un semestre a Firenze. Are you Italian? I speak a little Italian because I spent a semester in Florence." To my relief and delight, she smiled warmly and instantly began spewing out Italian. "Si! Sono di Firenze! Yes, I am from Florence!" She spoke quickly and like most Italians, was generous and unreserved with her words. From there on out, we spoke only in Italian, and for a moment I felt like I was back in Italy again, thousands of miles away from California. I'm not sure what the people around us made of the whole situation, an Asian girl and an older woman speaking Italian in the middle of a farmers' market in San Francisco, but in the moment, that thought did not even cross my mind. We talked about her vacation plans in the States and where she lived in Florence where I lived in Florence and what I studied while I was there. After 7 months of not speaking a word of Italian, I struggled to recall words and tenses and verbs and could not even remember the street I lived on in Florence. Perhaps I had banished many of those memories from my mind, I don't know.

*By the time we reached the front of the bathroom line, we had been talking for twenty minutes, and as I headed into the next open stall, I turned around, smiled, and said "Ciao." I wanted to say something fancier and more eloquent like "Have a good time in San Francisco!" or "It was nice meeting you!" but the only word I could find in my mouth was "Ciao." I'd like to speak Italian again, but I am not sure when I will have the chance. Despite the baggage of memories that Italian carries for me, I learned to hear and speak it like a whirlwind romance, and that romance is certainly bittersweet and unforgettable. For now, the language lives inside me, in memories, in dreams and in nightmares, in a little pocket of my soul that I will never throw away.