Final post of June: What I learned


I went back to this blog to write deliberately – by which I mean, to write at all. Part of me was curious: could I do it? Part of me liked the challenge, and that I did. Most of all, I wanted to connect to a different mode of writing I’d been letting lie for a very long time, to brush off old orientations to words not in spite of my academic work, nor in mutual relation to, but simply alongside.

For this last post of my month-long challenge, I knew I wanted to reflect on what it all meant, but in the days leading up to it, I kept feeling empty-handed. There was no one lesson learned; no singular diamond in the rough that I could emerge with, triumphantly, clutched in my hand. Was I a better writer because of this experiment? Yes and no: I re-learned what a manageable blog post feels like, and developed instincts as to what size and shape narrative arcs worked and didn’t work. But I didn’t necessarily grow in any linear way. Did I become a better cook? Again, yes and no. I tried my hand at new things (almond milk, chia seeds, restaurant reviews) but also felt I had less time to develop and dig into my cooking, always having to turn around and package it for immediate consumption. Even my appetite and zest for all things culinary waxed and waned: sometimes I was incredibly hungry, sometimes I totally lost it. All of this, I suppose, is not out of the ordinary – but I still can’t shake the feeling that it is not quite desirable, either.

Which brings me to the bigger question: what does one ever learn from writing, anyway? So many people I know seek ourselves in this craft, if only to capture a stillness in the forgettable hustle of everyday life. I had these moments of being, and I’m grateful for them. But I think what I gained, ultimately, was a new reinforcement of being in the world, or being-in-relation to others.

I learned that “social media” is a slippery slope, but to my great glad surprise, not always for the worst: taking up the blogging challenge was part of a wider embrace of (and registration on) Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and increased activity on Facebook. I got to know their cultures, habits, taboos: some burned out like fireworks, while some have become almost habitual. While I have really mixed feelings about these sites, what I will say is that a new aperture on life opened up because of them – and I like it.

I also learned that you read this blog, which has been tremendously exciting. For many of my posts, I received comments in person, on Facebook, and on the blog. Thank you so much for being part of this experiment in returning! It’s worth the world to know you have folks to return to.

So what happens next? I’m going to be generous to myself and say, honestly, I don’t know. I probably won’t do a month-long project again, at least for a long time. And yet I’ll also be generous to you, and say with great sincerity that I will certainly continue to write, at least from time to time. Until then, keep well.


On synesthesia; or, Green smoothie with orange, banana, and strawberry

A floral find, on the walk to the Tate Britain.

A floral find, on the walk to the Tate Britain.

I was walking down the street just now, when the most incredible scent captured and transported me. It came from a flower shop on 18th street, whose cool depths wafted out the most delicate, green, clear and cool vapors I’d come across in a long time. You know that characteristic smell, right? Of cut flowers and live, greenly things growing, with an undertone of damp and soil? Its freshness is akin to, strangely enough, that smell you get from a good ice cream shop, that combination of scents that somehow mesh harmoniously into a scent so palpable and delectable, you want to either sink into or swim in it. No wonder the flower shop stopped me in my tracks today, especially on a long stretch of sidewalk pavement where you least expect it.

Lilacs in London.

Lilacs in London.


It reminded me of one of my favorite passages from Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway when Clarissa swings into a florist, interrupting her internal monologue which had just reached a fevered pitch. The effect is abrupt and immediate: a cooling effect as she takes it all in:

There were flowers: delphiniums, sweet peas, bunches of lilac; and carnations, masses of carnations. There were roses; there were irises. Ah yes — so she breathed in the earthy garden sweet smell as she stood talking to Miss Pym who owed her help, and thought her kind, for kind she had been years ago; very kind, but she looked older, this year, turning her head from side to side among the irises and roses and nodding tufts of lilac with her eyes half closed, snuffing in, after the street uproar, the delicious scent, the exquisite coolness. And then, opening her eyes, how fresh like frilled linen clean from a laundry laid in wicker trays the roses looked; and dark and prim the red carnations, holding their heads up; and all the sweet peas spreading in their bowls, tinged violet, snow white, pale — as if it were the evening and girls in muslin frocks came out to pick sweet peas and roses after the superb summer’s day, with its almost blue-black sky, its delphiniums, its carnations, its arum lilies was over; and it was the moment between six and seven when every flower — roses, carnations, irises, lilac — glows; white, violet, red, deep orange; every flower seems to burn by itself, softly, purely in the misty beds; and how she loved the grey-white moths spinning in and out, over the cherry pie, over the evening primroses!

A flower growing on the greenhouse doorframe at Monk's House, home to Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

A flower growing on the greenhouse doorframe at Monk’s House, home to Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

Delicious scent. Writing about taste can be difficult sometimes, and scent, well, even more so. It’s funny, that, as the two are so intimately connected, our taste buds going grayscale whenever we have a cold or stuffed-up nose. Walking past that remarkable flower shop, I felt the strongest urge to translate the floral aroma into a form of taste, to find its edible corollary. After all, how often we forget that fruit was once a flower! A few things came to mind, such as iced hibiscus tea, a fruit tart, or an amazing fruit tea I had at a teahouse in Korea. All good candidates; all not quite right.

And then I thought of the smoothie I made for breakfast.

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Because Fútbol; or, World Cup party food

If you’ve been watching the World Cup, you’ve probably seen the Hyundai ads that end with the punchline “Because Fútbol.” Why is this guy avoiding all contact with the outside world? Because Fútbol. Just what, asks a nurse in an overflowing maternity ward, happened nine months ago? Because Fútbol. They’re cute, the tagline’s catchy, and the whole campaign gets at the growing sense of excitement and investment in the World Cup in the United States.

Like many of you, I’ve been following the drama (such dives!), scandals (Suárez?!), and the general game play, encouraged in large part by all those endearing Google animations that pop up whenever I use the search engine. Soccer’s in the air, and so I’ve found myself returning to the ad and applying it to completely random things, such as:

Why is this song stuck in my head? Because Fútbol!

Why can’t I focus on my work right now? Because Fútbol! (This is probably true.)

Why did I get prematurely excused from Jury Duty? Because Fútbol! (Honestly, who knows? Might as well be Because Fútbol!!)

But most importantly: Why should you make these sweet & spicy nuts, or this pan-fried dip? BECAUSE FUTBOL! And because having good snacks while watching the World Cup is really, really important.

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Almond-Macademia Milk Latte & Philadelphia Coffee

It was fun to go through past photos and see how many of them were of coffee.

Coffee at Honey's Sit and Eat, part of their $5 Bargain Breakfast

Coffee at Honey’s Sit and Eat, part of their $5 Bargain Breakfast

Joe iced coffee.

Joe iced coffee.

Elixr latte.

Elixr latte.


La colombe (tea) — had to post, especially as they now have hemp milk. It’s the only non-dairy option, which is a pretty funny choice, but still, hooray for tolerating lactose intolerants!

I never really got coffee shops before living in Western Massachusetts, and all the fantastic places around the Five College Area. (I’m looking at you, Esselon Cafe, and the Book Mill, and Amherst Coffee, and Rao’s, oh, and Woodstar, and Haymarket, and…well, I’ll stop now. I’m getting nostalgic.) Good thing Philadelphia has a pretty awesome coffee scene. And I do mean scene, as in the particular places:

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Disorientation, re-orientation; or, Welcome back Asian chicken salad (& Mary Gauthier)

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This is where I was.


Travelling poses some of the brightest pleasures and keenest difficulties there is in this life. Whether it’s a short trip, longer vacation, or complete uprooting, the act of moving often brings us to moments of insight about the nature of our present selves, and what habits, routines, foods, comforts, and stillnesses we love, rely on, or dread. Where it can be felt the most, perhaps unsurprisingly, is upon returning home: the reinhabitation of city streets; opening the door and smelling one’s place anew; the relief of dropping bags and yet slow creep of tension as one faces the prospect of resuming work the next day. It’s looking in the fridge and noting you still have eggs (good) and a few wilted scallions (okay) but not much else worth noting. It’s sitting down at your kitchen table, feeling a bit lost as to how exactly you’re going to feed yourself for the next week.

Then it picks up. Your stomach starts to settle on what it wants to eat: something crunchy and bright, but also savory and full of flavor. It hasn’t come into shape quite yet. The eggs are still good; perhaps a sweet potato bacon hash in the morning will vault me back into the thick of things. As for tonight, I want to make something with my hands but not invest too much. Something mindless and welcoming, something that will keep for a few days. Oh, remember that Asian (insert groan here) chicken salad with the cabbage, peanuts, and cilantro from Dinner: A Love Story? That was really good. Plus rotisserie chicken sounds dreamy. This is exactly what I want.

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Shake it up baby; or, Avocado mash with mustard seeds


For the longest time, there was a huge paper-mache avocado in the English Dept mailroom. Why? The world may never know.

For the longest time, there was a huge paper-mache avocado in the English Dept mailroom. Why? The world may never know.

Well I can mash avocado (mash avocado!)

Well and it’s with a twist (do it with a twist)

Woh tell me baby (tell me baby)

Do you like it like this (bet you’ll like it like this!)

Here’s a variation on classic guacamole from Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, in her fantastic, solid cookbook Super Natural Every Day. It’s FANTASTIC, people: deeply flavored and savory in a way that regular guacamole isn’t. Classic guac is bright, cheerful, and cool; this one is smoky, warm, and complex. Done up with coconut oil (or ghee), toasted mustard seeds and onion, garlic, and curry, it’s offers a completely different side on avocado mash. As with all guacamole, the key is not to over mix: I love a substantial, whole-foods dip, and seeing that delectable avocado ombre rather than the typical uniform gray-green.

Bring this to your next party; make friends. Or make it just for you; treat yourself. Happy weekend, everyone. (And happy birthday to my sister Ali!)

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Salad, plain and small


Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing, cuccu! 

Tomorrow is the summer solstice. I don’t know about you, but I always think of Sarah, Plain and Tall when this time rolls around, as a literary reference for “Sumer Is Icumin In”: like Maria in Sound of Music, Sarah seals the love of her new family through teaching them this song.

Summer is a-comin’ in, Loudly sing, cuckoo!

We read the book in elementary school and I’ll always remember it as quietly unsettling compared to other children’s literature. It was something about the style, which was simple yet lyrical; or its setting out West and the routines of farm life; or the character Sarah who, as the title promised, was notably plai  and tall and warm. Running through the book was a small yet live current of tension as the family adjusted to their replacement mother, their second wife: making daily, significance-laden adjustments that were at once unthinkable and yet instinctive for a young reader. It was a book that asked you to notice loneliness, grief, and love in things like missing the sea, smiling at sheep, transplanting one’s losses with echoes and translations. It puzzled me. I liked it.

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Guest post: On strawberry rhubarb pie!

Blogging for KoOO today is my singular (and rather talented!) sister, Ali Rich. Here’s a story of a remarkable pie, from fruit to oven. Thanks, Ali, for a great and colorful read!

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It’s a perfect June day–warm, almost hot, the sky a vibrant blue studded here and there with feathery clouds–and I am sweating in the car.

My sticky state, fortunately, is not to last long, as the boyfriend and I quickly arrive at our destination–Linvilla Orchards. Today is their annual strawberry festival, and while meeting the costumed characters “Backpack Girl” and “Bouncing Tiger” holds relatively little appeal, there is something thrilling about wandering the grounds on an official festival day. We’ve missed “Strawberry Jammin’ with Judi” and the presentation of the Delaware Valley’s largest Strawberry Shortcake, but it’s okay. As one leading an urban/suburban life, even being able to say I’ve attended the strawberry festival is like a prize in its own right, a badge of connectedness to the rural. And, really, I’m fine about not jammin’ with Judy.

Nay, what holds the greatest glory and idyllic appeal is the farm’s main activity–picking your own fruit. I’d been here once before to pick peaches, a pleasant experience that ended in tasty, skillet-baked cobbler. So much of our food buying and consuming nowadays is sterilized and packaged–both in the physical presentation of product, and in the experience of shopping in neatly laid-out megastores, everything conveniently barcoded for quick processing through the check-out line. The prospect of picking one’s own produce offers a return to our roots, consumption without the middleman, an earthiness of being you just can’t find under fluorescent supermarket lights. Or, that’s how it should be, anyway.

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Guest post: On Momofuku bo ssam!

Tonight’s post brought to you by the lovely Ana Schwartz, a good friend, colleague, and fellow blogger. You can find her at, where she muses about going paleo (for 30 days), being a writer, and the relationship between food and text. Thanks for such a thoughtful, delicious, caring post, Ana!

There will be no photos of her magnificent bo ssam from last month. Camera phone? In the purse. Yeah, on the sofa. In the corner, where it remained all night. And good riddance. Neither will you find here a verbal recreation of the sights and smells and tastes, even the sounds of the feast. Obviously words fail, but that’s not the reason to avoid them.

Truly, there does exist meaning in the wish to want to memorialize that evening at the end of May, when Kelly cooked for her friends some pork shoulder, following David Chang’s recipe in the Momofuku cookbook. Her loving labor, first of all, let’s not overlook. It took Kelly an entire day—an entire day—to cook the damn thing. She’d been wanting to cook it for months, if not years. Moreover, there was much to celebrate at the dinner. Not the smallest reason to congregate was to say goodbye, together, to a long year and to exorcise its memories before they become ghosts. You know it: a good meal can do that. There were some new guests, some rare guests. And it was also springtime. Oh, the evening was bright, late, and warm. See, even in explaining reasons to celebrate, description and memorialization sneaks in.

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Artichokes Cellini; or, At home

At home for the week, so blogging will feel a bit different — including two guest posts! Details to come.

Until then, here’s a savory, piping-hot artichoke dip that’s a longtime family favorite. Luscious artichokes are topped with an umami-packed layer of cream cheese, chives, and parmesan; baked in the oven, all the elements melt together and the top turns golden-crisp. Though it’s good with any number of accompaniments, from carrots and celery to toast and crackers, I should add that it’s incredible on top of Triscuits. A real crowd-pleaser.

No pictures, alas; they disappear too quickly to catch on camera! (By which I mean, my hands are usually full!)

Artichokes Cellini

  • 12-16 small Artichokes, (canned is okay–2-3 cans should do)
  • 1 small package Cream Cheese, (3 oz)
  • ¼ cup Chopped Chives
  • ¼ cup Butter Or Margarine, softened
  • Salt And Pepper To Taste
  • ½ cup Parmesan Cheese

Arrange artichokes in a buttered shallow baking dish close together in a single layer.

Blend cream cheese and chives and butter. Sprinkle artichokes with salt and pepper, dot evenly with cheese mixture, then sprinkle evenly with parm cheese.

Bake uncovered at 375℉ for 20-25 minutes or until golden.