I drew two days in a row, which was a common occurrence in my youth, but has been rare in the past decade. I’m enamored with the black watercolor pencil. It looks unsuspectingly dull when you scribble with it on paper, but becomes so intense once you drag a damp brush across it.
A couple of months ago, I had the sudden urge to sit in front of a mirror and draw my face.* It was a daunting idea, since I hadn’t drawn anything in several years, and my drawing style had never been realistic, but it turned out to be easier than I thought. Those who know me in person reacted with recognition once I presented to them a mirror image of it. But below is how I see myself:
The last time I had this urge was when I was about 4 years old. From my hazy repository of childhood memories, I remember a scene of myself staring carefully at a mirror, and trying to capture the details EXACTLY as I saw them. Of course, I was disappointed with the results, but it was the best I could do at the time. The wonders of the developing brain…
I have a confession: I almost took down the Drawings section of my website this year. Many of them are from middle school and high school and are quite embarrassing. However, looking back on a few of them, I saw ones that I liked and posted a few on Instagram. Upon seeing them, a friend from high school reminded me of one of my paintings that affected her from around that time, and was able to describe it to me perfectly. It was actually one of the pieces I’ve always detested, and had contemplated removing from the archives for many years. I was amazed that something so trivial to me made a deep impression on someone for over 15 years.
So, the drawings are here to stay, no matter how bad, because you never know when they’ll touch someone.
* It was actually not so sudden. I was inspired by my talented friend Staci Goddard, who was posting her own self-portraits around that time.
Over the years I’ve often complained about how long it takes me to write a single piece of music. Last year, I came up with a fun activity to combat this apparent block. I started composing tiny micro-pieces on the piano and recording them in one sitting. There was only one rule: I was to record a complete take at the end of the session, post it online, and move on with my life. Tonight I made the tenth of these little “impromptus,” adding up to about 12 minutes of music, so I thought I’d finally announce it on here, though I’m nowhere near finished. I plan to continue adding to this project whenever I get the chance.
Each session (to conceive, to finalize, and to record) has taken about 2-3 hours, so the challenge has been to create long stretches of uninterrupted free time in my schedule. Usually I sit at the piano with no idea of what to do and pound some notes. Eventually, an idea begins to take shape. Some days it’s harder than others, but if I keep at it, I tend to come up with something I like. While each piece is a tiny microcosm on its own, with no relation to those around it, I like hearing how they go together as a set, too. I’m in the process of writing them down so that I can share the score with others someday (and remember what I did!).
Lentil soup’s always been my favorite comfort food growing up. It’s thick, hearty, delicious, vegan, and easily modified with whatever ingredients I have on hand.
When a friend asked for favorite vegetarian recipes, I looked up lentil soup recipes online (it’s the most standard soup in Turkey), but wasn’t satisfied with any of them. So here’s how I make it with all fresh ingredients.
– 1 cup red lentils (washed and drained). There are different kinds out there; I prefer the roundish, bright, smooth orange ones. Some are more yellowish, flat, and matte in appearance; don’t get those.
– 8 cups water
– 1 tablespoon rice
– 1 medium onion (whole)
– 1 carrot (diced)
– 1 potato (diced)
– 1 tomato (diced)
– 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
– salt to taste
– fresh chopped parsley (see ‘modifications’ below)
– Put all ingredients except the oil and parsley into a pot and bring to a boil with the lid fully or partly open. (Yes, leave the onion whole! It just bobs around.) Pay special attention; mixture tends to bubble up and boil over easily during this step.
– Once it’s boiling pretty vigorously, bring heat down to medium. Leave the lid partly open. Stir 1-2 times once every 10 minutes for about 30 minutes. If not stirred enough, the lentil tends to stick to the bottom of the pot and get burnt during this step.
– Add the oil about half hour after the boiling has started. Continue cooking and stir occasionally.
– Add the fresh parsley until the soup is nearly “done.” This is hard to describe in writing, but you’ll know it’s done when the lentils have nearly entirely dissolved into solution, smell cooked, and the soup has thickened. I’d say this take about 45 minutes after it’s come to a boil. As my mom says, “You’ll know.”
– Most people take an immersion blender to it at this point. I prefer mine left as is: chunky. You can blend the onion into the soup, or if you’re not blending it, just throw the onion out.
Modifications: (the fun part)
– I often add dried thyme and black pepper. Could also do rosemary, turmeric, cumin, bay leaves, etc. When adding dried herbs, add them early on.
– Sometimes I substitute chopped kale or collard greens, etc. instead of parsley. Go ahead and put in a large amount; it shrinks down considerably. Add it a little earlier than you would the parsley.
– You can throw in any other vegetable you think would go. In the past I’ve added bell peppers, mushrooms, celery, shaved brussels sprouts, etc. The possibilities are endless. Bell pepper, especially, really heightens the flavor.
– Sometimes I add chopped jalapeño (to everything).
– Some people use chicken stock or bouillons to add flavor. I think that’s cheating.
I traveled to Azerbaijan recently with my family. While we saw many parts of the country and took numerous pictures, what stuck with me the most was the subtle differences in the flavors and ingredients in the food. I ate more tarragon than I ever had in my life up to that point – it is not an herb that’s been in my family’s culinary repertoire. I loved the pickled sour cherries, especially when they were cooked into rice and soups. And, I noted that the flavors tended to lean towards more sour than spicy. I put these elements together in my mind with whatever I had in the pantry when I got home (except I had to go out and buy the tarragon). What came out has nothing to do with anything I ate there, but it turned out more delicious than I’d imagined it could be, and made me fondly reminisce about Azerbaijan.
I don’t want to put precise measurements here, because I made a small batch and “winged it” with the proportions for what felt right. You should do the same. I’ll just tell you how I made it.
– olive oil
– fresh tarragon
1. Sauté some craisins in olive oil, salt, and some lemon juice for a bit. Zest the lemon peel and add some of it in there, too.
2. Bring water (proportional to quinoa package instructions) to a boil and add it to the craisins.
3. Chop up plenty of tarragon and stir it in with the water.
4. Add quinoa and cook it.
5. I threw some fresh tarragon on top as a garnish, just to be a poser. You don’t have to do that. In fact, you don’t have to follow any of these instructions.
This piece isn’t new. I completed in 2009, but the recording I made at the time was poor. I’ve been meaning to re-record it for years now, and I finally did it!
This time, I added an extra challenge of recording it on video simultaneously. This meant that I had to play it perfectly in one take. I had my doubts at times (I mess up a lot), but I knew it would happen sooner or later if I kept doing it over and over again.
It reminded me of my piano lessons as a child, when my piano teacher would make me stop and go back to the beginning every time I played a wrong note.
It’s not perfect, but all the notes are right. And, overall, I am happy with the phrasing and dynamics in that take. It will never be perfect, but this is the closest. It was take number 78.
Ever since I moved out of my parents’ house a year ago, I’ve been more conscious of the waste that I generate. Much of this self-reflection was inspired from the book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, which was recommended to me by a coworker. The book is a fairly unbiased survey of the origins of plastic, how it completely changed humanity in the past century (in both good and bad ways), how its disposal is managed, what it means to be “green,” and what lies ahead. I found it fascinating and would recommend it to anyone.
Two of the biggest takeaways I got from the book were that most plastic can’t be recycled, and paper bags actually have a greater cradle-to-grave environmental impact than plastic bags. Therefore, minimizing the amount of trash generated is the best route to go. When I examined my life, I found simple solutions for reducing the overall amount of waste I generate, plastic or otherwise, by making only small changes to my lifestyle.
Here are some little habits I changed in the past year:
– I unsubscribed from almost all magazines and brochures I kept getting in the mail – since most of these are unsolicited, it’s a continuous process. For some, the only way is to send a letter to their headquarters with the customer ID number written on the back of the catalogue, but it’s well worth the effort
– I bring my own travel mug to coffee shops whenever I can. I used to do this before, too, but I plan ahead more aggressively now
– I avoid bottled water unless absolutely necessary
– I eliminated almost all ziploc bag use by packing snacks and sandwiches in tupperware instead
– I always use my own mugs at work for water, tea, coffee, etc. and I use real silverware whenever possible
– I always bring reusable bags when I go grocery shopping
– I tell shopkeepers to skip the bag if the object is small enough to fit in my purse
– I reuse shopping bags as bathroom trash can liners, or for compartmentalizing shoes and underwear in my suitcases
– I save gift bags and re-gift them
– I buy items in bulk as often as possible, especially non-perishables. This also means foregoing items of convenience such as pre-sliced fruit or individually packaged single-servings of yogurt, etc.
– I fully consume pretty much all food I buy and try to generate minimal food waste. You can tell from my waistline…. haha, just kidding.
– I print double-sided, and go as paperless as I can. For example, if I need to reference a map or document where I won’t have phone reception, I save a screenshot or pdf of it on my phone to refer to later
– I almost forgot: KEURIGS are so wasteful, and their pods can’t be recycled. I make my own coffee at work now, but if I ever have to resort to those things, I use the reusable pods, which is graciously supplied by our admin at work
The journey isn’t over yet, of course. Below are future steps that I haven’t gotten around to yet:
– Figuring out a way to unsubscribe from credit card offers from other banks – they give you a number to call to stop receiving the mailings, but the automatic answering machine asks for your social security number to remove you. That’s too sketchy for me, so I’ll have to investigate if there’s a better way to do it. You may think I’m crazy for obsessing over this, but I get SO many of these junk mailings.
– Eliminating/minimizing those thin plastic bags when I buy produce. The cashiers don’t like it when you put the items on the conveyor belt rolling all around freely, and I buy so many fruits and vegetables that the number of bags I use irritates me. What do you do?
– Composting. Everybody does it in San Francisco. It’s not as widespread in LA, it kind of grosses me out, and I wouldn’t even know what to do with it afterwards. I live in an apartment and have no garden that I could put it in. Oh well, whatever. Maybe I’ll worry about this later… much later.
I admit that I am not as big of a treehugger as some people; there are some comforts I’m not willing to give up just yet, like q-tips and other sanitary products. But I’m sure there are other potentially simple changes that I’m overlooking. I’m curious to hear if any of you have any “quick wins” you’ve applied in your own lifestyle lately to reduce trash.
Note: The photo above is mine from sometime last year. I was fascinated by how tightly this cup was sealed!
Imagine that it 5am and you’re in a bed somewhere thousands of miles away, wide awake in a pitch black room. Or, don’t imagine that. But at least take these 10 minutes to do nothing but listen.
I hadn’t made an electronic piece (or any music, for that matter) in a while. This one is a little softer, a little more delicate than the others. Headphones recommended.
I thought of this experiment to get rid of the rest of the kumquats before going on vacation. The results were so fantastic that I had to share.
Ingredients (for 1 serving – scale as needed):
– A handful of kumquats (about 6-8)
– 1/2 onion
– ~2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
– Olive oil (I think I used 1-2 tbsp)
– Oatmeal and water, amounts following package directions
– Salt, as needed (I think I used 1/2 tbsp)
– (egg, avocado)
1. Dice the kumquats and onions and sauté them a little in a saucepan with olive oil and salt.
2. Once the mixture is mushy and juicy, add the mint. Continue cooking until the onions caramelize a bit.
3. Add the water to the mixture and bring to a boil.
4. Once the water begins to boil, stir in the oatmeal and simmer as long as needed, following package directions.
5. Once all the water is absorbed and the oatmeal is perfectly mushy, transfer onto a bowl and top with a poached egg and avocado. Garnish with fresh mint.
Savory, tangy, and delicious… I don’t know if I can top this one.
Note: Kumquats are rare, so I’m wondering if I could substitute a 1/2 lemon in their place next time… peel and all. It’s worth a try!