Stuffed Grape Leaves

I’ve managed to befriend a darling pair, the Sabbaughs, who I met at my local gym where I do workouts a few nights per week. Not only do they make the workouts more bearable/enjoyable, but I also know the Sabbaughs through mutual friends.

I’d been pestering Sandy to teach me how to make some of her delicious traditional Middle Eastern foods (in particular, baklava; I can never get the phyllo dough to cooperate!) after I got a taste of her wonderful cooking at the holiday party last year. I’ll have to wait until the fall/winter in order to learn how to make baklava since it is mostly consumed during the holiday season, but I was fortunate to learn how to make stuffed grape leaves. There is a very particular way one must go about wrapping the leaves, and depending on the leaf size and the way the leaf was obtained and preserved, the whole process can be rather tedious and time consuming. Nevertheless, the result is totally worth the time and effort!

Here is the recipe (that she slightly modified), from Sandy’s recipe book:

We followed the recipe with some slight modifications. We did not blanch the grape leaves. We also tried a grape leaves obtained from a variety of sources; naturally picked and frozen, from a jar, and vacuum packed. By far, the leaves I enjoyed working with the most were the ones that had been naturally obtained and frozen.

Once the stems of the leaves were picked off, and the stuffing was made, we got started on rolling the leaves.

All in all, Sandy and I spent about 1.5 hours wrapping the leaves; this isn’t a trivial time commitment. After we were finished packing the leaves, we tightly arranged the stuffed leaves into a pan and placed a plate on top so that the leaves would not rise and float around.

We let the leaves sit in boiling water for about 45 minutes. When they were done, we could barely wait for them to cool before having a taste; I may have burned the roof of my mouth in the process 😉

It was a neat technique to pick up, hopefully I can learn how to handle pesky phyllo dough next.

I’m currently at the airport and now off to board my flight to Minneapolis. Wish me luck!

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No man is an island

I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s book No Man is an Island. Everything in this book resonates with my soul. I love the following quote from the book,

“It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we so this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no expects us to be “as gods”. We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.”

Ironically, it has been a little over 4  years (around the time I decided on a grad-school) since I wrote this post entitled I’m like an island. It is strange indeed to see how much and yet how little has changed. I’ve never wanted a transient self-sustaining life, I’ve merely developed this lifestyle as a mere result of societal norms. Now I am finding myself back at square one, with the exact same thoughts plaguing me now as they did then. Something must change.

and so, as Merton adequately expresses in his book,

“Everything in modern city life is calculated to keep man from entering into himself and thinking about spiritual things. Even with the best of intentions a spiritual man finds himself exhausted and deadened and debased by the constant noise of machines and loudspeakers, the dead air and the glaring lights of offices and shops, the everlasting suggestion of advertising and propaganda.
The whole mechanism of modern life is geared for a flight from God and from the spirit into the wilderness of neurosis.”

I have decided it is time for me to take a break. A break from the rumble of vacuum pumps, the pollution of fluorescent lights, the egotism of academia, and the cries of debauchery.

Therefore, in a little less than a couple of weeks, I’m going to spend the summer living in nature, on a farm in Kentucky, River Cottage Farm to be exact. I hope to spend the summer having a bit of a sabbatical; I’ve finally recognized that I am burned out on science and that I deserve a much needed break. I hope to spend the summer doing a bit of soul searching, listening to the voice inside of my head, necessarily applying for jobs (but being pickier than I have been about it), and aim to develop a sense of community. I no longer seek the island life.

I know, it seems like a total aberration for me, a complete 180. I figure it will take a few months to up to a year for me to find a fulfilling job, and keeping my mind, heart, and soul occupied in nature and serving others will uplift my spirit during this time of uncertainty. Also, hanging out with cows, sheep, goats, and the like ought to provide me with a myriad of interesting stories to tell later on in life. I’m really excited about this new direction!

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Memorial day 2013

Today is a federal holiday, and I did not go to school and it felt so good. It felt so good to just relax, be at peace, and spend time in the company of friends, who have their priorities straight.

The weather was perfect, the flowers around us were in full bloom, the air was fresh, and all the simple pleasures in life finally engaged the entirety of my senses.



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What’s cooking Wednesday: Spinach-pesto sauce on fettuccine

Last weekend, I stumbled upon a new booth at the farmer’s market. The lady makes and sells home-made pasta made with organic flours and ingredients. I picked up a package of spinach-whole-wheat fettuccine.

To keep things light, I experimented by adding a homemade spinach-pesto sauce that I made by pureeing a pound of spinach, a bunch of fresh basil, half an onion, a few cloves of garlic, lemon juice, and black walnuts that I also picked up at the market. It was super flavorful and I was impressed by my inability to detect a bitterness from the spinach.

I finished by adding some freshly chopped tomatoes to the sauce while heating

And then garnished with black walnuts!

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Of the weekend

We hadn’t had a sunny weekend in a long while here in Bloomington, and so I took full advantage of the weather by going on long walks with friends and enjoying the warmer weather.

Mother’s day was Sunday, and to get myself in the spirit, a friend and I hung out at Cafe Django and indulged in classic Indian chai (seriously, it is just like my mother makes), we also were lucky enough to catch some tunes being played by a local jazz band.

I spent some of Sunday afternoon at the pottery studio, hanging out with newly acquired friends and practicing centering on the wheel. I’m actually getting quite good at this; my cups/bowls are actually becoming symmetrical!

I’m really trying to focus on wrapping up my Master’s degree so I can move on to grander things!
Wish me luck!

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Happy Mother’s day

No love is more powerful than the unconditional love my mother has for me.
Words cannot describe how blessed I am to have this woman in my life.

Such a beautiful lady inside and out.
I love you mom. Happy Mother’s Day!

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Thank you friends.

I was sitting in my room chatting with my cousin Saket via facetime back in March with the window open and cold air filling my room. Earlier in the day, I had suffered the most awkward conversation with my research adviser.

I was full of emotion. Tired, sad, upset, angry, relieved and yet anxious all at the same time. The idea of leaving grad school had been in my mind for a long time (since passing my candidacy exam), but I couldn’t do it. And then earlier that week, I finally realized I couldn’t stay. Nothing could keep me in the academy.

I shared my sentiments with Saket (who incidentally is a top-notch engineer with an extremely pragmatic and optimistic view of life). He basically reacted by saying, ‘Get out, grad school isn’t making you happy, this is the best decision you will ever make’

Other people I talked to said one of 3 things:

My parents: “I support you in whatever you decide”

Higher-ups in academia: DO NOT QUIT. Try this or that, change programs, take a break, talk to the adviser, and write a dissertation, you’ll be glad you did. Don’t live with regret. Don’t quit.

Fellow grad students: “Do you think I should leave too?”

And then I realized that almost everyone was trying to work their own issues out through my own decision-making. It wasn’t until I made the decision to leave the program that I realized how enmeshed my own identity was in academia.

In any case, it seems as though the people who love me the most and understand me the best are most ‘okay’ with my decision. Most of these people have no idea what grad school is like. I checked in with my parents, cousins, mentors, and numerous friend-colleagues before I gave myself permission to quit. It amazed me, but it really was true: They loved me for who I am, not for what I do. They would still love me, even if I quit graduate school.

Quitting is thrilling. I think of the books I’ll finally have time to read just-for-fun. The marathons I will be able to run. I think of the creative projects that have lied dormant that I now have time to finish: I can finish that half-knitted shawl, start that podcast the Freakonomics team put out about the Upside of Quitting, and hang out with friends. It is like I finally have freedom.

But, freedom is terrifying. Freedom is so formless. I’m so used to the stress, the pressure. I feel like I need to be doing something, anything, more than whatever it is I’m doing. Even though I’m plenty busy with applying for jobs, meetings, cleaning, and finishing up my thesis, I’m convinced I am not doing worthy work unless I’m maxed out and exhausted in every way.

Although I want to enjoy the little things, the quiet and still moments of spring and warmth of tea in my hands, I am often grouchy and irritable. There’s terrible whiplash when you go from grad school time to regular time. You invent enormous tasks to undertake. You feel a need to fill the void with something as comparably Significant and Meaningful and Important as grad school, like running marathons, or climbing Mt. Everest. Newly turned from the womb of grad school, we flail like newborns, seeking those firm and reassuring boundaries. We squint in the bright light and turn away, grunting.

As difficult as it is, I am trying very hard not to fill the void. I am resisting the urge to replace the work and stress of grad school with new work and new stress. I am forcing myself to adjust to regular time, regular life, the quotidian rhythms most people take for granted.

Grad school drills from you the ability to stay in the present. You always have to think ahead: from coursework to candidacy, from candidacy to dissertation, from dissertation to post-doc, etc. Do you ever savor the moment in grad school? I can’t think of a single, quiet, triumphant moment. I don’t want to miss out on those anymore, so I am sitting in this discomfort and letting my body and mind get used to the expanse.

For now, I’m thinking about today, not tomorrow or next year (ALTHOUGH SOMETIMES I LIE AWAKE AT 4 AM THINKING WHAT DID I JUST DO). But I trust that this will pass. I trust that by this summer, I’ll be able to sit on a park bench in the evening and just listen to the cicadas and talk to my friends about harmonicas and picnics, and be totally there. Even if it’s a Saturday.

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Gearing up

Hello darlings!

I had quite the weekend. My friend J-C came into town from New York for old times sake and hang out. We ended up eating dinner at Siam house and then headed over to the Spoon for tea (and to escape the madness of Little 5 weekend that took place). It was nice catching up with everyone and odd to see everyone moving on.

In addition to getting acclimated to the idea of ‘changes to come’, I’ve been gearing up for interviews. I’ve been making headway in the job application process and things have been promising thus far. I spent the better half of the weekend preparing my job talk. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that something pulls through soon!

In the meantime, I’m cleaning up the house, listing it this coming week, and baking cookies to give to my friends who are still suffering through finals.

My new mantra: This too shall pass.

My theme anthem for the next few months:

Two Door Cinema Club “Something Good can work” from Ross McLennan on Vimeo.

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Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem”

It is Giuseppe Verdi’s 200th birthday, so naturally, my friend Eric (who happens to be a classical music aficionado) filled me in on a free public concert of the Italian composer’s “Requiem”.

The concert was absolutely spectacular and included a 75-member concert orchestra in addition to a 130-member Oratorio Chorus!

Written by the agnostic composer in honor of the death of a man he admired, Italian poet Alessandro Manzoni, Verdi’s “Requiem” is a musical setting of a Roman Catholic funeral Mass. It employs the text of the Mass as a dramatization of the soul’s questions and feelings about dying, death and the afterlife. It can be considered an opera, though it is not staged with costumes.

Verdi’s Requiem
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My friend Catherine is an avid iconographer. Yesterday evening, she invited me to check out the monastic community where she learned how to paint icons (by an extremely gifted nun who teaches classes there). In particular, I found the use of naturally derived pigments to be intriguing! The painting studio has a myriad of books on the subject (may as well be a library); many of which are incredibly informative and unfortunately probably out-of-print.

For my friends not familiar with the tradition, in Eastern Orthodoxy and other icon-painting Christian traditions, the icon is generally a flat panel (generally of wood) painting depicting a holy being or object.

The iconography studio where classes have been taught for over 2 decades!
Myriad of pigments (all various earth/rare-earth metals)
Hand-painted icons in various stages of the icon-making process
Iconographers in action!

Watching the slow and meditative art was a really cool experience.
It is truly impressive to see how much theology and art have managed to build upon each other!

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