September 17, 2017

Stockholm's Sights: Gamla Stan (Old Town) and Sveriges Kungahus (Royal Palace)

It's so easy to say that the grass is greener on the other side. 

There's no denying that Sweden, 
with its 202+ years of peace, beautiful Old Town, interior design, gender-equality, multi-lingual and well-dressed (in the "Oh, I just threw this on", unpretentious kind of way) citizens, 
merits its position as the world's 6th best country.

But wait: just edge your finger over your trackpad/mouse a little bit more. Who's the 7th? 

September 10, 2017

Sunday Dialogues: Good Good Father

Heavenly Father, no matter what the circumstances are, you are so good to us. 

September 3, 2017

Stockholm's Sights: Djurgården

The first full week of school - done! Whether it's having more things to do, waking up to 40*F mornings, or simply the strange, new familiarity from picking things back up where I left them, the school year's officially in full swing, and it feels like I've never left. But regardless of how much work needs to be done, I've been catching myself drifting into memory land: walking up the steps of the Helsinki Cathedral, my morning chats with my paulistano and Mauritian buddies, and of course, looking over the viewpoint at Skansen, Stockholm's open-air museum, and seeing beautiful Stockholm peek out from behind the canopy of the trees (first photo)

August 27, 2017

Summer Squash: French(ish) Ratatouille and a Roasted Italian Vegetable Sandwich

Summer squash, two ways. The first, a Disney-inspired ratatouille that's easier to make than it looks (I promise). The second is an even simpler meatless sandwich that both vegetarians and meat-lovers will like.

French(ish) Ratatouille
one 8" round ceramic/glass casserole dish (or pie/cake pan)
olive oil

2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 cup of crushed tomatoes (preferably sodium free)

2 medium yellow summer squash
2 medium zucchini
6 roma tomatoes

Preheat your oven to 375*F. Lightly grease your casserole dish with olive oil.

Combine the crushed tomatoes with the salt, oregano, rosemary, and garlic. Pour into and spread to coat the prepared casserole dish. 

Carefully use a mandolin or sharp knife to cut the yellow squash and zucchini into thin slices (as thinly as possible - they don't have to be perfect!). Use a sharp, serrated knife to thinly slice the tomatoes. 

Now for the fun part - arrange the slices of squash and tomatoes into the casserole dish, layering from the outside in. After layering, lightly drizzle olive oil over the squash and tomatoes. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the vegetables are fork tender but still al dente.

*Feel free to throw in eggplant slices, too

Roasted Italian Vegetable Sandwich
1 medium sized eggplant
1 yellow summer squash
1 zucchini
1 red bell pepper
olive oil
salt & pepper

balsamic vinegar (I didn't have any and used Worcestershire instead)
slices of olive bread, toasted

Preheat your oven to 425*F. Line 2 baking sheets with foil.

Slice the eggplant, yellow squash, and zucchini lengthwise, into 1/4-inch thick slices. Lightly coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the vegetables onto the baking sheets - don't let the vegetables overlap too much or else they'll steam instead of roast. Bake for 20-30 minutes (flipping midway), or until golden brown.

Turn your oven off and your broiler on. (You may need to use oven mitts for this:) Make sure one oven rack is positioned at the highest level. Place your bell pepper on a baking sheet, directly under the broiler. Keep an eye on your bell pepper, turning it with tongs to char all four sides (less than 1-2 minutes per side!). When the bell pepper has been charred, remove it from the oven and wrap it in foil for 10 minutes. 

After 10 minutes, unwrap the foil and peel away the charred skin of the bell pepper. Remove the seeds/core and thinly slice the bell pepper. 

To assemble the sandwich: generously layer hummus on both sandwich slices. Add a slice of roasted eggplant above one slice, and drizzle balsamic vinegar over it. Layer the yellow squash, zucchini, and bell peppers on top. 

August 20, 2017

life at sea

watching Beauty & the Beast on the lido deck with my mom, wrapped in a Royal (blue) Caribbean blanket
(protection from the wild Baltic winds and 50*F weather)

Oh ay oh! This boat's rockin'! Oh ay oh! Rockin' the whole world round, 'cause we're livin' the suite life now!


Three days removed from our return to the US, and I still find myself thinking very hard about the challenge I took on prior to leaving. The challenge, to leave my phone on "airplane mode" for our 15 day adventure, was not so much of a challenge in terms of commitment. In fact, I was eager to have an excuse to disconnect. The challenge was the silence, the time to sit with my thoughts and finally confront the unresolved stuff that's been simmering in the back of mind. 

It's not that social media and connectivity are bad. I've had to learn that the world isn't so black and white, and that often times, it's not about what's at my disposal, but rather, how I approach it. Those 15 days of detachment did me a lot of good. I'd been working towards desaturating the amount of media I consume daily, but this was a quick rip of the bandaid (I guess you can also argue that this was a temporary bandaid, or escape from the real world). I stopped consuming abruptly.


The first time we cruised, I was about 9 - what do you have to email about at that age? There was no issue with being present. Then the second time, I was about 14 - I couldn't wait for my free hour of internet, yet still, I took full advantage of the amenities offered on the ship and felt connected with my surroundings. I distinctly remember one of my classmates bringing up the topic of cruises in a discussion about connectivity and technology during history class - "That's why people love cruise ships! You're in the middle of the ocean, and you don't really have internet. You're forced to not be connected to the digital world. You actually get to enjoy everything the ship has to offer."

I'm almost 20 now, and the world has changed even more. Nearly everyone has a smart phone. All ship terminals have port-side cafes or gift shops offering free wifi. Taxis, buses, restaurants - they market themselves with free wifi. More people onboard are willing to pay premium just to flick through Snapchat or check work emails. Life at sea no longer guarantees full detachment and escapism, unless you, yourself, choose to disconnect. 

First morning.
Sitting in my favorite chair in the Windjammer Cafe outdoor seating area. 

So I chose to do that. And what exactly did I do with all that liberated time? Well, our ship was older and therefore, less fancy. No snazzy waterslide, ice rink, bionic bar, or central park. But you know what? I prefer the older ship.

Sure, it would have been nice to have one or two more things to do onboard (climbing a rock wall when you're being pelted by the harsh winds is not an attractive idea)...but there was still plenty to enjoy! Taking Latin dance classes, learning through a Russian history seminar, running around the outdoor track as we pulled out of port (overlooking the skylines!). My favorite past time, though? Sitting upstairs in the Windjammer Cafe outdoor seating area to write. 


Days before coming back, I realized just how much I'd miss the peace of mind I'd been enjoying, the contentment and satisfaction with my surroundings, the activities I chose to engage in, and...myself. Not only did I love disconnecting, but I also found myself coming out of my shell more easily and unabashedly going to nightly events by myself. For the first time in a while, I chose to speak in Cantonese and Mandarin with my parents, not English. Everyone was proudly speaking their own languages, and I started learning a few new languages, too. I felt confident and comfortable with being the person who prefers to listen to live jazz and watch adorable, older couples dance in the Centrum over going to the club. The distractions and excuses that my phone used to provide slipped away. It's easy to hide behind a phone, but it's much more rewarding to start a conversation with your server and learn about Ukraine. 


you still want to travel to
if you could not take your camera with you.

-a question of appropriation"
salt. by Nayyirah Waheed.

The world grew so much bigger because I met more people from other backgrounds and lifestyles. Time and time again, I'm reminded of why I love traveling - it's not only because I get to take photos of pretty places. I love traveling because I learn so much about other countries, people, and myself. I make or find connections - interpersonal and historical. Traveling gives me the space to reflect and think. I come back inspired, wanting more than what my predictable routine offers. 


I'll get to the point now - 
just before leaving, it occurred to me that I don't have to be in a foreign country to live the lifestyle I want to live. I don't have to be on a cruise to find healthy detachment from the digital world.
It's less about where I am, and more about what I choose to do and what I choose to surround myself with. 

The single useful piece of information I took from my second semester of organic chemistry was that my professor sets an exact time every day to check his email. When that period is up, he doesn't touch his email until tomorrow. The logistics of that can't apply perfectly to my life; the risk of missing an important, last-minute email about homework is too great. But I've set rules for myself regarding when and how I indulge in the digital world, and they've been working quite well. I do feel calmer. The impulse to check my Instagram when I'm bored has drifted. I think I might be slowly unbinding myself from the chains I've created for myself. Of course, the discipline to maintain these new habits has and will continue to be tested, but I think I'm finally learning ;-]! 


On a semi-related note, last Sunday, I also came home to the news that this blog has reached over 100,000 total views...oh my word, thank you!

Nearly five years of blogging have gone by, and I've learned so much from this experience. I'm no pro, we all know that, but I'd like to think I've grown with my photography, cooking, web design, and writing. I, myself, have evolved, and it's remarkable to be able to look back at all the change that's been documented...I beg you not to scroll through the archives, though! (And of course, now you will ;-])

In all seriousness, I'd like to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for giving me and my work the time of day. My mom reads everything, but I know she doesn't account for that many views! Whether you've been reading since the beginning or stumbled across my little corner of the internet today, I appreciate your attention and time. It's been fascinating to see how this platform can connect so many people, from the US to Germany to Singapore to Australia.

I know 100,000 may not be very much to some people; most experience website hits three times that in one day. But for me, a little nobody from New Jersey, it's humbling to have reached this milestone. I'm so very grateful for the support and the feedback, for the encouragement and opportunities to collaborate, and I assure you that I do not take any of it for granted!

Some days, I think a little too much about where I want to take this blog. At times, especially during the summers, I put extra effort because I think it could potentially grow into something greater. For the longest time, editing photos, pre-planning blogposts for the next month, drafting emails to brands all filled up most of my spare time. It's a bit more labor intensive than you can tell. Though participating in this area is a lot of fun, I've missed out on simply enjoying and spectating other areas that I care about, and I'd like to bring myself back to them. One hobby doesn't make a person, and I don't think a person can have just one hobby. When the others are lost or abandoned, the person isn't quite as whole.

Right now, especially with my late experiment of disconnecting, I'm comfortable with maintaining this blog as a hobby, not as a potential profession. Taking it too seriously, caring too much about numbers and hashtags and sponsorships... it ruins the fun, sometimes, and I can't let that happen. I don't want to end up resenting something I once enjoyed and loved so much. But who knows what will happen in the future, though? As always, this blog and I are evolving, and I'm keeping an open mind about where it may lead me to!

I'm pre-writing this post a few days ahead, but today will be my second day back at school (noo! ;]). I'm transitioning to a once a week schedule to give myself some more space, a healthy dose, from the digital world. We'll see how this works out, but for now, you can meet me back here next Sunday and occasionally find me on Instagram:

Once again, thank you thank you for reading! 

August 16, 2017

Tips for Eating Sustainably | west windsor farmers market summer 2017 photo journal

Farmers markets - I can’t get enough of them.

From a sustainability standpoint, they’re a great resource for accessing high quality, local food. By sourcing even a few of your ingredients from one, you support the small-business practices of local vendors (which are typically more environmentally friendly) and the local economy.

August 13, 2017

Summer In My Kitchen | a photo journal

Things I've cooked and baked that won't quite make it to having their own recipe post:
Wilson's graduation cake
Peach galette