Academic Clickbait

My master’s thesis is close to being submitted! Woohoo. Here’s my short 200-word abstract, since I really cannot be bothered to write anything more about it. The title is “Learning Well-tempered Behavior: The Performance of Bach’s Keyboard Works on the Ill-tempered Piano.” It is OK if you do not want to read it; I don’t either.

Temperament can provide insight into Bach interpretation style that is often overlooked by performers and scholars. Historical music performance studies has often ignored the possibility of Bach performance practice on the modern piano, dismissing it as anachronistic in baroque music.

This dissertation examines how the performance of Bach’s pieces on an equally-tempered piano can be informed by an academic study of historical well-temperaments through an autoethnographic lens. This project addresses two broad issues within temperament scholarship. First, it moves away from the search for and construction of an “authoritatively-correct” Bach tuning. Second, it attempts to reposition the study of temperament from a primarily composer-based inquiry towards one that centers on the performer.

I begin by proposing a modification of Fred Lerdahl’s hierarchical tension model to accommodate temperament and the concerns of a performer, and then apply creatively this model, negotiating the fraught junction between structural analysis, historically-informed performance and modern piano performance practice. Two case studies are presented, focusing on instances of interpretative difficulty where such a performer’s analysis proved especially illuminating. This dissertation will also contribute to an emerging discourse that centers specifically on the performer’s artistic values and sensibilities.

As you may have guessed, I have a burning passion for corny academia article titles. People who think that academic journal articles shouldn’t have silly/funny/witty/sensational/brilliant/show-stopping titles are boring/sad/meh/bleh/bleaughgaboo/no. Let’s play a game. Here are a list of academia titles (and a dumpling recipe). Guess which ones are real!!! Good luck. Answers after the recipe.

  1. Friends with Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership
  2. >Greening Text and Texting Green in the Digital Age: 4chan and the (Post?-)post-modern Condition
  3. Templuralisms: The Politics of Food and Dining in 16th-Century Portuguese Nagasaki
  4. For Men Arousal Is Orientation: Bodily Truthing, Technosexual Scripts, and the Materialization of Sexualities through the Phallometric Test
  5. Cis-Hetero Selachimorphic Familial Ti(d)es: Miming Acts of Playful Cultural Resistance in “Baby Shark”
  6. Local Epistemologist Finds a Way to Instantly Stabilize All Your Unstable Particulars! The Phronimos Hates Them!
  7. A “Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose,” but Exactly What is a Gastric Adenocarcinoma?
  8. Mario’s Dynamic Leaps: Musical Innovations (and the Specter of Early Cinema) in Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros.
  9. Primal S(cream) of the Crop: SAT Adversity Scores and the Chinese-American Upper-Middle Class

Dill and Pork Dumplings (茴香饺子)DSC07657
Makes ~100 dumplings
photo by Michael Ding

2 lb ground pork
4 oz dill, finely chopped
2 packages (~50 ea.) frozen dumpling skins
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup of shaoxing wine
4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 teaspoon five spice powder
2 teaspoon white pepper
4 scallions, chopped
1 inch ginger, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced

Combine ground pork, Shaoxing wine, salt, soy sauce, five-spice powder, white pepper, scallion, ginger, and garlic in a large mixing bowl. Set aside for 10-15 minutes, covered.
2. Add vegetable oil to mixture. The mixture should seize and become less watery. Add chopped dill and combine.
3. Wrap dumplings! Get your friends* to help! Here are 
several wrapping styles.

To boil (in batches):
Bring pot of water to boil. Add dumplings.
Once the water comes to a boil again, add half a cup of cold water. Repeat.
3. Strain pot and serve with Chinese vinegar.

To fry (in batches):
1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a hot pan. Fry dumplings for 2 minutes until one side is golden.
2. Add 1/4 cup of water and cover. Simmer on medium-low heat for 3 minutes.

*if they do not fold perfectly, however, you should no longer consider them friends.

Music Recommendation:
Sugiyama Kiyotaka and Omega Tribe – Futari No Natsu Monogatari

1, 4, 7, 8

Maes Hughes Deserved Better

No, I won’t post a pie on Pi Day. I have renounced The Mathematics. I also wrote this at like 3AM, so it doesn’t really make sense. Have a good day.

– Stephen Ai, former Math Man™

Despite rapidly-approaching end-of-term essay deadlines, I finally sat down to rewatch Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, for the first time since it aired back in 2009. To be honest, I had forgotten how dark the plot was (it is likely that I didn’t completely understand it the first time around). This was quite a spooky experience, due to my *very wise* decision to watch these episodes alone in the dark during the ungodly hours of 2-4AM. This spook-factor was all compounded by the fact that I was full of nervous, manic energy in regards to my essay evaluations. After watching several thousand anime characters die per episode, hoisting myself out of bed, I would make my way to the bathroom, pass the mirror, look myself in the eye, and immediately think about my fragile mortality. This was a fun nightly routine.

Riding this thriller-genre high, this past week alone, I have rewatched portions of Hannibal, Stranger Things, Get Out, Playtest from Black Mirror, Coraline, The Wailing and Soju’s design challenge hanbok, also at the wee hours of the night (or morning?). I imagined myself crawling through a small door towards my untimely death at the hands of my spindly, arachnid “Other Supervisor.” Experiencing vicariously these statistically-unlikely deaths somehow gave me hope that I wouldn’t be killed at Cambridge, metaphorically or otherwise, and that these essays would turn out fine. My supervisors are probably not trying to sew buttons into my eyes and eat me. I am also not special enough for anyone to go out of their way to find me alone in my room and murder me. Yes, this is a challenge. I invite you to try. Actually, please don’t.

There is, surprisingly, a more wholesome way to pull yourself out of the academic dumps. My friend suggested the novel idea that I go outside and talk to people. Not doing that. Another friend let me know about the modern Japanese tradition of giving Kit-Kats to people as good luck charms, stemming from a coincidental cognate between “Kit-Kat” and “きっと勝つ!” (“you will definitely win!”). Similarly, chicken katsu, playing off of the same cognate “勝つ” (“to win”) is served to students before evaluations. In the Ai family home, my good luck dish of choice was red-braised pork, or 红烧肉. My mother, stern Chinese woman and master of braising, served this dish to me before exams, recitals, and piano competitions.

So this time, I made red-braised pork for myself. And I imagined the glistening, tender pork speaking to me, à la Hannibal, cheering “you can do it!” and “if you don’t do well I’ll compare you to Johnny from HuaXia Chinese school!”

Encouraging Red-Braised Pork Belly
Serves 4 people or 1 Stephen

1-1.5 kg pork bellyimg_1426_polarr
3 tbsp oil
4 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp dark soy sauce
1/2 cup Shaoxing wine
1 cup water
150 g rock sugar
2 inches fresh ginger, sliced
3-4 strips orange peel
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole nutmeg
4 whole star anise
5-6 cardamom pods
5-6 cloves

1. If necessary, tweeze any hairs left on the pork skin. Cut pork belly into 1 inch pieces.
2. Bring a pot of water up to boil, and blanch pork pieces for 3-4 minutes. This removes some of the excess blood and fat. Drain and rinse pork in cold water.
3. Heat oil on medium-low heat in a large saucepan or wok. Add 50g rock sugar to the oil and dissolve by continuous, slow stirring. The sugar will caramelize and brown. Be patient!
4. Add pork pieces carefully to the wok and fry until lightly browned.
5. To the wok, add light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, Shaoxing wine and 1 cup water. Bring the mixture up to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
6. Add remaining 100g rock sugar, ginger slices, orange peel, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, star anise and cardamom. Stir to combine, and let simmer for 1-2 hours, until pork is tender. Periodically, stir and skim off excess fat.
7. If there is too much liquid at the end, turn up the heat all the way, and stir continuously to reduce the sauce until a desirable consistency.
7. Serve over rice and a wholesome episode of Fullmetal Alchemist, like episode 4.

Music Recommendation:
Car Seat Headrest – Bodys


Eating for Love

Musicology grad school update: I’m writing about weird shit again. For my Early Modern Listening seminar, I’m dipping my hands into the incredibly niche field of gastromusicology, a field that combines food studies with musicology. I’m trying to investigate links between food, nutrition treatises, and early modern opera, specifically in the musical treatment of fruits and sweets in love duets.

The early moderns generally subscribed to the humoralist theory, which originated from Ancient Greece, commonly attributed to Galen (c.130 AD – c.210 AD). Humoralists believed that the body housed four humors or bodily fluids (blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile), and thought that achieving a balance between the four was the secret to health. An excess (or lack of) any of the four humors would cause disease and bodily harm which could be mitigated through a wide range of dietary regulations and depletory regimens such as bloodletting and emesis. More insidiously, the humors could evaporate from their homes in the bodily organs and travel through the body into the brain, wreaking all sorts of havoc on your emotional stability and rational mind.

Since I’m not here to reproduce my essay and bore you with academese, I decided it might be fun to diagnose myself in a completely unscholarly way. According to this new age humoralist website, I’m of a phlegmatic temperament. This means that my moods are ruled by the water element. My constitution is feminine, and thus cold and moist. I’m overweight, sluggish, lazy, and cowardly. Sounds about right. Except for the water part, since everyone knows I’m an INTJ-A Slytherin Taurus-Sun Aquarius-Moon Leo-Rising Fire-Rat Caprisun in Gatorade, none of which are water signs.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I’ve decided that I need to be a more sanguine, amorous person and increase my blood volume, in two steps. First, to make myself less phlegmy, I should avoid “cooling, moistening foods like cucumbers and melons; cold drinks and juices; milk and dairy products; sugar and sweets; and refined white sugars and starches.” No more dessert for me. And now, to make myself bloodier:

A Sanguine Valentine’s Day Chicken Katsu Curry
Serves 2 phlegmatic individuals looking to spice up their love lives, and leftovers

2 chicken breasts, butterflied
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 potatoes, cubed
2 carrots, cubed
2 parsnips, cubed
4 breakable sections curry roux
~1 quart water or chicken stock
2 eggs, beaten
panko breadcrumbs

1. Cover butterflied chicken breast with plastic wrap, and pound chicken until 1 to 1.5 cm thick. I recommend drinking alcohol or black coffee before engaging in this violent activity, to promote an excess of yellow bile and activate your choleric side.
2. Pat chicken dry, season with salt and pepper, and let rest for 15 mins. For those of a phlegmatic temperament, “a little meat can be good to stimulate their metabolic heat and digestive fire.”
3. Heat oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and onion. Sweat onions until golden brown (this means truly brown! Don’t flake out! Translucence is not color!). If you have trouble gauging the color, puncture your gallbladder and let out some of that excess yellow bile for comparison.
4. Add tomatoes. Add ½ tsp salt. Turn heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the tomatoes have released their juices.
5. Set up three separate bowls in a row, starting with flour, beaten eggs and ending with panko. Dust chicken breast in flour, dip it in beaten egg, and then dredge it in panko crumbs. Repeat for other breast. Chill in refrigerator for 10 minutes.
6. To the large pot, add potatoes, parsnips and carrots. “Celery family vegetables, rich in thymogenic blood vitalizing factors. The best ones are parsnips and carrots.”
7. Add water or chicken stock. Stew for 15 mins.
8. Heat 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a wok or cast iron skillet. Drop a few panko crumbs to test oil (it should bubble and become golden brown, around 180C). Deep fry each breaded chicken breast until both sides are golden brown. Remove chicken cutlet and pat away excess oil with a paper towel.
9. Add curry roux cubes to the pot, and stir in gently. Taste and adjust salt. Stew for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
10. Cut chicken cutlets into bite sized strips. Serve over rice, and a generous ladle of curry. Feel your temperature rise, causing your blood to vaporize and move towards your brain. Notice that you are becoming more amorous and sing a manic aria about your love for Poppea. Make plans to dispose of Octavia.

Music Recommendation:
Swindle – What We Do (ft. Rider Shafique, P Money, D Double E & Daley)

Dinner P(art)ies

One of my biggest non-professional life goals is to become The Dip Mom.

Let me explain. The Dip Mom (henceforth, TDM) is usually an older, white woman living in New England who is happily married (at least, outwardly) with two to three children who recently graduated from Ivy Leagues and have since successfully launched their professional careers in New York and Boston. She enjoys gardening, long walks to the grocery store, and reality TV shows with low energy and slow pacing.

Most importantly, TDM is a virtuosic dinner party host. Presiding over her dinner table, she unveils the main course. Today, it is a full salmon, perfumed with lemon and dill, and anointed with a drizzle of olive oil. Her guests cue into her every blink, every head turn, and every slight smile. Her artfully-selected T.J. Maxx candle lights flicker and dim periodically, as if to breathe joyously with her performance. After taking a brief moment to admire her own work, TDM addresses her adoring fans: “Sweet joy befall thee.” Dinner is thereby served.

Oh, and she’s also really good at appetizers. That’s why she’s called The Dip Mom.

However, it is quite likely that I will not be serving this marital WASP fantasy in this iteration of reality. On the other hand, I somehow don’t trust myself to recreate the truly authentic experience of the Chinese-American dinner party, with its requisite college admissions conspiracy theory-crafting and manic dumpling-folding. 

I do, however, know that I want to be the type of person who can serve twelve different kinds of dips that endlessly replenish themselves. I want to be able to serve excellent dinner, drink, and conversation. And finally, I want to see my guests off, satisfied and warm.

I guess this recipe is a start. 

Ginger-Soy-Miso Foil Salmonimg_1239
feeds 2-3 dinner party attendants

4 salmon fillets (480g)
1 lemon
2 coins ginger, minced
1 scallion, optional
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp shiro miso
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp hot water
1 tbsp mirin
25g sugar
2 tsp salt
aluminum foil

1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
2. If needed, descale salmon. Pat fillets dry and season with salt.
3. Squeeze out juice of half of the lemon. Chop the other half into thin slices.
4. Dissolve miso in hot water. To the mixture, add soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, ginger, lemon juice, and sugar.
5. Add salmon to the mixture, and marinate for 15-30 mins.
6. Remove salmon fillets and place on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Brush on excess marinade on each fillet. Place slices of lemon on each fillet.
7. Fold edges of the foil sheet over the salmon so that it is fully wrapped and sealed. Place parcel on a baking sheet, and bake for 20-25 minutes.
8. Garnish with scallion, and serve with rice.
9. Serve your guest(s), accidentally drink the entire bottle of mulled wine, and spend the next two hours talking at your audience. They laugh emphatically(?) with/at you.

Music Recommendation:
Gema 4 – Piel Canela

New Year’s Calibrations

It’s me! I’m back with proper capitalization! I went to bed for a nap after I published my delirious kombucha post and just woke up, a full month later. Sorry ’bout it! It’s good to see you again.

Let’s recap. Back in October, I made it through the second ring, nostalgia, after braving my way through the first ring, profound sorrow that stains the heart black. Michaelmas term staged my pathetic traversal of the third ring, catatonic groaning, starring yours truly and my bed. Burrowing my way out from under my duvet, I emerge strangely energized.

Here, in my proofreading process, I deleted everything that followed. This post was supposed to be about how I didn’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, partially as a response to snoozlooz’s brilliant manifesto, What If I’m Okay (cw: self-harm, mental health) and partially as a passive-aggressive rebellion against health science, prevailing New Year’s resolution fitness rhetoric and my mother telling me to exercise (mostly against my mother). I wrote about how I felt resolutions were somewhat arbitrary, expressed my inability to think a year’s time ahead given the obstacles I face in the present. Mostly, I felt that I was comfortable and proud of my current situation and didn’t feel the need to resolve anything immediately (some may disagree, you can flame me directly on my contact page).

This change occurred over some mulled wine and perfectly-baked foil salmon. During a discussion about the New Year, my friend casually remarked, “I just think it’s a good time to reflect, since we have a day for it.” And I remember thinking, “Huh, that’s surprisingly reasonable.” Rereading my writing later that night, I realized I fell deep into the New Year’s reflection spirit right at the beginning with hell-rings.

New Year’s is kind of like astrology or the MBTI. It’s fun, it has its haters, but it’s fun, and you might just get some benefit out of it. I still think resolutions are arbitrary and stressful. And since I don’t feel like I need to resolve anything today, here are my belated New Year’s calibrations:

Stephen Ai, 22, questionably a musician. I’m ready to go back to the States, despite Trump. I miss my friends from undergrad. I hope I can live with or near them next year. I hope I get into my program of choice. I’ve found good friends who are amazing people here. I found out I like writing for fun this past year. I think my writing has improved since college and I’m proud of it. Parsnips are very good root vegetables. I’m a Zoe main in League of Legends now. Noname must be protected.

De-calibration Juice (Mulled Wine)img_1173
drink the whole bottle I dare you

1 bottle red wine
1/2 orange-clove pomander ball
1 stick cinnamon
1 whole nutmeg
50g sugar
brandy (optional, to taste)

1. Combine spices, sugar, brandy, and wine in a medium saucepan.
2. Partially squeeze out juice from pomander ball. Add whole orange and juice.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer, for around an hour.
4. Strain and serve while hot.

Music Recommendation:
Lizzo – Juice

i am so tired

school is kind of really hard. i never thought i would have so much trouble at school, especially in music. i spent all of williams complaining about math. i should have taken my undergrad musicological studies more seriously.

i have final submissions for the first term soon. i want to be a serious bach scholar but i usually just end up writing about anime music. this term, i’m writing an essay about gender and race in black midi. it’s a fun time! but i should probably return to bach soon.

in other news, i finally got a kombucha starter and scoby after 2 months of searching in cambridge. i am very excited! i had to kill my old stock from williams. it was very sad.

hopefully i will have the energy to write a post next week. i really do love being creative in a non-music setting. thank you all for supporting my ranting/musings and for your kind messages. here’s a brew recipe that i’ve been using for two years now.

like kombucha, i probably need some time to ferment all this caffeine and sugar i’m drinking daily and regain my effervescence. how’s that for a forced food metaphor? see you all soon. xoxo.

k o m b u c h aimg_1055
feeds millions of bacterial friends

1 three liter jar
1 large rubber band

15g tea (black, green, white, not herbal or fruit)
150g sugar (raw cane, white, not brown, stevia, or honey)
1 scoby pellicle
200g scoby starter (or more)
2 liters filtered water

1. boil 500ml water. a watched pot never boils so go take a small nap.
2. wake up groggy. steep tea in boiled water for 10 mins. add 150g sugar, stir to dissolve.
3. tell everyone that comes into the kitchen that you are tired. seek solidarity.
4. add remaining room temp 1500ml water to the sweet tea. add scoby pellicle and starter liquid. the pellicle may float or sink.
5. cover with a cheesecloth, and secure with a rubber band.
6. let ferment in a warm room-temperature environment, around 70-80 fahrenheit (21-27 celcius) for around 2 weeks. taste with a straw (as not to contaminate it!).
7. take a nap. wake up in 2 weeks, feeling refreshed. drink kombucha.

music recommendation:
moses sumney – plastic (mid-city island)

Mirai no Stephen

Hello all,

Today is November 22nd, 2018, which means a couple things to me. First, it’s Thanksgiving! I’m celebrating the United States’ radical derecolonization by going to music skills seminar in the motherland at the University of Cambridge. Speaking of colonialism, this day also marks the 55th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Don’t be fooled. I am no US history buff. I only know this because I google “JFK assassination” every once in a while to figure out my mother’s birthday. Happy birthday Mom! I’m sorry this year’s present is an irreverent blog post, and I’m sorry that this was late.

— Love, 豆豆

Hailed by me as “the most impressive art-object to ever grace this planet in the last 22 years” (Ai, 2018), Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai no Mirai (未来のミライ) is a charming tale about a 4 year-old boy, Kun, who struggles to accept dethronement from his only-child supremacy by his newborn baby sister, Mirai. Through a series of magical time-travelling experiences in his home’s front courtyard, Kun learns to cope with his existential angst and accept new responsibilities. Go watch it, for my sake.

–Movie Spoilers Below–

Although every single time-travelling encounter of the movie caused my impartial, musicologically-trained heart to quiver with the beginnings of emotional maturity, one in particular stuck with me.

Kun, after getting scolded by his mother for not cleaning up his toys, time-travels to the past and hangs out with his mother as a child. An energetic and opinionated girl, she drags him into her home, where she loudly proclaims that “everything is more fun when it’s messy”. Together, the two run through the house laughing and leave a path of destruction in their wake. Kun learns to forgive his mother.

Here’s what I was thinking while witnessing this scene:

1. I cringed watching the kids make a mess during the scene.
2. Oh god, am I becoming a prude?
3. Oh god, am I becoming my mom?
4. I immediately turned to lament this revelation to my friend during the movie and stopped myself. Redirecting my attention back to the movie, I realized that Kun had already returned to reality and I had missed crucial screen action. I turned to ask my friend what had happened and stopped myself.
5. Oh god, I have become my mom.

I have been told all my life that I am a carbon copy of my father, albeit shorter, stupider and fatter. While I inherited my father’s physical features and strange sense of humor, I am way too neurotic and nervous to come anywhere close to embodying Bing Ai’s aggressive grace. Our similarities have become less and less apparent as I enter adulthood.

I instead have become more and more like my mom. We have the same eyebrows, and a full head of soft, dark hair. We are very chatty. We like to cook. We actively seek out new hobbies. We have the same laugh. We love complaining, especially about people. We have a short temper. We obsess over small details at the expense of the big picture. We take on responsibilities when no one asks us to do so and get angry when people don’t immediately respond with gratitude.

My version of Kun’s time-travelling encounter with my mom would take place at a planning committee meeting for a cultural affinity organization, convened to organize a logistically-complicated event with many guests and food. Dismayed by the lack of structure and bureaucracy, we return home and complain about everyone in the committee to my brother, Michael, and my dad (who are also coincidentally having a time-travelling encounter). Michael and Dad are confused and go for a run with the dogs.

One final way my mother and I are similar is that we refuse to explicitly admit failures. The jelly cake recipe that I had planned, inspired by a cake from Mirai no Mirai à la Binging with Babish, will be “postponed until further notice”. Instead, here’s a timeless classic I learned from my mom.

Stir-fried Eggs and Tomatoes
feeds a Chinese-American for the next three meals who has eaten this every day for the past year after moving out because they can’t cook anything else

4 large eggs
3 medium tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 scallion, chopped
0.5 cup (4 tbsp) cooking oil
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tsp salt, to taste
2 tsp sugar, to taste

1. Beat eggs with 1 tsp salt until even. Did Ben book the room for our League viewing party this weekend? 
2. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan, add eggs and scramble partially, until ~80% of the egg is solid. Remove from heat and set aside. Knowing Ben, probably not. Although I did message him to do it only 10 minutes ago. I’ll just do it myself and send the entire club board group chat a passive-aggressive message. No, not a message. Too aggressive. A sticker. Perfect. 
3. Heat on high 2 tbsp oil in a saucepan or wok, and add scallions. Fry until fragrant. Add tomatoes and 1 tsp salt. Cover and reduce heat to medium. After the tomatoes have released their juices, add sugar and ketchup (classic Shanghai) and combine. I should bake cookies for everyone that comes. Do people want to drink? I’m so busy and so tired. Where are my keys? I need coffee. When is rehearsal? I feel sick. Do I have cancer? I need to do laundry. Where is my phone?
4. Add scrambled eggs. Cover and reduce to medium low. Simmer for 2 minutes. I probably shouldn’t eat all of this. Where is my ID card?

Music Recommendation:
Noname – Cherrypie Blues

Yellow Lies

Congee is a porridge or gruel made primarily from rice with other grains and legumes. It was known to me as 稀饭 (xīfàn, literally “watery rice”). It isn’t a particularly exciting meal. In fact, I sort of hate it.

Don’t worry; I am not lazy enough to make congee this post’s recipe. Just in case, here’s a recipe for those who may be interested. Put water, rice, and whatever else you want in a pot. Add more water. Boil the soul out of the rice. Feed it to your upset child. Wonder about what upset him. Spoiler alert! It’s the congee.

After forcibly gulping down molten congee every Sunday morning with the aid of an overflowing heap of pork floss, I was whisked away to weekly reacculturation therapy at HuaXia Chinese School at Miramar College. Here is a perfect encapsulation of how I feel about HuaXia. There, I learned about the apocryphal origin story of congee. Supposedly, it was invented as a grim reminder of the untimely but deserved death of a young couple who starved because they did not work hard to diversify their crops (hence the multitude of grains in congee). This made me hate congee more.

We were lied to at Chinese school a lot. Thank you to AG and QY for their contributions. If you guys have any other funny tales, please send them to me! I really do get a kick out of them. Here are some of my favorite yellow lies:

Beethoven, after overhearing a self-deprecating blind girl struggling to play his Pathétique Sonata, attempted to comfort her by obnoxiously improvising at the piano for her. This improvisation was shortly thereafter transcribed and became the famous Moonlight Sonata. As we all know, Beethoven is historically known for being a kind and compassionate individual, and we ought to emulate his behavior if we are to achieve similar greatness.

Pimples are a curses laid upon mankind for wasting rice. When eating a bowl of rice at an East Asian household, leaving uneaten grains of rice is not only a disrespect to the host who served the rice, the cooks who steamed it, and the farmers who worked to provide it, but also to nine petty little deities who inhabit each rice grain. This disrespect manifests physically in the next life as facial blemishes. I am currently being punished for my past incarnation’s negligence.

The biggest lie of all is that scallion pancakes are the precursor to Italian pizza. Marco Polo, during his travels to the Middle Kingdom in the 13th century, fell in love with the scallion pancake and attempted to recreate it upon returning to Italy. He failed miserably. Questions of historicity aside, I do understand the appeal of claiming something as delicious as pizza to be your invention. Scallion pancakes are also appealing visually, olfactorily and gustatorily as a culinary art object, everything congee is not. And unlike the other tales, there’s no patronizing moralizing element. This recipe goes out to my buddy-boi, Marco Polo. Cheers.

The (Scallion Pan)cake is a Lie!
makes one cringey, dated pop culture reference and four flatbreads

2 cups all-purpose flour, and extra for dusting
0.5-0.75 cup hot water
4-6 scallions, finely chopped
2 tbsp red chili flakes
0.25 cup vegetable or other neutral oil
1 tbsp salt

1. Add hot water slowly to the flour and combine. Knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth. I haven’t had an instance where I didn’t need to adjust the water to flour ratio. If the dough is too sticky to knead, add more flour. If you find yourself getting tired kneading the dough, loosen it up by adding more water. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.
2. During this time, heat oil to its smoking point. Combine chili flakes and finely-chopped scallion in a heat-proof bowl. Pour hot oil directly over mixture. It will sizzle and release an intense aroma. This is a cooking method called 油泼 (yóu pō, “oil pour”) from my dad’s province, Shaanxi, usually served over hand-pulled noodles. It is not traditional in scallion pancake recipes, but I think it lends an interesting bite. Cool for a few minutes, like most pieces of ambient contemporary classical music.
3. Divide dough into four equal pieces. Roll out dough pieces until thin enough to be translucent, approximately 12 inches in diameter.
4. Spread a quarter of the scallions, chili and hot oil mixture and 0.25 tbsp salt on one side of each piece of dough. I guess this kind of looks like a pizza?
5. Roll up each pizza into a log, and then the log into a cinammon bun. Here’s a helpful diagram, since I’m awful at giving instructions.
6. Spiral facing up, roll each cinammon bun into a circular flatbread around 8 inches in diameter.
7. Lightly oil a frying pan, and pan-fry until crispy on both sides.

Music Recommendation:
Little Dragon – Lover Chanting

Uncooking Eggs

In 8th grade, I learned in Ms. Boman’s science class that cooking an egg is an example of an irreversible reaction. This means that a cooked egg can never be turned back into a raw egg. I began to write a post relating cooking eggs to irreversible change in my life, but it quickly became an exercise in exposing my stupidity.

First, a team of researchers headed by Prof. Gregory Weiss at UC Irvine unfortunately found a way to magically uncook an egg in 2015, by untangling and refolding its proteins. With eggs suddenly becoming reversible metaphors, I was left with Ms. Boman’s other example of an irreversible reaction, combustion, which hopefully no one will experience in the kitchen trying this recipe out.

Second, I found out that my inspiration for this blog, Aruna D’Souza of Kitchen Flânerie, had already written a brilliant piece about eggs and irreversible leaps of faith. She recounts her personal experiences of childbirth and reflects on the irreversibility of marriages in past generations. How could I top that? Written in 2013, an era before Weissian egg-unboiling, I peer jealously into this time-capsule and reminisce for a simpler time.

Third, I couldn’t think of a single decision in my life that was truly irreversible. My decisions are surprisingly (to me, unsurprisingly to most) all conveniently reversible. Clearly, I have never given birth. I changed majors five times. I moved from San Diego to Williams to Cambridge on the basis of “academic fit” and “shifting life goals”. I study music with no clearly-defined trajectory. I can afford financially and emotionally to take time off to reset my internal feng shui.

Reversibility is a privilege provided to me by my parents, mentors, peers, race, gender, and class. They provided me with the protein disentanglement and folding technologies that were not available a generation earlier. Like any angsty, fù èrdài, “artistic” person in their early 20s writing a blog, it’s easy for me to lament online about fearing irreversibility, but I should probably just chill out.

Tangled Protein Bowl (Egg Custard)unnamed (4)
feeds 1 angsty, angsty boy

2 large eggs
1 cup water, or broth
0.25 tbsp salt, to taste (reduce salt if using broth)
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
scallion, cilantro, pickled veggies, etc. to top

1. Whisk two eggs in 0.25 pint water or broth vigorously in a porcelain bowl. Skim off froth. Add salt and stir gently to combine.
2. Assemble your postmodern found-object art installation of a steamer. Add water to the lowest layer, and bring to a boil. Place bowl with egg mixture in the top layer, and cover with a small porcelain plate. Cover steamer.
3. Steam for 15-20 minutes, adjusting cooking time according to your steamer. Accept the fact that you have not permanently cooked the egg and surrender yourself to accelerationist phantasmagoria.
4. Carefully remove bowl and let rest for 3-5 minutes. During this time, attempt to untangle your life but realize that this requires supervision by a team of elite chemistry researchers at UC Irvine.
5. Add soy sauce and sesame oil slowly as not to break the surface of the custard. Since I lack tact and body awareness, I pour soy sauce and sesame oil first into a separate bowl and gently spoon the mixture onto the custard. Add optional toppings.

Music Recommendation:
R. Schumann – Märchenbilder (Fairy Tale Pictures), Op. 113: I. Nicht schnell
performed by Jodi Levitz and Eric Zivian

Broth as a Cure

A short note before I begin. I’m starting this notebook because I think I should be doing more writing in general, but not the kind of academic writing I’ve been inundated with recently. As with my recipe book, this is an informal collection of recipes from friends and family as a means of preserving my personal history through food. I have since taken my recipe book down, and will be reincorporating them into posts like these.

My main inspiration is Aruna D’Souza of the currently inactive Kitchen Flânerie, with whom I studied Indian food history and cooking during my freshman Winter Study term at Williams College.

Since I’m gross, I’m including a piece of music with every post. Screaming my recommendations out into the void is more preferable than spamming my friend’s Facebook inboxes with links.


The second ring (or maybe third? my taxonomy of hell-rings is suspect) of post-graduate hell is nostalgia. I traversed the first ring, profound sorrow that stains the heart black, back in June and emerged somewhat victorious.

Here’s a brief list of things I’m nostalgic for: magical girl anime, listening to music as a child, prog rock, Naruto, Maplestory, the ocean, potlucks with Chinese aunties, Williams College as a fuzzy memory and not the actual thing, my friends and mentors from undergrad, League of Legends in the North American server, and Chinese cleavers. I am coincidentally (maybe not?) writing this while watching the zero-year reunion at Williams homecoming from afar.

My mother was understandably very concerned about my height when I was growing up. I was always the shortest in the class. I am currently 5’4″ (162 cm). My brother, 2 years younger, is over 8 feet (at least from my perspective) and my sister, 8 years younger, is somehow taller than me already. I have overtaken neither of my parents. It was eventually blamed on my irrational disgust for milk, which actually turned out to be violent lactose intolerance.

Enter bone broth, a stew made from slow-simmered bones. It’s digestible (for me, in a literal sense), tasty, and a good source of calcium, a nutrient I was critically lacking. In the spirit of nostalgia, I have since conjured up a rose-tinted narrative to serve this post. My poor mother, worried sick about the prospects of her son growing up girlfriend-less in a world dominated by tall white men, dug into the coffers of her cultural heritage, emerging with a cure for my genetic deficiency.

It didn’t work. After reconstructing this recipe, I’m convinced that it was actually just the easiest way to feed something warm to a family of five. Turns out the only thing it cures is nostalgia.

unnamed (2)Broth for the Nostalgic and Vertically Challenged
(reverse engineered from my mother’s)
feeds me for 3 meals

4 pork ribs or 4 chicken bone-in thighs/legs
4-5 coins ginger
1 scallion, sliced in half
4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms
0.5 tbsp salt, to taste

1. Soak dried shiitake mushrooms in around 0.5 L warm water for 20 minutes. Remove stems and cut into bite-sized pieces. Reserve mushroom water (it really should be called mushroom tea because that’s what it is).
2. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. If you are using chicken, remove skin. Add ribs or chicken to the pot. Boil for 4-5 minutes. This helps rid the meat of any unwanted congealed blood, dirt, and fat for a clear broth. Clear broth, clear conscience! Definitely not clear skin. Remove ribs or chicken, and rinse.
3. Prepare a new pot of water with 1 L (1 US Quart) of water. Add mushroom tea, ribs or chicken, rehydrated mushrooms, scallion, ginger, and salt.
4. Bring pot up to a rolling boil, and reduce to a simmer (a gentle bubbling, like when your friends throw out a portion of unfinished food or when your dad sends photos to you by text knowing full well that you’re out of storage). Cover.
5. Stew over musicology course readings for 2 hours. Take in the smell of your childhood, resist nostalgia lest you accidentally watch Boruto for the next 4 hours, and write a blog post instead of writing critical abstracts for class. Taste intermittently and adjust salt as necessary.

Music Recommendation:
Polyphia – Yas, ft. Mario Camarena and Erick Hansel