I was thinking recently about what a shame it is that I only started this blog in my junior year because I genuinely do like scrolling through my own posts and looking back on all the things I know I would’ve otherwise forgotten. I think it’s also such a shame because I feel like I had so much more fun those first two years even though I would probably tell you I enjoyed it less. Like, yeah, I was a lot more homesick and a lot less adept at coping with Penn but I also had more time and less responsibility. I also did very poorly in school Sophomore year, so I mean… maybe that’s why it was memorable.
Then last week while I was procrastinating doing my laundry, I went through my external hard disk (or is it a hard drive?! ugh I never remember this) and compiled some of my favourite old pictures. I know a lot of these pictures are so overdue and probably won’t matter to you but these are insanely precious to me and I don’t have much else to do right now so I’m going to tell you about them!
OMG. Ok. That’s all the pictures! That ended up being more words than I thought there would be but I hope you found these mildly entertaining, haha. I just wanted to have a mark of my first 2 years of college on here somehow before I fully close the ~college~ chapter. Expect one more post about my apartment after I move out and then I promise I will stop writing about Penn and Philadelphia, haha.
I just walked home from Centre City. It’s almost 10.30 PM and I’m sweating. It’s getting very balmy here in Philadelphia. Earlier, on my way out, I stood at the corner of 39th and Chestnut waiting for the 21 bus into the city as I always do. The warm wind was blowing and I could feel the humidity weighing down oh so gently on my face. I couldn’t help feeling like I was home, though I wasn’t sure what that meant. The feeling came almost without description, if that makes sense. I was not sure whether I felt that way because of the warm, heavy, summer air—really, as I stood by the side the road waiting for the bus, I could’ve closed my eyes and lied to myself and pretended I was somewhere in KL—or whether it was because I have come to know this road, this view and this routine so well. I couldn’t say for certain. But have you ever tried to close a door or lock two things together and then you think you’ve shut it or fit it together properly, then later you hear a click and you’re like “Oh! Ok, yeah, now it’s definitely shut”? I know that’s a somewhat specific feeling and perhaps it’s an odd comparison to make, but that’s how I felt on my walk back. I thought I already felt at home here and then, out of nowhere, there was a click. Somewhere between Market and Chestnut on 20th street, I felt that way. And I was sure.
It’s strange to know that there are most probably fewer walks like that ahead of me than there are behind me. I walked home on Walnut with a silly smile spread across my face the whole way. My mind was playing a highlight reel of all the things I’ve seen on my many walks towards West Philly along that road.
On 22nd St, Hui Jie, Shahirah and I once laughed about the fact that we chose the morning after snowstorm Jonas to go grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. Along the bridge, just before the presidential election, I walked past a man waving a Hillary Clinton flag and he smiled at me and I felt like that meant something, and the next day we lost, and it rained, and I thought about him that morning as I lay in bed and I wondered whether he had a daughter and what he told her, if he did. On 30th St, on a sunny spring day, Fayaaz and I once saw glass shattered all over the road and news reporters at the scene, the aftermath of what we supposed was an accident. At that same spot, on the left, Penn Park, where Shahirah and I took a walk to once in freshman year after we got back from London and I remember I wore my Gap jumper, purple sweatpants and orange Adidas shoes which I had just recently thrown away. Just after that, World Cafe Live, where Habeeb, Dania, Osama, Ben and I saw someone propose to his girlfriend in front of a whole crowd, with a rap song. Then, the ice skating rink, which is where every year, I go to the MSA midnight ice skating event (except for that one year where I had to write a PSCI paper on India and Nigeria) and maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many pictures of myself at these events but I can tell you exactly what wore to that event each year. Further ahead, I passed by the Nanotech building on my right where I once sat with Hui Jie after Astronomy, eating grape leaves from Magic Carpet, listening to a Planet Money episode about trade adjustment assistance. On the left after crossing 33rd St, (which has a traffic light that always stays on green in this direction for a long time; I never think I’m going to make it but I always do) I passed some engineering building I can’t name on the left, where I had to walk to in the cold, with slippers, twice, to get Shahirah’s keys from her because I had an awful tendency to lock myself out.
Somewhere in my diary, I keep a list of reasons why it is humbling to be human and one of the reasons is that I don’t understand the reason we keep and seek happy memories. My mind sometimes reminds me of art museums. There all these things I store in different sections of my brain… things I take mental strolls to look at, things that make me pause, tilt my head to the side and think or smile or cry or laugh about. And just like how people value art more the more intricate it is (or at least, I think they do), I cling on more tightly to the more the granular memories. When I say “I remember what I wore that day” or “I remember what song I was listening to on my way there”, I feel like it is comparable to the way people talk about textures and brush strokes. Maybe you’re more cultured than I am and you know why we have art museums and like visiting them but I don’t, other than the fact that I like looking at paintings because they’re aesthetically pleasing and sometimes make me feel things. I think people say art enriches our souls or something like that but no one has ever explained to me what purpose museums really serve even though we protect and preserve them… and that’s kinda how I feel about the galleries of memories I curate in my head. There are all these things, and I don’t know what they’re for, but they’re mine, and I like them. I like them a lot.
So, also on that list of why it’s humbling to be human is that we have so little control over what we forget. I enjoy remembering and sitting down and memorising lists because I know that if I put in the effort, I’ll retain the information. There is an efficacy associated with remembering. But I don’t think you can say the same about forgetting. How crazy is that? Really, think about it. It amazes me every single time I try. Someday, and I don’t know when, but the details will blur and I will be left with a glimmer of something that happened at some point in some place.
I feel so, so, so taken by all of this if you can’t already tell. I feel taken by it more than I know how to say… which brings me to the last thing I have on that list, and that is we are confined to the words we know how to use. I can only express to you how I feel to the extent that I can say so. I am so frustrated that the depth of both my grief and gratitude cannot be matched by the shallowness of the sentences I know how to construct. But if I had to try to tell you how I felt on my walk home today, I would say this: I don’t know what all these memories are for. I don’t know why I keep them like paintings in a museum. I don’t know why I replay them over and over in my head like a chart-topping pop song on the radio. I think I’ve never said this before—or if I have, you could count the number of times with a single hand—but to the humble portion of Philadelphia that I’ve come to know and call home, I love you, I love you, I love you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all these memories. They’re mine and I like them a lot. I like you a lot.
I’ve never been much of a cook, really. Up until college, I probably only ever fried eggs, helped my mom stir whatever was cooking in a pot, and take the chicken out of the freezer. But after I got off the dining plan in freshman year, I kind of started experimenting and I actually realized I really liked cooking for myself. I emphasize “for myself” because I’ve never cooked for more than 3 people and because I don’t like cooking what other people want me to cook, I just like cooking what I want to eat whenever I want (hahaha).
So yeah, throughout my time in college I became increasingly curious about what I could make and in senior year especially, I became so hooked on watching Martha Stewart videos on YouTube (yes, I’m one of those people) so I really got a lot of cooking ideas. I was going through my photos recently and decided to round up a bunch of my favourite cooking experiments from this past semester.
My number one favourite is probably ricotta pancakes. These were the softest, fluffiest, most indulgent pancakes I have ever had. If you know me, you know I don’t talk myself up very much but I actually think the best pancakes I’ve ever had were these ones, made by me. This was the recipe I used: you need ricotta cheese, flour, milk, eggs, baking powder, salt and butter.
The thing about this recipe is that I usually avoid recipes that involve separating eggs and beating the whites separately but for this one, I decided to do it and honestly… there’s no going back. Because I don’t have a mixer, my arm got so sore after beating the egg whites to get stiff peaks (I used the Kitchn’s visual guide to beating egg whites—super super helpful!) but I swear, it was worth it. I think folding in beaten egg whites separately really makes all the difference. Although, naive me thought I’d really get to taste the ricotta cheese in the pancake but it’s really more about giving the pancake a more moist and indulgent feel, which was not what I expected, but still so good. I also tossed in some lemon zest just because I like lemon zest.
After I cooked it, I ate it with butter and honey just because I wasn’t going to buy maple syrup for this one batch of pancakes. Ahhh, I genuinely can’t say enough good things about it because this was probably one of the best things I’ve ever made and I highly recommend you try to make it.
Lemon Sugar Cookies
When I first came to the US, the idea of sugar cookies were so foreign to me. But I think they’re just cookies with like… sugar on top? Anyway. My friend Petra posted a picture of lemon cookies ages ago and I loved the idea so much so I tried it myself. My sister Aida and I made it together last year once and I remember reallyliking it because of the lemon sugar on top so my friend Jamie and I made it again a few months ago with this recipe for the cookie and this is the recipe for the lemon sugar (basically sugar and lemon zest) which is what you roll the cookie dough in just before you bake it.
They had just the right amounts of of chewiness and crunchiness and I love both the sweetness and sourness in a cookie. In fact, I’m starting to think it’s the perfect thing for summer and maybe I’ll make it again soon.
If you’ve seen Princess Diaries a quarter as many times as I have, you’ll remember that in the state dinner scene, (where she gets a brain freeze) they serve this green soup that has a G on it. I obviously don’t know what soup that is, but I’ve always thought it was spinach soup and I’ve always wanted to have spinach soup. At home, we’ve made mushroom soup a few times before so I thought I knew the basic concept and it couldn’t be that much different (I was actually kinda wrong, I think mushroom soup is slightly easier). Plus, I love spinach—palak paneer is probably one of my all time favourite indian foods—so I really wanted to try this recipe, especially after I watched Thomas Joseph’s Kitchen Conundrums video on it.
Let’s go on a tangent for a little bit: I really don’t know how many of you ever click on any of the links I include but I cannot recommend Kitchen Conundrums highly enough when it comes to cooking videos. I just love how much I learn about the techniques behind cooking every dish they feature. Like for this one, Thomas Joseph explains the difference between using a bechamel and a veloute as a base for creamy soups and he tells us that whenever you’re cooking with flour or some sort of starch you have to bring it up to a boil and then let it simmer and those things are always very useful to know!
Ok, now back to the soup. You start with a roux, which is butter with onions and then flour. Then you add chicken stock to the mix, boil it all and let it simmer. And then it starts to get a little complicated once you start to work on the spinach. You first have to blanch the spinach, which basically means putting it in boiled salted water for a while to cook it a little and give it flavour but then you have to quickly take it out and put it into an iced bath to stop it from cooking too much.
Then, you blend the veloute and the spinach (which you should obviously dry first) in a blender. After that, you put it back in the pot for a bit and add some cream and honestly, spinach never tasted so good. Yeah, it is kind of annoying because there are quite a lot of steps but it’s not difficult, you know? And to me, it’s so worth it.
I love potatoes. Did you know that? Next to eggs and cheese, potatoes are in my upper echelon of favourite foods. Slightly below it is salmon and noodles and rice, but let’s not get into my whole food ranking right now. Last winter break, I was in London and the night before my flight back to Philadelphia, I went to Poundland to look for a microwave food cover thing and ended up getting distracted and coming out with a silicone spatula, ceramic dish and a grater. It was at that Poundland that I decided I’d make rosti with that grater when I got back to Philly.
I can’t remember what recipe I followed to make my rosti because the thing is, what I usually do is read like 5 different recipes, watch a couple of YouTube videos on it and then set off to just do it myself once I feel like I got the basic concept down. I can’t even remember exactly what I did, which isn’t helpful to you, I know, but I think there was some parboiling and an iced bath involved as well. But I think you don’t have to do all of that, you can probably get away with just peeling the potatoes, boiling them, grating them (this unsurprisingly turned out to be the most tedious part) and then mixing them with whatever you want to cook it with. I put salt, pepper, some paprika and scallions.
I think some people cook it all at once in a large pan but I wasn’t really a fan of that and I just think making lots of smaller ones just made more sense to me for whatever reason. So what you do is just take a bit of this mix at a time and fry it! It’s pretty simple. Like the spinach soup, it’s totally not difficult but probably more tedious than you’d like. The payoff though, was so worth it.
I ate it with smoked salmon, sour cream and dill and it was probably the best savoury breakfast I’ve made for myself this entire year.
I first made spaghetti squash with Cristina last fall, and I really just marvelled at the fact that spaghetti squash is a thing in this world that exists. I don’t remember feeling as awestruck about produce like that ever before and I don’t think I have since. But basically, it’s squash which turns into these spaghetti-like strings if you carik them after you bake it. I don’t know how to say carik in English—pull apart into bits?!
So yeah, we made it once last fall and it was so delicious. I wanted to make it again but I think it was out of season so I could never find it. Then, one miraculous day, I was at Frogro with Jamie just accompanying her when I saw one lonely spaghetti squash just sitting there in the produce section. I couldn’t believe it, there was only one!!! So I took no chances and bought it immediately. I’m so glad I did because I don’t recall seeing it there again.
First, you have to poke a few holes along the line in the centre where you’ll cut it, and then microwave it for like 20 seconds. We tried cutting it without microwaving it that one time and my god was it difficult to cut. After microwaving it, it was so easy even I could do it (I’m not very strong, lol). Then you remove the seeds, put some olive oil, salt and pepper and bake it skin up at 400 deg F/200 deg C for 30 minutes ish? Until the squash is done, basically.
While it’s baking, cut up some vegetables to put inside. Once it’s done, use a fork to like “tear” the flesh into shreds (i.e. the simple Malay word, carik) and then put in the vegetables you want, put some cheese on top and bake it for another, I don’t know, 10-15 minutes, until the cheese melts.
This recipe is really easy but truth be told, I think I mostly like it because it’s still so new to me and so it’s just so much fun to rip the squash into spaghettis, haha.
Pecan Pie Muffins
I really had a huge baking obsession this past semester. I must say though, that the pecan muffins I made were probably tied with the gooey butter cake for Best Thing I’ve Ever Baked. I don’t know how to describe to you how perfect the texture of these muffins were but imagine this nice crunchy top and once you bite through that crisp, the inside is soft and chewy and nutty and just brilliant. Sigh. Thank you, Martha Stewart for this gem.
It’s a pretty basic recipe: flour, salt, baking powder in one bowl. Brown sugar, eggs, melted butter, milk in another bowl. Then, combine them and fold into it some toasted chopped pecans and that’s pretty much it, you’re ready to scoop it into the tray!
You could really really really just eat them like this and I promise you they’ll already be really good, but I’m extra, so I added cream cheese frosting because I miss those walnut cakes with cream cheese frosting we used to get from Marks & Spencer. I borrowed a mixer from Ken’s house just to make this frosting and (I’ve been saying this a lot in this post, but) it was so worth it.
Gooey Butter Cake
I’ve actually written about these before, but if I’m going to write about the best recipes I’ve tried this past year, it would just be flat out wrong not to include gooey butter cake. Apparently this is a St Louis thing? Again, I found out about it from a Karlie Kloss video and decided to make it because the recipe is incredibly easy. It’s like her aunt’s recipe, it has only 6 core ingredients and it’s so easy you don’t even have to try to memorise it.
First, you need a melted stick of butter, a box of cake mix and an egg. Mix all of that together. It becomes this like cakey mixture which will be the base crust thing, and you press it onti the bottom of your tray (9 x 11″-ish). Then you’ll mix 8 oz cream cheese (which is like one box I think), 2 eggs and about 3-4 cups of baking sugar. This becomes the thing that’s really nice and gooey. Once it’s mixed, just pour this second mix on top of the base. I just added blueberries on top and let them sink into the gooey mixture at this point but I think the classic recipe doesn’t have any fruit in it and I can imagine it’d be really good like that too. Then just bake it at 350 deg F for 30-40 minutes, you really have to wait and see. Once it’s done, let it cool for a bit so that the top will form this crust-like thing. Then, sprinkle some icing sugar on top and you’re done!
So yeah, those were probably my most noteworthy cooking endeavours this past year. It literally makes me so happy to even just look back on all of these pictures and remember how much fun I had making them and how elated I was when I got the first taste of each one of these things. I hope you’ll make some of these!! The last time I posted some recipes, a few people actually sent me pictures of their attempts at baked eggs and pancakes and some other stuff and it just made me really happy so if you do make any of these, please send me pictures and tell me if you figure out any improvements or whatever. Also, if you think there’s a recipe I’d like, please send it to me, I absolutely love it when people send me recipe recommendations 🙂
It’s my first summer without a real job and you know, for a while I kind of regretted taking on an internship the summer after my freshman year because honestly freshmen should just chill. But (!) it has been a month being done with classes now, and let me just say… this whole ~lounging around~ life doesn’t seem to be for me as much as I thought it would be. I did love those weekends I didn’t have homework to do and I loved sneaking in some free time to play Sporcle quizzes or watch Netflix. Strangely, free time isn’t as fun when you have so much of it. I literally haven’t felt like playing Sporcle since finals ended. ECON 001, everyone: scarcity!
Regardless, all this free time has meant I’ve gotten to do some of the Philly things I’ve alwayswanted to do. For example, I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the first time! Let me tell you why this is noteworthy for a second. First, the PMA is only about a 10-minute drive away; I have cycled and ran past it several times. Secondly, most Penn kids make it to this museum within the first few days of being here because during orientation, there’s this party Penn throws for the freshmen at the PMA—Shahirah and I just didn’t go! Third, even my family has been to the PMA almost 4 years ago now.
So yeah, I went to the museum! It was cool, but also somewhat… underwhelming, to be honest. To be fair, (and this is going to sound so verybougie) in the past six months, I’ve gotten to visit The Met, The British Museum, LACMA, The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, The Chicago Institute of Art and The Barnes Foundation… so the PMA kinda paled in comparison. Still, I really enjoyed going to museums. I don’t get to do these kinds of things when I’m back in Malaysia because there just aren’t good museums around (fun fact: I used to think I wanted to go into museum curation for a hot second) so I just appreciate being able to take a short ride to see such a legit collection.
The only downer was the fact that the Rocky statue was like closed off for construction! But oh well, I will live. And for those of you who may not know, the Philly Art Museum is home to the “Rocky Steps”. I haven’t even seen the Rocky films, so, whatever.
I also got to go to the Barnes last Sunday and I preferred that a lot more. I had been wanting to visit The Barnes Foundation for almost a year now. Last Fall, I took a Communications class called Critical Approach to Pop Culture and it was the first time I learned about The Barnes’ history. I mean, I don’t want to bore you too much but basically, Barnes was this rich guy who collected a lot of art and it used to all be held in this mansion in the suburbs of Philadelphia. It was a really unique place because while most museums organised artwork by period or style or both, Barnes didn’t. He was more interested in pushing visitors to seek more transcendent connections between the artworks. The paintings at The Barnes don’t have printed-out labels on the walls next to them, just the name of the painting’s artist on its frame. And the fact that it’s a foundation and not a museum was a testament to how Barnes thought art should be accessible and teachable to everyone. He intended for it to all be kept in the old mansion. Then he died, and there was this huge scandal about moving the foundation to the super touristy part of Philadelphia. The debate was complex: it was about honouring a person’s will, whether or not it would be better for public education, protests from the old location’s neighbours because there were so many tourists in their housing area and of course, political and financial interests.
So that whole long rambly paragraph was just to say that I’ve been really curious about The Barnes because I knew what an interesting history it had. (I’ve said enough about it and I don’t know if anyone ever clicks on the links I include, but I highly recommend these two articles: The Barnes Foundations’ Disastrous New Home and Moving Pictures) The place itself was beautiful, although, as these articles note, it’s not what Barnes himself intended: it’s too “nice” to the visitor, when the intended experience was for you to be thrown into art “like diving into the deep end of the pool”.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but I was very amazed at how they attempted to recreate the interiors of the mansion, down to the wallpaper and lighting. I was also very curious and wish I could have learned more about why the artworks were arranged the way they were; there was definitely a lot of symmetry and intentional juxtaposition but honestly, apart from how much I liked the way they look, I couldn’t think too much about it. My recent visit to both The Barnes and PMA did, however, send me back to my notes and readings from my Modernist Literature class two years ago. I’m happy to say that I appreciated reading Gertrude Stein’s writings about Cézanne and Picasso so much more now that I’m not as much of the loser I was in Sophomore year.
Okay, I truly don’t know much about art so I’m going to stop talking about museums now. My highlight of the week has been getting to spend time with my friends (as always). It was my friend Hanna’s birthday last Friday but I only got to celebrate it with her on Monday. We went out for iftar together, with Fahmida, Menvekeh, my sister Julia and Hanna’s friend from med school, Omar. We ate at this really good Afghan restaurant I had never been to and I’m sad that I don’t know when I’ll ever get to go back there.
It was super nice to see a bunch of my friends and for some reason everything seemed so funny to me that night. I can’t remember too much about why I kept laughing, but this was definitely the most unforgettable moment from that dinner: I was telling Omar about how my sister is studying medicine in London, and how that means I have someone I can always send weird pictures of my throat or whatever to ask about whether I’m okay. The thing is, I had sent the same picture of my throat to Hanna the night before and unbeknownst to me, Hanna had also sent that picture to Omar to discuss it for whatever reason. So, when I told him that I sent those kinds of pictures to my sister, Omar said “oh, so you’re the throat picture!” I wanted to burst out laughing but I also kind of couldn’t believe that here was this guy I was meeting for the first time……. and he has literally already seen my uvula. I just turned to Hanna and said “we need to talk.” LOL.
Apart from other hanging out with people who’re here for the summer, I also got to see my friend Hui Jie yesterday. She was coming back to Philly for a night after a cruise in the caribbean and she flew off to Singapore earlier this morning. We got our usual pizza for one last time except last night, we had to sit on the floor of my apartment since I had already, to her dismay, sold my couch (which she has a particularly good relationship with). I’m glad I got to see her and I’m hoping I’ll see her again in KL over the summer before she goes off to the Netherlands for grad school. I’m reallyyyyy going to miss hanging out with her all. the. damn. time. and getting to know the most granular details of her day to day life—the kind you only get to know about people when you see them almost everyday.
So yeah, my days have been pretty chill. I’ve been doing a lot of reading (currently reading The Road to Character by David Brooks) and catching up on my favourite podcasts; it is truly a first world problem of mine that I am unable to read and listen to podcasts at the same time, sigh. I’ve been listening to a lot of Radiolab recently, and if you’re new to podcasts then take this as me firmly grabbing you by the shoulders, looking at you squarely in the eyes and telling you: listen to Radiolab. I think they’re formally a podcast about science but in reality, it’s really about curiosity and exploring interesting questions through the lens of a dynamic character. They’re so amazing at sound design and storytelling that you always feel gripped by each episode and if you don’t know where to start, here are some of my favs:
From Tree to Shining Tree taught me about the marvels of the networks of tree roots (yes, they can even make a good story out of tree roots, believe me)
23 Weeks and 6 Days followed a couple through their pregnancy to get at the deeper question of pinpointing “vitality” in an unborn child
On the Edge is one of my all time favs (and one I wrote my Radiolab application about!) looking at the career of Surya Bonaly to question our understanding of what makes a good figure skater and whether/how racism/injustice comes into play in sports
Lose Lose covers a couple of Badminton matches in the Olympics where both teams were clearly trying to lose and it might also be one of my favs because it’s about a sport many Americans consider obscure but Malaysians love watching
Playing God was about doctors struggling with having to choose who to save during Hurricane Katrina
I tried to list like 2 of my favourite Radiolab episodes but I just couldn’t, haha. Apart from Radiolab, I started listening to Tape and Longform—both are shows that feature interviews with writers, journalists and editors I look up to like Ira Glass, Charles Duhigg, Alex Blumberg, Malcolm Gladwell, Anna Sale, Lulu Miller, Stephen Dubner and so many more. I can’t even tell you how happy and inspired I get whenever I hear people talk about a) whatever they love doing plus how they got there and b) the thinking and overall process behind producing their craft. Ugh. I also caught up on other favourites like Reply All and Planet Money, which really bring me so much joy. I just have such a deep love for podcasts because they use compelling storytelling to help you think and ask questions and they’re just so, so, so informative. I rarely ever finish listening to a podcast without feeling like I just became a teeny little bit more of an informed citizen of the world. Anyway, clearly, if you ever want to talk about your favourite podcasts or if you want recommendations, just don’t even think twice about reaching out to me. I can probably talk for hours about this stuff.
I know I started out saying I don’t know if this whole chill life is really for me, but I’m glad I’ve kind of found a way to keep it interesting for myself. Saffa (and honestly, so many other people) have reminded me to try to really rest and enjoy what I’ve got because the truth is, I don’t know if I’ll ever get the time to be this relaxed ever again. I’ve been thinking about that a lot: this stark transition from being really busy to having so much to rest and I might say more about that once I’ve more fully wrapped my head around how I’m taking it (or I might not, lol). But after probably failing to relish the joy of being in college as much as I should have, I think I’m going to try to take her advice on this one and savour all this free time.