2011

2011, a very chaotic year. Even it’s all history now I still have a mixed feeling about it.

1月(January)

It was a long winter in Boston. Snowy and cold, yet I had to drive between the school and students’ houses regardless what the weather was like outside. Every 30 minutes I needed to regroup myself to face a new child’s learning condition and attitude. Too much snacks while driving and too little time to sit down and eat.

2月(February)

A busy month. Due to our trip back to Taiwan and Japan, I had a basically none-stop teaching month for make-up lessons. The desire and excitement of going home  kept me going.

3月(March)

We finally got on the plane to Taiwan for 5 days. Me and Nik went to my older brother’s wedding, a very modern, fun and moving one. Everyone did his part — thanks to my brother and his wife, who were both very good at organizing events — that everyone was smiling when leaving the ceremony.  Then we went to Tokyo–probably there was too much excitement, I was having fever the whole time there. In meiji shrine (明治神宮),we vowed to each other that we will try to work our way back to either Taiwan or Japan. In the afternoon of March 11th, I was having a really bad fever so we went back to the hotel to rest (and eat bento). Then it came the earthquake.

Two days later we got on the plane back to US. I saw lots of fields been flooded.

4月(April)

Back to Boston, back to work. We helped each other facing the reality, yet in our heart something new was developing. Feeling suffocated by the situations at work and at life, we knew THIS (in terms of computing–“this” means the triggered event) will not last long. We started wanting less and longing for simplicity and emptiness.

5月(May)

Put thoughts into action.

After a long talk, we decided to move (back) to Chicago where he is from. We quit our jobs, said good bye to our friends (not that many), and loaded all our belongings into the little Scion. Everything we owned has turn into eight paper boxes, and everything else, we dragged them to the curb, sold them on Craigslist, or donated to Salvation Army. It was our first move towards minimalist style of living.

6月(June)

Moved to Chicago. Living with three cutest cats ever and was the best time so far in this year. My mother/father-in-law kind of “heal” both of us internally with their warm heart.

7月(July)

Not much happened. Days passed like a breeze — by the time I noticed, it already went by . Talked to my mom very often, and she learnt to like internet, started using Facebook and YouTube even started writing a blog!

8月(August)

We bought our first house at Chicago suburbs. It was as if a new beginning, a new start. Nik got a new job, too. Everything was turning better… we celebrated often, that we actually went with our guts for dropping everything in Boston.

9月(September)

My health condition is getting worse and worse. Decided to have another trip back home for surgery and lots of medical exam. Since I didn’t have a job at the time, I left Nik alone in our new house, hopped on the plane back to Taiwan for a whole month of “full body” exam. Spending a whole month in the hospital was painful, but it was great to have some time just hang around my parents.

My high school best friend came to visit me after my surgery. We spent whole day giggling and discussing our life after we apart from each other, and we talked until our eye lids dropped heavier than our thoughts. We constantly talked to each other since then.

10月(October)

Back to Chicago. My newly bought house. Started enjoy the peaceful life of taking husband to work, taking time on breakfast and coffee, while reading blogs for way too long, then baking bread and making dinner and then watching movie till bed time.

At the meantime of my uneventful/peaceful life, I started looking for a totally different career.

11月(November)

Lots of job interviews, and lots of time in front of the computer sending out resume, modifying resume/cover letter, and improving portfolio. Very anxious with the job search, and very clueless when/where I will end up. Started to feel lost and frustrated again, yet Nik helped me to have faith in myself.

12月(December)

Started my first UI developer job in Chicago downtown 🙂 As a classically trained pianist, no one probably will believe this is the career path I ended up–not even my parents. During my teaching years back in Boston, I knew I might need something else than music to survive one day — so I started learning HTML,  CSS  and Javascript by reading books and doing online tutorials. Then it all became  so interesting to me that I was compulsive about (well, almost) every little details of what I am working on — that’s when I know this is the passion I have been searching for for all these years.

Now, January, 2012 — I am glad 2011 has past. Hopefully 2012 is brighter and slightly more stable.

This is a new stage in our life, and a new year. I know new challenges are coming but I think I am,  (a deep breath), ready.

[ Cooking Mama ] Saag Paneer and Red Bean Rolls

This week I couldn’t really execute my “cookbook-cooking” project ( checking out one  cookbook from the local public library and design two weeks’ meals around it) because Nik made a giant serving of Indian food last weekend and we have just been eating leftovers the past 3 days. That was his first attempt to make Indian food and it turns out to be very good, except he didn’t believe that the recipe only calls for 3 whole cardamom pods but decided to put 9 of them. (So in every 4 bites you are destined to spit out some hard pod shells. ) Lesson learned, I say.

Last night I made my favorite Red bean rolls again. In Taiwan, this is the kind of bread people typically expect from a local bakery. Kind of like a baking 101.

I don’t know why Azuki red beans are not as popular here in US. Although every time I recommend it to my American friends, it usually has very positive response. I guess this is another regional food/culture/climate thing.

Anyway, this time I use Carol’s recipe instead of my mom’s. Overall it is very successful and I am very happy with the texture. However, the recipe is not very sweet–if you have a sweet tooth like me, you probably want to add a bit more sugar.

Carol , whom I don’t personally know, is a very popular blog writer in Taiwan. She published 4 cookbooks so far and each of them has been a great hit on the market.

I don’t personally trust whatever press say until I actually try the thing. In this case,  the recipes are actually really good! In Carol’s books there are always clear and thoughtful step-by-step instructions and pictures for each recipe. Not as powerful as videos but tempting enough to make me think by following these steps I will be able to reproduce whatever delicious thing I want in my kitchen.

*These books are all in traditional Chinese. I wish one day there is an English version.

[ Cooking Mama ] Brussels Sprouts Gratin from “5 Ingredient Fix” cookbook

I’ve recently started a new project (yes, another one)- for the good of Nik and my health and the fun of cooking — I decided to pick up one cookbook and try several recipes from it every two week. My first one is Claire Robinson’s “5 Ingredient Fix.”

The first time I saw Robinson’s show on food network, I was very intrigued by her simple cooking style. Married to a meat-loving veggie-hating American,  I have always wanted to cook more western style food but have been so intimidated by those recipes that call for a long list of ingredients. This book kind of opens the door to western home cooking for me, and  even though sometimes all those 5 ingredients that I need for a recipe are all NEW to me, most of the stuff in this book is still really easy to make and kind of fool-proof.

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

Ingredients:

  1. 1.5 pounds of Brussels Sprouts
  2. 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  3. 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  4. 2 cups milk in room temperature
  5. 1 cup grated cheese (she used Gruyère, but I changed it to parmesan cheese)
  6. salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook 5~7 minutes, until bright green and beginning to soften; drop into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

Make the sauce by melting the butter and flour together in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until smooth and bubbling, about 1 minute; slowly whisk in the milk and continue to cook, whisking frequently until think and creamy, 2~3 minutes. Add 3/4 of the cheese and stir until melted and smooth. Season the sauce well with salt and heavily with pepper.

Halve the Brussels sprouts through the core and put them in an even layer in a 2-quart baking dish. Pour the sauce over the sprouts and evenly top with the remaining cheese. Bake in the center of the oven 10~15 minutes, until golden and bubbling on top.

~~~~

I have also added Pierogi as the carbohydrate part of the meal. The Brussels Sprouts turns out to be awesome, very creamy and flavorful. The Pierogi was pan-fried to a crispy crusted awesome bulbs. The whole meal was a success and gave me lots of confidence.

Morning Discovery

 

Here are two things I found really useful and can’t wait to try:

Stylebook is a closet managing app. You can upload your whole wardrobe into your iphone, mix and match the items and store outfits to your calendar. The background removing function and the intuitive drag and drop make the app seems very easy to use. Too bad I have a 1st generation ipad so I won’t be able to try this, but it looks like a good little helper for people who have iphone. Please, developers of Stylebook, make an ipad version!

Japanese Style Bread, which uses Tangzhong method, has always been my favorite kind of bread. This is the kind of bread we eat in Taiwan almost everyday, and it’s extremely different from western style bread. Tangzhong bread has soft and fluffy texture, whereas western bread usually has a chewy and dryer internal part with a crisper crust. Because the Tangzhong bread is so moist and fluffy, sometimes even buttery,  we don’t usually need to put butter on the toast. The texture even stays the same when you put it in the fridge. Anyway, this bread makes me homesick!

Yesterday I was finally able to do crane pose and one leg head stand. Because I have really thin upper arms so I have been having a hard time to do crane pose. There are many ways to go into crane pose and the easiest way is from squad position.It is really important that you look up, tuck your knees into your armpit, and think about going forward. It’s not an easy pose but it’s really fun…..keep on practicing!

My 30 by 30 challenge has began……now!

Finally, I am ready to start this! I spent one hour yesterday taking pictures of my 30 items and couple hours today to put together a little poster for myself for this challenge.

For people who have never heard about “30 by 30”, it is a challenge conducts/created by blogger Kendi. The first time I came across this challenge I was very intrigued and excited about her idea of 30 by 30 (read her ideas here.) Basically you pick 30 items out of your closet, and then make 30 outfits out of these 30  items. Recently I joined this challenge hoping to find my own style. Everyone can try!

I made 2 extra goals for myself besides the 30 outfits part: finding 10 business attire outfits and explore different accessories. Finding 10 business outfits simply is for me to get the most from this experience. At the end of this whole thing, I need to be able to know what works together and what doesn’t then put them on in 5 minutes.

Another goal I have set for myself is exploring accessories. Believe or not, I own zero belt, zero necklace, bracelet or any other accessories besides bags and shoes. I have never understood the importance of jewelry until recently. This will be a perfect chance to exercise my sense of selecting personal accessories.

I actually had a hard time to find 30 items out of my closet. We threw out most of our cloth when moving, so these 30 cloth are actually almost all I own.However, I am not going to buy any new cloth during the challenge. It is more about understanding the potential of each garment  instead of expending the size of the closet physically. No matter what, this will be fun!

The Blacklist of Accompanist Repertoire

Reading a post like this reminds me a lot of bittersweet memories while working as a staff accompanist in NEC. It  still gives me a chill when I think about some of the pieces, not only because how hard they are but also how little time I was given to prepare. Although I grew up listening to lots of violin and cello recordings, my knowledge of the instrumental repertoire is only tip of the iceberg. Since I have a tendency to say Yes before even knowing what level the repertoire is, through out the years of accompanying I have stumbled into so many scary, murky puddles. When you are sight-reading a piece, the last thing you want is constant meter changes and key changes. However…That, is usually the case. I have always believed that I have very good work ethic as an accompanist: I prepare for rehearsals, get to rehearsals early to warm up and ready to go and use rehearsals for ensemble issues rather than my personal practice time. However, there are still cases  I just can’t achieve that. Therefore it really is a good idea to have some kind of “blacklist” of repertoire, not saying that everything on the list is not beautiful but everything requires a huge amount of energy to be in shape, so that I can think twice before accepting the gigs:

Note: Most of these rep are orchestral reductions.

Violin:

Korngold Violin Concerto (I love this one! But I only had one day to prepare for a recital. It takes me whole day …)

Barber Violin Concerto 3rd movement (super fast running notes)

Viola:

Hindemith Viola Sonata (Lots of chords)

Clark Viola Sonata (lots of running notes and fast color changes)

Cello:

Tchaikovsky Rococo Theme and variations (Rhythm)

Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 (Notes-wise: not hard, Rhythm: quite annoying )

Dvorak Cello Concerto

Clarinet:

Copland Clarinet Concerto (Notes-wise: not hard, Rhythm: quite annoying )

Weber Clarinet and Piano Duo (not really as hard as I thought… just lots of scales.)

Of course I will keep updating my list. Sure the list will expend!

{New Finds} TuneUp

I have a big problem about organizing my 30GB music library. In my library, it has all kinds of music range from classical piano to Japanese punk. It is a super time consuming project to sit there and edit every single one of them.

But not until I found TuneUp.

It really works as advertised: simply drag and drop all the music into the TuneUp panel, and it will “clean” your whole music library in couple minutes!

All the stupid “unknown” “Track 01~010” music are gone!

Recently they have a coupon on getting the Lifelong and Annual member. I just used the coupon and it is still available.

Type ILUVTUNEUP when you purchase a membership.