beauty, coffee shops, mom, Mother's Day, San Francisco, simplicity, small things, toast

Why Artisanal Toast is My Jam

“Shhhh. Be quiet! You’re going to wake her up.”

“I’m trying! How many slices should we make?”

“Let’s make two.”

It was Mother’s Day morning, and I was ten. My then-seven-year-old brother and I were surprising our mom with breakfast. My dad was chaperoning under the guise of the reading the morning paper. We had ordered him to stay away. This was our thing. On the menu? Jam and butter toast with orange juice.

A toast to love

Ding went the toaster. “Eee! It’s so loud! She’s going to wake up,” my brother squealed. He was louder than the toaster itself. I stood on my tiptoes, transferring the toast from the toaster to a plate. I heaped butter onto the toast, watching it melt, before swirling the unmelted chunks together with my mom’s homemade berry jam. My brother watched.

Pouring a glass of orange juice as a final step, we were finally ready to deliver my mom’s breakfast — to her bed.

“We both have to hold it!” my brother insisted as we starting carrying the plate and the glass up the stairs. My dad and dog followed closely, both expecting us to drop everything, one dreading the moment while the other anticipated it.

When we successfully made it to my mom, she was “fast asleep” (I learned over the years that she typically awoke to noise downstairs, and enjoyed listening to it from afar). “Happy Mother’s Day!” we said in unison as my mom opened her eyes.

“For me?” she said in her best “surprised” tone, taking a bite of toast. Never mind that she never really ate nor enjoyed breakfast.

But she wasn’t pretending when she said she enjoyed the toast on Mother’s Day, delivered to her bed, giving her just a little extra rest and a lot of love. The effort and unbridled excitement that went into it was what energized her, not the carbohydrates.

Meanwhile, my brother and I were thankful that our breakfast specialty was one we really couldn’t mess up (it was the only breakfast item we could make).

The Mill, San Francisco

As I grew older, toast went from being my only culinary expertise to my easiest to my most comfortable. Peanut butter toast became my grab-and-go breakfast, my pre-soccer power, and my study date. There was nothing fancy or fussy about it.

So three years ago, when a friend told me that I had to try the toast at The Mill in San Francisco, I was certain I misheard her. “Like…bread toast?”

“I know it sounds like nothing but you have to experience it,” she said.

Well, I did, and regardless of whether or not you’ve been to The Mill, you know what I experienced because artisanal toast is everywhere you turn, San Francisco and otherwise.

I’ll pause here to say that if you think $4 toast is absurd, your opinion is justified (but also know that $4 toast is on the low end).

Still, I welcome it.

An at-home creation

Perhaps, as in the case of my mom on Mother’s Day, it is the luxury of having someone prepare you something that you could very well do on your own. Or perhaps it is the unassuming complexity of a well balanced bread. Or maybe it is the presentation,  versatility, approachable and comforting nature, or its knack for inspiring culinary creativity.

Last year, with time to spare and an eye for toast, I started an instagram dedicated to it. It was mostly a way to savor my experiences and recreate them in my kitchen. However, once I identified myself with something so mundane, I found myself thinking about it more and more. What really made artisanal toast so special (to me)?

Country White, Tartine Bakery, San Francisco

And then, as my follower count rose (very slowly, much like dough), I marveled at the community bred by toast — it’s a food everyone knows and anyone can enjoy, whether it’s because they’re hungry or because they want to geek out about the science behind creating that perfect loaf of einkorn. There’s little not to like or understand about this long-standing staple. It can be enjoyed simple or gourmet, as a main or as dessert, at home or dining out.

The answer finally came to me last Friday night, as I mashed an avocado on a generous slice from Tartine Bakery: Artisanal toast brings novelty to something simple. That’s all. It establishes a dependable beauty in the everyday.

And I can ($4+) toast to that.

adolescence, adulthood, beauty, growing up, insecurity, television

How Cable Television Secured All My Adolescent Insecurities family didn’t get cable television until I was in the sixth grade. Until then, I resented my parents for depriving me of this simple luxury. It was unfair to me that all my friends could enjoy a buffet of television options whenever they wanted while I had limited choices which included weekly airings of Wishbone and Full House. 

I didn’t realize it then, but the lack of options made it so that television was never part of my routine and rarely my first choice for entertainment. Instead, I’d opt for writing stories or doing art projects (leaf pressing, stone polishing, sand designs and anything else sold in a D-I-Y kit at Target). Family time around the television was similarly sparse, and occurred only after we’d exhausted other post-dinner group activities like board games or going for a walk.

These television alternatives always served their purpose in entertaining me. At the end of any of my self-directed episodes of fun, I was completely beside myself with happiness. I walked away satisfied.

I still remember the miraculous day that I returned from school to learn the miraculous news: we had cable. It was like a dream come true and I imagined that now, by association, my life would be just like a sitcom, with lots of laughter, superficial beauty, and whatever “perfect” was supposed to be. I spent that Friday night binge watching shows on The Disney Channel.

Over the next few weeks, I was slowly sucked in by the characters and worlds that I considered to be analog to me and my current or aspirational life. I couldn’t wait to experience high school, college, and adulthood in the ways these characters did.

But by the end of high school, my appreciation for television had taken an inexplicable turn. At the end of an episode of most anything, I felt not entertained, but empty. It was back to reality, and a reality that was more and more distant from what I saw on television. I was stressed about academics, intimidated by social dynamics, nervous about my future, and uncomfortable in my own skin. Immersing myself in episodes of perfect families, perfect friends, perfect students, perfect bodies, perfect skin, and perfect comforts for even characters that were supposed to be “struggling,” only reminded me of what I was not. Though most of their worries and problems could be solved within a thirty-minute episode, all mine were only aggravated during that time.

Finally, I did what my pre-cable self could have never imagined possible: I effectively stopped watching television. Though I misinterpreted the reason back then (I told myself I just didn’t have time), I now realize that it was because television made me feel insecure about every aspect of my life, from my body to my day-to-day experiences.

To this day, I don’t feel compelled to watch television and follow only countable shows. The Office was one in college, and now it’s The Mindy Project. There are several unsurprising reasons it makes the short list including the fact that I find her laugh-out-loud hilarious and that I identify with her given our shared ethnicities.

But the main, and more subtle reason, is that she has established herself as a human off-screen. Be it through her open admissions about the importance of hard work or via her raw and authentic instagram, she is unlike many celebrities and lifebloggers out there who rarely break the fourth wall.

And it’s not just other celebrities. I’ve increasingly noticed the seemingly curated life I, and all of us, share on our various social networks. We don’t necessarily deserve all the blame, as these platforms tempt us with opportunities to filter the world around us and compete for recognition via likes, making it easier than ever for us to portray our lives as the ones we see in media. They encourage us to live lives of self-compsure and photographic exposure.

Mindy’s transparency is refreshing and in some ways, has helped me begin to build an adult appreciation for television and its entertainment value (ignoring for a moment that her show doesn’t actually appear on conventional television).

Though I often worry about the ways in which social media and technology will affect current and future generations of insecure adolescents (and adults), people like Mindy make me hopeful about the ways these channels enable humans to connect at the most fundamental levels.

Instead of ending this article with a bow like every thirty-minute television sitcom episode, I’ll instead leave you with one way in which Mindy’s life is exactly like the one I live, and am living at this very moment:

appearances, beauty, dance, first impressions, iPhone, Mini Cooper

“For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” – Steve Jobs

In case you’ve been wondering since my last post, I don’t miss having an iPhone 5. When I went to restore my apps, pictures, and data onto my iPhone 4S device, the transfer went smoothly. In fact, all my apps were automatically downloaded into the right folders. If the screen of my 4S weren’t a different size (and if the audio jack wasn’t at the top of the phone), I wouldn’t even notice that I was using a different phone. 
Around the time that I downgraded my phone, I purchased a MacBook Air (you win some, you lose some). Within ten minutes of turning it on for the first time, I was typing, business at usual. Almost everything I do on my computer is stored within browsers, my Mac Apps like Evernote or Photoshop, and in DropBox. Most of the time I forget that I have a new snazzy computer, that is, until I’m halfway to a coffee shop and suddenly doubt whether I’ve brought my laptop because my bag is so light.
A little less than two weeks ago, a member of the Corporate Communications team at my former company (crazy! I have a former company!) asked to film me for a video about products employees love. I chose my Mini Cooper. The videographer and I walked to my car in the parking lot. She set up her tripod then looked at me. “Okay, go for it. Just talk about why you love it.” “Can I practice a couple times? I haven’t thought about what to say.” “Don’t worry about it. Just talk, we’ll pick out some snippets.” 
A quick side-confession which will likely upset all male and even some female readers: I decided to buy my Mini before I even test drove it. My decision was based solely on the way it looked. Driving around my parents’ elephant SUVs in high school, despite how expensive they were, had been less than pleasant for me. I feared for my life and that of others when I drove them — they were simply too large for me to feel like I was in control. 
Back to extemporizing my script. As I looked into the camera, I talked about how sitting in my car makes me feel like I’m at a fun party, no matter what traffic is like. About how the number of other Minis on the road gives me the sense of being part of a safe community on the road. About how, simply put, my Mini makes me love driving. 
After filming the segment, I went back to my desk to realize that I had not said anything about the way the car looks. I was surprised that its cute stature was not part of my unconscious reasons for loving it. And now, as I sit here reflecting on my old and new tech gadgets, I’m realizing it’s much of the same. It’s what they can accomplish for me that’s more noteworthy than how they look.
The day it was launched, my friend sent me a link to the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video. As I sat there watching, I realized that we as individuals have ultimate power in determining how others see us. 
What’s interesting to me is that my disregard for the way products look does not translate into my assessment of my own appearance. For most of my life, I have been self-conscious about my body. Love handles and thighs, specifically. It made me shy away from certain social activities, like pool parties or going to the beach. Part of this insecurity stems from my being a dancer. Depending on the performance, my audiences had up to two hours to stare at my body. Over the last two years, I’ve toned down these areas. Most surprising to me was that attaining this goal didn’t change anything about my personality or how I felt as a person. When I think about myself, I don’t imagine anything different from how I looked in say my “fatter thigh” days. And neither friends nor strangers treat me any differently. 
If you are a human reading this, it’s likely that you too have your own insecurities. Pressure that you put on yourself to look and act a certain way. Outside of being generally healthy, realize that feeling excessively insecure about yourself will only make you less attractive as a social companion. For the most part, even subconscious first impressions are based on facial expressions and body language — not hair length or tummy fat. When a slightly shorter and fatter phone can do all the same things as its taller and skinnier counterpart, and just a little less efficiently, looks really aren’t everything. So long as you remain being the essence that is you, your closest companions will never feel a need to upgrade you.
beauty, compost, earthworms, life, messiness, relax, San Francisco, trendy

Put me in the compost pile to decompose me for a while.

As I perused my news reader over breakfast a few weeks ago, I was distracted by a petulant buzzing sound. Thinking at first that my shower had left water in my ear, I tipped my head over and pounded on the side of it. This was for nought as the buzzing continued. I stood up like a madwoman and scurried around the kitchen until I identified the location and source of the sound: Petulant buzz, thy name is fly in the compost bin.

Caught somewhere in between disgust and hipster (let’s face it, compost bins are pretty trendy), I quickly finished my breakfast so that I could take out the compost bag before leaving for work. I hadn’t taken more than two steps down the stairs out of my apartment when the compost bag gave out. Our stairs were covered in compost; it was as if someone had delivered those pies from The Help to my home.

As someone with a general appreciation for hygiene, I was absolutely horrified. With two minutes to spare before I would miss my shuttle to work, I used a piece of cardboard to push the compost back into the bag. This obviously did nothing but spread a thin layer of compost all over the steps.

This is a disaster. I’ll take care of it when I get home, I thought as I ran towards my shuttle. For the entirety of my one-hour ride, I couldn’t help but feel self-conscious about the aroma of compost I was surely exuding. Either my friends were being really nice, or it was just in my head. The entire day, all I wanted to do was get home to clean my steps. When I got home that evening, it was dark and I was spent. I had neither the energy nor interest in cleaning the steps which were now being circled by flies. I did my best to ignore it and went inside. Showered and waiting for my dinner to cook, I filled up a glass of water and went downstairs to pour it all over the steps. This actually did nothing but make our cement steps a slippery hazard for my roommates.

Defeated and still hungry, I gave up. The mess continued to gnaw at me for the next several days, but I didn’t have the ability to properly clean it (and by ability maybe I mean time or dedication).

Finally, I started to aggressively ignore, then naturally forget about the whole incident and the necessity to clean it. It rained a couple times soon after, and the remnants of compost began to disappear. Once the actual artifacts had disappeared, a few weeks of green-stained cement followed.

Today as I left my apartment to head to work, I caught site of the steps reflecting sunlight in all their marbled-cement glory. Wow. The compost-stains are completely gone. As I sit here writing about it, I can’t help but feel a little silly how much I let what quite literally is a bag of shit get to me.

Life is sort of messy. We all know that. Still, it is rare that we are prepared for the messes we make and even more rare for us to be able to immediately clean them up. And most of the time, the mess is uncomfortable. We often fail to recognize, especially in the heat of the moment, that this is completely okay. In fact, sometimes it may not even be necessary for us to take any action. Sometimes nature will effortlessly take its course. Could I have taken the compost bin out before it weighed a million pounds and was completely unsupportable by its bag? Yes. But once it was at that point, could I have stopped the bag from exploding? No. And regarding the mess on the steps, was it worth the agony? Not really. Now, several weeks later, the problem itself has organically composted.

Go through life continually moving up the stairs, immune to any barriers, no matter how foul they might smell. Not everything can be beautiful from the start, but you know, even trash naturally turns into nutrient-enriched fertilizer.

beauty, beet root, product design, purpose, salad, San Diego, San Francisco, technology, vegetarianism

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime.

When I moved down to San Diego, I quickly learned that it’s hard out there for a vegetarian. The realization happened during my first or second week in paradise when my request for “the vegetarian option” was answered with “chicken pasta.” So you can imagine my level of elation when I moved to San Francisco — a city where I can eat as a happy and picky vegetarian. It should come as no surprise then, that within several weeks of living here, I discovered my infatuation with beet root.

For most of my life, I have avoided beet roots. Some combination of their color and texture and my inability to comprehend their role in the gustatory landscape just turned me off. A few weeks ago, I went to dinner with friends. A puffed quinoa option immediately caught our eye. While the quinoa was fine and puffy, it was a roasted golden beet accoutrement that made this choice a delightful one. It was love at first bite.

Recently, I noticed that my company salad bar offers beet root. The first time this came to my attention, I loaded up. In fact, I probably had more beet root than spinach leaves. Salad in hand, I ran off to a team meeting. Somewhere in between chomping on a squishy, deep red piece of beet root and taking notes about a PowerPoint slide, I had a frightening thought: Oh my god. Is this beet root turning my mouth red? My lips? My teeth? My tongue? As I investigated the pink permeation throughout the rest of my salad and looked around a room of colleagues and senior leaders, I started to perspire with angst. I contemplated my options: Excuse myself to the restroom, aggressively run my tongue across my teeth, or, of course! I had my phone!

I subtly opened the camera application and switched to the front lens. At an opportune moment, I discretely smiled and checked my teeth. They were Crest white. I was shocked, especially given that our digestive systems can’t even break down the dye (but we don’t need to get into that). How is it possible that beet root dye doesn’t color your teeth?

Before lunch today, my team had a planning meeting. The product I work on is a matching platform (think that matches small businesses with lenders that will lend to them. When a small business goes through our product, it doesn’t look like much is happening; they answer a few questions and then we tell them which lender is likely to approve them for a loan. But behind the scenes, our robots are break dancing. They’re crunching data and running algorithms and doing all kinds of tech-y smarty pants stuff to make the match. There’s more than what meets the eye (and our product will only get better and better at this as time goes on).

Today as I was adding beets to my salad, the pesky question reentered my brain. Beets are such underachievers! Why don’t they just go all the way? What are they actually doing anyway?

After lunch, I went back to my desk and decided that enough is enough. I obviously needed to end this with some Googling. Well, it turns out that no amount of Googling could quite answer my question. What I did learn, however, is that beets are actually ridiculously good for you. They’re doing all kinds of things behind the scene like pumping your body with antioxidants, iron, and other wonderful nutrients that make your skin and hair radiant.

The more I think about it, beets are actually wonderfully inspirational. While they are really quite ugly and don’t taste like anything, they don’t try to show off. They don’t embarrass you with scarlet-stamped teeth just because that’ll get them noticed. Instead, they’re creating real value, even if it’s not recognizable to the naked eye, even if it’s not immediate. As we go forward making the small and big decisions in our lives, it’s important to think past the pink teeth to what lies behind them. It doesn’t matter what it looks like in any given moment. Instead, think about the longstanding effects. Do what makes you everlastingly radiant. Otherwise, you’ll forever be that pink dye on the cutting board that comes right off with a wash.