new cities, uncertainties, and flourless cakes

I’m the type of person that prides herself on having her shit together, so to speak. Typically level-headed, rarely emotional, a stoic wall of realism and rationality. So the last few weeks have been a rather unwelcome change in my routine.

It’s as though the world is resting on a different plane; a mirror of reality tilted a few degrees past the point of comfort.

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Turkey was a month ago, but it feels a lifetime away. I haven’t had as much time to dwell on the loss as I feared, though, since my days following arrival back in the States were spent flying from city to city; transporting crates of furniture and boxes of a life haphazardly printed on coffee mugs and pages of unread books; catching up with family and old friends; trying to assemble a picture of the upcoming months from puzzle pieces cut like shards of broken glass. It has been exciting and nerve-wracking and utterly overwhelming.

I did get to spend a few days in Toronto amidst moving, seeing the cousins and driving into the city for the Vegan & Vegetarian Festival and a few foreign films during TIFF. The food festival was lovely, spent weaving through stalls advertising a variety of sustainable and vegan eats, literature, and lectures. One of my cousins, Sonia, participated in a panel titled Animals and Us, promoting her upcoming book and responding to questions about animals’ role in the food industry as well as within the framework of our ethical responsibilities, speaking with such eloquence that I found myself awed and humbled as I sat clutching a plate of gluten-free-vegan seven-layer-bars. Quite an experience, and a pleasure to have had the opportunity to be there.

TIFF was exciting in a rather different way, seeing red carpets draped over Toronto roads and hoards of fans lining walkways with cameras and iPhones ready to snap photos of favorite celebrities. I would be lying if I said I did not have my eyes darting like lasers for any sighting of Benedict Cumberbatch and certainly did not cry when I made it through three days in the city without a glimpse of his curly mop thank-you-very-much. We watched two films while I was in town: a Spanish film rendering of the Zipi y Zape comic strips, and a Nigerian adaptation (in English) of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, stunningly portrayed and moving to speechlessness.

Down time between films was spent eating incredible foods — Toronto continues to be one of my favorite foodie cities — and sending cover letters and resumes to every job poster on Craigslist. Still, there wasn’t much downtime to be had, as I found myself on a plane a few short days later, bound for Chicago.

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It was my first time in the city, to be spent staying with a friend I’ve known for quite some time. Em and I first met in the fourth grade, about 13 years ago, though it had been a fair amount of time since I’d last seen her. She and her fiancé very graciously allowed me to crash in their apartment for a few days as I visited the University and spent far too much money on overpriced coffees. Though Em doesn’t live downtown, I was close to an excellent metro station and the absolutely charming Lincoln Square, where I spent most mornings eating breakfast in local cafes on Em’s recommendation (she works at a salon in the area), shopping for used books, and feeling immensely content.

I’d originally planned to  visit the city to speak with a professor at the University of Chicago about graduate programs, fully prepared with a wildly optimistic tangent about my academic dreams and aspirations and general cheerfulness. Though the professor was unbelievably lovely, I was more or less told that I’d be as lucky to find a program willing to accommodate my plan as a dyslexic trying to interpret binary notation.

I was feelin’ groovy like Simon and Garfunkel, let me just tell you.

I then proceeded to go back to Em’s salon, chopped off most of my hair in brash rebellion, and spent the evening indulging in deep dish pizza (distinctly not overrated) and sci-fi movie marathons. My last full day in the city saw far too little time spent in the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, being thrown out for my unwillingness to leave at closing time and contemplating emulating the Bohemian life of starving artists in 1920s France as an act of defiance against my newfound academic limitations.

(I am still contemplating that option, by the way.)

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Sir Thomas Lawrence. Clearly a portrait inspired by me. You can tell by the deadened look in her eyes as she peers listlessly at the pages of a book that no longer matters.

I returned from Chicago about a week ago, and spent the day after my arrival moving lingering shirts and books to my new apartment in DC. A fresh start in a new city, working as a research intern at a think tank by day, job hunting for paid work and studying for GREs and crying by night.

It is kind of bohemian in its own way, really, getting to know DC as a young-twenty-something; living no-paycheck to no-paycheck and experiencing welfare-level poverty glamorized by pencil skirts and button-down blouses. I’ve determined that DC consists primarily of unpaid interns and underpaid young professionals sitting alone on park benches, clutching bags of lunches bought from food trucks (because, like, who can afford artisan sandwiches anymore), trying in vain to look important with iPads and political biographies sprawled open on their laps as they shovel as much food as possible in a 10-minute break from the office.

And now, I am one of them. How poetic. All that’s missing is the TB.

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I jest, of course. I really do love my job, and the people that I work with. It involves a lot of getting to attend really fascinating conferences and lectures about current events from diplomats and policy researchers, writing up reports and editing scholarly articles. It is exciting and an excellent reminder of why I am in no way an optimist about the state of humanity.

Plus, I am living with Roods for the year, and she has proven to be a wonderful house mate, putting up with my type-A quirks about organization and cleanliness and humoring my geeky tendencies by marathoning episodes of Sherlock to help me recover from the emotional trauma of TIFF. We live in a charming English basement in the heart of the city, a few rooms and a tiny kitchen looking more like home by the day. I haven’t spent considerable time in it quite yet, since I’ve been doing so much traveling.

(Also the reason my writing has been so delayed.)

I spent the end of last week back at my parents’ home for an early celebration of my twenty-secondth birthday, seeing as how I won’t be back in town again until Em’s wedding at the end of next month. It was hectic, helping mum in the kitchen with dinners and cake, keeping up with work, meeting up with old friends. It was amazing, too, spending it with friends who took the time out of their schedules to take me out on Saturday night, escaping from the chaos of uncertain reality with a trip downtown in the company of some truly wonderful people. I couldn’t have asked for more, and I certainly didn’t deserve it. (Another thing I’ve come to learn over the course of fruitless, floundering soul-searching.)

But even still, the familiarity of it — of the craziness of mum’s kitchen, the same birthday cake I’ve had since I was eleven, seeing people I’ve known for a lifetime — was jarring, because nothing about it was familiar at all.

Like peering through a funhouse mirror and not recognizing the thing staring back at you, as if maybe nothing has changed except the way you’re looking. Distorted; exactly the same, but different. Or, maybe everything has changed, and you’re having a hard time accepting that life just…goes. And you have no choice but to go with it.

Graduate from uni. Go to Turkey. Get a new job. Move to a new city. Twenty-two years old in two days. And not a single idea where you’ll be at twenty-three.

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I’m not quite sure about anything, these days, and I find it terrifying, anxiety-inducing, and wholly undesirable.

But I built a coat rack this evening, sitting on the paisley rug laid on the center of my floor, screwing in the hooks and draping scarves about it like a willow of patterns and colors. Then I picked myself up, stashed away the tools, walked a few blocks to the Giant for a grocery run to stock up now that I’m more permanently in the city, and felt normal again for the first time in weeks.

And, you know, it’s not good, but it’s not bad. It just, is.

“The past is gone and cannot harm you anymore. And while the future is fast coming for you, it always flinches first and settles in as the gentle present. This now, this us, we can cope with that.”
-Cecil Baldwin, Welcome to Night Vale

dark chocolate pudding 003

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Adapted from many recipes over many years
Yields 8-10 servings

Ingredients:

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee, if desired
  • 3/4 cup sugar

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F and grease and flour an 8-inch springform pan.

Heat butter and chocolate over a double-broiler and melt until smooth. Set aside and allow to cool. In a large bowl, beat egg whites and salt to stiff peaks.

In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until well-mixed. Gradually stir in the melted chocolate, vanilla, and coffee. Fold in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites to loosen the batter, then fold in the remaining whites, being careful not to deflate the eggs. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, until top is set and cake does not jiggle when moved. Loosen the edges of the cake with a butter knife, but allow cake to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before removing.

Notes:

  • This cake is at once familiar and special, simple and extraordinary. Every year it’s the same, but altered as the baker sees fit. This year, I added ground coffee to give it a bit of depth and complexity, but that can easily be eliminated if you’d prefer.
  • Recipe itself is 100% gluten free, but if you are particularly sensitive, use a gluten-free flour for dusting the pan.
  • Pairs well with a drizzle of chocolate ganache or sweetened cream, if that’s your fancy.
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