Wednesday, February 26, 2014

life lately: kitchen therapy

In between moments of dissertation craziness, I've been de-stressing quite a bit in the kitchen.

Loving the fiery red-orange hues of blood oranges
 Isn't it amazing that in the darkest, grayest time of the year we are gifted with these amazing colors in citrus fruit?

Prepping for blood orange marmalade

I can't get over these jewel-like hues.
Sliced blood oranges go into a large bowl, to soak in water overnight

Our apartment smelled heavenly while the blood oranges were simmering down in sugar and water.

I'm not a cereal kind of gal when it comes to breakfast. Though I'd love to have cake for breakfast every morning, I really enjoy the simplicity of fresh bread, good butter (Kerrygold or Lurpak), and jam or preserves of some kind.

No-Knead (!!!) whole wheat bread recipe from King Arthur Flour. Darjeeling tea steeping in my new(ish) favorite mug.

That is all.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

date night pizza

I'm proud to say that A. and I have gotten quite good at making pizza at home. We have a system going: I make the dough, he rolls it out, I put the toppings on, he puts it in the oven and watches the time (it doesn't take long at really high heat!), then I slice it and we both eat. Extra olive oil for me, and extra hot pepper flakes for him.

San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil. Simple and perfect.

I use Ina Garten's pizza dough recipe - it's pretty simple using a stand mixer with a dough hook. Although her recipe says to let the dough rest for 30 minutes before rolling, I find that the taste and texture improves the next day. When I went back to check her recipe and read that it "serves 6", I chuckled to myself. Ummmm.... not in this household. Although it does make enough for us to have leftover dough for more pizzas the following day.

We like our pizzas REALLY thin, and A. is really good at rolling it out. He wishes he could hand toss the dough the way they do in pizzerias. My rolling skills, on the other hand, leave much to be desired. I still can't roll round roti the way Indian women do - the way they let their rolling motions rotate the dough without having to lift it from the surface. I always have to lift the dough every now and then and move it a quarter-turn, the way you would for pie dough. The last time I was in India with A. and his family, his 7-year-old niece was already learning how to roll roti. I thought, "so that explains it...". There she was beside me, a little apprentice standing on a stool to reach the countertop, doing a roti-rolling throwdown with me. I always concede. But seriously, she was getting quite good. I joked to her that between the two of us, she could roll the roundest roti and I could roll out the best rectangular, square, and oddly shaped ones that resemble the map of India more than anything remotely round. 

I'm much better with a mortar and pestle.

Which is why I prefer to make basil pesto this way, rather than in a food processor (especially if it's just for the two of us). I like the rustic, unevenness of the resulting pesto when made by hand - there's just something indescribably satisfying about it. Though I doubt it makes a significant difference on the flavor - I just find it stress-relieving to do manual labor in the kitchen.

basil pesto and fresh mozzarella

So this is what we did for Valentine's day. It was perfect to just stay at home and cook something together. (Although I did make his favorite chocolate chai pots de creme in advance by myself, because it needs to chill for a few hours.)

Then on Sunday we went to see the world-famous Cleveland Orchestra at the Severance Hall. This concert hall is just stunning.
They played pieces from Mahler and Brahms. Actually, Mahler was the reason I wanted to see this performance. After my first exposure to Mahler - it was Ekaterina Gordeeva's first solo skate in 1996 as a tribute to her late husband and figure skating partner Sergei Grinkov in the "A Celebration of Life" show. The music for her program, Mahler's Symphony No. 5, was so haunting, and her skate so heartfelt that it left an indelible impression - it makes me get choked up and cry every single time. Although the Cleveland Orchestra didn't play Mahler's Fifth specifically, I still enjoyed the performance. Symphonies just amaze me, and not just because I can't play a musical instrument to save my life (I had a short-lived piano career when I It's a different kind of energy. It makes me so grateful that there are people in this world who make music.

a postcard from this sweet friend - wise words indeed

Pizza, a concert, A Valentine's day postcard, and yellow flowers to brighten up those long winter days.

Spring will be here soon.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

excited for olympic greatness

Quick confession: I'm not a sports fan.

Except for a few sports like figure skating, gymnastics, swimming, synchronized swimming and maybe a little tennis (only because my dad and brothers played), I am not one to follow state sports teams.

Ten or so years ago when I moved to the US and heard about the "Superbowl", I would have been inclined to ask if that's a special kind of serveware. Sacrilegious, I know. And fast forward 10 years to now, I still don't quite understand football - and with all honesty, really have no desire to. If I had said that at a Superbowl party last weekend I might have gotten pelleted with hot wings or pretzels.

But... when it comes to the Winter Olympics, you'll probably find me glued to the TV with a bowl of popcorn, nervously chewing on my fingernails.

Particularly because I am looking forward to watching the return of these Olympic greats...

Yuna Kim, 2010 Olympics figure skating gold medalist

I somewhat lost interest in watching figure skating after Michelle Kwan stopped competing. I still watch her Tosca LP from 2004 every now and then when I want a little trip down figure skating memory lane. Then Yuna Kim came into the scene, redefining figure skating greatness.

Yuna's 2009 short program, Danse Macabre, one of my favorite figure skating programs:

The fire and passion in this skate, combined with technical precision and artistic expression... just incredible. And unique choreography that allows her to showcase her skills and artistry - I love how every movement is intentional, including how she moves her head and arms with the music. What's even more impressive is the maturity in her skate - she was only 18. This was pre-Vancouver Olympics, but you could already tell from this skate that she was bound for an Olympic medal. I'm neither a skater (I'm clumsy enough in flat shoes on regular flooring) nor a professional skating critic by any means, but her Danse Macabre in my opinion is one of her best.

And of course who can forget her sassy "Bond Girl" short program of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver:

So much personality in this skate, along with the usual complex choreography, transitions, and difficult jump combinations that you've come to expect from her. Her speed going into the jumps, and the distance she covers in her triple-triple jump combination is amazing. This New York Times interactive article shows how she covers 25 FEET from takeoff to landing in her triple-triple.

And the brilliance of her Gershwin long program:

It just leaves you speechless. Such elegant skating, and she made it look so effortless. She broke her own personal best and made world records in both her short and long programs.

I love what her coach (at the time), Brian Orser - himself an Olympic silver medalist - said to her at the Olympics: "Appreciate the space we're in. Pressure is a privilege." Now that's Olympic gold-medal attitude.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, 2010 Olympics ice dancing gold medalists

Sigh. These two are just captivating, with their grace, daring acrobatic moves, and on-ice chemistry.

Here's their Flamenco OD from Vancouver:

Flamenco is a complicated enough dance as it is, but to do it on figure skating blades on ice is another story. Virtue and Moir express it so beautifully here with the lines and shapes they create with their movements, without giving up the fiery intensity of the flamenco.

Tango Romantica CD, Vancouver:

And their gold-medal-clinching FD to Mahler's Symphony No. 5, also from Vancouver. I was in tears after watching this.

I read that before they compete, they hug and synchronize their breath. How sweet is that.

What's really remarkable is that Virtue was in great pain during the Olympics due to recurring problems in her shins (for which she needed surgery).

Do I sound like a groupie yet?

I think what lures me to watching these events is being able to witness art in the human form and in movement. It's just amazing to watch these competitors express their craft of combining art and athleticism - and the kind of mindset it takes to get to that level of excellence. It's the kind of experience that gives me goosebumps - in a good way. And I think we all need that in our lives.

Counting down to Sochi!

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

don't cry over spilled chocolate

I'm not sure if it is helpful or harmful when I have sudden urges to bake at 9 in the evening.

Last night I had an intense craving for a chocolate tart. I wanted something rich yet simple to make, and found a recipe that appeared to meet both requirements.

The recipe called for 150 g chocolate, and my 4-ounce/113 g chocolate baking bar came up a bit short, so I put the chocolate bar on my baking scale and proceeded to add chocolate chips to make up for the difference until I had 150 g total. In the process, the (open) bag of chocolate chips slipped from my hands and fell on the floor, spilling half of the chocolate chips.


Then A. comes rushing into the kitchen, asking what happened and if I was ok. He's used to hearing random sounds from me when I am in the kitchen, whether it's because I bumped my head on an open cupboard door (for the nth time) or spilled something, or both. And in his typical calm, gentle, grounding self he always says something in response to my P.O.'d state. I really dislike wasting food.

"Maybe it was bad chocolate and it was meant to be spilled," A. says.

But me and my usual stubborn self - I wouldn't hear any of it. "But it WAS good chocolate!!" I say.

And this is usually when he starts telling me a story.

A. always has these short stories and fables. I'm not sure where he gets them, but they must be stories that he's learned from childhood. I've probably heard 3 or 4 different ones (maybe more) over the course of our relationship, which I regrettably haven't written down anywhere - until now.

There he was, on his hands and knees, helping me collect the chocolate chips from the floor, and he proceeds to tell me this story.

Once there was a king who lost a battle and ran away with his horse to go in hiding. After some time, the king was so tired, hungry, and thirsty. He heard some water dripping from above and started collecting it in a bowl. Just as he was about to take a sip, his horse kicked the bowl, knocking all the water out of it. In his anger, he beheaded his horse. He later realized that the dripping liquid was coming from a snake. The snake had been hitting a tree branch above, causing the venom to drip from his mouth. By knocking the bowl over, his horse saved him from getting poisoned. 

Moral of the story: Perhaps things do happen for a reason. (Even spilled chocolate.)

My moral #2: ALWAYS have extra chocolate. 

On to the recipe...

This chocolate tart was inspired by Mimi Thorisson's recipe, as written in her stunning blog, Manger. Seriously - I can get completely lost in her site, in her stories of living with her family and dogs in the countryside in southern France. Her recipes exemplify rustic yet elegant (how she makes that combination possible, I'd love to know) French cooking at its best, highlighting the fresh flavors of the season's produce.

I used her chocolate filling recipe but added some vanilla. I like a nutty crust, so I used almonds as the base instead of making a regular pie pastry crust as directed in her recipe.

Chocolate Tart in an Almond Crust
(adapted from Mimi Thorisson's la tarte au chocolat; crust recipe is my own)


  • 2 cups almond meal (I get it from Trader Joe's. Alternatively, grind almonds in a food processor. Skin on is fine for texture. I actually prefer grinding the almonds myself for this type of crust as I like the texture, but I was out of whole almonds)
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • scant 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted


  • 1/4 cup whole milk (Please do not sub with skim milk! I always use whole milk in baking and ice creams as a general rule. Go big or go home.)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • tiny pinch of sea salt
  • 150 g semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces (I used one 4-ounce bar of Ghirardelli semisweet baking chocolate plus about 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips to measure 150 g total)
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten 
  • extra chocolate, for grating on top
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a pie dish, measure out the almond meal, sea salt, and brown sugar. Mix together well, making sure to break any lumps of almond meal or sugar. Add the melted butter and mix well until mixture sticks together. Press onto the bottom of the pie dish with your (clean) hands or the bottom of a measuring cup. (You can also mix this in a large bowl and then transfer it into your pie dish, but I try to keep dirtied bowls to a minimum when I can). Bake it in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until the crust browns slightly. Take it out of the oven and set aside. Switch off the oven.
  2. To make the filling, mix the milk, cream, butter, and salt in a saucepan. Bring it to a gentle boil, then take it off the heat and add the chocolate. Stir it well to allow the chocolate to melt in the hot liquid. Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Have the lightly beaten egg ready in a bowl. When the chocolate mixture is smooth, slowly pour a small amount (about a quarter cup or so - no need to measure) into the beaten egg, and stir it gently. This process of taking a small amount of hot liquid into a cooler liquid (like egg) is called tempering. This is not in Ms. Thorisson's recipe, but I like to take this extra step when I'm mixing eggs with a hot liquid, such as for custards and puddings. It sounds technical, but it's actually quite easy. Instead of pouring the egg into the hot chocolate (which can make the egg "scramble" in the chocolate - not good.), by tempering you are trying to bring up the temperature of the egg gradually without cooking it. Add a small amount of chocolate again, and stir gently once more. Repeat one more time, stirring until the mixture is homogenous. At this time, pour the rest of the chocolate into the egg mixture. Mix until smooth. (So, if you happen to prepare this for a party and you are asked how to make it, you can say "I tempered the egg" and sound really smart :) )
  4. Pour the filling over the crust. Return it to the oven (switched off) - at this point your oven should be at about 300 degrees F. Keep the oven turned off, and let the tart bake in the residual heat for 15 minutes. 
  5. After 15 minutes, take the tart out of the oven and let it cool on a cooling rack for at least 2-3 hours or until set.
  6. Refrigerate the tart for an hour or so for easier slicing. Grate or shave (using a vegetable peeler) extra chocolate on top. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

This chocolate tart is a great base for experimentation. Here are a few flavor variations:

  • Toast some coconut flakes and sprinkle it in a circle around the edge of the tart (if you like an "Almond Joy" type of flavor) 
  • Use orange extract in place of vanilla in the chocolate. Serve the tart with whipped cream spiked with a little Triple Sec or Grand Marnier and a little bit of orange zest.
  • Sub some pistachio in place of some of the almonds. When heating the cream and milk, infuse it with cardamom (open whole cardamom pods, crush the seeds using a mortar and pestle, and let it infuse the cream for 10-15 minutes. Strain the cream before adding the chocolate. Once the tart is done, sprinkle some chopped pistachios in a circle around the edge of the tart.
  • Infuse the milk/cream mixture with dried lavender flowers (culinary grade) for 10-15 minutes. Strain the cream before adding the chocolate. Serve the tart with a drizzle of warmed lavender honey.
  • Drizzle the tart with salted caramel. 

Now that I've listed all those variations, I'm thinking of which one to try next! Those tend to be my favorite flavor combinations, but I'd love to know what you come up with.

So, I'll no longer cry over spilled chocolate. I may just get slightly teary-eyed though. It is chocolate, after all.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I'm feeling especially grateful for a warm home today.

Deeply grateful that my husband made it to work safely this morning.

And grateful for the people that tirelessly work to keep our roads as safe as possible.

Stay safe out there, friends. 


Update on my progress on the 30-day plank challenge: I've been working at or around 2 minutes the past few days. Almost halfway to the five-minute mark. Not too bad for a few days' progress, as I started the challenge pretty late in the game. And I got A. to join me in the challenge - yay!

as of January 27th


Last Saturday we had dinner with some friends at Crostata's, a nearby restaurant that serves Neopolitan pizza. I've been wanting to go for a long time now, except that we've been loyal to this restaurant for the past couple of years when we have a pizza craving. Lately it seems that A. and I have been into researching and trying different Neopolitan style pizzas like it's our job, going as far as Toronto's Pizzeria Libretto upon the recommendation of this friend. There's just nothing like the simplicity of a really thin crust, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil quickly baked in a 900-something-degree wood-fired oven.

But with all the snow we've been getting, we decided to stay closer to home. I now regret taking this long to try this restaurant. In the spirit of research, I memorized browsed through the menu and Crostata's uses 00 flour and San Marzano tomatoes, so I trusted that they take their pizza seriously. We sampled the burrata (can't resist) to start, and for pizza we had the Margherita D.O.C. (D.O.C. is a designation or standard for Neopolitan pizza) and Amalfitana. Both were excellent, and so was the ravioli. I love that the food here has as its foundation good quality ingredients. Everything we tried was uncomplicated, fresh and delicious. The tiramisu and cannoli we had for dessert were excellent as well. The tiramisu was so flavorful yet light, like you were eating a cloud -- a cloud of coffee-soaked ladyfingers and creamy mascarpone. The cannoli was up there with one of the best cannoli we've had so far, which is from Mike's Pastry in Boston. If not for it being in the evening I would have had affogato as well, but I'll reserve that for when we visit again, and I'll make it a lunchtime visit.

I don't have pictures, but I'll direct you to their website.

I'm glad we went, snow and all. Not just for the pizza but also because I was able to get this:

Agrumato. Or what I call liquid gold.  All for the low price of $11. I know, it sounds like a lot for a small bottle of olive oil. But olive oil is just my thing. And this kind of olive oil makes my heart skip a beat.

I've been intrigued about this ingredient ever since I tried an appetizer at Michael Symon's Lolita restaurant that used agrumato as a finishing oil. When I spotted it at Crostata's last Saturday, it was a no-brainer. I had to buy it. I was like a kid in a candy store.

The things that excite me...

It's not the more commonly found "olive-oil-infused-with-lemon-flavor." This is actually olives and lemons crushed together. Olives and lemons married to produce this bright, citrusy finishing oil that I've been adding to almost anything - including avocado toast, white bean and vegetable soup, salads...

Avocado on toast, drizzled with agrumato

(I may or may not have eaten mashed avocado with agrumato directly from the bowl, with a spoon.)

"In Abruzzo, on the Adriatic Sea, at the end of each harvest, farmers create a special oil for their family and friends. In their "frantoio" (olive mill) on the farm, the farmers crush and press small amounts of hand-harvested olives with fresh citrus fruit to create oils such as Agrumato. Agrume means "citrus". The crisp freshness of Agrumato is achieved by the whole-fruit crushing process, which cannot be duplicated by the more common infusion method of other citrus flavored oils. By crushing the olives with the citrus, the purity of each fruit flavor is maintained. The resulting oil is an exquisitely versatile condiment." (description from here)

Doesn't that sound amazing? And trust me, it is.

I did a quick search, and it's available online as well. You need to try this.


In other news... so I wrote about taking the Krav Maga Level 1 test this year, right? So as if on cue, I get an email with news that the next test is on February 22nd - that's less than a month away, and realistically, I know I'm not ready yet. So I'm aiming for later in the year.

To get there, I really need to meet my sub-goals of increasing my classes from 2 per week to 3 or even 4 per week. Some weeks I've been able to do 3 classes a week. But this snow and sub-zero weather has not been on my side lately and I just don't want to be out there driving right now. I'll try to stay at 2-3 classes a week for the month of February and if the weather subsides in March, I'll increase to 4 classes. I am really, really, really hoping the training center opens in their new east side location in May, which I believe has been in the works. The potential location is 10 minutes from where I live, and A. jokingly worries that I might start living there. He started calling me a little ninja.


Speaking of little ninjas. If I could be a cartoon character, I would be this:

Source unknown

She's not exactly a ninja but she does look like a fierce little character, doesn't she?

I wish I knew where this came from so I could credit it appropriately, but it's a picture that's been passed around among A. and a few other friends after I jokingly said that I'd like to go around with a spatula when eating out so I can scrape every last bit of food (if it's life-changing food, that is). They all joke that no one should mess with me lest the spatula comes out from my purse. So the "five spatulas of fury" has been a running joke for a while now.


How's that for a random list of updates and stories. Stay warm, wherever you are!

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

in the spirit of the new year...

I've been thinking about my health goals lately, in particular those having to do with fitness. Realizing that I'm now in my mid-thirties (hello, slower metabolism and decreasing bone density) and there's no way I can go back in time, I had to evaluate where I am health-wise. I'm focusing more on how I feel and how my body functions - in particular, my bones.

Hoping I can still cartwheel when I'm old and gray

I try my best to get as much calcium as I can from food, such as dark leafy greens, yogurt, kefir, as well as calcium-fortified almond milk and smoothies throughout the week. In addition to that I take a vitamin D supplement (prescribed by my doctor for my deficiency, determined through a blood test), which also helps the body absorb calcium.

matcha green tea smoothie

Aside from that, exercising for bone health is something I always have to consider. Especially because I have a lot of risk factors for osteoporosis, with genetics playing a large part: my grandmother had osteoporosis, and my mom also discovered her low bone density years ago - as a blessing in disguise - when she fractured her wrist. When she recovered she went on long walks, daily - and was able to strengthen her bones over time.

For that reason, one of the things that always nags me is strength training to keep my bone density up. I have to admit that I really, really, really dislike free weights. I've purchased free hand weights a couple of times in the past that tend to gather dust in some forgotten corner in our home. They're just not for me.

Thankfully, an asana practice offers strength training postures, using your own body weight as resistance. I've always preferred strengthening this way; so when I do my home practice, I try to hold planks a bit longer, or squeeze in a few push-ups within each sun salutation (after high plank and before moving into upward-facing dog). My home practice is usually sun salutations along with its variations and warrior sequences, and I throw in a few balancing poses as well. I don't do any of those fancy yoga poses that you might see on magazine covers. I think those who do advanced inversions and arm balances are just beautiful to watch, and remind me of how amazing the human body is. But over the years I've actually become more cautious about trying inversions especially without an instructor - and I just haven't been able to commit the kind of practice needed to do them. But mostly they just haven't been a focus of my practice, and that is ok. I've also come to prefer more restorative poses and long stretches, though I still practice supported inversions for the benefits. So after all is said and done, the strength training that I get in yoga may be quite minimal.

Last summer, I started taking TRX at the same place where I train for Krav Maga. I love the concept of using your own body weight as resistance, but with the addition of these "suspension trainers" or bands to make things more challenging. I'm starting to feel stronger over time, but I think results are taking longer overall.  As it's a long drive for me to get there (and also I am a real wimp when it comes to winter driving - don't judge), I'm just taking this class once a week. I'm hoping I can go more often once winter ends. 

So that is my long-winded way of telling you about this 30-day plank challenge. I thought it was a perfect way to slowly build strength - it's something I can do anywhere, with no equipment, and it literally only takes a few minutes out of the day. I love planks because it's such a multi-purpose exercise in which you work different parts of the body at once. I like being able to work smart.

(Here's a good tutorial on proper alignment in plank pose. And here's another one.)

Image from Yoga Journal
Image from Yoga Journal

Here's how the challenge goes:

Image from here

In my home yoga practice last night, I thought I'd hold plank as long as I can to get a baseline. I was still a bit sore from my Krav training a couple of days before, but felt strong enough to hold it. I did 70 seconds before I felt like I would lose the alignment in my spine (which I don't want), so I ended it there, then took a child's pose after (aaaahhhhh....) and then stretched in downward facing dog. So I'm going to work at the 70-second level for the next couple of days and then challenge myself to 90 seconds (Day 12).

So, the challenge is to work up to FIVE WHOLE MINUTES. I'm sweating already just thinking of that.

But on second thought - it does seem attainable. I like the idea of breaking down a goal into smaller subgoals. SMART goals, so to speak. I think SMART goals set me up for success better than vague "resolutions".

For accountability's sake, I'll document my progress here every few days. Anyone care to join me?


On an unrelated note, I've really been craving this "superfood sunshine smoothie". Doesn't the color just brighten up these drab winter days? As we've been having subzero wind chill temps, I had it without ice. I didn't have goji berries on hand, so I just doubled the orange juice. The ginger provides a nice subtle kick.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

when was the last time you did something for the first time?

I used to be into New Year's resolutions and word-for-the-year reflections and such. It didn't quite happen this time when we transitioned from 2013 to 2014, for various reasons I need not delve into. But, I find that it's also perfectly fine to spend the first month really reflecting, rather than going all gung-ho on the first of the year and then losing steam by the end of January (guilty). I realize that it's important to consider schedule changes, work changes, and other expectations and make sure goals are challenging yet realistic.

Sometimes I have this silly feeling that if I put my goals out there, I set myself up for these expectations - almost with an anticipation of, "but what if I don't achieve it?" And yet, when I look back... the goals I wrote down somewhere (whether on a post-it note, a notebook, or here on the blog) and to which I set my intentions tend to be ones that I have met. Perhaps not all of them, but at least the ones that mattered and made sense at the time.
Image from here

I saw this question above - "when was the last time you did something for the first time?" on a travel brochure, and it made me stop in my tracks. I love thinking of this as a guiding question. Perhaps not just at the start of the new year, but really, throughout the year. To keep myself open to experience, challenged, motivated, and dare I say, youthful?

So, here goes.

1. Finish my dissertation this summer. Ok, so this one may not sound particularly exciting, but still - I MUST/NEED/WANT TO finish this baby this year. I've come this far. As they say - the PhD is not just/always about how smart you are. It's about persistence. Now that I feel "piled higher and deeper", I realize there is nothing further from the truth. I'm following my professor's advice: "Treat your dissertation like it's your job."

2. Take the Krav Maga Level 1 test. I've never actually said this one "out loud". When I first started taking Krav Maga, I hadn't really given much thought into going up the levels. I've never really been competitive (not that KM is competitive), and tests just...intimidate me (flashback to memories of taking a college math exam, college chemistry, the GRE, and breaking into a cold sweat.). But I heard that cliched little voice, barely a whisper, say, "what if?" And then, "why not?"

I do feel a bit behind, because I was told that on average people can take the Level 1 test after 4-6 months of training consistently and regularly. Regularity has been a barrier for me because this school is about a 40-minute drive (on a good day) for me, so I'm not always able to go on weeknights. I make up for it by getting into weekend-warrior mode and taking classes back-to-back on Sundays. But at the same time, I cut myself some slack - I'm doing the best I can under the circumstances, and I'm going at a pace I feel comfortable with. Of course, we are not forced to take the test - some people may decide to just stay at Level 1. It's all optional.

Here's a picture of the training center. I took this picture around Halloween last year. Note the sign above: "Torture Chamber" ;-)

The Level 1 test requires that you demonstrate 30-something skills and from what I've heard, it's a pretty grueling 4-hour experience. Well, to be accurate, the first 2 hours is a workshop to review, practice, and ask questions, and then the next half is the actual test. So, the last time I trained, I picked up the sheet that had the Level 1 curriculum which listed the skills that will be covered during the test. I checked every skill that I knew, and realized... I'm doing pretty ok. There are definitely skills I still need to learn and master, and I still need to practice the basic skills more, of course - confidence has always been my issue. But my instructor said that I'm getting the technique, I just need to be more aggressive. Followed up with, "you don't have to be so proper!" Ha! Thanks to my mom's manners and etiquette training :) And my thought is - "Me??? Aggressive??" But just to put this out there - their take on being aggressive has to do more with getting your energy out, not being unsafe or being violent. They're always big on safety, which is why I feel comfortable training in this school. Towards the end of one class my instructor gave me a headlock and I thought I defended myself pretty well. :)

I'm not going to lie - this experience has not been easy. It has taken me out of my comfort zone more than anything else has (including skydiving). For starters, you get into really close contact with another person and in uncomfortable positions (like mounting for a ground fighting drill) - which is a challenge for someone like me who values personal space (at least with strangers). I've gotten bruised and scraped and scratched. I've been sore for days after an intense class. But more than the physical part of it - it's the emotional aspect. At a recent weapons defense class, I found myself having to fight back tears as the simulated knife attack just made memories surface - of my cousins who died of multiple stab wounds. It was more than 20 years ago, but it still affects me to this very day. But I remind myself, this is why I made the decision to learn. This is why I show up, even when the thing I want to do so much more on a wintry Sunday morning is bury myself under the covers or have a leisurely breakfast. 

On a lighter note. I haven't heard when the Level 1 test will be this year - but last year I believe there was one in August and another in November. So, something to work towards...

3. Try stand-up paddleboarding. I have to admit, winter makes me long for the water so much more. Particularly the warm, clear, turquoise tropical waters in the Philippines... sigh.

image from Yoga Journal

This goal isn't as intense as #2 above, but I've always wanted to try it. I used to be so into watersports when I lived back home and had easy access to beaches. But, I shouldn't forget that we do have a lake here!

I also had in the deep recesses of my mind to try surfing and windsurfing, but stand-up paddleboarding just seems so... calming. And I suppose windsurfing is, too, once you're done wrestling with the sail :) But SUP needs less equipment - and although I'm sure it's one of those things that just look easy, but I figured if I learned wakeboarding I could probably learn SUP. There's even SUP yoga!

Images from Yoga Journal

So, there's my top 3. Nothing groundbreaking, but definitely something to look forward to. There's a first for everything, and everyone was a beginner at something at some point. Let's see how this year unfolds...

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