I’ve been making edits and additions to my growing reading list and finally spent some time tonight consolidating three different lists I had in different places. One of the books I had on my list was The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism – which I was able to get off the hold list from the library this week. Within the first few pages, it already felt like a book I knew I’d enjoy. One of the excerpts I’ve found interesting so far is this one that advises you to de-stigmatize discomfort by remembering that with over seven billion people on the planet, the chances are pretty much zero that you are the only one who has ever felt this level of shame, depression, sadness, or anger in life. Regarding shame, the author writes:

“Of all the emotions that human beings can feel, (shame) is one of the most toxic to health and happiness … (it’s defined as) “the fear of being unlovable: Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

“Shame hits us so powerfully because it conveys a message about our fundamental acceptability as human beings. And in basic survival terms, if a tribe rejects you, you die. It is a life-and-death situation. The brain equates social needs with survival; being hungry and being ostracized activate similar neural responses. Somewhere in the back of our minds is the fear of being so disapproved-of that we’d be excluded by those who matter to our survival.”

I never really thought of shame in that way personally. I suppose I get it at a high level given that shame is the worst thing you can feel as an Asian child in an Asian family with extremely high expectations about everything from school performance to etiquette to career, hence the concept of “losing face.” But I never thought of defining it as the “fear of being unlovable.” When viewed that way, it would be no wonder that shame is the reason people run away from their lives or even go to the extreme of taking their own lives. It’s a terrible kind of pain for some people who experience it at that intense level.

I wonder if that was how Ed felt, like he didn’t deserve to be loved, as though it was some sort of deformity or disability he possessed that prevented him from being the person he hoped to be. It’s sad to read books that illustrate pieces of what my brother likely felt and believed.



The new “butter-chicken lady” — me?

If it wasn’t already clear, I’ve been really getting into my Instant Pot. Five perfect and delicious dishes later, I’m completely hooked and want to try to cook as many things as possible in this stunning cooking machine. A colleague friend of mine who is based in Europe who still has yet to buy one, said she was inspired to want one after reading this inspirational profile in The New Yorker called, “The ‘Butter-Chicken Lady’ Who Made Indian Cooks Love the Instant Pot,” which also includes this woman’s infamous butter chicken recipe at the end. The recipe seemed simple enough with most things in my pantry and freezer, so I figured it would be something fun to make within my first ten uses. I made it yesterday for dinner with a couple of tweaks, and it was delicious, probably just as good, if not better, than any butter chicken I’ve had in a restaurant. I posted about it on Facebook and Instagram, and multiple people messaged me for the recipe.

And if that was not already encouraging, a colleague told me at the office today that he was planning to make it for dinner in his Instant Pot with his wife. He was asking me about what I tweaked and even texted me a few times with preparation questions. Another colleague and her boyfriend were so inspired by my Instagram Story posts on my Instant Pot usage that they ordered their own Instant Pot last night. And this coming weekend, a third colleague is planning to make the same butter chicken recipe with his fiancee!

Maybe I’m the equivalent of my office’s Butter-Chicken Lady now, or Instant Pot Lady?


Cutting for Stone

I just finished reading one of the most gripping fiction novels I’ve read in a long time, Cutting for Stone. I’ve always been an avid reader, but with current events/daily news, podcasts, and food blogs and publications, sometimes it becomes a challenges to juggle all the content out there that I want to read. The amount of information to consume can be very overwhelming, so I’ve made a goal to read at least one book per month. Although I’ve been leaning more towards nonfiction (I suppose it’s in an attempt to better understand the world around me and how people think and why), I do still crave fiction and how imaginative it can be. I like the feeling of being transported into another life, another reality, even if it’s only temporary.

This book came recommended to me in March 2017 by my friend’s grandpa. I was in Arizona for her wedding, and during her reception, I had over an hour-long conversation with her grandpa, who was a retired heart surgeon. Being a Jewish heart surgeon in a red state, he certainly had a lot of opinions and perspectives that we discussed. It was a very intellectually stimulating conversation, as I learned so much that I hadn’t before just by speaking with him. He truly was as great as my friend always said he was, and so open about sharing. During this conversation, when he shared with me how passionate he was about treating patients with empathy and care, he told me the book that he strongly recommended I read to understand a doctor’s perspective, what pulled him into medicine and being a surgeon, and how strongly he felt about making a patient feel cared for and respected during treatment, and that book was this one. I immediately noted it down on my phone and finally got to it this month, and I have zero regrets.

The general synopsis of the book is this (there’s no reason for me to summarize it if the publisher already does it so well):

“Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles–and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.”

It’s a complex story that combines familial ties and drama, politics, religion, medicine, and love in a way that I never really thought about before. It details disease and medical treatment and surgery only in a way that a doctor could (the author is also a doctor and professor of medicine), but even as someone who knows very little about the study of medicine, I actually found these detailed explanations extremely interesting. And the story really draws you in after a slow start. The bond between the two twins is so strong that as they were conjoined twins at birth with their head connected, throughout their childhood together, and even as adults in troubled times, they found solace in sleeping together with their heads touching. Towards the end of the book, with all the tragedies and deaths that occurred, I found myself in tears thinking about their sibling love for one another. I know I truly enjoyed a book when I’m sad that I’ve finished it.

The power of sibling love. It’s like what they say in the book: it can be so strong that when one sibling dies, it’s as though something in the surviving sibling has died, as well.

These are a few of the quotes that really stood out in the book to me:

From the Middle East folktale “Abu’s Slippers”: “The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

“Life, too, is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backward. It is only when you stop and look to the rear that you see the corpse caught under your wheel.”

“Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?”

“We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime. We’ll leave much unfinished for the next generation.”

Overrated New York institutions

Chris was not happy with me today. After having a Sicilian pizza slice craving this week, especially after my colleague was raving about her obsession with L&B Spumoni Garden in outer Brooklyn, I insisted to him that we had to venture out to another borough in search of this famous institution’s pizza. When we go out for pizza, we’ve never really had Sicilian style in the city before, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to try something new-ish.

When we arrived, the seating situation was a bit fuzzy. You have the choice of sitting outside at benches and under umbrellas and ordering from a counter, or you can sit inside (where there’s air-conditioning) and have table service. Chris immediately headed inside, and the service was immediately nonchalant, with an air of “We know we’re a Brooklyn institution, and therefore we don’t really give a shit about you because we know no matter how poorly we treat you, you will still want to eat here because we’re famous, and we are very aware of that.” What we didn’t realize is that after about 15-20 minutes had passed, when our server came and we asked to order slices, he said that we weren’t allowed to sit inside and only have pizza slices; we either had to order a full pie (which would have been far too much food for us), or order other mains. We couldn’t eat that much food, so we walked out to the benches.

So, the good news about this is that the counter service was friendly and swift. I even got asked whether I wanted corner, side, or middle square slices (I obviously wanted side slices to get the crunchy edges). But when we tasted both the round and the square slices, Chris was not impressed. “This is good, but this is not 1-hour-on-the-subway good, and the service was shit.” I personally enjoyed the Sicilian slice — the tomato sauce was perfect, and the textural contrast in the bottom, crust, and the soft, chewy middle was quite satisfying. But I do admit that it probably was not worth the hour train ride, and we could probably get Sicilian slices in Manhattan that were just as good if not better. And what’s also bad: their spumoni ice cream was so artificial tasting that Chris didn’t even want to finish it.

This just adds to our list of overrated New York institutions, which also includes Peter Luger Steakhouse, which pretty much no one else agrees with us on.

Last day doughnuts for all

Today was one of my favorite colleagues’ last day in the office. He would have been here for another week if it weren’t for his two-week planned holiday to Italy with his husband, but today is his last physical day with us, and I was so upset. He’s the kind of person who is always positive, smiling, and calm, no matter how stressed out and annoyed he is with work or anything in his personal life. He listens to pretty much anyone’s problems and is like a pseudo-therapist to some of us. When I’ve been stressed or mad about anything, he’s done everything from listen to me, take me on walks, send me kitten videos, and even give me a shoulder massage and many hugs. I’m going to miss his presence a lot. He’s probably the most generous colleague I’ve ever known… really ever. Whenever there’s been a quarter-end, he’s brought croissants or doughnuts into the office. He’s baked for the office at least a few times since I’ve been here. Today, he presented the colleague who referred him here a $70 bottle of very fancy whisky (frankly, I’m not sure that was that much deserved or will really be fully appreciated… but it is what it is). And on his very last day, today, he brought in two massive boxes of Dough doughnuts, the very popular doughnuts that this city is obsessed with.

All I have to say is — if it were my last day at a company, any company, I wouldn’t be bringing in squat — not out of bitterness or anger, but rather… why? His generosity is really limitless. We need more giving people in the world, and now our office has lost one of these rare giving souls.

“So New York”

A colleague with whom I’m friendly who is based in our San Francisco office is here for the next two weeks. She’s originally from Queens and is back in town because her mother had surgery, and she wanted to be here to help take care of her during this time. We took a walk together today around Madison Square Park, talking about our experiences at the company, how we chose to switch coasts (I’ve now been here just over ten years, and she’s been in San Francisco for over eleven now), and how it’s hard for both of us to realistically consider moving back to our original hometowns. It was a funny conversation because we’re both fairly direct yet fun-loving people, and we both, as Asian women, do not at all fit into the stereotypically passive Asian stereotype mold that people might assume of us. She swears a lot; I make frank comments about situations that surprise people. Neither of us is afraid to say what’s wrong in any given situation, even if it means annoying someone else in our presence. A lot of the times, it ends up being comical, but it’s nevertheless always a little shocking for some in the room who do not know us very well.

Later on, at the going-away happy hour of our colleague based here, she was exclaiming, “Yvonne, you’re so New York! You’re way more New York than I am now!” I guess I kind of am. I’m much more impatient now than I was ten years ago. In conversations around people with whom I feel comfortable, I try to be more direct and less beat-around-the-bush because I don’t want to waste time. I don’t really want to keep people guessing (except the times when I do… but that’s another story for another day). I’ve always been a fast walker, even in San Francisco, so that was easy to get used to here. I also said that I can’t stand delusional people who cannot accept and deal with reality… which is definitely not something a typical sunny Californian person would say.

You have to handle the truth. It’s part of survival, right? New York makes people a bit harder, which I’d like to think makes you fitter for survival.

Discovering passions

Our team’s manager was in town this week, so he took us out for a team dinner tonight. We ate at an izakaya and shared many small plates, reveling in how lucky we were to live in a city with as plentiful of dining options across all cuisines as New York City. Given that we were sharing and the nature of what an izakaya was, I was quietly thankful, being the one ordering all the food, that we had no one with any food allergies or picky food inclinations at our table. Whenever food is a topic, people on my team and in our office tend to look to me for advice and suggestions. And it’s flattering when not only they ask my advice, but they actually follow through and try the different dishes or restaurants and find that they enjoyed their experiences.

“I think our team out here in New York is so great because it’s like every single one of you has a passion that is really obvious,” my manager said. He motioned to one of my colleagues and mentioned how into animals she is (she has a puppy she adopted from a local shelter), another colleague who is obsessed with sailing and has a goal of owning his own boat (and is obsessed with the band Phish, and then of course me, who is clearly passionate about food and travel.

Knowing what you are passionate about, what you deeply care about, is really important in life… especially if you are at my age, in your late twenties or early thirties. I kind of think that by this age, you really should have some idea of what you love. It gives your life meaning, direction, a sense of purpose. Otherwise, what are you doing — are you really living, or are you just existing and watching your life pass you by? It’s like this article I read recently about the most resilient people who are able to overcome massive life obstacles — the death of a parent at a young age, the sudden death of a spouse, a near-death car accident, etc.; the way that they got through these difficult life circumstances was by continuing to do what they were passionate about and loved, whether it was a hobby like sewing or painting or singing, or by volunteering and giving back to their communities if that was their thing. If you don’t have any of those things to fall back on, then what really is the point of living?

Oddly enough, my manager said that when he’s been asked what he’s passionate about, he cannot answer the question in a straightforward way and is still struggling to answer it. It sounds like he needs to do more soul searching, as well.

Steam pipe explosion aftermath and changing personnel

I was finally allowed access back to the office today as our office manager is overseeing asbestos testing in the office after the city has given its approval that there’s supposedly no asbestos that’s leaked into our HVAC system. I went in to retrieve my work laptop before heading over to a shared space that we rented for the day. We won’t know for sure that there’s no asbestos contamination inside our office walls until tomorrow morning.

During midday, a number of us in the shared rented space and those brave enough to work in the office met up to get bubble tea from Boba Guys, and it felt really comforting to be in the presence of my colleagues after nearly a week of not seeing each other. Unfortunately, one of my colleagues will be leaving us soon to join another organization, and it made me feel a little nostalgic for what once was: an organization where everyone seemed really committed not just to the cause, but to each other. The more our personnel changes, the more our culture will change, which leaves a big question mark when it comes to what this office culture is going to evolve into. Is it going to be a happy place to come to work every day, or are we just going to become a corporate machine in an attempt to be more of the “enterprise business” that our CEO wants us to become?

Instant Pot commentary after three uses

The latest version of the 6-quart Instant Pot is definitely finicky to say the least. It needs enough water in it so that the bottom doesn’t burn and give you the very common and much dreaded “burn” message, but “enough” water is very subjective depending on what you are cooking. I already ruined vegetable biryani on Saturday, but after two more tries in making black-eyed pea curry and an Indian-style eggplant called baingan bharta, I’ve realized that there are certainly glories in having this “instant” pot. Beans and eggplant cook incredibly quickly. All my cooking for yesterday’s dinner was done by 3:45pm, and I cannot remember the last time I made a full meal on a Sunday when I was ready that much in advance of dinner time. I barely even knew what to do with myself. Do I clean more? Can I read? Write another entry on this blog? Who knew that laborious and time-intensive cooking could be shortened so much?!

I’m still wary of cooking rice in it, though, unless I try the “pot in pot” method, which of course would require yet another accessory, which I’m not sure I want to invest in quite yet. I will likely be keeping the rice cooker we have for now until I figure out how not to burn rice in the Instant pot main pot.


Dear Ed,

In the last five years since you passed on this day, I’ve occasionally awakened in the morning, feeling bad that it’s been some time since we’ve spoken. “I really need to call Ed to catch up,” I think. And then suddenly reality hits me, and I feel like a total idiot because the realization that you, my big brother, the only person who shares the same blood running through my veins, are dead and have been dead this whole time, grips me, and I sink into a miserable abyss. Sometimes, it is still a shock to me that you’ve been gone all this time even though it clearly doesn’t make sense.

The American playwright Thornton Wilder once wrote, “The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” That could not be more true. In the last five years since you’ve left this earth, I also consciously wake up to the feeling of gratitude for everything I’ve been fortunate to have had: good health, my loved ones, my experiences — my experiences with you for the 27.5 years we shared on this earth together. I still grieve you, and sometimes I still feel broken that I’ve lost you, but above all, I am grateful for what you taught me, how you selflessly loved me and gave me things, both material and not, that have helped shape me into the person I am today. Because of you, I try to live each day with meaning, with purpose, to prove to you that this life is worth living. I always did love a challenge; I still want to prove you wrong in this case.

I still see you everywhere, and I hear you everywhere. It doesn’t seem to matter where in the world I am. I can still feel you with me, even if the thought is unrealistic or just flat out absurd. When I listen to songs like “Silence” by Marshmello and Khalid, or “Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga, I think of you and think you would have liked those songs. When I was in India, I kept thinking about how you’d like certain dishes we were eating, or how you’d grimace at all the wild animals walking amongst us in the streets. When I’m at work chatting with my colleagues and enjoying my time with them, I wish you could have had similar work relationships that I’ve been privileged and lucky to have had. There is an entire world of experiences that I believe you were robbed of. And it hurts me sometimes when I think… why am I so lucky to have these experiences, and you were not? It’s just not right. It’s not fair at all.

I’m sorry that this world could not keep you safe. I am sorry that I could not keep you safe. I am limited in my ability, in my reach, in my grasp of you. I’ll never stop being sorry for the wrong that was done to you. It’s a pain that never seems to stop for me no matter what I do.

I love you. I miss you. I hope to see you in the next world I will call home. And I hope you will be waiting for me.

With love and longing,

your little sister Yvonne