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Good Vibes

One of my favorite songs of all time is Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys, and it’s been stuck in my head for the past couple of days – probably because Thanksgiving break was crammed with good vibes.  I took the Greyhound bus all the way from Boston to Virginia to visit some family friends, and life was awesome all weekend. The sun was shining, and I didn’t set my alarm clock once. I felt like a love-sponge, just soaking up affection and good food.  Our Thanksgiving feast included all the components of a typical American meal: turkey, cranberries, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, and two kinds of pies.  And at night, we had traditional Dutch treats called Oliebollen!  Oliebollen are little round donuts, filled with raisins and spices.  I almost died of happiness and good vibrations while I ate them.

I helped create this poignant Thanksgiving artwork.

Unfortunately, the bus ride back to school almost took away all my good vibrations.  We stopped in New York in the middle of the night to switch buses – but Greyhound, Inc was temporarily out of bus drivers.  So we waited on the floor in sleepy, grouchy suspense until some more bus drivers showed up at dawn, and I made it back to campus just in time for my morning classes.

Speaking of good vibrations, a few weeks ago the Harvard Global Health & AIDS Coalition staged a ‘Pool Party Demonstration’ outside of Merck Pharmaceuticals, near the Harvard Medical School  – an effective and creative way to protest.  While Merck has been instrumental in developing ARVs and other HIV-related drugs, they’ve refused to join the Medicine Patent Pool so far.  The Patent Pool tries to ensure availability of HIV drugs to low- and middle-income families across the globe, and Merck’s cooperation would be invaluable toward that end (you can read more about the issue here).

Pool party with a purpose.

Listening to speeches!  I’m wearing the hawt green shades.

We showed up with beach balls, sunglasses, and multicolored towels, and set up our waterless pool party in the grass below Merck Labs.  I was impressed with how congenial and relaxed everyone was, while still being insistent about their goals.  We chanted and talked and wrote letters to Merck management, and some Harvard med students gave speeches from inside the blow-up pool (everyone told them to “Get in the pool!”).  The demonstrators showed that it’s possible to be passionate without being violent, and to make your voice heard without being antagonizing.  Of course, some policemen showed up pretty quickly and watched the proceedings with folded arms, but they didn’t seem too concerned.  The demonstration actually got a lot of local publicity, and a  follow-up event is scheduled for World AIDS Day this coming Thursday, December 1st.  If you live in the Boston area, feel free to join in – and no matter where you live, there are so many ways you can show your love & support for those living with HIV this Thursday.

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As usual before an interview, my body temperature was high, my confidence was low, and my brain was fluctuating between clutter and utter emptiness. When I got to the interview room, I nudged open the door, tripped on the carpet, and gave a sweaty handshake to the three interviewers.

“Have a seat,” said the dude in the middle. I did.

“Why do you think you’d be good for this summer position?” he asked, flashing me a vaguely patronizing smile.

The interview should have been a breeze. I was trying to go to Botswana to teach English, and I had a lot of great answers to his question. For example, “I’m an English major,” and “I’m familiar with Africa” – those would have been good answers. Instead, I treated my interviewers to a series of Um’s, Uh’s and Likes, before launching into a modest plea: “Well, I’m not great at teaching, but I do love kids! Well, what I mean to say is, I like teenagers.” They stared at me bleakly, and I felt my soul shriveling up into a little ball of defeat.

That was last semester, and that’s how all my interviews went. I know Harvard kids are supposed to be great at interviews, but I like to think of myself as an interviewee-in-training. I applied to a kabillion summer programs (well, three or four), and got rejected from all of them. As summer got closer and closer, I wrung my hands and thought, What am I going to do? Everyone else will be saving the world and/or interning at prestigious institutions. But about three weeks before summer began, the African Studies department sent out an email soliciting kids to apply to fully-funded language programs in Africa.  I applied on a whim, and the rest is history.  I had the happiest summer of my life on the Kenyan coast, studying Swahili through Yale’s summer program.

This past weekend, my roommate and I planned out a walking-tour of the Cambridge/Somerville area. We spent Thursday night on Google maps, designing a long route through the city, choosing cafés and landmarks to see along the way. I’ve had the chance to see a lot of Cambridge already – a concert here, a meal there, a grocery trip to Whole Foods. But my sense of spatiality is underdeveloped, and it’s hard for me to visualize how those different locales are related to each other. Every café, shop, park, club and alleyway that I’ve visited are just atomized places in my head, connected by a mysterious network of streets.

Our walking-tour actually went pretty smoothly. My roommate was in charge of the route and kept referring to the maps on her iPhone. We walked through plenty of classic New England neighborhoods, strolled by some train tracks, and admired some graffiti. At different points during the walk, we’d emerge into an area that I recognized – somewhere we’d been before – and amazingly, it fit into my mental map of Cambridge. As I recognized more and more places, a cohesive scheme of the city began to emerge in my head. (“Holy cow, this is Porter Square!”) It was weird and satisfying to finally understand how all the places connected.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that sometimes things don’t make sense until way, way later. Sometimes the events of your life will seem really random, and disappointments will feel absolutely crushing and nonsensical. But I think that eventually the pieces fit together into something kinda unified, something kinda beautiful.  So keep trying risky things, keep applying to programs, keep going to interviews even if your pulse rate gets dangerously high.  Keep moving along.  In retrospect, all the failures and dead ends usually make a lot more sense.

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In Lab: Working with Temperature with Molten Chocolate Cake

The end semester is nearing: only two weeks until classes are done, and then finals period. I think there might be a school time warp, because the school year always flies by faster than seems physically possible—just another reason to cherish the moment!

 

With that in mind, as promised, each week I’ll be featuring one of my classes for the semester (four in total). Probably one the most popular class I’m taking is the general education course, Science & Cooking: From Soft Matter Science to Haute Cuisine.

 

This is Science & Cooking’s second year running; so many people were interested in it in its first year that there was a lottery admitting only 350 students of 670 that signed-up for it. The class has been featured in local and national news.

 

The reason for all the hype? The course is essentially taught by guest chef lectures ranging from Ferran Adrià (of El Bulli fame), Wylie Dufrense (who you may have seen on Top Chef) and, of course, the repeated visitor Harold McGee (writer of the book, On Food and Cooking). We get to hear from everyone including local restaurant entrepreneurs (such as Barbara Lynch and Ana Sortun) to high-tech chef Dave Arnold (who is actually both hilarious, and a genius, at once! See: Chocolate N’Lemon Cocktail).

 

Don’t let all the famous names and fancy restaurants fool you though, this course asks you to engage with real science on a molecular level. Learning about aioli? Prepare to know the way to determine optimal volume ratios for the bubbles in the emulsion. Interested in classical French sauces? Make sure you can name the function of and types of polymers.  We have lab every week where we put to practice what we learn, and my lab group is now working on our final project that will be presented in a December on-campus food-science fair.

Working on our Final Project with a Moka Coffee Maker

Our final project is testing different coffee brewing methods (Moka, Drip, Pour-Over, and French Press) for their acidity (pH) and oil-content using a centrifuge. Needless to say, I now have a well of energy after sampling our finished products in labs.

 

So even though the class is heavily science focused, it’s extremely interesting and applicable. Not to mention the delicious array of samples handed out in a class: a definite plus, but all for the purpose of science, of course.

Barbara Lynch: Coconut-Cream & Chocolate Ganache “Banana Split”

Hope everyone has a great weekend and, if you’re celebrating, a good Thanksgiving next Thursday!

 

~Natalie

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November is probably the most crowded month for Harvard kids.  We start referring to our iCals with growing frequency, trying to fit every single activity (including eating and sleeping) into a 24-hour matrix that feels far too small.  I mean, Free Time is never a readily available commodity on campus, but it goes completely out of stock in November.  The shelves of Free Time are empty, and the Free Time vendors just shrug their shoulders and say, “Come back next month, and we might have more in stock.”  So I’ve learned that sometimes, during the most crammed weeks of the semester, you’ve gotta steal your Free Time – seize any hours of freedom that you can find!

In that spirit, I rode the T into Boston on Thursday night, to see the Blue Scholars perform at the Paradise Rock Club.  The Blue Scholars are a dynamic musical duo from Seattle, makin’ smart folk hip-hop since 2002.  Sabzi is an Iranian DJ/producer, and Geologic is a Filipino rapper – and together, the dudes are pure magic.  The Blue Scholars use their music to treat relevant societal/generational issues, and I admire the intentionality manifest in their art.  Here’s one of my favorite songs by them, Cinemetropolis, the title track from their new LP:

 

I was lucky enough to attend another nourishing event this weekend (one that filled my tummy and my heart).  On Saturday, the Harvard African Students Association held its annual Fall Feast, which is always one of the best events of the semester.  Students and groups of various African affiliations lend their time and talents to recreate classic dishes from their home countries.   The array was stunning – jollof rice, stews, curries, shawarma, corn-mush, chicken, samosas, plantains – and by the time we got halfway down the line, our plates were spilling over with African delicacies.  We had to go finish our first plates before we could sample the second half of the buffet.  It was a true celebration, and everyone jokingly heralded their hometown food as “the winning dish.”  All the proceeds from the event went to buy food for Somali refugee camps, so they were selling these sweet T-shirts:

I felt kind of weird buying a shirt that said “Fight the Famine” while surrounded by such bounty.  But I think that’s the strange tension that many of us live with, especially as Americans.  We should still enjoy and appreciate things like parties and good food, knowing that they’re undeserved riches; but at the same time, we gotta stay keenly aware of the areas of great need that are sometimes starkly juxtaposed to our own comfortable situations.  It’s a complicated dynamic, and one that I haven’t totally come to terms with yet.  I could only be grateful for my blessings while I chowed down on hometown chapatis for the second time this month.  In honor of that unlikely statistic, here’s the official Chapati song by the Kenyan artist Man Ingwe:

 

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The day I left for New York, the Harvard Culinary Society held its big event for the first semester: an evening expo where Harvard students met local restaurant vendors. I’ve been with the Culinary Society for three years now but this is my first as Vice President and our first with this new event—but it was a hit! The picture above is of the representative from Clover, a vegetarian fast-food joint that focuses on local and fresh food, making their signature pour-over coffee

A representative from Wagamama, a fast-paced modern Japanese restaurant, sampling delicious mushroom broth with noodles.

Vendors loved it because they got to interact with the Harvard Community, many members of whom don’t know the locations to eat around the square; since nearly everyone has the mandatory meal-plan, eating out is not as critical as other school. Students loved it because they were able to try samples and receive coupons from new places or old favorites.

A vendor from Qdoba, a mexican fast-food burrito spot, putting together a wonderful beans-rice-salsa sampling.

As mentioned before, this was my first time planning a complete event from scratch. Luckily Harvard helps make the process easy—there are so many options for funding student ideas and locations available to rent for events. If you decided to take a similar leadership role on at school, just make sure you have a great team behind you. We did and so the set-up and event went smooth, even though over 200 or so students were waiting to walk-through the sampling line.

 A sampling from Finale, a small upscale restaurant focusing on decadent cakes and drinks, of their Boston Cream Pie.

Speaking of funding, one of the new projects the Culinary Society is working on (which we just got funded) is a semester-based Culinary Magazine! More than ever students on campus seem to care about food issues and justice—one of the more popular classes (one I’m in and will talk more about soon) is a new Science and Cooking course; a sophomore recently lead and won a campaign to get Harvard to source only Cage-Free Eggs; and the career office has been putting together more workshops on how to get careers in hospitality, travel, and wine.

I’ll keep you updated as work on the Magazine progresses. Though, you can bet that “food porn” pictures (as they’re called)–such as the one above–will be a glossy highlight! By the way, the picture above is from this cute, all-vegan soda-fountain type ice cream shop in New York—who knew vegan cake batter soft servecould be so delicious?!

 

All this reminiscing over food has made me hungry! My friend from California just arrived last night to visit and with today off classes for Veteran’s Day, I think we’ll be going into Boston for a nice lunch while the weather is still warm (or, at least, not snowing yet!).

 

Until next time,

~Natalie

As evidenced by other posts on this blog, Harvard kids tend to love their campus houses.  Each house has its own traditions, mascots, quirks, secrets and sites of pride.  But as I begin my third year in Dunster, I can’t imagine a better place to live! Here are some reasons why the [often shortchanged] house might be better than you think:

1. Underground Passageways

Every part of Dunster is connected to every other part of Dunster through a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels. These passages are fun to investigate all year round, but when winter arrives, their value skyrockets.  As a veteran winter-phobe, I’m adept at avoiding face-to-face encounters with winter.  So when it’s snowing outside, I can actually get from my room to the vending machine, to the laundry room, to the dining hall, to the computer lab, to the Grille – all without going outside or taking off my flip-flops.

2. The Illustrious D-Hall

Dunster’s dining hall is famed across campus for it’s Harry-Potteresque interior and lovingly crafted cuisine.  It also stays open later than any other dining hall – something that many non-Dunsterites appreciate every day.

3. Location, Location!

Some [weird] people claim that Dunster is located really far away from the center of campus.  While the five-minute walk admittedly feels endless in winter, Dunster is not that remote – and it’s refreshingly far away from the fray of the Square.  The courtyard faces onto the Charles River (a beautiful sight in any light).  And Dunster is a mere block away from Petsi Pies – Cambridge’s hipster-haven, a local café with good music, greasy air and sinful pies.

4. Meese

Dunster’s mascot is the endearing, enduring Moose.  We get to wear Moose sweatshirts, wrap our necks in Moose scarves and carry around Moose steins. On Housing Days, we even don our Moose antlers en masse – and you know that’s cool.

5. The Dunster Petting Zoo 

A brand new Dunster tradition!  This past Sunday afternoon, Dunster’s student council organized an autumn Hoedown in the courtyard.  The yard was dotted with footballs, bales of hay, and picnic tables filled with donuts and candy corn.  But when I arrived on the scene, everyone was totally ignoring the Hoedown — instead, they were clustered together in the middle of the grassy lawn.  I ran over to see what was so enthralling, and I wasn’t disappointed.  It was a petting zoo of baby farm animals!  Baby ducks, baby rabbits, baby goats, baby chickens, and even a baby pig named Lydia, who reminded me of a little furry black bullet.  About forty mostly-grown Harvard students were squealing and talking in high-pitched baby voices (Awww wook at the iddy biddy piggy wif its wittle snout!)  I loved witnessing the immense transforming power of baby animals — how we all became undignified and delighted for a few minutes.

Here’s a picture of me holding an adorable baby duckling.  Apparently, the Petting Zoo/Hoedown has now been instituted as an annual tradition.  So if you live in Dunster House, or if you get assigned to Dunster one day — be glad!

Addendum: Yesterday, as you may have read elsewhere, Mark Zuckerberg made his grand reappearance at Harvard – his first official return since he left the school in 2004.  On my way to class in the afternoon, one of the campus streets was lined with multiple news trucks, reporter paraphernalia and police cars.  We asked one policeman on a motorcycle, “Is this all for Mark Zuckerberg?”  He grinned and said, “Yep, it’s all for him.  Just think, a few years ago, he was walking around this campus and no one even cared.”  He rubbed the fingers of his right hand together and smiled slyly: “You make a li’l money, and look what happens!”

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As fall begins to approach Boston and the leaves start to change into magnificent shades of orange and red, farms and gardens across New England also slow down.  Our Harvard Community Garden is no exception—and what better way to do so then with a great celebration?

So for the second year in a row—our garden being just two years old—we had Harvest Festival. I’ve worked on the Harvard Garden since last year and its amazing how its grown. And students have been at the forefront of this growth, planning, planting, and establishing everything from compost to a set-watering schedule.  There’s nothing more fun to me than getting your hands in the dirt to start the weekend.

So this last Saturday we put together Harvest Fest to celebrate community and sustainable food. Kids from the community helped us carve pumpkins and set-up scarecrows. Student bands performed everything from folk music to motown. We had two local food trucks including Lefty’s Silver Cart and Katalyst Kombucha. Additional food included freshly pressed cider and samples from food demos by the Harvard Food Literacy Project (FLP).

One of my jobs on campus is working for the FLP as the Lowell House Representative. In addition to educating students on food literacy, we also get to take part in fun events like this. At Harvest Fest I cooked up a sautéed apple cider kale with rosemary, garlic, and onions. My favorite though was the freshly popped popcorn made with heirloom corn.

As the day winded down, I was struck by the beauty of the fall season, something we in Southern California rarely experience. But most of all I was grateful that even in the stress of midterm season, there are great opportunities to relax with friends. A much-needed break is just as essential to Harvard life as the academic rigor. As such, this weekend, right after classes today, I’ll be taking a trip up to New York City where my brother lives–a great local trip that can cost as low a $10! Hope you have a great weekend too!

~Natalie

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This weekend, I tagged along with my roommate to Boston’s annual Vegetarian Food Festival.  She’s a vegetarian and I am not.  But I was lured in by the promise of hundreds of free samples of exotic health-foods: granola bars cut up into little squares, crumbs of 85% dark chocolate, sprouts, quinoa, some magical ‘unsaturated’ tree oil from Venezuela, hummus samplers, and some not-potable chocolate protein shakes.  All these delicacies (and more!) were displayed upon tables in their healthy glory, curated by very healthy-looking individuals.  Among the attendees of the Veggie Fest, I encountered the usual surplus of beards, suspenders and shoes made of natural fibers, as well as a surprising hat made of tree-bark, and some buttons that said “Give Peas a Chance.”  Because I was dressed in really pedestrian attire, I bought this sweet T-shirt:

I felt okay buying this shirt, because whether I wear it ironically or in earnest, it’s sending pretty much the same message out on da streets.

At one point during the Fest, I noticed some chapatis at a faraway food stand.  Chapatis are flat, greasy discs of bread that resemble tortillas, except they come from East Africa.  I’m always craving some greasy Tanzanian carbohydrates, so I made a bee-line for the table.  As I got closer, the banner behind the stall came into view: Taste of Kilimanjaro.  I couldn’t believe it – Tanzanian cuisine for sale at a Boston veggie fair!  Any true array of Tanzanian fare would include a large component of kuku choma  (scrawny pieces of charcoal-grilled chicken, cut into vaguely identifiable pieces and dipped in thick salt).  But since it was a Veggie Festival, I loaded up on beans and chapatis, and enjoyed a true Tanzanian lunch.  I even got to chat with the chefs in Kiswahili.  Since they’d been living in Boston for fifteen years, their pure, grammatical Kiswahili was inflected with American sound and cadence.

Later that day, I Skyped with my parents, who live in Kenya.  They informed me that the city of Nairobi was hosting its annual Barbecue Fest that very same day.  Apparently, all the city’s leading meat companies and “grilling houses” were showcasing their best meats downtown, offering taste-samples for a price.  That’s the kind of irony I love — the polarized food-fairs of my two distant homes, vending totally distinct flavors (both cultural and gustatory).

On Saturday, we had a mini snowstorm, and I was worried that winter had arrived prematurely, but it looks like autumn will be here for a few more weeks.  The trees around campus are all quickly losing leaves, and I like how they revolve slowly and come to rest on the ground like a warmer and more colorful strain of snow — my kind of snow.

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It’s strange to be back at Harvard as a senior.  Many of the buildings, spaces and social settings that once felt forbidding or intimidating are now familiar and sweet, freighted with associations and memories.  For most seniors, I believe the campus feels more comfortable and navigable than ever before.  But this semester, in an unexpected way, Harvard feels brand-new to me again.  I’ve been looking at my peers and surroundings with something like the convict’s heightened consciousness of being alive.  The clock is ticking, and these are experiences to savor – days to feel in their fullness.

My senior friends have already started to talk about their “lasts.”  The Last Fall Semester, the Last First Day of School, the Last Fall Formal – even the Last Move-In Day.  While it may seem like we’re prematurely eulogizing our time at Harvard, I prefer to think of it as a way of noticing – a way of establishing ourselves in the very present moment.  It’s our way of honoring the traditions and quirks of undergraduate life that we’ve internalized over the past three years.

Amid the excitement of year number four, and the relief that comes with reaching long-awaited milestones, part of me deeply envies the incoming class of 2015.  The grounds are graced once again with a Yard full of freshmen, most of whom have only vague plans for the next four years.  To them, college is a series of unknowns stretching into the future, studded with manifold new beginnings.  While they’re picking and choosing their favorite Student Clubs and course-loads, I’m hustlin’ to fill my final Core requirements.

But then a thought occurs to me: In many ways, I can still take advantage of the very same on-campus possibilities as the first-years.  Sure, it’s too late to change my Concentration.  But in most other aspects of campus life, senior status doesn’t preclude me from joining a club or a sports team, or from making new friends, or from trying courses in a different field.  Boston is still waiting to be discovered, and there are still spots on campus that seem mysterious and unexplored.  To my fellow fourth-years, both at Harvard and elsewhere: let’s not forget that we still have an entire year of college left before us, and that new beginnings are for everyone.

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Summer simply flew by this year. Was it not only yesterday that my friends and I were going in a joyous post-finals swim in Walden Pond? [An amazing retreat by the way in Lincoln, MA site of where Thoreau wrote Walden].

 

My last summer of college and it truly felt like it; I spent the majority of the months doing research for my political theory thesis, interviewing professors and lawyers in international law. But in between I made time for something that’s been extremely influential to my time at Harvard: meditation and yoga.

 

 

Practicing yoga at Wanderlust in Northern California

 

I was lucky enough to spend a week helping to set up and take down a yoga and music festival up in gorgeous Lake Tahoe, CA, Wanderlust. Renowned instructors and musicians all came together for the event including Michael Franti and The Wailers.

 

Helping to build the meditation dome at Wanderlust

 

During the bustle of the school year, whenever classes or extracurricular life might seem overwhelming, it was so calming to be able to attend yoga classes at our school gym or participate in Harvard Meditation Club. Just remembering to breathe makes day-to-day life that much more vibrant!

 

All in all, Wanderlust was an amazing experience and I was glad to have the weeks before and after to hike and explore in Northern California. If you ever get the change to kayak across Lake Tahoe, defiantly do it. Just be careful getting out of the kayaks, I ended up more wet at the end than intended!

 

Preparing for a kayak and hiking adventure with friends


I also devoted a lot of my summer to helping start and teach at a new Urban Gardening Club at home in Los Angeles, CA. I think the highlight had to be helping one of my neighbors tend to his egg-laying chickens: chickens are surprisingly friendly birds with such distinct personalities. I even helped my parents start their own backyard vegetable garden and compost site.

 

Grape tomatoes from June just beginning to sprout

 

The tomatoes have nearly quadrupled in size by the time I left and we had so many extra zucchinis we were able to donate bundles to the Gardening Club for neighbors in need.

 

Now that the school year is well under way, I’m still craving those fresh vegetables, but lucky Cambridge has a wealth of farmer’s markets to choose from.

 

Until next time,

 

~Natalie<3

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