How I Learned To Cook Pasta Like A True Italian

My first taste of Italy was the best. I’d just moved into a small room in an apartment in Florence when my padrona — or landlady — requested I join her for dinner. The meal was simple — salad, fruit, pasta with some vegetables — but I remember biting into it and thinking it was the best thing I’d ever tasted. So this is what Italian food really tastes like, I thought. I had no idea.

I was lucky to have a padrona that treated me like family. She invited me for dinner nearly every night, and for over two months, every meal she made was unique — every pasta dish was made just a little differently, every meat cooked a unique way, and every bite was just as good as the last. Once she served nothing but cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto, a combination that made me wary. I was pleasantly surprised.

“It’s all about the ingredients,” my padrona told me in her thick Italian. “Quality food is good food.”

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Measuring a Year

Published on my personal blog.

I always struggle to come to terms with endings, even when they’re welcome. I don’t think anyone would argue that 2016 was a perfect year. When we look back, we will remember Turkey and Nice and Syria. We will remember Brexit and the U.S. election that cultivated tension all across the country. We will remember Keith Lamont Scott and Prince and the countless others whose high profile deaths left millions shell-shocked. Twenty-sixteen was nothing if not eventful, and many people will have felt the aftershocks of a draining year that left them counting down the hours until 2017. Even still, we are left with prevailing hope for the future.

It was a big year for me, too. Even without the experiences I shared with the rest of the world, I went through so many life changes within twelve months that I still have trouble recounting everything that happened. Last January feels eons away, and the girl who maneuvered those early days of 2016 feels like a stranger, someone I once knew but haven’t spoken to in years. It’s hard for me to eloquently describe the ways my world changed in 366 days (thanks a lot, leap year), but I found myself looking for ways to commemorate perhaps the craziest times of my life.

Perhaps I’ll measure the year with too many tickets. For busses and trains and metros and planes. For a palace opera, for a Beyoncé concert, for a Yom Kippur service, for a graduation ceremony, for art and history museums. I keep them tucked inside books so that someday I will stumble upon them again and the memories will come rushing back. I’ll remember the excitement that bubbled in my stomach as I stared down from airplane windows and how I lost myself in the high-pitched vibrato of La Traviata. I’ll remember wondering, time and time again, if I was living in a dream. I’ll remember waking up in new places and feeling like a new person, how foreign streets became familiar with each passing day. I’ll remember how I kept my suitcase permanently packed and ready, how I lived a life untethered, uncertain of the future but happy with it all the same.

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It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Published on my personal blog

Perhaps the most striking part of my move to Pennsylvania was the realization that it is not always sunny in Philadelphia. As I took the train from the airport, I watched the dark clouds roll over the city and felt like someone who was left out of an inside joke. I reminded myself that every place has its gloomy days and tried not to let it get me down as I grew closer and closer to my new life, one I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from. The sun was bound to come out soon, anyway.

It rained for three days after. I’ll admit it: after the second day, I chuckled to myself.

Why Philadelphia? I get asked that a lot now, once people stop laughing over the fact that I’m a Kansas girl. One thing I’ve learned from traveling is that no one knows what to do with a Kansas girl. Once I met a bartender in New York whose eyes grew round as he exclaimed, “Hey, I grew up on a farm, too!” In Italy, I met a couple from California who snorted out laughs and said, “But how did you end up here?”

More often than not, my home is the place Americans forget about. The sunflower state, the breadbasket of the country, the heart of America, that little square on the center of the map like a doughnut hole, inconsequential and often left out. Or, perhaps more importantly, the backdrop of exactly one famous film that would forever scar the world’s perception of it. Nearly every “Where are you from?” is followed by a “I have a feeling you’re not in Kansas anymore.” I always force a laugh out of politeness, or perhaps because I’ve heard it so often it’s almost become humorous in itself. I have become the East Coast’s Dorothy, the lost little girl in a foreign land. Everyone seems to wait expectantly for me to click my heels together and return home.

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Growing Up in White America

Published on my personal blog

I like to joke that I grew up in the whitest part of America, though sometimes even I’m unsure of how much truth lies in my own words. I once met someone from Chicago who laughed when I told her where I was from. “Do you guys even know what diversity is there?” Then, with a wry smile, she joked, “Am I the first Black girl you’ve ever seen?”

I laughed and shook my head. Of course she wasn’t — we both knew that. But the more I thought about it, the less funny it became. Something about what she said itched deep under my skin. I’ve never been able to shake away the feeling completely.

When I think about my childhood neighborhood, I can’t remember one Person of Color who lived on my street. All I can remember is the Asian man who lived a few blocks away who kids made fun of because he didn’t celebrate Halloween. I grew up going to the school that was known for having the most diversity in the district, but there still wasn’t very much at all. My classes were overwhelmingly white and full of overwhelmingly white ideas. I remember a boy once jokingly made a KKK hood and paraded through the halls wearing it. Someone in my history class once wore black face as part of a presentation on civil rights. When a new club called “Young Educated African Americans” started meeting, students asked why there wasn’t a club for white people. These actions and comments hardly seemed to phase anyone.

Was it because we were young? To an extent, I believe that’s true. I don’t think any of us truly understood the weight of the things we did. We grew up in a school system that taught us racism ended when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech, the same school system that didn’t teach us about Japanese internment camps or Native American history. We grew up with parents who never taught us better, maybe because they were never taught better; we were stuck in the cycle of living in white America.

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Finding Pride in the Color Pink

Published by Her Campus KU

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the color pink. When I was younger, I was obsessed it. I wanted everything I owned to be some shade of it, and for a while, everything basically was. And then, at a certain age, I detested it. It felt too girly, or at least too stereotypically girly. Even at the ripe age of nine, I was way too pretentious for that. But once I reached sixth grade, I became very uncertain of how I felt about pink. By then, what was once a simple color became the symbol of something so much more.

I was 12 years old when I found out my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had gotten out of bed to get a glass of water, but I stopped outside the kitchen when I heard my parents talking in hushed tones.

“They think it’s cancer?” my dad asked my mother.

I don’t remember the reply. Maybe she didn’t say anything at all. I couldn’t really focus because my head was spinning and I just kept thinking of that one word, again and again and again: cancer. I went back to bed, trying to swallow back the panic as I told myself I must’ve heard them wrong. I forgot about the water. I wasn’t thirsty anymore, anyway.

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College: A Collage

1.

I still remember a passing thought I had when I was five years old and sitting on the small classroom floor: “I can’t imagine not being in Kindergarten.” Even when I turned 12 and was shipped off to middle school, I couldn’t believe it. Even when I graduated high school, I couldn’t believe it. Even now, after 20 years of schooling, I can’t believe it. Sometimes I swear I’m still that five-year-old sitting criss-cross on the cold linoleum floor, surrounded by toys I no longer remember the names of.

2.

I was 18 years old when I moved to Lawrence — an adult, technically, but still somehow a child as I sat in the passenger seat of my father’s Ford Explorer. We didn’t speak. Instead, I stared straight ahead, memorizing every curve of the road that took me farther and farther from the place I called home.

“You can relax, you know,” my father had said eventually. “I know you’re nervous, but you’re going to love it.”

My chest ached as we grew closer and closer to the city skyline. Its silhouette was an overbearing shadow resting just beneath the dawn.

I sometimes wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that he was right — that there was no reason to worry, no reason for my quick heartbeat and tense shoulders. College would prove to be a turning point in my life, and in a good way. But I didn’t know that back then. I was just 18 years old.

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I Heart New York

The nighttime view of New York from above is one of the most bittersweet sights I’ve ever witnessed. I’m absolutely in love with it — I ignored my heavy eyelids and the pull of sleep and forced myself to stay awake on the plane so that when we took off, I could see the city below me, the pinpoints of light undulating like something out of a storybook. I swear there’s something magic about that city, and seeing it from above makes the whole place look alive, like it is one living organism and everything within it is just atoms and cells, blood and bones. It’s breathtaking, beautiful, but so, so sad, because watching the lights from the plane window meant I had to say goodbye.

To say this trip has been perfect so far would be an overstatement. I had to duct tape my luggage together when it ripped right before my flight, only to have the bag completely break a few hours later. Then again, I’m lucky I even made the flight — security was so backed up that I made it on the plane mere minutes before takeoff. I spent the first day awake for 40 hours and hardly found the time to catch up on sleep after. It was an overwhelming beginning, but I realized very quickly how little those things mattered. Because, before I knew it, I was sucked into the swell of the city.

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