Ah, the French macarons - a baker's Everest. Those tiny little cookies, made from barely four ingredients, are deceptively cute. Their smooth top, and surrounding mysterious 'feet' in fact summon utmost care in technique and countless crossed fingers. The shells, as you might be able to guess just from looking at the picture, are extremely fragile, and absolutely hate moisture and uneven heat, unfortunately two things that bakers have minimal control over (the weather and the oven's temper). We try nonetheless, shoving off alarming heeds, sticky fingers and rising fear - for what a slap to the ego it is to be defeated by tiny little cookies! But we simply can't resist, we must whip those egg whites fluffy and grind our almond flour, because what a heavenly moment it is to bite into a perfect, colorful little macaron, through the soft, crunchy shell, into a chewy texture of meringue, into a bittersweet mocha ganache with a hint of orange zest. It's the one supreme moment of satisfaction and accomplishment that justifies the toil, frustration, and sweat (really, a lot of sweat!)

My first attempt with the macarons came one bored weekend browsing Tastespotting, a haven for wanna-be cooks. I stumbled on the macarons queen, Tartelette, a French pastry chef who made picture-perfect desserts. Not knowing any better, I decided to give it a try, pulsed my almond silvers in a blender (gasp!), hand-whipped my freshly cracked egg whites (double gasp!), and of course failed miserably. The products, which I didn't bother taking pictures of, didn't taste bad. In fact, they tasted a dream for the sweet-tooths. But alas, the macaron experience is at best half in taste; a heavenly moment is consumed by devouring by eyes first those beautiful creatures, only after that by taste their layers of textures and flavors. Without the oohs and aahs of admiration at their round dome and spreading feet, well, it's just not the same.

My chance to conquer the macarons finally arrived. Upon learning about ICE's upcoming macaron class, I promptly signed up. It was AMAZING! If you are a serious amateur cook, or a beginner looking for more refined technique, I highly recommend their recreational courses. My chef, the formidable Kathryn Gordon, who left a Wall Street and consulting career to pursue her passion in pastry, is a the utmost enthusiastic and patient instructor, not to mention years of producing perfect macarons with the Rainbow Room and Le Cirque. With her help, my chef-partner Jaqulin (an art history professor at St. John) and I produced these little mocha-flavor caps, soon to be swooned over by classmates and pronounced "best and picture-perfect!" by Chef Gordon:

A closer look at the pretty domes and feet:

Yummy! The best part of class is always the sharing at the end. Among the 12 participants, we made hundreds of those little sandwiches. My partner and I made two batches using two different recipes - one mocha-flavored shells hugging chocolate ganache fillings (above), and one ginger-flavored shells with caramel fleur de sel fillings. I freezed a dozen of those goodies awaiting Mugg's return, and will be bringing the rest to the office for a sugar-high Wednesday.

Can I let you in a secret? I am actually not that crazy about eating macarons (!!!) I know, I know... I'm just more of a creme-caramel kinda girl. I am, however, crazy about making these handsome and tasty French desserts. So if you are ever in New York when I'm rapping those macaron pans, count on having a lot of them to bring home!

Wow, can you believe it, two days till Christmas! Unfortunately this year I didn't make it out of the city. The lack of vacation days, my cousins visiting and law school stress resulted in zero planning for the holiday. Given my blank 250-word essay for Yale, and the many scholarship essays in need of being written, I tried to convince myself that it would actually be a smart choice to stay in the city and get some work done. Wishful thinking, of course. It isn't easy with so many visitors dropping in and out of my apartment. I had a hard time saying no to traveling college students, who reminded me of my homeless self not so long ago. As a result, three teenagers now occupied my couch, gobbling up all the food in the fridge and talking "xi` tin" 9-X dialogues I'm too old to understand. Ah, youth.

Last weekend, New York was stranded in a snow blizzard. Mugg was so extremely lucky to jump on a plane to Miami at dawn on Sat morning, as a heavy veil of snow crashed down on the trees in front of my windows that night. The said teenagers, who had never seen so much snow in their lives, got considerably excited, and we went out for a quick snow fight. The trees lining Columbus Avenue, leading all the way up west from Columbus Circle, have all been lit up. A few houses have adorned Christmas decorations; laurel wreaths with big red bows are everywhere. As the kids raced one another into snow piles, I wiggled my frozen gloved fingers, and sang to myself the favorite tune of Love Actually: "I can feel it in my fingers, I can feel it in my toes..."

By the next morning, New York has been turned in a white, slushy spinster. Now I really regretted declining the open invitation from Mugg's parents to join them in Miami. Argh! This year, we decided to get Mugg's parents Christmas gifts together - an endeavor more rigorous than I was prepared for. After endless hours of brainstorming and debates, we finally settled for two awesome gifts - Shiseido's cream for mom (my go-to product for female giftees which has earned raved reviews from my mom, grandma and aunt), and an elegant two-time-zone watch for dad. Mugg said they opened the gift today and were smiling a lot - which, seriously, is a huge expression practice for Cultural-Revolution-era Chinese lol

And surprise surprise, I finally realize today that I am so consummated by law school admission! I guess the moment came when I looked at my Wish List for Christmas, and behold, they are ALL law school books. Books that I'm actually so looking forward to reading! It was a rather funny moment when Mugg - the more academia-cultivated of the two of us - refused to buy me any book and instead get me a gift certificate to the best Pilates studio ever. Yes, I am a proud Pilates addict, ever since a few classes fix my back pain and prep my legs for distance runs. I guess Muggy knows me best :-)

Back to law school obsession: make no mistake, everybody is obsessed. It's like being admitted into a cult-like, egocentric club where people half worship, half yearn to devour one another. Somehow the mindset reminded me of schooling in Vietnam - there are simply too few shining stars for an overcrowding class. Only this time, the language is one that I don't understand, the readings are a hundred times thicker, and the debt - no comment necessary on the debt.

Good news nonetheless: I received a super nice phone call for UPenn welcoming me to the class of 2013. The paper letter came today, accompanied by a thick, colorful viewbook tooting UPenn's great-looking professors and faculty. I like how nice it is, but wish they go green like UMich with an USB. Being unsentimental, I don't keep things for keeping things' sake. Even pretty viewbooks.

More good news: I was invited today via email to apply for the Darrow, UMich's most prestigious merit scholarship which provides up to full tuition AND a stipend. Wohooo! As excited as I am, I'm seriously overwhelmed with the essay ass-kicking to do in the next two weeks:
- 500-word Darrow scholarship essay for UMich
- 500-word Dean's scholarship essay for Cornell
- 500-word International Law essay for NYU
- 250-work (evil) free style rant for Yale apps

Notwithstanding, I can't wait to go to my macaron class tomorrow at the Institute of Culinary Educaton! You see, those cute little sugar-heaven sandwiches have driven me crazy in the last month, after a miserable failed attempt that resulted in my bitter and eager for revenge zeal. We'll see how it turns out tomorrow. I have promised my mailman and Fatima some macarons goodness, so those cuties better turn out perfect!

Time to sleep. Merry Christmas everyone :-)
I love the first week of December! December 7 features me dragging home at 10pm drained and stressed - what can you do, when your boss is freaked out, it's your duty to also sweat - to find a big, very purple envelop hovering under Mugg's giant grin. "It says NYU", he did a little dance. I hungrily tore the envelop apart, then did a long ridiculous dance myself.

In at NYU!

What a great relief, since this means that I have an option to stay in the Big Apple, keep my perfect apartment, breathe Central Park air, and well, enroll at a top-5 (US News ranking) law school in the nation! NYU is also ranked 2nd nationwide in International Law, which is a field I am interested in pursuing. Woohoo!

And today, my status checker changed to "Decision Rendered" at Cornell. The admission office was nice enough to tell me the decision on the phone - I'm in, and invited for the Dean's Scholarship! I have been scared multiple times by Mugg's endless snow storms tales from his undergrad years in Ithaca, but still am extremely happy. Cornell is a beautiful place, and has much to offer with its small class size and a liberal-arts-ish environment.

Five down - still 10 more to go, including one visible elephant i.e. the Yale apps. I definitely plan to finish it before the holidays, before the flurry of visitors will keep me breathless. Where I end up next year will largely depend on where Mugg will be, so crossing fingers for us both!

And on a non-law yet amazing note: a good friend of mine told me yesterday that she is pregnant! I can't even describe how happy I am, for I know that this baby will be in the best hands for all his/her life. My friend used an expression that I've never heard before, that she cannot wait to fall in love with her child. Wow. I feel like we take for granted that we must love our family, yet know fully well that it sometimes is the hardest thing. But to be truly fall in love with your child, your mom, your dad, how amazing that must feel like. I'm planning to stop by a baby store to get the expectant mom a present, and also a gift for the new-born son of my middle-school friend. She was the first to get married, and the first to have a kid, pioneering the 86-ers rite to adulthood. The new lives of my friends make me feel a bit more grown up, and definitely put my trivial stress on work and law school in perspective. Yes, it is a soft and gentle reminder - there are more important things in life.