It’s July, which means school’s out and summer barbeques are in! Since summer means that I have way more time on my hands, I’ve been trying a lot of new things this month, like this month, I think I’ve read more books in the past month than I did in the past school year! I’d say I’m a pretty avid reader, but having school means that I often don’t have the time to read for fun. I’ve also been cooking a lot more these past few months, in fact, I’ve learned over 60 meals by cooking for my family this summer. As my time to leave the nest (aka college) isn’t far away, cooking is a great skill for all students to learn, and I think it’s pretty fun to learn to cook. Anyway, check out some of my favorite things this month for some new things for you to try out as well!
Note: I am not sponsored or affiliated with any of the products or brands mentioned!
Books: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Now, one thing about me, I’m an incredibly picky reader. Most times, particularly with teen romance novels, I’ll end up complaining about the book and the characters because I can’t understand their decisions or I feel like there’s a much more efficient way to solve whatever problem that has been facing the characters. However, from the books I’ve read recently, my favorite has definitely been Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. It seems to be quite a classic, but that’s for a good reason. The story is incredibly beautiful, especially as it explores Eleanor’s struggles with her abusive home life and Park’s struggles with his identity as an Asian American and being not ‘masculine’ enough during a time where there wasn’t much diversity, particularly where the story was set. It’s a love story, and while I feel like the romance was a bit abrupt as the characters’ feelings towards each other just suddenly changes without much explanation, I liked the development of the story and eventually their romance grows to be well-developed throughout the novel. I have a pet-peeve against books that don’t try to make the reader understand the romance between characters and just use a lot of adjectives to try to make up for the lack of explanations for why one character would fall for the other, but this book leaves the romance to be interpreted through the characters’ actions and dialogue, but still clear.
Another notable runner-up is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This book took me forever to finish, but the reason was because I kept putting it off to read some other more lighthearted books. I knew the ending of this book was going to be sad, and while it’s incredibly weird that I do this, I tend to put off books and movies that I know I’ll love to prepare myself for becoming emotionally invested in the story. The structure of this book is very unique – It’s told in the perspective of an omniscient narrator, Death, about the story of Liesel Meminger in her childhood in Nazi Germany. One particularly notable portion of the book was about “the word shaker” that depicts the power of words, and I thought it was a beautiful allusion to the real-world and the power words can have on making change. Also, I loved how it showed Liesel’s best friend, Rudy Steiner’s character development towards the politics in Nazi Germany and his feelings towards Liesel. Overall, it’s an amazing book. While I didn’t read this book recently, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is another beautiful book about the time period of World War II and the Nazis that I would also recommend.
If you like my book reviews, I reviewed the other books I read recently in more detail here that you can check out! I’m pretty detailed when it comes to critiques, so it may be helpful for aspiring writers to read my reviews on my perspective as a reader.
Music: “What Are We” by Virginia to Vegas
Currently, my favorite song is “What Are We” by Virginia to Vegas – I’m actually listening to it right now as I’m writing this blog post! My favorite songs can change frequently though, so some of the other songs that I’ve been listening to lately include “sucks to see you doing better” by Valley, “American Money” by BØRNS, “Favorite Regret” by Peder Elias ft. Sval, and “Sweater Weather” by The Neighbourhood. I’m currently into indie pop songs, although my music taste has evolved a bit. The first pop song I heard was “Red” by Taylor Swift when I was around nine, so for most of my early music-listening years, my favorite artists were Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and Katy Perry, with a bit of Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes songs sprinkled in. However, during quarantine, like many other teenagers, I listened to music practically all the time because I like to work with music playing in the background. So, when I heard “Don’t Call Me Angel” by Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey, this was the first time I had encountered Lana Del Rey’s style of music. I didn’t like it very much at first, but I grew to really like “Lust for Life” by Lana Del Rey. Eventually, I began playing Lana Del Rey’s songs on repeat, and since her songs have an indie pop style, I was introduced to the genre and started listening to more indie pop music – hence, my music taste today. What are your favorite songs?
TV Series: Young Royals
When I said I tend to put off books that I know will be good until later so I can fully prepare myself for becoming emotionally invested in the story, that applies to movies and TV shows as well. I first came across this series when the trailer popped up on my Recommended page on YouTube, and so I watched and found it a lot more intriguing than I expected. But then, fan edits started popping up on my Recommended page, so I began watching those. And more. And more. So I finally decided to watch the series. Let me tell you, I was NOT prepared for how emotionally invested I would be in the story and the characters. I’m quite picky about my TV series as well, and to put that into perspective, I didn’t like Bridgerton or Anne With An E (sorry!). The acting, particularly the chemistry between the two main characters, Prince Wilhelm and Simon, is just amazing, and while it’ll be very hard to change my mind about my favorite TV show (hint: It’s The Queen’s Gambit), this one comes in at a very close second place of all time. The TV series is in Swedish, so I had subtitles on, but it was still very much an emotional rollercoaster to watch. The characters all have their flaws and mistakes, but I felt like I could understand their perspective, and the relationship between Prince Wilhelm and Simon was perfectly portrayed. In particular, while this is an unpopular opinion as August is the most hated character on the show, I thought his struggles were the most understandable for why he was under tons of stress, at least in the beginning, but his actions at the end are still cruel and unwarranted. Ah, the pain of finishing a good TV series or movie while you’re not ready to move on from the show…
Podcast: Talking Biotech with Dr. Kevin Folta
I just had to give “Talking Biotech with Dr. Kevin Folta” a shout-out, because this has been my favorite podcast since I started listening to podcasts. Dr. Folta’s dedication to sharing science information is really admirable, as he’s had to face a ton of controversies in trying to spread information about genetic engineering and GMOs. While I can’t comment on the controversy, I really enjoy his podcast since it features topics from all different realms of biology, from food science (Episode 246 – What are Pumpkins?) to new developments in biotechnology (Episode 286 – Identifying Rare Compounds with A. I.), and promoting science education (Episode 300 – The Battle to Teach Science). With the recent pandemic, he also has plenty of episodes on COVID-19 information, including about the epidemiology of COVID-19, vaccine hesitancy, and vaccine development (Episode 272 – Immune Response to COVID19 and its Vaccines). Podcasts are a fun way to learn new information, and the Talking Biotech with Dr. Kevin Folta podcast is certainly a great podcast to learn all sorts of things about science!
Exercising: 20-60 Minutes of YouTube Workouts Daily
Like many people, I’ve started eating healthier and exercising more often to improve myself this summer because even though it may seem like you’re invincible when you’re young, my mom always says that being healthy is the most important thing in life. I’ve been working out for about 20-60 minutes everyday with a variety of cardio, core and leg workouts, pilates, and occasionally yoga and stretching. For about two or three days a week, I do around 20-45 minutes of cardio, such as HIIT workouts or kickboxing, and sometimes I also add a 10 minute ab or leg workout afterwards. As much as I hate pilates for subjecting me through pulses of death, I still do around 20-30 minutes of it on the days I’m not doing cardio because it’s a great form of strength training that doesn’t require tons of gym equipment. Finally, on days when I’m tired or on rest days, I do 15-30 minutes of yoga or stretching.
I like to follow different workout videos to see what works best, and so far the channels that I’ve found to be most helpful include JOJA, run by Victoria Secret Angels Josephine Skriver and Jasmine Tookes, Blogilates, who is a certified fitness instructor and pilates coach who posts pilates and cardio workouts as well as some YouTube skits, Angela Kajo, also a certified fitness trainer with videos that target specific areas, and POPSUGAR Fitness, which often has celebrity trainers and other famous fitness trainers on the channel for a variety of workouts. With at home workouts, there’s some concern around maintaining good form and taking fitness advice from YouTubers who aren’t certified, so it’s important to keep that in mind when doing the workouts. Also, while many YouTubers will promise things like “six-pack abs in two weeks,” make sure to have realistic expectations, because abs and body shape are also determined by diet and genetics. Depending on what you’re starting out with, getting abs in two weeks may or may not be possible. A common misconception is that it’s possible to spot reduce fat through exercise, which actually isn’t possible, as fat loss is usually due to a calorie deficit (I discuss more about fats and weight loss in my blog post here). In total, it’s helpful to know how your body functions and make lifestyle choices based on you rather than having expectations based on somebody else.
All of these workouts are done at home with no equipment, and they help me relax after a long day of work, so I think all students should take some time from their schedule to exercise. As a high school student taking advanced classes, I know how it can be tempting to sacrifice exercise in order to continue working, but all of these exercises don’t take very long and can be done at home.
Food: Healthy Banana Bread Recipe
Many people say that learning to cook is a great skill to learn before going to college, and this summer, I’ve cooked all the meals for my family, so I’ve learned to cook over 60 meals. Let me know in the comments below if you would like a post with my favorite, simple recipes that students can learn to cook! Cooking is actually quite easy, and I’ve found that the best way to learn to cook is just to find simple recipes online and follow the recipes exactly. You can alter the recipes and substitute ingredients sometimes to see how it turns out, but this takes a bit of trial and error! I’ve finally realized that after years of failing at chocolate chip cookies, you can’t drastically alter the butter and sugar because the cookie won’t spread properly.
My recent obsession has been banana bread, although my family consumes bananas at an incredible speed that makes it difficult to actually gather enough ripe bananas to make banana bread! Since I’ve also been trying to eat healthier lately, here’s my favorite healthy banana bread recipe with no butter or sugar that has been adapted from Cookie + Kate!
- ⅓ cup melted coconut oil
- ⅓ – ½ cup maple syrup (the recipe calls for ½ cup, but I tend to reduce the amount sometimes!)
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup mashed bananas (around 2 large bananas)
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- Preheat oven 325° F (165° C)
- In a large bowl, beat the melted coconut oil and maple syrup together with a whisk. Add the eggs and mix, then add the mashed bananas and milk. If the coconut oil starts to solidify, warm the bowl by putting it somewhere warm, such as near the preheating oven.
- Add baking soda, vanilla extract, salt, and ground cinnamon, and whisk with the rest of the ingredients.
- Add in the flour, and mix with a spatula until combined. There may be some lumps!
- Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray, and pour in the batter
- Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the bread cool before slicing. Enjoy!
** Adapted from “Healthy Banana Bread!” recipe from Cookie + Kate**
Food: Everyday Breakfast Oatmeal Bowl Recipe
When my brother was an infant, he could only have soft foods, so we ate oatmeal for breakfast everyday for a year straight. For years after that, I refused to eat oatmeal. Yet, I recently decided to try oatmeal again, and I came to the shocking revelation that oatmeal is actually pretty good, I just didn’t like how my mom cooked it. So, despite giving up on oatmeal years ago, I started eating oatmeal everyday again, with the added benefit that oatmeal is healthy and keeps you satiated.
Here’s my everyday breakfast oatmeal bowl recipe! I don’t add any sugars or flavoring into my oatmeal, since personally I think the almond butter and fruits give it enough flavor, but many people add honey, vanilla extract, or cinnamon into their oatmeal.
- ½ cup rolled oats
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup fruit (my favorites are peaches, apples, or berries)
- 2 tablespoons almond butter
- 1 tablespoons chia seeds
- ¼ cup granola
- ½ banana, sliced
- Boil the water in a small saucepan. When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium heat and pour in the rolled oats. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. (Note: I like my oatmeal thick, so I cook it for 10 minutes, but if you prefer your oatmeal soupy, you can reduce the cooking time)
- For larger fruits, chop the fruit into bite-sized pieces and slice the banana into rounds.
- Spoon the oatmeal into a bowl, and spread the almond butter evenly on top of the oatmeal. Sprinkle chia seeds on the almond butter, and top with granola.
- Arrange the sliced fruits and banana on top. Enjoy!
With the summer weather here, the temperature got incredibly hot a couple of weeks ago. I got a brilliant idea to try to cook eggs under the sun to see if it was possible to actually cook eggs on the sidewalk. I did some research beforehand – eggs cook at 158° F (70° C), and when I used an infrared thermometer to measure the ground outside my house, the temperature was 183° F (84° C). So, I decided to put a cast iron pan outside to preheat because cast iron retains heat the best, and the pan was able to reach a temperature of 186° F (86° C). After an hour, I added a bit of oil to the pan, which lowered the preheated temperature to 173° F (78° C), which is still hot enough to cook an egg, and cracked my egg into the pan. To my surprise, the egg actually started solidifying! It took a while for the egg to cook enough to be eaten, but in the end, I ate the egg (Food safety disclaimer: I can’t advocate for the safety of this method, theoretically it’s safe because the temperature was over 160° F (71° C), but try at your own risk!). I tried cooking some more eggs a couple times over the next few days and debriefed on what I think happened each time, since I got some more varied results in my subsequent experiments. I posted this experiment (or eggs-periment as I called it) on my social media page, and it got significant attention from my friends and classmates since many of them commented about how cool this was, so I may be making a blog post in further detail about my eggs-periment soon!
Skincare: 365 Everyday Value Gentle Skin Cleanser, Hada Labo Tokyo Anti-Aging Hydrator, and Thayers Witch Hazel Rose Petal Toner
As a teenager, skincare is a pretty big deal. I think I have what people would consider normal or combination skin, which is that my nose, and occasionally my forehead, is more oily. I usually get pimples, especially blind pimples, on my nose, and occasionally around my hairline. However, the frequency of my breakouts changes a lot depending on the season and what products I use, so I like to switch up products to see what works best for me. The verdict? The time where my skin looked amazing and I didn’t break out at all was actually when I used a cheap all-purpose skin cleanser that my mom set out as a body wash. It was the 365 Everyday Value Gentle Skin Cleanser from Whole Foods, which surprisingly only costs $6.99 (not sponsored, by the way!), and worked better than any of the other face washes that I had ever tried. I used this to wash my face at night, and afterwards I used the Hada Labo Tokyo Anti-Aging Hydrator because my mom uses it (yes, my skincare product testing tends to consist of “I’ll just use whatever is on the counter and see what happens to my face”).
Unfortunately, I ran out of the 365 Everyday Value Gentle Skin Cleanser and it was out of stock everywhere I looked, so I had to switch to Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. They’re quite similar in terms of looks and texture, but someone compared the ingredients with their chemist dad and found that the 365 Everyday Value cleanser was better since it’s less irritating. I found that to be true as well. While the Cetaphil cleanser works pretty well and much better than the Burt’s Bees Facial Cleanser for Sensitive Skin that I was using before I could replenish my supply, I still get breakouts more frequently than I did with the 365 Everyday Value cleanser. It could be because of the summer weather though…
However, I did discover a new product that I bought and not because it was laying on the counter, which is the Thayers Witch Hazel Rose Petal Toner. I bought it because I saw many articles and reviews raving about how amazing this toner was, so I had to try it out for myself to see if it could tone down the breakouts. And honestly, I’m quite impressed! The first day I used it, I noticed that there was a lot less redness and irritation on my face. While I’m not sure if it was because of the toner or some other product, it seems like my pimples fade more nicely with this toner in my routine. After washing and drying my face, I’ll pour a small amount of the toner into the palm of my hands and then gently pat on my skin. Afterwards, I let it dry and use a moisturizer.
This skincare routine has been working pretty well for me so far, but I’m also interested in trying out Cerave’s products because my friends swear by them. I’m also looking for a good sunscreen for my face, since the one I have currently is sticky and leaves white streaks. In shopping for skincare products, I found an interesting website called EWG’s Skin Deep that has a database of personal care products and analyzes the ingredients in them to determine how safe they are, and I think it’s a great website especially for teenagers who are interested in skincare to find products that are safe for your skin.
Clothes: Parisian Fashion
I’ll admit, the reasoning behind why I decided to dedicate the next five years of my life to learning French at school wasn’t very well thought out, but again, I’m pretty sure most high school students choose their language class because “it sounded cool.” But, the one benefit of learning French was discovering Parisian fashion. While it may be a stereotype about how French women dress, I love the classy style that’s associated with French icons, like Brigitte Bardot and recent influencers like Jeanne Damas. So, this summer, my recent obsession is with light, flowy summer dresses. While sustainable clothing shops like Reformation carry tons of beautiful dresses, I didn’t have $300 to spare on one summer dress, so I did what broke students do – I raided my mom’s closet. My mom doesn’t usually wear dresses, so I was surprised to find that she had a lot of great summer dresses that were perfect, including a red, floral vintage-style summer dress that I’ve been wearing everywhere. My second recent obsession is cardigans, inspired off of the downward spiral scene in The Queen’s Gambit (because let’s be honest, we all wish we looked that good while having a life crisis). My favorite type of cardigan is loose and knitted, which looks great paired with a spaghetti strap top. I have a cream colored cardigan as well as a purple cardigan with big buttons, and they’re great for breezy summer nights.