This Week’s Recipes

Welcome back to a vegan version of my cooking!

Vegan blackberry basil and ricotta sandwich: This turned out pretty well! The “cheese” takes only a couple minutes to make and the sweet toppings of blackberries and syrup complement the cheese well! Such an easy lunchtime meal: I can just make a bunch of this and store it for the week to spread on a sandwich.

Vegan eggplant parmesan: Two words: A-MAZING! This is simple, quick and so, so tasty! I’ve made it twice more already and my non-vegan roommate loves it too!

Asian garlic tofu: So great and easy! I usually prefer my tofu a bit harder, this soft tofu is so succulent!

Peanut butter banana oatmeal cookies: Really great! Although at the grocery store, I couldn’t find any vegan chocolate chips, so I just went with normal ones.

Garlic mushroom quinoa: With me, you can’t go wrong with mushrooms, but this could have been more filling and a little better tasting.

Creamy asparagus pasta: I kind of messed up the sauce so it was pretty flavorless, but the simple ingredients added texture to the pasta and the asparagus complemented it well!

My View: #MeToo

Many women are coming forwardwith  sexual harassment and rape allegations against some of Hollywood’s biggest actors and directors over the last few months including Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and Harvey Weinstein. Not to mention the unfathomable amount of abusers in Hollywood with victims that have yet to come forward. It’s exhausting and depressing to think about, but am I surprised? Unfortunately not. Sexual harassment is a universal experience for all women* and femmes.

Sometimes, these allegations seem kind of far away, but it became especially real when Architects front man Sam Carter defended a known predator whose victims I share mutual friends with and Brand New front man Jesse Lacey was accused of soliciting nudes from a minor.

Not long ago, Sam Carter made headlines for calling out creepy men who grope women at gigs and was met with a lot of positive feedback. After exchanging a few interactions with a known abuser currently under investigation for rape, my friend Ty told Sam about the situation and he replied with “Thanks for keeping me in the loop. I didn’t know anything about that but I’ll wait till proven by the courts [thumbs up emoji],” but quickly deleted his replies when they were met with contention. This is a prime example cognitive dissonance when it comes to sexual assault: when it’s strangers, it’s easy to assume the worst because it doesn’t effect you personally, but when it’s someone you know, it can’t possibly be true. Thankfully, Sam retracted what he said and stood with a victim that came forward, but he should have known better in the first place.

I got into Brand New about five years ago and saw them live three times in 2015: April (Arizona), August (New York) and September (London). A blessing in disguise, I’ve come off them a bit recently with their outrageous ticket prices and insufferable fans. Over the last few days, allegations against the front man Jesse Lacy have come forward, the most disturbing of them being soliciting nude photos from a minor. Jesse Lacey posted a largely incoherent and off-topic apology on the band’s Facebook page that didn’t even address the problem: he was on about how he is a serial cheater but hey, at least his wife still loves him. “Extremely bold move to try and shift the narrative from “Jesse Lacey had emotionally abusive, sexually motivated relationships with minors” to “Jesse Lacey is a serial cheater, please feel sorry for his wife.”

With these allegations, a lot of men will be quick to defend other men and themselves by saying the closest thing that sounds to nails on a chalkboard: “Not all men.” We aren’t here to point the finger at any individual man, but the culture that entitles them to women, enables them to get away with inappropriate relations and shames women into silence.

The #MeToo trend was created in solidarity with those who showed courage by coming forward with allegations that make them relive the horrible experiences, tolerating any backlash they might face and pursuing justice for months or years with, let’s face it, a grim chance of any sort of conviction against the perpetrator.

For the women who are forced to relive their experiences with every new viral allegation, I’m with you.

For all the unexposed predators out there, your time will come.

*Although I use gendered language in this article for simplicity sake, I understand there are more than two genders and acknowledge there are transgender, gender fluid, non-binary, intersex people as well as those who have yet to make up their minds.

Career Fair Tips

On Wednesday, my university (University of Sussex) held a careers fair to recruit students of all years from Sussex and the nearby University of Brighton. I really want a job in the United Kingdom upon graduation and I hope to stay local, so I thought checking out some of the exhibitors would be beneficial.

A few days before the event, I attended an event to help prepare for the career fair that I found really helpful. We were advised on how to prepare, what questions to ask, how to dress, what to bring and more. Here are the tips I found most useful and some of my own:

  • Review your CV. Most universities offer career services that will help polish up your CV in time to submit it to the exhibitors. However, bear in mind that not all exhibitors will be accepting CVs on the day of the career fair.
  • Research the exhibitors beforehand. Exhibitors will likely be sorted by subject, so I wouldn’t bother wasting time in areas where you aren’t likely going to get a job. For relevant companies, I toggled around their website for what they do, current vacancies and possible graduate schemes.
  • Have questions. Come prepared to ask exhibitors questions if you’re interested in their company.
  • Bring your questions, your CV, a notebook, pen and water. Water because it gets hot in there and a notebook and pen to write down any information you might gather from the exhibitors.
  • Dress smart casual, but not too warm. I was so cold riding my bike to the venue, but it was all worth it when I stepped inside in and it was hot. Don’t dress too warm because whatever layers you shed, you will have to carry around with you.
  • Know the lay of the land so you can make a beeline for your favorite exhibitors and you’re not doing the awkward, lost penguin waddle all the unprepared students are doing.
  • Arrive as soon as it starts so the exhibitors are fresh.
  • Take breaks. I know the stress of thinking about my future is enough to get me going, but when you place me in a crowded, hot room with other students with the same energy and make me talk to people, it gets overwhelming. Between talking to exhibitors, I stepped out into the hallway where it was cool and quiet to have a drink of water and refocus myself for the next exhibitor.
  • Write it down. The venue is likely to be loud and distracting so when you’re speaking to an exhibitor, write down anything important you hear because with all the background noise, it’s sure to leave your head in a matter of minutes.
  • They want you! The last thing to remember is that the exhibitors are there because they want you to work for them. If not, they wouldn’t waste their resources and time on being at the career fair. Ask them what they can do for you as much as what you can do for them. Don’t sell yourself short!

Finally, don’t forget to smile and thank the exhibitors, give them your CV if it’s appropriate and take down their contact information if necessary.

What I Wasn’t Told: Bank Account and National Insurance Number

Wow. As if applying for my program and visa, getting a house, looking for a job and so much more wasn’t enough, unlike my previous time abroad, I had to open a U.K. bank account and apply for a National Insurance number since I’ll be working.

My visa permits me to work 20 hours a week and I landed a job as a cleaner (glamorous, I know) on campus. In order to work in the country, besides the legal credentials (i.e. the right to work provided by my visa), I also had to open a U.K. bank account and apply for a National Insurance number.

Bank account

I knew I had to open a U.K. bank account before I applied for a job to make paying my rent easier. However, from being abroad last time, I remember you could only properly apply in person, so I waited until I arrived in the U.K. to start the process. Boy, was that a mistake.

The first step opening an account is filling out an application online that can be done at any time. Once you completed an application, you need to make an appointment to finalize the details and have some documents scanned. Once I filled out an application, the first available appointment was three weeks away. This is why I strongly advise starting an application before you arrive in the U.K. and book an appointment for a few days after you arrive.

After my documents were scanned, it was still about a business week before I had all my online login information and PIN number. Transferring money internationally can be quite expensive, so I didn’t bother transferring my money from my home bank accounts but rather start using money from my U.K. account once my paychecks started coming in. All in all, not too bad.

The card I got in the U.S. that I use in the U.K. is CapitalOne 360 debit card. It’s a pain to sign a receipt every time I use the card, but usually I take cash out so I don’t have to worry about it. The only other con is the customer service hours are business hours in the U.S., which leaves an undesirable window to call in and isn’t good for time sensitive issues. However, when I did get a hold of someone, they were very kind and helpful.

I recommend opening a U.K. bank account only if you have a job or will be in the U.K. for more than a semester. Other than that, find an alternative way of managing your finances based in the U.S. so you can easily return to your home banking situation after your time abroad.

National Insurance number

To apply for a National Insurance number (free social security-like scheme), you have to already be in the U.K. First, you call the number provided on the government website and wait on hold for nearly an hour before you speak to a representative. Then, you give basic information such as your name, date of birth and passport number simply to confirm you are, in fact, a real person. After that, you provide the representative with an address for the application to be mailed.

The application will arrive in about a business week. Once you fill it out, you post it back in the Freepost envelope provided with the application and you receive your number within about two business weeks. My job let me work without a National Insurance number provided that I had proof that I mailed out my application.

In retrospect, opening a bank account and getting a National Insurance number wasn’t that bad, but really stressful when you don’t know what to do and the clock to get a job to be able to pay rent for the month is not on your side.

So, let’s review:

  • Before you arrive: start a bank account application online and book an appointment to finalize your bank details
  • A.S.A.P. when you arrive: place a phone call to get the National Insurance application posted to you and attend your banking appointment
  • Within a business week: you receive 1) your National Insurance number application which you must fill out and return, 2) your card, PIN and online banking details
  • After two more business weeks: you will have your National Insurance number

15 Travel Questions

Now that I’ve booked trips to Egypt and South Africa, I’ve officially caught the travel bug again. I thought I’d get into the spirit by answering a few fun travel questions!

Where was your first trip abroad?

Montreal, Canada in 2013 when I was 18. I visited my online friend Nina and also took a train to London, Ontario to meet my (then) boyfriend Colin for the first time! Needless to say, it was all amazing.

Which country would you most like to visit and why?

Thailand. The food, beautiful beaches, elephant sanctuaries, scuba diving, and so much more!

What is your favorite travel memory?

Oh my gosh, so many! Can I do a top 5?

Meeting Nina for the first time (Montreal, Canada, 2013)

Learning to scuba dive in Hawai’i (Maui, 2015)

Visiting Giant’s Causeway after it was on my bucket list for the good part of a decade (Northern Ireland, 2015)

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Music Monday: Who I’ve Seen Live The Most

As an avid concert goer, I often get asked what band I’ve seen the most.

With the show last night, I’ve now seen my favorite band Rise Against seven times. However, I’ve seen my other favorite band Senses Fail six times and by the end of the month, I will have seen Enter Shikari seven times as well. But I’ve been seeing Rise Against since 2011 and have many awesome stories about their gigs.

08/04/11 | UCSD Rimac Arena, San Diego, California: My very first gig was Senses Fail about a week before this show, but this one was extra special as it was my (16th) birthday present.

Like a lot of bands at the time, Rise Against was protesting SB1070 anti-immigration legislation by not touring in Arizona. When a tour with two other bands I like a lot, Bad Religion and Four Year Strong, was announced, I was devastated they were passing us by. Luckily, after a lot of pleading, my parents agreed that this show and a weekend in San Diego will be my big birthday present.

The morning of the show, my parents drove me and my best friend Sydney to San Diego, where we had dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house before heading to the venue at the university. Once we entered, Sydney and I went to the floor and my dad stayed in the stands. We had a great time watching the opening bands, especially when the lead singer of Four Year Strong made a shoutout to everyone who came to the show with their best friend before one of my favorite songs of theirs, “Wasting Time.”

I don’t remember too many specifics about the Rise Against set as it was so long ago, but I remember being really overwhelmed by all the movement in the crowd and deafening music. I was just trying to stay on my own two feet so I can take as many pictures as possible! All in all, it was a great concert and fun weekend.

28/09/12 | Mesa Amphitheatre, Phoenix, Arizona: Me and Sydney couldn’t believe it when they announced a tour coming to Arizona! Additionally, my brother Ryan had gotten into them. My dad drove the three of us up to Phoenix for the concert early in the morning. There, we met my friends who were waiting in the queue. Rise Against announced a signing at a local record store, which we were all planning to go to, until they moved the time up to half an hour before the doors to the venue opened. Not wanting to risk it, my friends stayed behind to secure a spot in the front for the show, by Sydney, Ryan and I took our chances, hoping our friends would still be outside the venue holding our spots once we got back from the signing.

We waited in the heat all afternoon until the signing where my friend Matt met us. To keep things moving, the store limited the items that band could sign to one. Although I brought several CDs, I chose to get their second album, Revolutions Per Minute signed. When it was my turn, I shakily handed my CD to them, gave them each a gift of a painting of themselves, shook their hand and was hurried along. Although our encounter was brief, I was on cloud nine!

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World Vegan Day

November 1st was World Vegan Day! Since moving back to Brighton in September, I’ve tried to lead a more environmentally friendly diet by being more plant-based. Disclaimer: I’m not entirely vegan (for financial reasons), but I’ve read enough on the topic to speak well about it. These days, I’m about 80% vegan and 20% vegetarian thanks to the wide range of alternatives in the U.K. I’ve made leaps and bounds in the last few months and I look forward to more or less completely transitioning when it’s financially feasible.

I’m here to answer some common questions and respond to comments about veganism. Here goes nothing:

“How long have you been vegan and what made you/ convinced you to make the change?”

I have been vegetarian for six years now, mostly citing environmental reasons. For example, not only does industrial agriculture use up almost 75% of the world’s freshwater resources, agricultural runoff can lead to a nutrient surplus is water ecosystems to create dead zones (from The Ethics of What We Eat). After really hearing myself, I thought it was preposterous that I argue against the environmental devastation that comes from raising animals for meat when the effects are similar for raising them for their products.

Although I came to this realization almost a year ago, I didn’t have the time or resources to become vegan until now. During my last term of my undergraduate degree, I was in class all day and working most evenings, so I didn’t have much time to cook. Not to mention, affordable vegan options in the United States are slim pickings.

When I moved to Brighton, arguably one of the most vegan-friendly places in the United Kingdom, I was determined to make the change. The amount of alternatives here compared to the United States is phenomenal. At WalMart (U.S.), I’d struggle to find a single dairy-free yogurt, at ASDA (U.K.), there’s at least half a dozen kinds by Alpro alone (my favorite is vanilla). Not to mention there’s a wide variety of different milks, ready meals, cheeses and more all available at affordable supermarkets, because what university student can afford to shop at Whole Foods (U.S.)?

I also have a bit more time on my hands now that I only work 20 hours a week and have minimal lecture time. It gives me more time to find recipes (thank you, Pinterest), plan meals, shop and cook.

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October In Review

October was another massive one, I can’t believe this year is coming to a close so soon.

This month, I properly started my lectures after a bit of timetable confusion. Normally, I only have two face to face lectures a week, but we’re expected to do a lot of work outside of class, especially in the second term once our dissertation projects get moving. We were also expected to attend a statistics and programming workshop that was during the third week of October from 9AM to 5PM Monday through Friday. Phew!

Another big academic milestone is that I sorted my dissertation topic. I’ve talked about the process in this post but long story short, my dissertation project will be (drumroll please)… fisheries and conservation! I’m still working out my exact question, but I’m excited to work with my supervisor Bonnie, my labmate Ellen who will be doing a similar project and the I.F.C.A. (Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority) over the next year.

I’ve also been getting involved in some university extracurriculars. I was the only one who ran for Student Representative in my “school” (Master’s biology students) so the position is mine! As a Rep, I represent my schools’ interests and voice any concerns students may have about their academic experience up the line. I am also involved in a university society called Rewilding Sussex. Last month, my course took a field trip to Knepp, a conservation land, and we want to bring their conservation techniques to the university and engage students in the effort. The society is still in its early stages, but I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish this year!

In addition to lectures, workshops, societies and dissertation interviews, I attended a scuba class (to get my open water certification for an upcoming university field trip) for four long days. I talked about it more here.

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My Course: Conservation Biology (Past)

What do I do? Good question.

As a biology major in my undergraduate degree, I often got lumped in with the students headed for medical school. When I clarified that my major was conservation biology, I got a lot of puzzled looks. Basically, conservation biology “is the management of nature and biodiversity (variety all living things) with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems.”

Unlike a lot of people, I’ve been lucky enough to know what I wanted to do with myself (kind of) from quite a young age and have carried that passion, energy and curiosity into my adult life. I will tell the story of my degree in three installments: past (how I got into my degree and my education and experience up to this point), present (my graduate degree and dissertation topic) and future (what I hope to do with it).

My first family trip to Hawai’i when I was about ten sparked my interest in marine life. To this day, I find encounters with sea life beautiful and breathtaking (pun intended). Around that same time, I read the book Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, about young kids stopping the construction of a waffle house when they discover the land is occupied by burrowing owls. That family trip and novel made me appreciate the intrinsic beauty of nature and its critters and sparked my interest in how to protect them.

High school

In my junior year of high school, I took my first environmental science class, which most notably introduced me to the horrors of factory farming. After watching Food, Inc. in class, my classmate Roxane and I were inclined to try a vegetarian lifestyle and that has more or less been my ethic since, and that was six years ago (read my five year anniversary post here). That class gave me a more professional direction with my life just as I was about to start applying for college.

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Bikes: Are They Worth It?

This is something I asked myself probably a million times last week as I encountered seemingly endless string of bike troubles.

A few months into my final year of my undergraduate degree at Arizona State, I got fed up with the LightRail system and how far I still had to walk to get to my classes and work on campus. With that, my dad got me a cruiser bike for about $100. She got her moneys worth: I rode it everyday to and from campus (about 5 miles round trip) from November to May.  I got a flat tire once and had to replace the tube and towards the end of its tenure the chain kept falling off (which was nerve wracking to fix in my white work blouse), but all in all, it was a pleasant experience.

When I moved back to Brighton, I got myself a used bike to ride to campus and into town if the weather was mild to save money on the ever-increasing bus fare. I found a bike dealer on Gumtree and they sold me an average mountain bike for £75 (something similar would cost around £100). Luckily, I brought my bike lock from last year so I didn’t have to spend money on a new one. I rode my bike home from picking it up and lashed it to a tree in my back garden.

Little did I know that tree had all sorts of thorny branches under it and punctured a hole in my tire. I found out when I got a flat tire while on a time-sensitive errand (because that’s the way these things always go, huh?). That same week, one of my hand brake lines went out. My roommate Diego told me about a society on campus called the Free Wheelers, who repair bikes for free. I took my bike to campus and they promptly gave me a new tire tube and fixed my brake line and all was well with the world… for the next few days.

Continue reading “Bikes: Are They Worth It?”