Review, “The Shape of Water”


This is a brief review of Guillermo del Toro’s new film, “The Shape of Water,” which I saw on Thursday night. Spoilers.

Overall, I found it enjoyable but not as strong as del Toro’s previous work (and by that I mean Pan’s Labyrinth, because that’s the only past work I’ve seen from him).

I appreciated the gist of the story. A lonely, mute janitor falls in love with a captive water monster from the Amazon. But the execution was lacking. The protagonists insists that she lives an isolated, misunderstood, marginalized life, and Gills is the only creature who has ever cared for her, or whatever. But in the film we clearly see that she has good friends in her landlord/roommate and a woman from work who’s been her cleaning partner for ten years. These two individuals also put their own lives/criminal records on the line to help her break aquaman out of the research facility. That really undermines the “boo hoo I’m so lonely and everyone hates me except for you” message that the director is trying to convey here.

Also, the love story came out of nowhere. One second Eliza is feeding eggs to the giant lizard dude and playing him music. The next second she has decided that they are madly in love and she must free him from captivity and take him to her apartment and have shower sex with him. (Yes, that was a thing that happened, and I cringed every time.) There was no transition, nothing to explain this.

The ending was a mess. Eliza and landlord/roommate are on a dock with Godzilla, about to release him into the water. (By the way, they are in Baltimore, and the theater let out a big chuckle when a character uttered the line, “Everyone hates Baltimore.”) Evil research facility dude shows up. BOOM. He shoots landlord/roommate, who falls down dead. BOOM. He shoots lizard man, who falls down dead. BOOM. He shoots Eliza, she is most definitely dead. But wait, landlord/roommate isn’t dead. BOOM. He gets up and hits evil dude in the head with a crowbar or something. BOOM. Evil guy dies. And then BOOM. Barnacle Boy isn’t dead either, it turns out he has magical powers that bring him back to life. He takes a swipe at evil guy’s throat. BOOM. Evil guy actually dies this time. I think. Finally, Mermaid Man jumps into the water with Eliza in his arms. BOOM. She comes to life, and also she has gills now. They live happily ever after. Maybe?

The music was good. The cinematography was good. “The Shape of Water” was an adult fairy tale with a lot of potential that would have benefitted from several more rounds of edits and rewrites.

Overall: 3.5/5 stars


My wintertime travel packing list

Michał Parzuchowski

I am leaving next week for a long-awaited vacation, and I cannot wait! The pre-travel jitters are already getting to me. Here is my personal wintertime travel packing list, which I have finessed over the course of the past few years.



  • Toothpaste
  • Contact solution
  • Backup pair of contacts
  • Vaseline for dry lips


  • Toothbrush
  • Makeup wipes
  • Panty liners
  • Floss
  • Contact lens case
  • Comb
  • Deodorant



  • Moisturizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Foundation primer
  • Eye primer
  • Liquid foundation


  • Eyeshadow
  • Liquid eyeliner
  • Makeup brushes
  • Powder foundation
  • Bronzer
  • Blush
  • Lipstick
  • Small hand mirror


  • Camera and USB cable
  • Universal adapter
  • Phone charger
  • Portable charger and cable

Legal and Financial

  • Passport
  • Scanned copy of passport bio page
  • Local US consulate contact info
  • USD $50 (emergencies only)
  • ATM card
  • Credit and debit cards


  • Winter jacket
  • Sweater
  • Thermal undershirts
  • Thermal leggings
  • Jeans
  • Regular crew socks
  • Wool socks
  • Rainboots
  • Scarf
  • Glasses
  • Underwear


  • Pen
  • Small notepad
  • Books or kindle? TBD

For this trip, I will probably use just two pieces of carry-on: my trusty small rolling suitcase and a simple messenger bag. Can’t wait!

6 cooking mistakes I’ve made over the years


I have been cooking for over 10 years, yet for nearly nine of those years my culinary skills had plateaued. I didn’t know any recipes beyond what my parents had taught me (i.e., basic Chinese home dishes). I didn’t know how to ‘elevate the profile of a dish,’ as they say on MasterChef, and I didn’t realize how important it was to keep a pantry of staple ingredients that every home chef needs in their kitchen.

Now that I have moved into my own studio apartment, my interest in learning to cook better has improved exponentially. In the last few months, I have learned to cook steak, catfish, and salmon, and to make pilaf, steamed pork buns, Thai drunken noodles, beef casserole tortilla dip, and more.

Here are some of the cooking mistakes I’ve just now realized I have been making for eight or nine years. This list will no doubt continue to grow as I make progress in my cooking journey.

  1. Thinking steak needs to be thin, and also using the wrong type of steak

I don’t know why or how this idea even took root in my mind, but I was convinced that I had to slice a one-inch steak into two half-inch steaks, or the end product would be too raw (cringe!). I also used chuck meat the first time I cooked steak, and it turned out rubbery and tough to chew. I recently used a 1.5-inch sirloin steak from Trader Joe’s, and it turned out much better.

  1. Giving up when the dough was too wet to knead

For a long time, I thought I would never be able to make a proper mantou, or steamed meat buns, or anything that involved a dough, because the doughs I made were always extremely wet and sticky. What I didn’t realize was that you can just make it unsticky by using your hands and a bowl of flour. Now, when I have the dough roughly formed in the bowl, I scatter a handful of flour on top, dip my hands in more flour, grab the dough, and turn it around. I keep adding more handfuls of flour until the dough is malleable in my hand.

  1. Not using the right ingredients for dough-mixing

Yes, the recipe may say you need a certain amount of milk and a bowl of water (the latter for mixing the yeast), but it doesn’t always say that that shit needs to be warmed up first. Once I used cold water for the yeast, and the dough didn’t rise as a result. You will get a smoother, fluffier, more malleable dough if you warm the milk and the water up in the microwave for 30 seconds before mixing.

  1. Not waiting for the pan to warm up when making pancakes

I screwed up pancakes horribly the first two times I tried to make them, because I didn’t realize the pan had to be HOT beforehand. To make pancakes in my cast iron, I have to heat the skillet itself on the stove for five minutes first before I even add oil to it. (Not olive oil though, as the smoking point is super high! Peanut or canola oil are good for this.)

Also, chocolate chip pancakes are… actually… not that good. Pancakes are already sufficiently sweet, and the chips really elevate them to diabetes territory.

  1. Not using simple but key ingredients that make dishes better.

This includes: lemons/lime; butter; garlic; olive oil; black/red pepper; kosher salt; chives and green onions; milk; creme fraiche; parsley; basil… I now keep all of them well-stocked.

  1. Not freezing excess bread

Not really a cooking mistake, but it boggles my mind how many pieces of bread I let go moldy after a couple of days! I now know you can just freeze the ones you can’t eat in time, and microwave the frozen bread for 30 seconds before toasting them. (I use a regular pan to toast them; about 3 minutes on each side, on a bed of melted butter, with the lid closed and the heat low.)


Working weird hours this week and everything is terrible

As of the writing of this (2:21am) I am on day 2 of 3 days working on central European time, due to a very large conference in Stockholm that most of my coworkers are attending. Officially my hours are 2am-11am, but unofficially it’s been more like 12am-12pm.

I am dizzy. My biological clock is mush.

And I have discovered that the actual worst thing about working odd hours is that you are COMPLETELY ISOLATED AND FATIGUED. It’s dark out, everyone is sleeping, and it feels like I am back in school pulling an all-nighter. I am drinking coffee and pigging out on McDonald’s because I’ve been too tired to cook. As the sun starts to come up, I put on NPR in the background just to hear the sound of a human voice even though hearing live and constant updates about this massacre in Las Vegas is making me sick and sad.

I hate this.



On turning 26

jardin du luxembourg
People-watching at Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris this summer.

I recently turned 26. Thanks to Obamacare, we now have a modern definition of exactly what constitutes adulthood in America, and that is the day you are officially kicked off your parents’ health plan for good. This is why turning 26 feels a little special–I am, according to society, Someone Who Now Has Her Shit Together.

And I do, for the most part, thank God. I have a full-time job, a mid-level career at a nonprofit, working with civil society organizations across the world to further a meaningful cause. I graduated with a master’s degree earlier this year. I recently moved out of a group house and into my own studio apartment, which I keep clean and tidy on a daily basis. I brew my own lattes and mochas with a stovetop faux-espresso maker. I own two plants that I have managed to keep alive thus far.

But there’s a lot of uncertainty, too, things that keep me up at night. I have a massive amount of student loan debt–more than I make in a year, payments that leave me essentially breaking even after rent and groceries each month. I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now. Trying for the foreign service again? Living in a different country? Or feeling stuck? I am alone, and sometimes lonely. And then of course there’s the disastrous political insurgency that has crippled this country. The DC region has the highest concentration of anxiety and neurosis per capita I’ve ever seen–and that shit is contagious, yo.

One more thing I’ll mention about getting older: I am hungry all the time. Like all. The. Time. I am watching my calorie intake with an app, and I am exercising more, but still. How am I not 200 lbs yet?!



My new studio apartment


In August, I moved from a three-bedroom house to a studio apartment. My rent went up by $300 a month, but I have to say — so worth it. I’m now a 15-minute bus ride from work and a block from the metro. The building has a concierge that holds mail for you, so I no longer have to worry about packages being stolen off my porch. I can go in the kitchen and cook whenever I want, without having to share the counters or entertain small talk. There are cons, too, of course: just this Saturday, the entire building was evacuated twice, at 6pm and 1am, due to faulty fire alarms going off. I can sometimes hear my neighbor singing loudly at midnight. And when I cook, the smell permeates through the entire apartment. But overall I would say, again, WORTH IT.

I’ve finally finished decorating the apartment, so here are some pictures. Mad respect to people who take photos for house tours on Apartment Therapy. They make it look so easy, but it’s actually hard af trying to get everything to fit within the frame. Here goes. Continue reading


Chinese sweet and sour glazed ribs

sweet & sour ribs

I made ribs for the first time today and they turned out delicious, despite being totally misshapen and weird-looking!

Even though I don’t usually eat pork, this is one dish that I always ask my mom to make when I’m visiting the family back in Georgia. I decided to recreate it myself today, using this Chinese recipe. I did really well except for the appearance of the ribs–when my mom makes them they’re all straight and normal-looking, and mine were weirdly curved and lumpy. Not sure if it’s just the way they were butchered.

Anyway, here’s the recipe in English.  Continue reading