On Gentrification

With the craziest part of the holiday season over, I now have some down time to reflect on the year and prepare for 2014. I’ve spent a lot of this year involved in relocation and actively pursuing a new home. In the Bay Area, that is a huge challenge given the high cost of living and ultra-wealthy folks in the tech sector. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Twitter upset and the tech shuttle bus protests.

In the past, I thought I was a huge believer of gentrification. On paper it sounds like a great idea – rebuilding and modernizing cities; bringing in businesses to create new jobs; attracting smart, young, motivated, innovative professionals to create a new intellectual community – of course, this is at the cost of displacing thousands and thousands of potentially lower income residents and eradicating long-standing communities or ethnic enclaves throughout the Bay Area. It also only recently dawned on me that I was also being gentrified, that I was not benefiting from this gentrification as I thought I would. I am being priced out of the community I grew up in, and for the time being, have to rely heavily on the hospitality of my family for shelter because rent is too expensive. Several of my friends face a similar fate, or spend nearly half their income on housing – preventing them from growing a savings account or making more mature investment decisions or having a safety net for the rainy days ahead. Thus in a way, our growth is stunted and we feel a bit tied down. It also doesn’t help when every op-ed you read highlights that THIS generation is a complete “failure” compared to preceding ones (here and here). It hasn’t been an easy 2013, and the prospects for 2014 don’t look much better.

Tray

Pecan Pie Bars
Source: Claire Robinson
I have made these pecan pie bars for multiple occasions and they have been an absolute hit. The rich caramel flavor + the nuttiness of the pecans + the buttery crust = perfection. These are pretty much fail-proof and have a good chew – the shortbread-like crust has a nice crumb, while the pecan filling is slightly tacky and chewy.

Ingredients
Crust:
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c) unsalted butter, cold
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2/3 c brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tbs cold water
1 tsp vanilla

Filling:
1 stick (1/2 c) unsalted butter, softened
1 c brown sugar
Pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 c light corn syrup
1/4 c all-purpose flour
3 c coarsely chopped pecans

Directions
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line a quarter sheet baking pan (13″ x 9″) square pan with foil and spray with non-stick spray or butter. In a food processor (or by hand), blend together flour, sugar, butter and salt until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add cold water and mix until the dough just holds together. Press dough into bottom of buttered baking dish and bake in oven until golden in color, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Filling

Baked

Meanwhile, add butter, sugar and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer, and whip until light and fluffy. Add the corn syrup, flour and pecans and mix until just combined. I like to use whole pecans for visual appeal, but I believe most people crush their pecans – do as pleases you. Spread the filling over the baked crust and bake until golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. If the filling is too difficult to spread, go ahead and just place it on the baked crust, place in oven for about 5 minutes for the filling to melt and soften, then spread the filling evenly across the crust. Continue to bake until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow pecan bar to cool completely in pan before removing by lifting foil out of pan. Cut into squares and enjoy.

Tray

I don’t have a resolution or proposed solution to the gentrification conundrum – all I know is that I feel like I’m caught in a losing rat race, and it’s difficult to get out. I am fully aware that this economic process has resulted in a homogeneous population that invests very little into community and contributes very little to a healthy culture. At the same time, you would think that given how many smart and talented people are concentrated here in the Bay Area, I am sure we can work together to come up with a solution that benefits the majority of our community soon.

Thanks for reading,
AnhD

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