On Brunch and the Subconscious

My goodness, what a busy past couple of days I have had.

Fine, I’m lying. Thursday was actually not that busy at all. Unless you count multiple naps and cuddling with a puppy to be busy—by that standard, I had a super busy day. So busy I neglected job applications that day. Oops.

What I did accomplish on Thursday, however, was making the most brilliant quiche ever. I had some eggs that I needed to use up before they went bad, so I bought some half and half and a couple of fillings, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach, on a whim, and I declared Thursday night quiche night.

I had another accomplishment on Thursday night: I set off the fire alarm in my apartment. When I prepared the filling for my quiche, I made just enough, but “just enough” put in a 400ºF oven expands the eggs in the mixture to spill it over the edges and into the bottom of the oven, then it starts to smoke and set off alarms.

I’m terrified of fires (and luckily there was no fire whatsoever), and as a consequence of being terrified of fires, I am also pretty scared of smoke alarms. The puppy I’m watching for the weekend doesn’t like fire alarms either, and I think this ordeal temporarily traumatized the little guy, but it’s okay because I gave him cheese and he was my friend again.

Anyhow, I went through a lot to make this quiche happen, and as soon as it was finally done and my apartment was aired out, I took my first bite of this quiche, and suddenly my life made sense to me.

It wasn’t just a quiche. I had actually made a pizza.

We’ll compromise and call it a “pizza quiche.”

With the crust, tomatoes and mozzarella, it tasted just like my favorite deep dish pizza, Lou Malnati’s, with an extra layer of egg. So good. I decided to go all out and top it with oregano and red pepper flakes just to keep with the pizzaness, and halfway through my first slice of the quiche, I knew I would be making it again.

The fact that I had unintentionally made myself a deep dish pizza for brunch, combined with the fact that I have dreamt about pizza more than once, must say something about my subconscious and my inner need for pizza. I should maybe talk to someone about that. Or maybe just take it as a sign that pizza and I are soulmates.

Pizza Quiche

Crust Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 tablespoon cold water
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

Filling Ingredients:
3 eggs
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
1 1/2 cup half and half
3/4 cup frozen spinach
3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (soak them for a few minutes beforehand if they aren’t oil-packed)
Black pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Combine flour and salt in a medium bowl, then cut in butter.
2. Combine water, 1 egg and vinegar in a small bowl, and add to flour mixture.
3. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
4. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
5. Whip 3 eggs, then add cheese, half and half, spinach and tomatoes.
6. Roll out refrigerated pie crust dough and place in a round glass pie dish.
7. Pour egg mixture into pie crust.
8. Grind black pepper on top of the egg mixture.
9. Bake quiche for 35-40 minutes, or until top is golden brown and eggs are firm.

Home Cooks Are Us

These past couple of days, I’ve been filling out job application after job application and cranking out cover letters like it’s nobody’s business (please oh please hire me, somebody!). I applied for positions at a few of my favorite food publications out there, and more than once, I’ve written about my belief in the power of the home cook and how one doesn’t need to have chef-level cooking skills to have the privilege of calling him- or herself a chef.

It reminded me of one of the weeks I spent in New York City this past fall.

I had this brilliant idea at around 3 a.m. on a night when I had to wake up at 7:15 the next morning—you know, when all the brilliant ideas come about. I thought, man, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a food blog out there that focused solely on home cooks and the foods they make that are closest to their hearts? Professional chefs are fascinating, don’t get me wrong, but that has been done before by every food blog ever. What about the next door neighbor, the great aunt, the TV repair guy? Everybody cooks, and everybody deserves a spot in the limelight (well, the camera flash light, but you get what I mean).

I had this idea that, just like with any reporting assignment, if I could use my contacts to make friends with kind strangers who cook, maybe I could get invited into their kitchens to witness them in their natural, cozy surroundings, cooking whatever food is important to them no matter how complex or easy it is, and then interview them to get a bit of history into the dish, it could be an amazing project for me and for anyone who follows it.

As you may have guessed, it was pretty hard to find people to let me into their lives in this kind of way. I didn’t foresee that part. Oops.

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But one person did, Guillermo from Spain, who invited me and some of his friends to his Brooklyn apartment to cook tortilla española, his favorite dish from home, just the way his dad taught him how to make it before Guillermo moved to the United States. His enthusiasm for food and for food heritage were perfect for my cooking project, and although it didn’t immediately pan out like I hoped it would during that 3 a.m. inspiration session, my experience documenting his cooking will undoubtedly inspire me to pursue it farther in the future.

Someday after these job applications are done and I become a famous journalist, I’m sure it will be much easier to find subjects. 🙂

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A Visit From Sergeant Pepper

My roommate’s family’s dog is a tiny teacup Yorkie with baby-sized paws and quite a big name. Sergeant Pepper is visiting for the weekend while Michelle’s family is visiting Dallas and providing me with the best kind of entertainment while I complete a marathon of full-time job applications for the summer. Instead of going to bed, all I want to do is stay up and hang out with this little fella!

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The Girl Who Tried to Do Everything

This is a tale of the girl who tried to do everything.

Every night before going to bed, this girl would make a list of all the things she wanted to do the next day. She wanted to get 8 hours of sleep, though, so this list time never took up a bunch of minutes. But it did take up a ton of thought throughout the day, every day.

This girl wanted to complete her double major at Northwestern and also keep working her two jobs, one on campus and one at a publishing company. This girl wanted to go out with her friends on weekends but also have time to curl up on the sofa with a good book. This girl wanted to eat at all the exciting restaurants in town but also cook great meals at home. This girl wanted to finish her first novel, keep a blog, apply to jobs, learn to code, maintain her Spanish language skills, work out every day, learn Ashtanga yoga, keep up with all of her magazine subscriptions, clean her room and do laundry more often, and take more photographs. But she also wanted to sleep. And eat. And breathe.

Every day, these lists not only reminded her of what she wanted to accomplish the next day, but they also reminded her of what, after months, she still hadn’t had time to work on at all. More and more, with every passing day, these lists started to seem impossible, and this girl realized she needed to pare down her goals, at least for now.

She decided that she wanted to cook at home, keep a blog, apply to jobs, and do the work/classes thing. Still a lot but manageable. And she stuck to it for a few miserable weeks.

This girl wanted to have enough time to appreciate her senior year, but she also wanted to complete a six-month publishing internship that she was sure would get her a job. She trudged through six very difficult weeks of walking up to two hours per day in zero-degree temperatures to her internship and began to neglect her school work, social life, and campus job, eventually realizing that this set-up could not last for long.

“I’ve got this,” she kept telling her mom, her roommates, and her best friend. “It’s really stressful right now, but as soon as March hits, I’ll start my spring class schedule and make sure to schedule enough time for work so that I won’t be stressed out. It’s not a big deal.”

This girl wanted to take a fun British history class and a fun introductory German language class centering on Viennese music, but that didn’t afford her much time for work, so she also wanted to take a 20th-century Japanese history class or a Soviet successor states class because they left more gaps in the middle of the day to go to work. This girl wanted to spend the spring quarter of her last year of college taking classes she would never get the chance to take again, but she also wanted to continue her internship.

This girl wanted to sleep the night before registration, but she also wanted to stay up just a few minutes longer and figure out what to do about classes for next quarter. A few minutes turned into a few hours, and all of a sudden, the next morning, sleep-deprived and stressed out to the point of breaking, she burst into tears in her campus job supervisor’s office and cried for almost half an hour in his presence.

This girl wanted to keep her work-life situation, but she also wanted to keep sane.

She realized that nobody can do everything and that you have to pick your battles. She learned she can’t please anyone if she can’t keep herself at peace, no matter how much she denied her anxiety and stress levels.

This girl decided to quit her internship. She didn’t want to think of herself as a quitter, but she didn’t want to look back on her senior year and regret the exhaustion and emotional state she was in, no matter how awful she felt to be quitting an internship she generally liked besides the schedule.

She relaxed for the rest of that evening and night. Unaffected by the usual worries about Tuesday morning internship stress, she spent her Monday evening reading, cooking, starting her job applications, working on her blog, and hanging out with a friend.

This girl realized that no one can have it all, but one can have enough to be happy, and that’s all any of us can ask for.

Spicy Chocolate Cookies

It’s weekends like these when I realize I don’t bake things nearly as often as I ought to.

There are a couple of reasons why I was in a baking mood yesterday. One is that I spent an entire day at work this past week writing a press kit for a soon-to-be released cookbook all about baking vintage cakes. Another is that a couple of weeks ago, one of my coworkers brought in a plate of her specialty cookies, which were spicy chocolate cookies cooked with cayenne pepper and grated ginger and topped with sea salt. They sound weird, but I couldn’t get enough of these cookies. That’s how I decided to bake these.

I never asked my coworker for her recipe—maybe next time she brings them in!—but I did find a promising one on Local Milk, a lovely food blog with gorgeous photographs (seriously, check it out if you have time!). This recipe definitely isn’t the same as the one Morgan used, since it definitely does not call for grated ginger, but I made my cookies using this recipe, adding a couple of extra ingredients, and they turned out wonderfully!

Spicy Chocolate Cookies (adapted from Local Milk)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons sea salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger (I used the powder)
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 chocolate-chili bar broken into small pieces (I used Lindt’s Chili Excellence Bar)
1 dark chocolate bar broken into small pieces (I used Hershey’s Special Dark bar)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, sea salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cayenne.
3. Use a mixer to cream butter until fluffy in a separate bowl.
4. Beat brown sugar and sugar in with the butter.
5. Beat in vanilla and one egg at a time, then mix in with flour mixture.
6. Stir in chocolate chunks.
7. Refrigerate dough for at least a few hours if you’d like.
8. Roll into small balls and place two inches apart on a greased cookie sheet.
9. Bake 12-16 minutes, and cool on a rack.

Minnesota Dreaming

Lately, my mind has been very tied up with job hunting. I graduate from college this June, and then what? For once, I am not really sure where I will end up, what I will do, who I will live with (or nearby), and so on. I started a big old Excel spreadsheet with jobs to apply to, but I end up spending the time I would normally fill out applications thinking about what city I want to end up in.

A month ago, I was convinced that city was Chicago. But after researching job markets a little more, I’m starting to think Minneapolis.

I grew up in a suburb of the Minneapolis-St. Paul (Twin Cities) metro area. When I was about to graduate high school, my biggest focus was getting out of the area and trying out different places of living, partly because I wanted to branch out and break free, and partly because I didn’t know what was out there—not that I know now, in any way.

I fear I have somewhat lost my sense of adventure these past six months. Whereas before, I was eager to live in different places all over the world, none for more than a year at a time, just to experience new things, the stress of moving so often has finally caught up with me. Since leaving home and going to college, I haven’t lived in a single place longer than nine months, and it gets to the point when I wonder where exactly my home is.

I have lived in the Chicago area since September 2011, and suburban-rural Wisconsin before that. The height of my living-related sense of adventure was somewhere in June/July/August of 2014, when I was gearing up to spend the fall working in New York, a city I had dreamed of calling home since I first visited in the summer of 2009.

But I found that, when I lived there, I wasn’t all that satisfied. I grew up with nature and space, and what I got was throngs of people, highly engineered nature in the form of Central Park (gorgeous, but not “nature” by any means!), and a disjointed sense of not belonging because I knew I was only a temporary resident in Manhattan and because I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t fall completely head-over-heels for the city life.

While I’m very fortunate to have had the experience of living there, I worry that it has made me more hesitant when it comes to seeking future opportunities. I’ve found that where I live is almost as important (or maybe even more important, depending on how I feel if you ask me) as what I do in that place. I need a certain blend of booming city life and a veneration of the outdoors. I need affordable living expenses and available jobs. I need society as well as community.

This leaves me with places like Chicago, Portland, and so on, but lately I’ve been spending a lot of time lusting over all that is Minnesota, from the hotdishes to the heritage, the laidback culture to the (relative) lack of unemployment among people my age.

Old me never would have guessed, but I might want to move back to my home after all.

It’s kind of clichéd, really, but I don’t care. You sometimes have to see the world to truly appreciate where you come from, and I’m having that moment right now where I miss home just a little bit.

It’s not even March of my senior year of college yet, and I still have so many papers to write and so many classes to attend before I get to put that degree to use. Nothing can possibly be set in stone yet, but a girl like me can dream about what she wants out of her future as early as she wants to.

Why I Am Excited to Go to Key West Again

Part of what has complicated this past week for me has been the prospect of spring break. It’s stressful to figure out where to go and who to travel with when you’re like me and funding your own trip. Some things sound great and some don’t, plus some things sound expensive and some don’t.

A few weeks ago, my best friend asked me if I would like to join her and her mom in Key West for spring break, and I immediately, excitedly said yes. Then, a week ago, my roommates told me about a trip they’re planning with some other girls to Disney World and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, and that sounded fun too.

One thing I’ve learned about growing older is that I’ve started to become a lot more hesitant about things. While I used to be able to make a quick decision and stick to my guns, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started thinking and overthinking my decisions, and soon I end up with a lack of decision. What is more affordable? What will offer the most memories I’ll dwell on in future years? What will I enjoy more?

I have been waffling back and forth with the decision on whether to go to Disney World or Key West. If I go to Key West, the hotel room is already paid for and I’ll be there for a full week, but if I go to Disney World, while that will be fun, it will cost me about $300 more because I’ll have to chip in for the hotel, and that option is from Wednesday to Sunday.

This morning, I talked to my mom and she advised me to do Disney, but I decided tonight that I will be buying a plane ticket to Key West after all. I had a conversation with my best friend over dinner, and the fact that her mom is generous enough to offer me a stay in a luxury hotel in Key West and to help pay for my meals just out of the kindness of her heart when she knows I wouldn’t be able to do so otherwise, based on my own family’s finances, means a lot. I know I won’t have the chance to travel with a huge group of girls probably ever again in my life (well, who knows?), but there’s also a lot to be said about traveling with your best friend and her lovely mom, both of whom care about me so much.

So in honor of this difficult decision that I will be sticking to, here are the reasons why I am so excited to go back to Key West (largely based on the half-day I spent there when I went there on a cruise four years ago):

  • The Key Lime Pie (duh)
  • Hemingway history (because I’m a history nerd)
  • The Audubon House
  • Sloppy Joe’s Bar and the rest of the amazing nightlife (Duval Street, whaddup)
  • Ghost tours!
  • Beaches
  • Quirky shopping
  • A week of more relaxation and less stressful schedules
  • Warm weather
  • Sunsets
  • Southernmost Point (with me pictured above!)
  • The Key Lime Pie
  • The food in general (and a possible dinner cruise?)
  • A stay at the Waldorf Astoria (fanciest hotel I’ll have ever stayed in? quite possibly)
  • Renting a bike and riding around the island
  • Boozy karaoke
  • Drag shows
  • Did I already mention the Key Lime Pie?

Decisions have been hard for me lately, but I am confident in this one. I am an opportunist, and I hate missing out on things, but you’re only missing out if you’re preoccupied with it instead of focusing on what you are doing, which can be as cool as tagging along with some awesome people to a warm, sunny island in the Florida Keys.