It’s barbecue season, and I was missing my beloved Weber grill last weekend. Before I moved into my first apartment in college, my dad took it upon himself to teach me how to use a charcoal grill — because nothing beats a burger cooked in your own backyard over a charcoal grill.
Since then, he’s upgraded to his own outdoor poolside kitchen, complete with an obscenely productive vegetable garden. Oh, to have a California summer. I do miss unlimited tomatoes!
Anyway, I had the day off today, so I got to catch up on sleep, cleaning, and a workout after a weekend filled with food and sailing. Hope you’re all having a lovely Monday! Xo.
You guys — lobster tails were on sale at Whole Foods last week (tipped by Shaeda) so naturally, we went a little crazy. I picked up a few tails, and was pretty set on making some butter-poached lobster rolls.
My first lobster roll wasn’t too long ago — as a kid, I wasn’t always the biggest fan of lobster. I didn’t dislike lobster, but I did (and for the most part, still do) feel that lobster was unnecessarily expensive. It’s good, but it’s not as good as say, a fantastically prepared steak.
I haven’t had many opportunities to chow down on seafood this summer (less sailing, few trips to the north east), but we made sure to get back on track with homemade lobster rolls. The butter-poaching process gives you an even more tender meat, and I’m personally a bigger fan of the hot lobster roll, the simpler, less-mayo-y version that leaves you with chunks of meat, tossed in melted butter, chives, and salt and pepper.
If you luck out at Whole Foods and find lobster tails for $5.99, get some, and give yourself a real piece of summer :)
Disclaimer: I promised Shaeda I would wait to make this until she was in my apartment. I broke that promise. But can you blame me?
Toad-in-a-holes take me back to being a little kid, visiting my grandmother. I don’t know if you all remember this, but before the American Girl dolls were a thing, the American Girl books and paper dolls were a thing. And being the bookworm that I was, I powered through all of them. Naturally, I look most like Samantha (most is a stretch) so she was my favorite, but my grandmother, having grown up in New York during World War II with the victory gardens and all, well, her favorite was Molly.
And when I was sufficiently obsessed with the book series and the stories of all of the characters (Grandma read every single book after I powered through each one), they came out with a series of cookbooks. I can’t remember if I had every single one, but I know that I had Molly’s. And, one of the recipes we made — usually for breakfast for Grandpa — was the toad-in-a-hole. A piece of toast with a hole in it, and a fried egg right into the bread. It’s delicious.
And I’ve had this idea for a few weeks now. A toad-in-a-hole grilled cheese. It’s been making me salivate. And with all the spin classes I’ve been going to, well, I’ve been letting myself ease into some carbs. So I made this.
But I wanted it to have a kick. So I threw on some sriracha. Obviously, it would be fun to use homemade sriracha, but I haven’t been home much lately, so I haven’t made any of that this year. The classic green top worked out great.
My only regret is that, next time, I’ll add in some slices of avocado. Now that would be perfect.
Well, friends. I’m writing from a train that’s crossing the Norwegian countryside, where I’ve also learned SO much about European geography. I’m embarrassingly bad at geography everywhere (even in the states, as exhibited by a few terrible mistakes I’ve made on maps at work), but I had trouble mixing up where Norway and Sweden were on the map.
BUT — where I lack skills in geography, I make up for in anal retentiveness for following the blue dot on my iPhone whenever I am in a moving vehicle that I’m not in charge of driving. So, after the first two hours on this train, I realized that Sweden is actually east of Norway, and the only thing immediately west of Norway is the ocean. And… we were on a train headed west, because that’s where Bergen is.
I was telling everyone in the states that I was heading north.
I’m embarrassed enough to admit that to myself. I need to work on my geography. It didn’t help that I was so incredibly overbooked with work for the past three weeks that I had to stay 30 minutes later than planned in my office, missing two buses to the airport (but saving just enough time for a slice of pizza, strictly against the health regiment I’ve been desperately attempting to make routine).
You know you need a vacation when you literally run away from your office. And this is coming from someone who loves her work so much that sixty-hour work weeks are the norm. And I do not hate my life (most of the time).
Anyway, this pretty Norwegian is showing me the best and brightest of Norway this week. After a red-eye flight to Brussels and wishing I spoke French, I landed in Oslo Friday evening. Silje brought me to her house, and we made a simple Norwegian summer dish called reker (pronounced reh-keer, simply Norwegian for “shrimp”). Recipe below, if you’d like to make your own version at home.
Since I was rather jet lagged, it felt like 3 PM for me when it was actually pretty late at night in Oslo. It didn’t help that the sun was still shining brightly at 10 PM. So we drank wine, caught up, and watched Scandal until we fell asleep. We woke up yesterday morning to a torrential thunderstorm, which we watched from an enclosed balcony. Then, we walked all over the city, had a long coffee and wine break at a waterfront restaurant, and then toured a new modern art museum. The creepy smile statue was by far the least weird thing in that museum (it was a graphic Cindy Sherman exhibit).
We’ll be exploring Bergen for a few days — many of the people I met in Oslo said Bergen would easily be one of the most beautiful places in the world if I’m lucky enough to catch it on a sunny day.
So, we’ll see. In the meantime, enjoy the photos from my first day in Oslo, and the recipe below.
Reker — a simple Scandinavian summer dish, serves 2
~1 lb. cooked shrimp
1 or 2 whole lemons, sliced into wedges
Fresh sprigs of dill
Generously thick slices of bread, toasted or untoasted
Selections of mayonnaise – we opted to be healthy, so we chose the light version
1 large bowl for discarding shrimp heads and shells
In Norway, there’s only really a month or two of warm weather, so eating outside is a special occasion. While peeling shrimp might not seem like your favorite thing to do, it was nice to sit outside with Silje and peel shrimp together.
Remove the shrimp heads and peel the shells, discarding the waste in a large bowl.
Spread a healthy serving of mayonnaise onto your slice of bread, and then arrange the shrimp on top. Garnish with a few sprigs of dill, and squeeze the juice of a couple wedges of lemon over the whole thing.
Eat with your hands like an open sandwich, or use a knife and fork if you prefer to stay clean. It can get messy.
Grilled cheese sandwiches are a guilty pleasure of mine. When I lived on Capitol Hill, if Mindy and I both happened to come home sometime after midnight on the same night, you’d probably catch us drowsily eating at our kitchen table together — quesadilla in Mindy’s hands, and a grilled cheese in mine. Sharing the frying pan and teddy bear spatula was always an option (the bear spatula is no longer manufactured, but this is my favorite spatula for flipping and cutting sandwiches).
Making grilled cheese sandwiches between midnight and 4 AM has its advantages: simplicity, extra butter, and no regrets. Making grilled cheese sandwiches at brunch also has its advantages: ability to use a knife without ending up in the ER, healthier choices, and sometimes, less cheese all over the kitchen counter.
It’s no secret that goat cheese is hands-down my favorite cheese. This does not explain why I’ve never made a grilled cheese sandwich with goat cheese before.
Perhaps it was because I was raised on an upscale classic: sourdough bread instead of white bread, and sharp cheddar instead of American. Light margarine or butter on both sides of both slices of bread.
With that, you really can’t go wrong. But we try to be creative. This grilled cheese remix is a great option for a refreshing lunch on a hot summer day. And who doesn’t love the crunch of a fresh cucumber?
Lots of photos in this post today… I couldn’t stop clicking. Cucumbers are just so pretty.
Cucumber Goat Cheese Grilled Cheese(makes two sandwiches)
2 slices of whole wheat sourdough bread (or 4 halved slices, if the boule is large)
1 small package plain goat cheese — leave this out for an hour or so to reach room temperature
2 Japanese cucumbers, in 1/8-inch slices
Heat a cast iron skillet (don’t have one? this is a great affordable option you will not regret) and over the stove — first at high heat to get the pan very hot, but then reduce the flame all the way to low. We like the slow-cooked grilled cheese sandwiches.
Using a pastry brush, lightly coat each side of each slice of bread. Spread a healthy layer of goat cheese on the bottom slice, and then arrange your cucumber slices on top of the goat cheese. Carefully place the first half of your sandwich on the skillet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if you like.
Then, spread a thin layer of goat cheese on the next slice. Place this slice on top of the first one, and let it sit on the stove for about five minutes — make sure your heat is LOW. Use a spatula to lift the bottom slice — if it’s nice and golden, go ahead and flip your sandwich. Let that side sit for four to five minutes. When the second side is just as golden, go ahead and remove the sandwich from the pan. Repeat for sandwich number two, and serve with remaining cucumber slices, if you haven’t been munching on them already.
Last week was rough. Isn’t it horrible how your short work weeks can be the absolute worst? Sometimes, the world just wants you to work extra hard as punishment for having a day off.
Unfortunately for me, I spent most of my Memorial Day weekend with the flu — not fun. And being the optimist that I am, I convinced myself that I was not as sick as I actually was. So on Sunday, I went out for a few beers on a DC patio. There may or may not have been copious amounts of fresh donuts. And a $25 pig’s head. On a platter.
The consequence of tricking yourself into feeling healthier than you actually are, of course, trickles down over the course of a few days. Or a whole week. So throughout the entire week, I suffered the sick-enough-to-be-tired-all-day but not-sick-enough-to-not-be-at-work illness.
I pretty much couldn’t hold a single solid train of thought until Friday. And we all know how Fridays go.
I made up for the lethargy of last week with a super productive Saturday — I got back into my gym routine, cleaned my entire apartment, knocked out a few freelance tasks at a coffee shop, and then spent the afternoon and evening biking across DC to the Tour de Fat — a little hipster New Belgium beer festival at Navy Yard. It was too hot to take photos (in my mind), so my apologies for the lack of imagery. But the waterfront is gorgeous, and I got to explore my own personally unchartered territory of DC by bike.
Needless to say, I crashed into my bed the instant I got home, with the AC on full-blast. And I slept in, wandered to Whole Foods, where I eyed a container of labneh — a college staple when all of my friends were Lebanese.
The perfect cross between cream cheese and Greek yogurt does well on sandwiches. It was a good start to the end of the weekend.
Labneh Breakfast BLT
Whole grain sourdough, sliced
1 fresh heirloom tomato
A few strips of bacon, baked or fried
2-3 tablespoons labneh
Heat your oven to 350 degrees, and line a large baking sheet with foil. Arrange your bacon on the foil, and bake for about 30 minutes, until crispy. When you remove the bacon from the oven, promptly drain each piece on paper towels on a separate plate.
Fry an egg to the yolk consistency you prefer, and toast two slices of whole grain sourdough. Generously spread one slice with labneh, and then top with your tomato, bacon, arugula and egg. Season with salt and pepper if you like — but the bacon and lebnah are pretty good on their own. I went without.
In the past few months, I’ve found myself in a few situations where I’m surrounded by kids.
The first instance was back in January, when Kristen asked me to give a presentation at her students’ career day. That was an absolute blast — I was unbelievably nervous, but I brought a ton of freebies from the Department of Energy (lunch bags, bookmarks, the whole shebang) and I even attended the 8th graders’ English class with them. They’re reading Lord of the Flies. Does that bring back memories?
There have been a few instances in my own office building that have called for a last-minute chat with kids about career options. Today, I got to chat with two groups of high school students from a technical high school in DC about working in STEM — and how you don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to work in STEM. I make art. High-functioning, scientific and useful art.
Design is a lovely thing.
And tomorrow, I’m starting a mentorship program with a high school student. Tomorrow, well, tomorrow is my birthday. I can’t think of a better way to spend it.
Thanks for letting me share these moments with you. And to accompany the flashbacks all this talk of teenagers might have spurred, enjoy this grown-up grilled cheese sandwich (also on the cheeseboard sent to me by Rochelle from yesterday’s post).
Hope your humpday is moving along quickly.
French Onion Grilled Cheese, inspired by the adorable Joy the Baker
Four slices of a good, firm sourdough bread (I keep softer sourdough in the freezer, which also works)
2 or 3 medium-sized yellow onions, sliced
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded or sliced gruyere cheese
A few sage leaves, sliced
Butter. Mmm… buddah.
Salt & pepper to taste
I can’t go through sourdough bread fast enough (thanks for nothing, diet), so if I have it in the house, I keep it in the freezer. I recommend that tactic, because I actually like grilled cheese sandwiches made from frozen bread better. Something about the temperature and the way the cheese melts into it.
ANYWAY. Heat a skillet on high until the pan is hot — so hot that you can only hold your hand over it for about 4 or 5 seconds before recoiling. Then, turn the heat down to medium. Add your sliced onions, and drizzle with a bit of butter. Stir constantly. After the onions turn translucent, the edges will start to brown — this should take about 5 to 7 minutes. When burnt bits start to collect at the bottom, pour in your 1/4 cup of heavy cream (yes, we are caramelizing onions in heavy cream). Season with salt, pepper and sage. Keep stirring, and cook over medium-high heat until the onions actually turn to a caramel color. This should take another 15 minutes or so. Longer if you want them really caramelized.
Scrape the bottom of the skillet, and transfer the onions to a bowl. Reduce your heat to low. Butter both sides of each slice of bread, and shred or slice your gruyere. Place one slice of bread on the skillet, then layer it with cheese, then pile on the caramelized onions, and then top with another slice of bread. Make sure your heat is on low — you want a slow cook.
I gave them about 7 minutes per side, which gave the sandwich just the right color and melted the cheese into the holes of the sourdough bread.
Living in a group house comes with its advantages and disadvantages.
Pros: there is always someone to hang out with, younger roommates always make room for the best stories, and rent is pretty darn cheap.
Cons: sharing fridge space, sharing cleaning responsibilities, and dealing with noise and scheduling in general.
Needless to say, I love my house, but I’m more than ready for my own refrigerator and an office right next to my kitchen. Maybe even an awesome cat.
I never thought I’d catch myself aching for a studio, or wanting to live alone. I used to say that I’d just live in a group house until I was making bank, and then I’d just buy a two bedroom apartment to have on my own. A design studio/guest room really would be my end-all be-all.
Anyway, I’m toying with that. And the idea of not moving into a new apartment in DC at all, because… well, New York City maybe closer than it appears.
Bacon (1-2 slices per sandwich)
English muffins (or croissants)
1/4 cup mayonaise
2 tablespoons tomato sauce (jarred is fine)
Garlic salt to taste
Red chili pepper flakes
Cheddar cheese, sliced
To prep the caramelized bacon, preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil — this makes cleanup easier. As illustrated in the photos above, line the strips of bacon about an inch apart, and sprinkle with brown sugar. Make sure to waste as little sugar as possible, because we’d rather have everything on the bacon.
Bake for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on what parts of the bacon are cooking faster — your oven probably has some hot spots. Be sure to rotate the sheet as necessary. When the bacon is finished, drain for a few minutes on paper towels, but remove once they drain because the paper will stick.
In a small bowl or jar, combine the mayonaise, tomato sauce, garlic salt, and red pepper flakes. Mix until smooth, and set aside.
Slice your avocado. Set aside.
Spray a small frying pan lightly with olive oil over high heat. We want the pan hot — hold your hand an inch or two over the surface to make sure it’s pretty hot. Then, crack an egg onto the pan. With a silicone spatula handy, delicately monitor the egg, keeping it as round as you can. Once the sides are solid enough, slide the silicone spatula under the egg, and gently flip it over. Cook to the desired consistency of the yolk, and only cook one egg at a time! Unless you want them to all cook together.
Lightly toast your English muffins before assembling the sandwiches. Spread a generous amount of the chile mayo on the bottom half, then place the egg, bacon, and avocado. Finish with a slice of cheddar cheese. Then, put everything in the oven or toaster oven until the cheese melts.
I’ve been writing a lot about work for the past year. Rightfully so, as my work life has consumed about 60 hours of my week for the past 18 months.
The past few months have been quite the whirlwind: I applied and got into my first choice graduate program, turned in my two-weeks’ notice, and then was offered a full-time job as a digital Multimedia Editor. Within just a matter of a week or so, I made the decision to flip my career plan. In all actuality, I was able to skip the whole graduate school step (for the time being, anyway). You can see a little bit about me and my new job here.
My 60 hour weeks haven’t ended, as I still maintain a good amount of freelance work – the remnants of how I overcompensated for not being able to actually be a designer while working my former job. But I can finally say that I’m happy with the direction my career is going in. And that means that you’ll get to read about things other than the less than ideal life outlook that comes with being frustrated for the better half of your day.
I distinctly remember my first career-related conversation with my dad, which took place at least fifteen years ago. I was working on some school art project – I want to say I was attempting to draw people running. He demonstrated some simple illustration techniques that made him brilliant beyond the average ten-year old’s belief. He showed me how to start with stick figures where a person’s bones would be, and to draw their muscles around the figures. He told me that being artistic runs in our family, and that when he was younger, he wanted to be an artist.
When I asked him why he didn’t work as an artist, he told me that not everyone can do exactly what they want to do. Art is fun, but it doesn’t make any money. So he went to college, got a job in business, and learned to love what he did.
The topic came up again when I was getting ready for college. I was really into graphic design, and even went to some art school open houses, but the same type of conversation happened again. I majored in International Development and Arabic.
And you know what? I don’t hate that I did. Sure, I went to college, studied something that I loved, and eventually decided that the career path wasn’t for me. It’s a common thing: to give up your hobbies, and to dedicate your life to something that you may or may not be passionate about. After all, many people are struggling simply to have a job. One by one, we count our blessings, and aspire for the non-physical things we do not yet have.
For the past year and a half, I was going through some serious self-doubt. I wasn’t depressed as much as I was frustrated with everything around me. Frustrated, because I knew exactly what my problems were, and no matter how hard I tried to fix them, nothing was quite working out.
I started perusing the creative job market one year ago. Twenty-three interviews, two portfolio redesigns, two job offers, and one graduate-school-withdrawal-letter later, I feel like a completely different person.
I’ll be honest. If I wasn’t as unhappy as I was with my options a year ago, I probably never would have gotten my shit together as a designer. This was also no secret to my office, which didn’t help solve my immediate problems, but in turn, helped me reassess what I wanted to do with my life. When I hated the job before my last job, I was willing to take any job – any ::breathe:: job – just to get out. When I decided to leave my most recent job, I knew exactly what I was looking for. For the first time in my life, I was looking for a good match, and not just an escape.
And when I thought all hope was lost, I found myself with a job that is the opposite of what normally sends me running for the door. I work long hours on a team of experts. They love implementing new ideas even more than they love ideas themselves.
What I learned was something that I’ve already known for longer than I can actually remember: luck is nothing without hard work and preparation. That might take weeks, or years. But if it’s worth it, you can make it happen.
As my friend Lauren said, shortly after we sprinted for a New York subway train, narrowly struggling our backpacks through the closing doors: You gotta want it.
Ladies and gentlemen – since this post follows a long and winding road of hard work and patience, I present you with the perfect grilled cheese.
Oh, also – I went to Mexico. I’ll save that for another day’s treat.
The Perfect Grilled Cheese
The perfect grilled cheese is all about the quality of your ingredients, and all about the patience you have. Good bread, good cheese, real butter, and the satisfaction in knowing that the perfect sandwich is well worth the wait.
Amazing sourdough bread, sliced
Unsalted butter, room temperature
Good, sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese
Heat a medium- to large-sized skillet over a high flame for a few minutes, until the pan is hot. You should be able to only hold your hand over the pan for a few seconds before pulling away. Once you’re there, turn the heat down to low. A good grilled cheese sandwich is all about the slow cook. If you’re working on an electric stove, I’d keep the heat as low as 2 or 3.
Lightly butter both sides of each slice of bread. In all honesty, I’ve found that frozen bread works really well for grilled cheese. It even makes it easier for spreading the butter, and usually leaves for a nice, crisp sandwich. But I’ve also never had issues with normal bread.
Assemble your sandwich directly on the skillet. Bread, then generous amounts of cheese, and then bread again.
Do not flip more than once. You can flip when the cheese has melted so much so that it pulls away from the top slice when you lift it. The low heat is important here, because a higher flame will burn your bread.
Each side takes about five minutes, I’d say. The result should be golden brown slices of bread with cheese that melts into each slice from the inside.