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.
It’s been a while since I worked in the restaurant business. But, aside from the managers I worked for, I do look back on my days as a hostess and waitress pretty fondly. I was by far one of the youngest people working in that restaurant, and frequently referred to as the baby — which I never really minded. It was only another means for me to dip my toes into the social lives of the wait staff of Los Angeles, which is its own beast in and of itself.
Back then, I always felt like I had multiple lives. There was my life at UCSB, pretty and pristine on the beach, with jungle juice (bleghh), running to the Goleta Pier, and fake-fighting with my gay over the hot TA that would eventually become one of my oldest friends. Then, there was my life at the restaurant, counting cash in my parents’ car, triple-seating my ex’s new love interest whenever she picked a fight with the guy, and capping off our late-night shifts with underage cocktails at Fridays (the mojitos were exciting back then, but I shudder at the thought of ever going back to a TGIFridays in the San Fernando Valley). And finally, there was my life at UCLA — football games on the weekends, Red Bull all-nighters in Powell Library, and finally living in my own apartment in Westwood.
The worlds rarely collided. It was as if I teleported between entirely different dimensions when I crossed the borders between Los Angeles, Calabasas, and Santa Barbara.
I wouldn’t trade in those days for anything. Since then, friendships have come and gone, and my little brother is even working at that exact restaurant. I see patterns in his social life and his thought processes that reflect what I went through as one of the younger members of a restaurant that was about to graduate from college.
And he mentions things like trying to hide his relationship with another hostess, and, well, I did the same thing when I worked there. But in hindsight, I try to give him advice that would help him be less foolish than I was — even though I know too well that those words of wisdom would be fruitless to a 21-year old in lurve.
Perhaps I don’t want him to get attached because I know that it’s easy to get lost in these worlds. Being 19 or 22 in college in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara feels so unreal at this point in my life. The things I worried about then, the silly problems that stressed me out or made me feel invincible or made me cry — looking back, I wish I knew so much more about why they did or didn’t matter. I come from a family that doesn’t acknowledge emotions at all, so I had no idea what depression was when I went through it. I didn’t know what it was until it hit me in the face. But since leaving California, I feel like I’ve inadvertently surrounded myself with people who have their own stories, their own comparisons of their separate lives that have helped me understand my emotions, how to become more self-aware, and when to recognize when you have real issues to face, or when you’re having a mini panic attack over something that will be an invisible speck in the grand canyon view of your entire life.
And really, I’ve just recently come to terms with anxiety — what it is, what it actually feels like, and how to deal with it. Emotions are so incredibly layered, and part of me wishes I met the people I’m so close to now back in high school, when self-awareness could have come in so, so handy. These days, I can just pop some ibuprofen after one too many cocktails, or something else when I realize that I’m physically stressed about something that really doesn’t matter. Like when I’m suddenly overcome with doubt or guilt for some memory that pops into my head from my waiting days or from high school. It’s weird how the littlest memories can strike the most negative or positive emotions for me. Perhaps, you know what I’m talking about.
That being said, science is a wonderful thing. And so are friends who help you through your anxiety. Maybe I’m just rambling at this point.
This recipe was actually one of the recipes on the menu at that restaurant I worked at, where I went through just roller coaster after roller coaster of emotions. I even checked their current menus to see if it was still there, but they’ve since taken this artichoke item off — so I improvised as closely as I could. It was pretty successful, and brought me back a little bit, for better or for worse. For the good moments, it’s nice to sit in bed and reminisce the late nights we spent smoking cigarettes in backyards in Los Angeles, or the pool parties I used to throw in my parents’ Christmas-light-ridden backyard. For the anxiety-inducing moments that I can’t push out of my head on my own, well, there’s always a half a Xanax in my bag. I’ve never been so thankful for science.
Happy Friday! This morning started off pretty chilly, but the weekend forecast here in DC is looking pretty darn gorgeous. Hoping you all get to have a nice weekend, too!
If you follow me on le twitter and instagram, you’re probably aware that I started working with Cava Mezze and Cava Mezze Grill to photograph all of the beautiful dishes and ingredients on their menu — and, as a food photographer who gets to chow down on everything after photo shoots are done, I can definitely say that the food tastes even better than it looks.
Liz and Nikki set me up with a couple of their dips, so this is the first of two recipes I’ve put together — a twist on an artichoke dip that my stepmom makes (which is really just one of the biggest highlights every time I go home to visit). With the added kick from Cava’s Crazy Feta, it’s the simplest of ingredients, and I’m not sure I love anything more than I love feta cheese.
I made this little pot of crazy feta artichoke dip for a friend’s birthday, which we celebrated Wednesday night over homemade pizza and bottles upon bottles of wine. I mentioned to the host that I made it with the Cava Crazy Feta dip, and she opened her fridge and revealed a few of the Cava dips that she already had in store… so they’re pretty much everywhere these days :)
We ate the dip with a fresh loaf of sourdough bread, heated in the oven and ripped apart by hand. I suggest you do the same! And look for Cava’s amazing products in your grocery store — here in DC, they’re at Whole Foods. And pretty much in everyone’s fridge.
Tuesday night, I found myself in a much-needed yoga class.
The past couple of weeks have been unconditionally brutal. You know those days where you literally have every single minute planned? Yeah. Try that for ten days straight. It makes my bones ache. And it takes me at least a few days to get back to normal, because stress is just something that I can’t handle these days. I was covering ARPA-E as a photographer (hellooooo, government nerd fest), gave a presentation to a design group in DC with some coworkers about why Energy.gov is awesome, and even ventured out to Vienna, Virginia, to see a friend of a friend of a friend perform, who happens to be an amazing singer/songwriter.
In high school and college, I thrived on stress. I needed to overload myself in order to get things done. I also used to drink so many vodka-red-bulls that I probably should have had a heart attack by junior year. But now, just the thought of having plans every night of the week makes me cringe. Even this last weekend — I could say it was relaxing, because I spent most of it snuggled up in bed or petting puppies tied up outside of Chipotle, but it was a weekend that had every living moment planned. There was no sudoku in bed, or impromptu Netflix wormholes, or hours with a book on the Java House patio. Lots of fun, but it still felt busy.
So finally, after what seemed like 4247895 days of straight-up booked calendar entries, I made it to the gym. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to schedule yoga. I savor my workouts as something I opt to do in the time that I have for myself — and no one else. So finally, this week, I refused to pencil anything in. I went to yoga — a time slot and an instructor I had never been to before.
I set up my mat, and relaxed for a few minutes. And… ten minutes into the class, the teacher was still missing.
I’m sure the other 20 people in the class had varying levels of stress from their days and the week before, so when our gym manager came down to apologize, it was clear that the instructor wasn’t coming. But the most amazing thing happened — a woman sitting in the front row promised that she was a certified yoga instructor, and volunteered to teach the class.
Naturally, a room full of yogis is probably the most laid-back group of people ever, so almost everyone exclaimed something to the effect of “that would be AMAZING,” and that was that. And she led a class that I’m sure everyone enjoyed, and she started the class by asking us to practice forgiveness, because she hadn’t instructed yoga in over a year and a half.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how amazing that experience was — the personalities, and the yoga itself. Anyway, please forgive me for the radio silence. It’s been a long few weeks. Treat yourself with some easy biscuits (side note, these would be GREAT on a breakfast sandwich).
Sun-dried Tomato & Jalapeño Cheddar Biscuits
2 cups Bisquick
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
2 fresh jalapeños
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup butter or 1/2 cup margarine, melted
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.
First, remove and discard the seeds from your jalapeños. Dice them finely, into about eighth-inch pieces. Combine them with the diced sun-dried tomatoes, and set aside.
In a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the Bisquick, milk, and cheese — mix with the dough hook until everything is fully incorporated. Then, add in the jalapeños and tomatoes. When mixed, remove the dough from your mixer, and using your hands, form into a large, flat mound about an inch to an inch-and-a-half thick. Cut out biscuits with a biscuit cutter or some sort of jar — I used a 3-inch biscuit cutter.
Then, melt your butter in the microwave, and stir in the garlic powder. Use a pastry brush or a spoon to dress the biscuits with a generous layer of butter.
Bake for about 13 minutes, until the biscuits are a light golden brown.Makes 7 to 8 large biscuits.
Yesterday was — well, I’m pretty darn sure — the best day of my life. A coworker hooked me up with one of the much-coveted White House tour tickets. Being the first day the White House has reopened its tours since sequestration’s budget cuts took place back in January. So it was a pretty exciting day, for anyone who was able to finally get a tour, and for the people who work at the White House.
We were held up in the East Room for what felt like forever when a friend commented on one of my Instagrams about POTUS and FLOTUS surprising everyone on the tours, so as you can imagine, my heart started racing. What would I say? Was it true? Would they still be there?
The secret service closed the doors to the Green room right when we were about to go through, which put us in front of the line for the next group. And once the doors reopened and we were shuffled through, I was greeted by none other than Michelle Obama herself, in all of her glowing glory. That woman is pretty in photos, but hot damn, she is 43290423 times prettier in person.
Anyway, being from Los Angeles, I’ve met my fair share of celebrities, but Michelle takes the cake.
I. Was. Starstruck. Especially when she greeted us with a big smile and a “HIIII! Welcome to my house!” Cue Sunny jumping all over her and my coworker. I, naturally, beelined to Bo, who was sitting a few feet away, simply panting and rolling his eyes at Sunny, who was literally leaping and bounding from the visitors, to the First Lady, to the people behind the cameras. I pet Bo for as long as I could, which was apparently too long, because Secret Service basically escorted me out.
My heart was racing for at least 30 minutes after that. Marissa and I proceeded to jump up and down and scream on the White House driveway.
Seriously, best day of my life, and those dogs are the fluffiest dogs in the world. So. Effing. Cute.
This recipe comes from a friend and owner of yet another unbelievably adorable Portuguese water dog — Ollie. Maybe someday, Michelle will read this and schedule a play date for Ollie and Sunny. They’d make a darling couple.
Yet again, taking advantage of Dad’s garden. Check out this easy recipe for refrigerator dill pickles. The best part? You don’t need to stick to cucumbers — pickle some squash from the farmer’s market. They are beyond delicious.
I’ll be back soon enough, with plenty of photos and stories of camping with the parents and my two younger, goofier-by-the-day brothers. Actually, by the time this post goes up, I’ll probably be driving back from the mountains, and on my way to a flight back home.
Hope your week is off to a great start! Xo.
Dill Pickled Squash
1-2 jar-sized zucchini or squash
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 dried red Thai chili
1 green or black Thai chili
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 cloves garlic
A few slivers of sweet onion
Slice your squash into quarters or eighths, lengthwise, and stuff them into a large mason jar. Throw in the mustard seeds, peppercorns, onions, garlic, and chilis.
Then, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Bring the solution to a boil. Once the salt and sugar are entirely dissolved, pour the solution into your jar of squash. You don’t want ANY air in this jar, so fill it right up to the top. Seal the jar, and refrigerate. They should be ready to eat after a day or so, and they’ll keep in the fridge for about two months.
Save the years when Christmas is all about gifts (aka childhood), I’ve never considered myself much of a gifter.
Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely love giving gifts. Making someone else happy is probably the best feeling in the world.
But after I went through college and learned that I had to learn how to support myself, I realized how trivial it was to be grown up and making lists of things that I wanted other people to buy for me.
Because, you know what? Things are just things. If they were that important to me, I should be able to buy them myself.
That’s just my opinion, anyway. To each her own.
I’ve always been a fan of doing things myself. Making my own lunches, designing my own invitations, and growing my own vegetables — these are things I’ve been into lately.
For the past few years — basically, since I started supporting myself — I haven’t been so much into giving or getting gifts. Gifting season often gets out of hand; and I realized so much when my family set a ten-dollar limit to Christmas. Children were the exception, and there were and still are only two. For the kids, we go crazy. But for the grown-ups, we keep it simple.
It basically converted Christmas into the family’s cheap booze exchange, which I have no complaints about whatsoever. When I only have a few days in California, I either drink it with my family as fast as I can, or fork over a few bills to check a suitcase filled with wine back to DC, where I drink it with my friends over homemade dinners as fast as we possibly can.
Despite the facets of gift-giving getting ridiculously out of hand, I think it’s safe to say that the feeling you get after giving a really good gift is one of the best feelings in the world.
This year is the fourth Thanksgiving I’ll be spending away from home. I’ll be thousands of miles from my family, just three hours ahead, but part of going off on your own and not looking back means taking some things into your own hands.
Thanksgiving will be at my house this year. This will be on the menu. I recommend it.
Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Lemon Mustard Dressing (adapted from the New York Times)
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (my favorite whole seed version)
Zest and juice of one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound brussel sprouts, fresh
2 apples of your choice — the tart ones are best
1 shallot, finely diced
If you have a food processor with a shredder, then trim the ends off of your brussel sprouts and just shred away. For those of you like myself, you can just chop them up. The easiest way is to first slice each sprout in half, and then, starting at the top of the sprout, make skinny horizontal slices until you reach the end, at which point, you can just toss the end of the sprout in the trash.
Also finely dice your apples, and the shallot. Toss them in a mixing bowl, and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve it all up.
Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a bowl or a mason jar, and stir or shake until completely mixed.
Toss the salad right before serving, or let it sit in the dressing for about 30 minutes to make it more of a slaw. Dress with some pretty apple slices, and enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving dinner.
As you can probably tell, I’m trying to blog more regularly.
Now that I have a job doing exactly what I love to do, it’s really really difficult to manage any more than one or two freelance projects (and honestly, I’d rather just keep it down to my one favorite client). It’s not that I don’t enjoy freelance, but a creative by day can only be so creative by night.
This recipe, albeit my own, was not entirely created on my own. It was inspired by a dish at a great restaurant in Baltimore, whose name I do not remember. But it does remind me of one of the many fun weekends I’ve spent there.
Most people would probably use this dish as a side to a nice main, like miso roasted salmon or a grilled tofu salad.
I just put this on a plate (or a tart dish) and eat it as a meal. Simplicity is a virtue.
3 tablespoons ginger simple syrup (recipe here)
1 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
4 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
black pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the bottom root-ends off your sprouts, and then slice them in half. Coarsely chop your garlic, and combine in a large mixing bowl.
In a small saucepan and medium heat, bring to a light boil the ginger syrup, soy sauce, sesame oil, and vinegar. Reduce the heat to low, and whisk in the brown sugar, and lemon juice until dissolved. Add the minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Stirring, reduce to the consistency desired, and remove from heat. I prefer my teriyaki on the more watery side than the syrupy side to make it easier to distribute flavor, but that’s just my preference.
Toss the Brussels sprouts in as much sauce as you think necessary – I actually dumped the entire thing in the mixing bowl, and spooned the sprouts directly onto a baking sheet. Store the remaining teriyaki in a jar, and refrigerate.
Roast your sprouts on an upper rack in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes.
This winter may have been weak, but spring has sprung. And along with the hour of sleep I lost this morning, my social life has flown out the window. I’m pretty sure I’ll see it sometime next week. (more…)