Sunday, October 14, 2012

NEXT UP: Pumpkin Cake Balls

After a rocky start to October, I am finally ready to enjoy the Halloween season! I hit up a party store to get a few seasonal decorations. It took a lot of restraint not to buy all of the light-up jack-o-lanterns, but I caved when I saw some cute mini paper cupcake holders. 

It didn't take me long to figure out what to use them for. There have been a lack of pumpkin treats in my apartment lately, so my first thought was mini pumpkin muffins. Then I realized...why not be adventurous and try something totally new...cake balls.

I assume you've all heard of the cake pops phenomenon. They're everywhere nowadays--on baking blogs, in Starbucks pastry cases, at weddings, and all over Pinterest. Instead of making pops, I decided to use my new cupcake holders to contain cake balls (think pops-sans-lollipop-stick).

My main inspiration was Love From the Oven's Candy Corn Cake Pops, which used orange and yellow dyed vanilla cake topped with a candy corn. I decided to alter the recipe to become more seasonal by using a pumpkin spice cake as the base.

Was this a difficult process? Not really. Was it quick? Not really. It was fun and fairly simple, but there several steps. Overall it took a few hours to complete these treats. My roommate and I tried different methods for dipping the cake balls into the chocolate coating, but it ended up being less neat then I had hoped. Next time I will try getting actual candy coating chocolate, or perhaps thinning the baking chocolate with a touch of corn oil.

I also think using toothpicks over forks would be helpful. There are lots of videos and posts about how to perfectly dip cake balls and pops online, it's just a matter of perfecting a method yourself.

Overall, I was left with very festive Halloween desserts that everyone loved! And why wouldn't they? Pumpkin cake plus chocolate plus candy corn, what's not to like? I'm already excited to try more cake ball/pop recipes for other holidays. I may have been bitten by the cake ball bug...

Pumpkin Cake Balls
Inspired by numerous blogs! And of course the Cake Pop Queen herself.

1 box of spice cake mix
1 can of pumpkin puree (15 oz)
1/2 - 2/3 cup of cream cheese icing
Bag of Candy Corn
Baker's White Chocolate (or candy coating if you can find it)

1. Mix the cake mix and can of pumpkin. Do not follow the ingredient directions on the box. The pumpkin will replace the water, egg, oil, etc.
2. Spread the cake batter into a 15x9" pan and bake for about 20 min or until a poked fork comes out clean.
3. Cool the cake. You can place it in the fridge to speed the cooling.
4. Crumble the cooled cake into a large mixing bowl. The crumbs should be quite fine. Use a fork and/or your hands. Be sure to break up any clumps or discard any hard edge pieces.
5. Mix in 1/2 cup of cream cheese icing with your hands. The mixture should be moist enough to mold into balls. Add in a little more icing if needed.
6. Form the cake and icing mixture into ping pong-sized balls and place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.
7. Place cake balls into the freezer for about 30 minutes or until they are chilled (but not frozen!).
8. Prepare the coating by melting the white chocolate in a small microwaveable bowl until it is a smooth liquid.
9. Take the cake balls out of the freezer a few at a time (so they don't get too warm and crumbly while you're working). Use a couple forks to roll the cake ball in the coating until evening coated. (Next time, I will probably try using a toothpick). Lift with forks so excess coating drips off, then place on a parchment covered cookie sheet.
10. Place a candy corn on top before the coating dries.
11. Repeat steps 9-11 with all of the cake balls.
12. Store in an air tight container. Feel free to place in cute mini cupcake holders.

Makes about 30 pumpkin cake balls.

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

NEXT UP: August & September in Photos

And once again, another month comes to a close. While September had its moments--a pleasant day spent exploring the upper west side, a free Yom Kippur service in the city, painting on the roof deck--it was definitely a tiring month. A heavy workload and moody weather dragged me down a bit. Luckily, my favorite month is about to be upon us! October: birthday, halloween, a concert, pumpkin...what's not to love?

But before we move on, here's the last month recapped in photos! Well, the last two months. Of course I fell behind :-P I didn't take too many photos recently, but here's what I do have. Until next month!



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Sunday, September 16, 2012

NEXT UP: Read "Paris, My Sweet"

I am Jenny, and I have a problem.

I can't stop reading books about Paris. First this one, then this one, and now THIS one?!

But hey, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem right? And I believe the second step is buying a plane ticket and moving to said object of obsession. I'm no doctor...but...yea, that sounds like the medically accepted treatment.

At least my problem is your present, because I am about to give you a wonderful gift: a must-read, très magnifique book recommendation.

To backtrack a bit, I read Amy Thomas' Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) immediately after I reviewed The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry. You might recall my somewhat harsh critique of the latter book, which detailed one woman's experience at Le Cordon Bleu Paris after leaving behind an established corporate job. Soon after publishing that post, a relative forwarded it to a distant relative who had actually done just that: bravely left her comfy career to pursue her culinary passions in cooking school. She responded with a different opinion of the novel: "I LOVED the book and am really thankful to have read it before going to culinary school because it truly prepared me for how difficult it would be." (I recommend checking out her cooking blog!)

Clearly, the book struck a cord with her, which is why I personally preferred Amy Thomas' book. Amy had thoughts, problems, and experiences that I could relate to much more. In the memoir Paris, My Sweet, 30-year-old Amy's job at a well-known PR/ad agency (cough Ogilvy) gives her the opportunity to work in Paris writing ad copy for Luis Vuitton. Already a lover of all-things-French, Amy says goodbye to her posse of girlfriends and neighborhood haunts in NYC (her home for the past several years), and sets up camp in the City of Light. While the book does talk a bit about her job, it goes into intricate, mouthwatering detail about Amy's sweet freak side. As her loyalty is torn between Manhattan and Paris, her dedication to all-things-chocolate-and-sugary remains steadfast throughout.

What I Liked: Amy's experience is not perfect. She loves Paris immediately, but soon becomes lonely for her friends, her familiar NYC locales, her easier job back home. She does not meet un homme très beau to sweep her off her feet. She does not complete every project perfectly. And she does discuss the five pounds her butt gains after all the foreign indulging. But I liked all the imperfections--the realness of it.

And her descriptions of food? AMAZING. Amy has a real gift for descriptive writing. Listen to her commentary on macarons: "They're delicate yet persnickety [...] A delightful combination of powdered sugar, finely ground almonds, and egg whites and not much else, save for the luxuriously creamy ganache or buttercream filling that holds the two cookies together. Firm but tender, shiny yet ridged, with ethereally light shells and heavy middles, they're miniature studies of contrasts--and deliciousness."    She reveals the best bakeries, cafes, and restaurants for specific desserts in both NYC and France, and even provides guides and maps so the reader can shadow her adventures. 

What I Didn't Like: Not much. I wish there was some sort of epilogue tagged onto the end, but otherwise I would easily enjoy reading this book again.

Should you read it? Yes. It is le meilleur--the best. If the back cover's sentence, "Part love letter to Paris, part love letter to New York, and total devotion to all things sweet," sounds appealing to you, then by all means, indulge in this wonderful memoir. I certainly enjoyed living vicariously through it.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

NEXT UP: Cheesecake-Stuffed Strawberries

Fall has arrived in the city. The temperature may have crept up into the 80s today, but that hasn't stopped New Yorkers from breaking out boots, Starbucks from cranking out pumpkin-spice lattes, and my roommate and me from turning off our air conditioner. Well, that and our eagerness to lower our electricity bill.

But saying goodbye to summer is a bit sad. Fall no longer means a return to textbooks and lectures. Yet I still look forward to all of the things associated with summertime: long days, beach reads, sun-toasted shoulders (sounds better than sunburned), and summer produce.

Produce like...oh, I don't know...strawberries?

So before I break out the much beloved pumpkin bars recipe, I decided to try a super quick and easy strawberry dessert. I've been eyeing this delicious-looking treat on Pinterest for a while now. 

I like cheesecake. I like strawberries. I like stuffing. Mmmm Thanksgiving stuffing...

Sorry, got off track for a second. Back to summer.

These Cheesecake-Stuffed Strawberries were a hit at a dinner party I had recently (A dinner party?? How old am I?!). They were gone in way less time than it took me to make them, and it really took me no time at all.

Basically, you hollow out strawberries, mix up a simple cheesecake filling, pipe it into the fruit, and dip the stuffed strawberries into graham cracker crumbs. A sweet ending to a sweet summer.

Now onto the pumpkin!!

Cheesecake-Stuffed Strawberries
Inspired by multiple Pinterest posts

1 lb strawberries
8 oz package of cream cheese (I used reduced fat)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Small plastic bag (or piping bag, if you're fancy enough to have one)
1/2 c graham cracker crumbs

1. Wash and dry off strawberries.
2. Use a small knife to remove leaves and create hole inside the strawberries.
3. In a mixing bowl, whip together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla.
4. Scoop the cheesecake filling into a small plastic bag and cut off the corner to create a piping bag.
5. Pipe the filling into the strawberries.
6. Dip the cheesecake-filled end of the strawberries into a dish of graham cracker crumbs to coat.
7. Refrigerate until serving.
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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

NEXT UP: (Probably Don't) Read "The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry"

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of food and mildly obsessed with Paris (What. Up.).

My most recent read  combined those two interests. When I saw a hardcover copy of The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry marked down from $25.99 to $5.99 (Raise your hand if you love The Strand!), I eagerly bought it. Oh yes, I'm also a big fan of being frugal.

But the low price was not my only reason behind purchasing the novel. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, praised the work: "Flinn's tale of chasing her ultimate dream makes for a really lovely book--engaging, intelligent, and surprisingly suspenseful." Indeed, Flinn's memoir is very similar to Gilbert's tale of leaving behind a corporate, steady career to pursue a dream. When she's fired from her job, Flinn takes the advice of her former co-worker and soon-to-be boyfriend Mike and finally signs up to be a student at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Mike and Kathleen move to Paris, and the latter begins her journey into burning souffles, entertaining visitors from abroad, falling in love, and meeting an international crew of fellow cooks.

What I Liked: Food. Paris. Did I mention I like food and Paris? I really enjoyed learning about the real tasks presented to Le Cordon Bleu students, as well as the recipes. Flinn details her cooking challenges in a clear and engaging manner. The French language sprinkled throughout the memoir enhanced its Parisian feel and made me long for an afternoon stroll by the River Seine.

What I Didn't LikeI think Elizabeth Gilbert was being generous when she called the book "surprisingly suspenseful." Yes, I felt compelled to keep reading, but little about this book was unexpected. The school is harder than she thought? Shocking. Her first recipe is a dud? Who would've guessed. Her last recipe is a total hit? Whoa, surprise ending. She falls in love with both Paris and her male friend? Stop, I can't handle the twists! It is a true story rather than fiction, so perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh, but Flinn also way overdid the use of metaphors and tidy life lessons. I'm about to spoil the last paragraph of the book for you, but it really doesn't give anything away (which should say something). It reads: "As in cooking, living requires that you taste, taste, taste as you go along--you can't wait until the dish of life is done." The dish of life? Really? And "From my romance with Mike, I've come to realize I'd never explored the streets of my emotions enough to learn the geography of my heart"...Huh? Basically, the book was a little too corny and predictable for my sophisticated (ha! kidding) tastes. Pardon the pun.

Should you read it? Meh. It was enjoyable, but clearly I disliked more aspects of it than I liked. There are too many great books on Paris (and food), such as Almost French, to spend too much time on the okay ones.

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

NEXT UP: How to find an apartment in NYC

Renting an apartment in New York city is not as simple as finding a place, applying, paying, and moving in. Ooooh no, my naive friend. It's a shady, fast-paced, unforgiving, money-draining, make-you-want-to-move-back-in-with-your-parents process.

Finally found a not-too-painfully-expensive place? Remember the checks for two-month's deposit plus 15% broker's fee.

Did you find a perfect little apartment posted this morning on a listings website? The landlord already has a pending application for it and six more completed apps piled up.

You're eyeing a Craigslist listing for a $1000/month one bedroom in West Village?
 Only $1000 for West Village?? It's a scam. Period.

Surprisingly, I'm actually not here to scare you away from ever relocating to NYC (maybe a little). Rather, much like my How to Graduate with a Job post, I'm hoping to share the insight I gained during my own apartment search to help future post-grad apartment-seekers. I spent several weeks searching for a two-person apartment and--success!--I did find what I believe is a great place. With a little (read: a lot) of time and effort, you too can find a cozy nook in this people-packed metropolis.

STEP 1: Look down. Are you currently standing in NYC? Perfect.
But how can I already be in NYC when I haven't found an apartment yet? Thanks for asking. It is infinitely more difficult to find an apartment when you're not already in the city. Your search will probably involve running to last-minute open-houses, rushing to broker appointments during your lunch break, and visiting dozens of places--all a lot trickier to do when you're not in NYC. I had a cheap three-month summer sublet on the Upper East Side (five girls, two bedrooms, one bathroom--you do the math). The temporary set-up gave me time to look for a more permanent home before, after and occasionally during work.

STEP 2: Secure your roommate(s).
Did you plan on living with your best friends from home or college? What are you going to do if said best friends land jobs elsewhere or decide to live at home or, WORSE, choose to move in with their boyfriend of 2 months?? You want to pick your roommate carefully. Ideally one, as a two-person place can be easier than finding a three or four person one. This person should be willing to help with the apartment search, not just sit back until lease signing. This person should be trustworthy and responsible, as you will both be promising to pay a lot of money on a monthly basis. And you should feel comfortable around this person, as you will probably see each other's personal paperwork during the application meeting. Plus, your apartment deposit will be entered as one bank account (yay for gaining interest!). Basically, you are married to your roommate. Mazel tov!

STEP 3: Determine what areas you want to live in.
Looking for a place will be much easier if you narrow down the neighborhoods you're considering. This is a very personal decision. You will likely want to consider proximity to your workplace, the price range of the area, the feeling of the neighborhood (safe? clean? crowded? quiet(er)?), distance to nearest subway, etc. Do you want to be in Manhattan? Or the often less pricy boroughs outside: Queens? Brooklyn? My impressions of different neighborhoods follow, but these are just my personal observations:
Of course, you can find randomly expensive or inexpensive apartments in any neighborhood, but generally the most expensive areas are SoHo, West Village, Greenwich Village, Meatpacking District, and Chelsea, followed by Gramercy, Midtown, and any places lining the mid to lower portion of Central Park. Lots of recent college grads live in Murray Hill, Stuyvesant Town (but yuck, don't live there), Turtle Bay, and Kips Bay. The lower east areas--East Village, ABC City, Bowery, and Lower East Side--can have less expensive apartments and tend to have a more hipster, grungy-but-not-necessarily-too-grungy feel. Upper West and Upper East sides have some nice and relatively inexpensive places, but young adults will likely be commuting downtown to go out. I would advise staying away from way uptown (Harlem and higher) and way downtown (Financial District). I'm a Manhattan snob, but I've heard great things about Williamsburg and Flatbush in Brooklyn.

STEP 4: Attempt to find no-fee rentals.
Apartment hunters are often hesitant to hire a broker (aka someone to find apartments for you to see and then organize/present your paperwork to the landlord) because of the broker fee, which can be up to 15% of the yearly rent. If you have the time and patience, I recommend attempting a no-fee search first. This can be done one of two ways. First, you can contact apartment management companies directly to see if they have any vacancies in their buildings. Below is my list of managers I contacted. A few of them had vacancies, but they were all a little pricy.

Your second option is to go to no-fee listings websites. I mostly looked on Craigslist-->All No-Fee Apartments, but here are some other options:

STEP 5: Cry.
...because you have looked at several no-fee apartments only to be disappointed or too late, and your budget is creeping up and up, and your time is running out, and your patience is wearing thin, and you're beginning to lose hope of ever finding a clean place with reasonable rent in a nice neighborhood. Sounds like you're perfectly primed for STEP 6...

STEP 6: Suck it up and get a great broker.
At some point, you may realize that the cost of using a broker is worth the saved time and efforts. If you're going to pay for a broker, make sure you get a great one. I was referenced to one at CitiHabitats, and I've also had friends use AnchorNYC. I would recommend sitting down with the broker for a preliminary meeting in order for him or her to understand your apartment needs and preferences, making the actual apartment visiting appointments more productive. Don't be weirded out when the broker texts you at 11pm saying you must come see a perfect apartment at 10:15am the next morning; they're just doing the dirty work you used to do. While many broker's state a 15% fee, you can often negotiate it down. The broker often gives most of that money to the landlord, so really they're not making an absurd profit. A good broker is one that is more concerned with finding you a great place that making a huge profit. I had one, so I know they're out there!

STEP 2 1/2: Prepare your paperwork.
You're obviously wondering why Step 2 1/2 comes after 6. Either that or you've already closed your browser because you think I don't proofread my posts. I held off on revealing this step because I didn't want to scare you away too soon. The key to finding a great apartment is by being well-prepared. Once you find a place, you're immediately in a highly competitive race to get your completed application to the landlord. Would you show up to a tennis tournament with sneakers but no racket? No. Similarly, don't come into the apartment search without your paperwork. 
Your rental application requires an absurd amount of personal information. I don't just mean your Social Security Number. I'm talking pay stubs, letters of employment, tax returns, bank statements, and previous landlord information. If you can't pay 40x the rent (as most recent college grads can't), you will need a guarantor. This guarantor, aka Mom or Dad, acts like a co-signer, showing he can pay 40x rent. Yes, that does mean double the paperwork. You'll get angry when your parents are crazy enough to think there's a way around this privacy invasion and refuse to hand over their papers. They're not crazy; the search has just turned you into the crazy one. Regardless you need the paperwork and you need it NOW!!!! Have I scared you away yet?

STEP 7: Commit! Now race to the finish line!
You'll know when you walk into THE apartment. From that 5 minute walk-through, you'll need to decide whether you're committing to renting it. Then, you'll immediately have a small window of time during which you can frantically fill out the application (don't forget that each application can cost money if the landlord wants to run a credit check), organize your paperwork, get your broker to write a letter of recommendation, and have them present it to the landlord.
My roommate and I saw our future apartment for the first time at 7pm, got back to the broker's office by 8pm, spent an hour talking to our respective parents, decided to submit an application by 9pm, finished our part by 10pm, and left the broker to finish his part by 11pm. Soon after, the landlord viewed our application, deemed us worthy applicants (after asking for two month's rent as a deposit since we're out-of-towners), and had us sign the lease several days later. Did you catch all that? Or did you blink?

STEP 8: The end. For now.
Congrats! You now have a tiny bit of NYC to call your own. Of course there's still the task of furnishing it by squeezing pieces through insanely tiny door frames...but that advice will come in a future blog post. :)

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Friday, August 3, 2012

NEXT UP: Single Serving Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

You know those nights where you're exhausted from the week, watching Chocolat on a nice comfy couch, and suddenly craving just a quick little dessert to follow your dinner?

Maybe I should've generalized that scenario a bit more, but I'm sure you can relate to the sentiment of wanting a small homemade goodie without having to create a whole batch of sweets.

While it was tempting for me to simply pop a few (probably several) semisweet chocolate chips in my mouth, I decided to give a "single serving chocolate chip cookie" recipe a try. No risk of munching on a dozen cookies? No need for multiple large mixing bowls? No lengthy preparation time? Yeah. I'm in.

I found a recipe online that didn't require eggs. I hate when a small serving recipe asks you to use "1/4 of an egg." If I'm too tired to bake more than one cookie, I'm clearly too drained to meticulously separate a goopy egg. If I'm too frugal to go out and buy a cookie, I'm clearly too cheap to waste 3/4 of an egg. (Those reasons made sense in my head, just pretend they make sense in yours too.)

The cookie was yummy, but it did taste more like a muffin or bread than a cookie. If I did it again, I would use a different recipe, probably one that uses eggs not water (umm disregard rant above?). The texture was not my favorite, but if you're in the mood for a muffiny treat, go for it!

I must've gone a little overboard with the chocolate chips because this baby was oozing chocolate inside. Nommmm.

Who says one is the loneliest number? I say it's the yummiest.

Single Serving Chocolate Chip Cookie

1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp water
1/8 tsp vanilla
1 pinch salt
1 pinch baking soda
1/4 cup flour
1 tbsp flour
1 -2 tablespoon chocolate chips


1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly.
3) Drop dough onto a baking sheet and flatten into cookie shape
4) Bake for 12-13 minutes.
5) Let cool. Enjoy!

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NEXT UP: My July in Photos

Since I last posted, life has been very busy. Getting used to NYC, apartment hunting, and working working working has been taking up most of my time. When I'm not working, I don't necessarily want to jump on my laptop at home, hence the gap in posts.

But I have so much to talk about! This city can be entertaining, exasperating, exhausting, and beautiful (sorry to ruin the alliterative series). So I'll try to get some more blog posts up asap. In the meantime, here's a month-in-photos post. I know I skipped June, but this blog is called "Next Up," not "Looking Back" anyways. :-)

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

NEXT UP: Frugal Living in NYC

Recently I moved from Beantown to the Big Apple. A bean to an apple. I guess that's an upgrade, no?

While NYC is an exciting place to live, it can also be quite expensive. Not only do you pay over $1,000 for an apartment, but that apartment is probably the size of a closet...and it may not even have a closet.

All these new costs mean I'm trying to save up my money. Luckily, I've always been a fairly frugal person. Just thought I'd share a few money-saving moments that have already occurred during my first week here!

1) Be alert to random giveaways. The other day, I noticed the following on my Twitter feed:
Immediately my no-spendy sense starting tingling. "FREE"?? "All day long" aka after I get out of work? Sure enough, Georgetown Cupcake has a location in the city and it was giving away cupcakes until 10 pm! I treated myself to a white chocolate raspberry cupcake without ever opening my wallet. Now to figure out how to make cupcakes free of calories...

2) Be a smart traveler. One ride on the subway is a whopping $2.50. I quickly did the math (shocking for a communications major, I know) and knew that just taking the subway to and from work 5 days a week would add up to over $100 per month. Add in weekend/night excursions, and my wallet starts to have panic attacks. Luckily the 30-day pass costs $105. It feels like a lot to put down, but ultimately, it saves cash and now I never feel guilty when I make an extra stop for groceries, etc on the way home.

3) Avoiding cable costs? No problem! Okay, so not having cable (aka internet and tv) in your apartment is not good. Thank goodness for smartphones. However, if you're procrastinating on buying cable or just waiting for it to be set up, you can always hit up a local cafe for some wonderfully free wi-fi. My friend actually just wrote a hilarious blog post outlining her feelings toward free wi-fi, which you should read. In fact, I am typing this very blog post while sitting in a Starbucks. Which leads me to my last money-saving moment of the week....

4) If you wait for it, a free thing will come. That's probably bad advice, but I couldn't not mention how I just received a free goody without any effort on my part. While blogging away in the wonderful world of free wi-fi (Starbucks), a barista came by with a free sample of the Vanilla Bean Frappucino! She was handing them out to everyone, although I'd like to think she simply sensed my love for all things low-cost. 

So there you go, some frugal moments from my first week in NYC. Have any other Manhattan money-saving tips? Feel free to share them with me!! (See what I did there?)

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Friday, June 1, 2012

NEXT UP: My May in Photos

And just like that, May has come to an end.

Sometimes it seems that the busiest months go by the fastest. A lot happened these past few weeks, but here a few snapshots of what happened during my May:

In case you missed it last month...My April in Photos.

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

NEXT UP: Read "Girls in White Dresses"

Some celebrate the end of school by swearing off reading. Finally, a chance to toss aside the books.

I'm the opposite. A break from school (an indefinite break, I suppose) means I get a chance to read more books for pleasure - books that I can consume in less than two days while sitting on the back porch or flying home or chilling in a bookstore.

Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close is one of those books. I first picked it up at an independent bookstore and spent the next 2 hours reading up to p. 133 right then. Being a frugal fiend, I walked out of the store without purchasing it, vowing to come back the next day. Well, that didn't happen, but my mom was nice enough to pick it up for me when I came home a week later.

The book focuses on a few girl friends who have recently graduated college (like me!) and are pursuing jobs, apartments, and--of course--serious boyfriends. It examines how friendships change post-college, how women are often attracted to the most perfect or most awful men, and how everything seems a little better when you can laugh about it with your girl friends.

What I Liked: Having just graduated college, I could relate to a lot of these issues. Which friends will tie the knot first? Who will end up with the right guy? The wrong guy? How will I survive in a teeny tiny NYC apartment? What tasks will my first job bring? Some of the characters even reminded me of certain friends. It was an easy, enjoyable, light read that I would actually read again for fun.

What I Didn't Like: There are a lot of female characters. I'm not revealing a hidden sexist attitude; I'm revealing that I am bad with names. There were so many girls flitting in and out of story lines that I had a hard time keeping them all straight. That might be partially due to the fact that I took a week-long reading hiatus mid-book, but still.

Should you read it? Yes! Well, if you can relate to it. I'm not sure it's for the men or high school girls out there, but I think college students/grads would get a kick out of it. I finished it in a mere two reading sessions, so it was a quick read.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

NEXT UP: Commencement Address

Three days ago, I graduated from college. 

As they say on Mad Men...isn't that "swell"?

It was a happy, overwhelming occasion, filled with lots of hugs and high fives and only a couple tears. I'm not sure what moments I'll really remember down the line, but I do hope to remember some of the things mentioned by the commencement speaker.

My university had the honor of having Google CEO Eric Schmidt speak at the ceremony. I just want to share some blurbs from his speech that I found particularly interesting. Enjoy!
This generation–your generation–is the first fully connected generation the world has ever known.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up? Right? Check your phone? Your laptop? Read some email, comb through your social networks?
I’m awake, here I am. You are connected, you’re online …
Some of you are probably texting your friends right now. Tweeting this speech. Changing your status. Smile, you’re on camera.
There’s this joke about the college kid getting mugged, who says, “Hold on—let me update my status, letting my friends know I’m getting mugged, then you can have my phone.” That didn’t happen, but it’s also telling — a stark depiction of just how essential technology has become to your generation’s identity and your ability to connect with the world.
Remember to take at least one hour a day and turn that thing off. Do the math, 1/24th. Go dark. Shut it down. Learn where the OFF button is.
Take your eyes off the screen, and look into the eyes of the that person you love.
Have a conversation–a real conversation–with the friends who make you think, with the family who makes you laugh.
Don’t just push a button saying I “Like” something. Actually tell them. What a concept!
Engage with the world around you … feel … and taste … and smell … and hug what’s there, right in front of you–not what’s a click away.
Life is not lived in the glow of a monitor. Life is not a series of status updates. Life is not about your friend count–it’s about the friends you can count on.
Life is about who you love, how you live, it’s about who you travel through the world with. Your family, your collaborators, your friends. Life is a social experience first, and the best aspects of that experience are not lonely ones–they are spent in the company of others.
Find a way to say “Yes” to things.
Say yes to invitations to a new country, say yes to meet new friends, say yes to learning a new language, picking up a new sport .
Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job.
Yes is how you find your spouse, and even your kids.
Even if is a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means that you will do something new, meet someone new, and make a difference in your life–and likely in others’ lives as well.
Yes lets you stand out in a crowd, to be the optimist, to stay positive, to be the one everyone comes to for help, for advice, or just for fun. Yes is what keeps us all young.
Yes is a tiny word that can do big things.
Say it often.
His full speech can be found here.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

NEXT UP: College Thank You Notes

As my college graduation approaches at a terrifying speed, I would be remiss not to make some public thank you announcements. Of course, the most important thank you goes to my parents and other family members for being incredibly loving and supportive. But here are some thank you letters to those less-often recognized things that helped shape my college career:

Dear Single Serving Mac & Cheese Microwave Bowls and ABJ Sandwiches.
   Thank you Mac & Cheese for always being there freshman and sophomore year fter a late night out. You were easy to prepare in my dorm room, and always a satisfying way to end my night. Thank you Almond Butter & Jelly Sandwiches for becoming my new late-night, quick-fix meal junior and senior year, when my palette obviously became more sophisticated.

Dear Freshman Year Room Location,
   Thank you so much for being located directly across from my floor's common room. It was so easy to hear when people were hanging out there. I stayed up late many nights when a quick glance through my door's peep hole confirmed that I could go hang out with my floormates chilling in the common area. It made for many late nights and procrastination feats, but it also made for great bonding sessions with my now best friends.

Dear Policeman Who Pulled Me Over in the Boondocks of Virginia,
   Thank you for pulling me over when I was driving home from visiting UVA during a break my first semester of college. I was feeling unsure about my decision to go to school in Boston instead of at a Virginia school with my hometown friends. This visit to see my friend was to help me decide if I should transfer to UVA. On the drive home, you pulled me over for staying too long in the passing lane (seriously?) and commented on my BU sticker, saying you were a BU alumni. I don't know how you became a sheriff in VA post-grad, but it sure seemed like a sign at the time.

Dear Housing Committee,
   Thank you for stressing me out about my freshman year housing. Merely two weeks before moving to college, you still had not given me my housing assignment. I pleaded and begged to be put in a certain popular dorm building, and you finally placed me on 8A. I met most of my college best friends on that floor. I'm proud to don "8A" on my graduation cap.

Dear Maluken Karaoke Sushi Restaurant,
   Thank you for always being the perfect go-to restaurant when my friends and I wanted to eat out. I have yet to see karaoke ever occur in your space, but I don't doubt it exists. Thank you for all the cheap miso soups, salads drowning in dressing, and California Rolls. I celebrated friends' birthdays here, ended semesters here, and bonded with roommates here. I don't care what Yelp says, you're a gem.

Dear Mass Ave Bridge,
   Thank you for providing a path for countless runs and contemplative walks in Boston. Thank you for connecting me to MIT, where I was able to ease homesickness by hanging out with my one hometown friend who also came to Boston for school. Thank you for providing breathtaking views of this beautiful city. Oh, and thank you for helping my dad walk to class every day when he went to school up here too.

Dear Hand-Holders, Heart-breakers, Former Friends, and Lifelong Friends,
   Thank you for making me laugh when I was stressed. Thank you for making me cry when I was hurt. Thank you for teaching me who and what makes me be a better person. Thank you for making me think about the kind of friend/daughter/girlfriend I can be. I don't care that some of these points sound bad; they all made me the person I am today, and for that, I am so grateful. Live and learn.

Dear Facebook,
   Thank you for making it easy to stay in touch with friends from home, look up people I met during class/parties/activities, procrastinate on papers, put off studying, and find stupid viral videos. You came along at such a great time. Now time to delete all photos from my college experience off my Facebook Page. (Just kidding!)
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Friday, May 11, 2012

NEXT UP: Pleasing my Palette at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I frequently take time to enjoy the artwork at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, but I had never taken a moment to experience the museum's culinary offerings.

That recently changed when I stopped for a bite at the American Cafe. The green tea with mint was perfect, the food hit the spot, but my favorite part? The presentation. Recognize the shape of the plate?

My order was appropriately served on a plate shaped like an artist's palette! Cute, right? I wasn't too hungry, so I opted for a tasting plate of olives, cheese, etc. It came with small bits of dipping sauce and honey as well. I didn't finish the food, so the waiter asked if I wanted to take it to go. I said, "The food or the plate? Because I'll definitely take the plate!" You know me, always a waiter's favorite funny customer. :)

There were several appealing options on the menu. I'm not sure of the next time I'll have a chance to go, so could someone check the other dishes out for me? Excellent. Oh, and bonus points if you can convince the waiter to let you keep the plate.

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NEXT UP: Chocolate & Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

Plans change.

One moment you're planning to make tacos for dinner, the next you realize someone used the rest of your taco mix (poor Hannah).

One moment you're staying in to write a paper, the next you're accepting last minute tickets to go see a movie (not that I did that...).

The same thing happens with baking all the time. Often, I'll go to the grocery store to pick up ingredients for one recipe, then find a neat ingredient that inspires me to make something else. That was the case with these Chocolate & Peanut Butter Chip Cookies.

When sending a care package to my boyfriend, I planned to include Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies. However, while perusing the baking aisle at the store, I spotted a pre-mixed bag of peanut butter and milk chocolate chips. How fun!


I immediately tossed this bag of heavenly goodness into my basket. (The only time I am an impulse shopper is when it comes to baking goods.) I basically followed the Nestle Toll House recipe on the back of the bag to yield a few batches of Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chip Cookies.

At first, I was worried I removed the hot cookies too early. They were very soft and still rather wet in the center. However, they cooled perfectly, ending up as not-too-flat, crispy-edged, gooey-centered chocolate chip cookies with a peanut butter surprise.

I planned to eat just a couple of these and send most of them to my boyfriend.

But like I said....plans change.

Chocolate & Peanut Butter Chip Cookies
Adapted from the Nestle Toll House Recipe
(This is my halved-version of the recipe - I didn't want too many cookies!)

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup Peanut Butter & Milk Chocolate Morsels

1) Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

2) In a separate bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat egg into the mixture.

3) Gradually stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture.

4) Stir in the morsels.

5) Optional but recommended: Chill dough in the fridge for at least a couple hours.

6) Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a baking sheet. Bake in 375 degree F oven for 9-11 minutes. Remove, cool, and enjoy!

Makes 30 cookies.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

NEXT UP: Instagrams of my College Hot Spots

I know I'm super late for jumping on the Instagram bandwagon. But I'm on it and loving it!

I decided to take a study break by enjoying a long walk around Boston today, and I figured it was a perfect opportunity to snap photos. I'm leaving college soon, so I want to remember all the places that were special to me these past four years.

Enter Instagram. I went to town snapping edited photos of my beloved city. Man, I'm gonna miss this place. See below for photo descriptions...

From left to right, starting with the first row:
1. Center of campus
2. College of Communication - my school!
3. The T: Gotta love to hate it...mostly hate it
4. The Citgo sign, serving as my GPS since 2008
5. Malukens Sushi, my friends and my go-to dinner place (never was there for karaoke though)
6. Yawkey Way during a Red Sox game
7. Dad's old frat and the go-to place for parties freshman year
8. Dunkin' Donuts: the definition of Boston
9. Brookline Booksmith, the most wonderful bookstore in the world
10. Coolidge Corner
11. Bay State Road in the springtime
12. The walk to class

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

NEXT UP: White Chocolate Mocha Cookies

I am in a total glass case of emotion right now. Usually I'm fairly stressed at the end of the semester. Those last couple weeks are filled with too-long papers, dreaded tests, and time-consuming group projects.

But instead of being worried and counting down the minutes until the semester ends, I have mixed feelings. This is my last finals period as an undergrad. I am looking forward to finishing exams but I do not want to say goodbye to college. While I have a ton to look forward to after I toss my grad cap in the air, the end is bittersweet.

So...let's focus on the sweet part: sweets to enjoy while you're powering through those late night cram sessions. For current and past college students, you know that sleep becomes a distant memory during study time. Therefore, these coffee-infused White Chocolate Mocha Cookies are the perfect fuel for the occasion.

Personally, I'm not a coffee drinker. I enjoy a caramel frap from Starbucks on occasion, but that's about it. While I enjoyed these cookies, I didn't love them. However, my coffee-guzzling roommate gave them two thumbs up. Well, just one. The other thumb was too busy holding another cookie to eat.

White Chocolate Mocha Cookies

1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

1) Preheat oven to 375°F.

2) In a large bowl, mix the flour, coffee granules, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. 

3) In a separate bowl, beat the butter until fluffy.

4) Mix the granulated sugar and brown sugar into the butter. 

5) Add egg and beat into the mixture. Stir in the vanilla.

6) Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until just incorporated.

7) Gently stir in the semisweet chips and white chocolate chips.

8) Optional but recommended: Chill covered dough in the fridge for at least a few hours.

9) Roll dough into tablespoon-sized balls and place on baking sheet. Bake for 9-10 minutes. 

10) Remove cookies and let cool, then enjoy!

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

NEXT UP: How to Graduate with a Job

Lately, I've been seeing tons of news clips about students graduating with overwhelming debt. This financial issue has made students feel more pressured than ever to graduate college with a paying job in hand.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have secured my job with a month to go before graduation--especially a job that I am SO excited about. However, it was not handed to me. Besides gaining internship experience and exploring different industries as a student, I owe my success to a ton of hard work. I learned a lot along the way, and I hope I can help others by providing my tips for getting set with the job you want before you even graduate college:

1) Start early. You're graduating in May? Well, news flash: March/April is not the time to start looking. You might protest that many companies only post jobs that require immediate hires. That is not an excuse to procrastinate on your job search. Start reaching out to the company early and you'll be at the top of the list of candidates when a timely job does open up. If you are truly interested in a certain employer, reach out early to familiarize yourself with their work, people, job openings, and application process.


2) Connect, connect, connect! I don't mean simply relying on connections; you have to have solid academic knowledge and work experiences to be a good candidate. But you should also consider if you have any alumni or acquaintances at companies of interest who would be willing to talk about opportunities with you. LinkedIn can help you search. Make the introduction through a kind email. Even if you just contact connections for advice, they usually appreciate the effort and will remember you when a job opening does roll around. Just remember to follow up with a thank you note! At the least, you'll learn about the industry you're hoping to join.

3) Own a Piece of the World Wide Web. Employers are likely to google your name to find out more about you. Don't you want some say in what they see? Create a landing page for your name so you can show your best self in search engines. I used the host to post my bio, resume, internship work, writing samples, design projects, and contact info. I would even recommend spending the few dollars to buy your URL so you can have an easy-to-find, professional-looking page (ie: Include the URL on the top of your resume, on your LinkedIn page, and in your Twitter bio. Speaking of Twitter...


4) Twitter is your new best friend. For all you Twitter skeptics out there, swallow your pride and start tweeting! Twitter is an amazing way to connect with companies, learn about job openings, and make yourself a desirable job candidate. Companies often post job openings or search for people talking about them. A little Tweet can go a long way.


5) Creep, just a little. I'm not talking standing-outside-the-HR-person's-office creeping. I'm talking being aware of a company's latest news in order to have talking points with the employers. My trick: create a Google Alert for the company name. These alerts can be sent to your mailbox or your Google Reader. When you're alerted to something really interesting about the company, you can mention it to your connection, in a cover letter, or in a Tweet.

6) Narrow down your list of companies. If you blindly send a cover letter to dozens of companies, it's unlikely that your approach comes off as sincere and tailored to the employer. Decide which companies you're truly passion about. Focus on a few companies at a time so you can really understand their culture and work. I was exploring job opportunities at 15 companies, went after seven or eight in the end, and was able to create genuine relationships with three or four of them.


7) Spreadsheets are your friends. Spend less time organizing your closet of interview clothes and more time organizing your job prospects. I found it very helpful to create a spreadsheet with the following headings: Company, Position, Application (how to apply, application due date), Status (of my application/interview process/relationship with the company), and Contacts (people I have connected with at the company and when). It will keep you from missing deadlines or losing track of your progress.

One last thing: don't panic. Sure, it feels amazing to know you have post-grad job plans when you are being handed your diploma. However, it's not the end of the world to still be searching after you graduate. As long as you start your search early and follow the above tips, you won't walk out of the classroom feeling lost and hopeless. It works out. Really, it does. Try not to think of it as a terrifying, arduous process, but rather as an exciting step in pursuing your passions.

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Monday, April 30, 2012

NEXT UP: My April in Photos

The fabulous blogger Jess at Forgiving Martha recently created a post showcasing several photos from April. Isn't that a great way to summarize the happenings of this past month before moving onto a new one? Thus, I present: My April in Photos.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

NEXT UP: Snickers-Stuffed PB Cookies

I used to dislike Snickers candy bars. As a fan of Milky Way bars, I didn't understand why someone had to ruin the nougat and caramel filling with a layer of peanuts.

Oh, I also used to dislike peanuts in my sweets.

Now that I have a more sophisticated, adult palette, I enjoy Snickers. But I think I have discovered an even better way to enjoy this candy bar: INSIDE A COOKIE. Genius? Or genius?

This recipe involves taking a basic peanut butter cookie recipe, flattening the dough balls, and then wrapping them around a mini Snickers bar.

Check out that TECHNIQUE.

The result is a chewy, peanutty cookie with a surprise of chocolate, caramel, nougat, and peanuts tucked inside.

Give them a try and let me know how you think they stack up.

Snickers-Stuffed Peanut Butter Cookies
Slightly adapted from Key Ingredient

18 Snickers Mini Candies
1 stick softened butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Mix butter, peanut butter, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar.

2. Add the egg and vanilla until thoroughly combined.

3. Stir in the flour, salt, and baking soda.

4. Optional but recommended: chill dough in the fridge for at least a few hours (overnight is best!)

5. Remove dough from fridge and let it warm up on the counter for 30 minutes.

6. Roll dough into rounded tablespoon-sized balls. Flatten.

7. Place a mini Snickers into the center of the flattened dough balls. Form the dough around the snickers to cover it.

8. Bake at 325 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Slightly flatten hot cookies with spatula if they are too rounded.

9. Let cool and enjoy!

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