January 1 – New Year’s Day with Hunter and his family. Made dim sum. And homemade pasta.
January 2 – 21st birthday in Minneapolis, Chicago, Canton, and Ann Arbor.
January 3 – Packing all day. Craftsmas. Finalizing apartment viewing appointments.
January 4 – Drove to Chicago. Viewed a few apartments, and signed a lease on one that I absolutely LOVE.
January 5 – Design apartment interior, and hit up IKEA to buy furnishings (hello home delivery option).
January 6 – First day at new job!!
January 7 – Move in to my new apartment. Start unpacking my things…
January 8 – Set up furniture? A million grocery runs to stock my pantry.

It’s a hectic, hectic time. But so exciting and full of new opportunities and experiences and I’m back in this city that I love and have a place that I already love and a job that I (hopefully will) love, and… Happy 2014!

birthday dinner
(1) escargot
(2) house salad, shallot vinaigrette
(3) “blue plate special” with crab cake, stuffed flounder, baked oyster, skewer of shrimp and scallops, and veggie medley
(4) crème brûlée!

First legal drink? A deliciously light pinot gris that went very nicely with all the seafood. Happy 21!

First things first. It’s the most wonderful time of the year – HAPPY ALMOST CHRISTMAS EVE!!! I’m so excited for Christmas, for spending the afternoon in the kitchen with my dad tomorrow (a rarity!), for having a Christmas Eve dinner with the cousins (in a Chinese restaurant, of course), for giving and receiving presents, for visiting Hunter in Minneapolis, for my birthday(!), and for the beginning of a new year in the best city with a new job and new and old friends alike. My best holiday wishes to EVERYONE!

Anyways. Butterbeer. So my gifts for my dad this year (he apparently doesn’t know this website exists yet and I hope this does not change until after he gets his presents…) are sort of U.K. themed:

  1. He’s discovered within the past year or so that not only does he have some Scottish blood in his family tree, but that he qualifies as belonging to a Scottish clan. Specifically, Clan MacLean. More specifically, the Maclaines of Lochbuie. Honestly, this stuff mostly just goes over my head, but then I visited Edinburgh while I was in Europe, and knew I had to ask around about this clan. Ended up finding a tartan in his clan colors. Picked that up.
  2. Also found a drink coaster in his clan colors. Also picked it up. Small things, but okay I haven’t started earning that big money yet so.
  3. He’s also getting a British royal guard stuffed bear to add to his pretty impressive (the oldest bear is around 25 years old now) collection. It’s so cute!
  4. Last but not least… had to do something DIY! Well, Harry Potter. Very British. Very U.K. Thinking of Harry Potter, naturally I would think of making homemade butterbeer! Frothy, cold, creamy, and delicious, this drink always sounded so appealing in the books… There isn’t an official recipe out there, but I kind of combined a couple of the ones I found online to create this version. This one’s non-alcoholic – essentially just a super sweet/creamy soda drink – but with some special touches. (Make it adult with a shot of bourbon.) Can’t wait to drink up a frosted mug of this stuff on Christmas day!

butterbeer

how to make your own butterbeer

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1/2 packed cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3/8 cup milk
  • pinch of salt
  • splash vanilla
  • vanilla ice cream (I chose Graeter’s)
  • cream soda (the only one I could find was Jones soda)

  • First, make butterscotch sauce! Combine butter, brown sugar, cream, milk and salt in a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat. Stir frequently and let it gently simmer for 7-9 minutes. It should turn a darker color and thicken slightly. Take off heat, stir in vanilla, and let the mixture cool.

    To serve, scoop vanilla ice cream into a beer mug. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of homemade butterscotch over the ice cream, and pour in cream soda to fill the mug. The result – butterbeer! It’ll even have the sweet and foamy head. Bottoms up!

    In the past sixteen months, I have been to sixteen different cities in twelve different countries. Paris, Naples, Rome, Florence, Venice, Vienna, Berlin, Chicago, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Prague, Paris again, London, Madrid, Edinburgh, and Budapest. I graduated a year early and instead of jumping into a full-time job right away, I did a three-month “fun” internship, then skipped across the pond to go live abroad for three months. With my long-term boyfriend, who’s currently enrolled in a two-year international Master’s program in the neurosciences before heading to medical school this coming fall.

    I had a wonderful, wonderful time in Europe. I learned how to cook (actually cook), can now run farther than I have before, received memorable old-person-to-young-person life advice at one of my volunteering activities, talked to people and learned their stories, ate crepes and macarons and baguettes in Paris, goulash and beer in Prague, waffles in Belgium, pizza and pasta in Naples and Rome, biked the canals of Amsterdam, explored castles, drank gluhwein at Christmas markets, took long walks in beautiful parks, and marveled every day at how wonderful this world we live in is.

    I am so young, and this opportunity presented itself to me at a point in my life when I still had no real responsibilities – twenty years old, no full-time job that I couldn’t leave, no family/kids – and I followed my heart and leapt. And now that I’m back, I’m ready to commit myself to my job, my career, and focus on my professional growth.

    I’m not on the fast track. I think I probably missed that entrance when I chose to frolic around the world instead. But that’s okay; I’m in no rush. I think of my friends. So very many people I know are in the thick of pursuing wonderful, admirable careers – in law, medicine, business – all very important for making this world a better place to live in.

    But it’s art, beauty, love, the abstract and impossible to describe things in life that touch us in ways we don’t necessary understand. These are the things that we live for. I’m going slow and taking my time through this life. I never want to miss these things if I can help it. It means though, that I don’t have a solid plan just yet. No life trajectory with step-by-step short term goals to get me there. I don’t know exactly what lays of ahead of me. And it’s exciting. I’m excited.

    Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 7.12.21 PM

    THINK: For any kind of campaign, the first step is to plan – research, gather insights, brainstorm, strategize. Keep the goal in mind. Are you trying to teach? Create conversions? Strengthen bondss?
    CREATE: Build assets – traditional and digital. What kinds of things will be seen? Websites, mobile apps, videos, grassroots campaigning, product samplings, etc.
    ENGAGE: Drive traffic to those assets to make sure they are seen! Create relationships through various channels to connect with consumers.
    OPTIMIZE: Constantly evaluate the effectiveness of the various strategies in use. How are consumers responding in qualitative and quantitative terms? Use website analytics to measure how digital marketing tactics are working. Gather insights to improve campaign strategies.

    I haven’t posted anything in nearly a week. What have I been doing instead?

    1. Took a trip to Budapest while Hunter was in the states for more med school interviews (this time at Harvard! Johns Hopkins! Feinberg! he’s good at life) – thoroughly enjoyed the Turkish thermal baths, tried Hungarian Palinka and of course a huge amount of delicious goulash, was stunned by the gorgeous views of the Danube, and all around had a great time.
    2. Packed, unpacked, and packed again. Budapest was the last of my European travels. I head back to the United States on Thursday…
    3. Was sad and moped around about the fact that I’m leaving Amsterdam, Europe, and Hunter on Thursday.
    4. Re-watched Harry Potter movies along with said moping.
    5. Made chicken/rice/veggie soup at 2am tonight.
    6. Wrote this mini-post at 3am.

    Hunter and I had an amazing time in Scotland last weekend; I had no idea Edinburgh was going to be so beautiful! Silly me. Home to Adam Smith, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and of course, J.K. Rowling, Edinburgh was every bit as charming as I could have hoped for. Medieval castles, a palace, and craggy moors. Stunning views. Between the two of us, we captured 400+ photos for the weekend trip. Here’s a peak at some of them.

    eggnog

    One of my absolute favorite things about the holiday season… is EGGNOG. I’m crazy about the stuff. Of course it’s got the creamy-and-delicious thing going for it, but I think part of its massive appeal for me is that it’s only around once a year. My dad and I started a tradition, probably around a decade ago, of having our first glass of eggnog together on Thanksgiving day. We’ve tried many different kinds and brands of eggnog through the years, but always come back to our good old local Guernsey Farms ‘nog. Indisputably the best ;). We buy a carton of the stuff, it sits so very tantalizingly unopened in the fridge until Thanksgiving, we pour our first glasses, and then slowly (or maybe not so slowly) finish the carton over the next few weeks (or days). And then cry because we’re out. (Some years, my dad sneakily replaces the first empty carton with a new one.)

    Since it’s so important for me to get my yearly dose of eggnog, Hunter had the great idea of making some of our own! At first I was like, making eggnog? Is that even possible? But yes. It is possible. It is very possible, and it is so delicious. We more or less followed Alton Brown’s recipe; Hunter and I are both a fan of his quirky Good Eats show on Food Network, so we trusted that this would be a good one. Beat egg yolks, beat in sugar, add a good amount of cream, milk, and nutmeg (we skipped the bourbon), and then fold in whipped/stiff egg whites. We don’t have a stand mixer, so I did all the beating by hand. What an effort! Worth it.

    The eggnog was soo creamy and good. And it tasted like eggnog as I know it and it was everything I wanted. Although, I think it was perhaps a little bit too creamy, and maybe not as thick as I usually like it. The next time I try this recipe, I’ll cut out some of the cream, maybe add in another egg yolk, and serve my eggnog freshly made. I let my batch sit and chill in the fridge for a while, and it ended up losing a lot of its volume and probably thickness as the egg whites deflated… or something. Nonetheless, I would say that my first homemade eggnog was a big success! And I was so happy to have gotten my ‘nog fix in.

    (We may have been a bit impatient though, and had our first glasses the night before Thanksgiving… oops.)

    december2013wallpaper

    Happy December! If you’re like me, you’re just about waking up from a Thanksgiving food/coma and are getting ready to full on celebrate the upcoming holidays! I usually get really excited about the prospect of holiday decorations – it’s all just so festive and happy – but in our little Amsterdam apartment this year, there’s not too much room to go all out. So in lieu of trees and garlands and ornaments and holly and mistletoe… I made something small to help add a little holiday cheer to my everyday – this festive desktop wallpaper! It’s clean and clutter-free, and I am seriously loving the red.

    Want to match me? Click here for a free download.

    This post is a bit overdue, especially considering Hunter and I accidentally celebrated our Thanksgiving one week early this year… but LOOKIE LOOKIE at all the yummy foods we made! Leftovers for days. Happy tummies. As you know from this post, this was my first Thanksgiving that I didn’t celebrate with my parents in the home I grew up in surrounded by the normal crowd. This year, it was up to Hunter and I, in our cozy little nest, to make up what would end up to be a really special Thanksgiving dinner together. Check it out.

    -

    photo 1First up, the main event – our turkey! Obtaining the bird was hard enough, since Amsterdam doesn’t celebrate America’s Thanksgiving, of course. As a Dutch butcher explained to us the day before our dinner, turkeys generally aren’t sold until later in December when people buy them for Christmas. “They need time to grow up”. As you may or may not know by now, we don’t have an oven in our little Amsterdam apartment, so preparing a turkey the traditional way wasn’t really an option. Good thing Hunter is a chef-y genius and had a backup plan from when he made his Thanksgiving meal last year (again, without an oven)! Turkey cooked in a pot. First, we laid the bottom of our pot with sauteed carrots, onions, and celery (the holy trinity), and some white wine. Then, the turkey was cut up, the pieces browned in a pan, and then laid on top of our fragrant base in the pot. We covered the pan and let it cook on low heat for a couple of hours. “Browning then saute on mirepoix. How classically French.”

    photo 2Another big production was making the stuffing. Stuffing is a must for the Thanksgiving dinners that I know, but Hunter’s family never made it! I insisted that our meal wouldn’t be complete without it, and so we looked up a bunch of stuffing recipes until we were inspired by the flavors enough to mashup some of the recipe ideas. We ended up with a stuffing made of bread, sausage, apple, onion, dried cranberry, celery, pecan, mushroom, parsley, butter, and homemade chicken stock. Like I said, quite the production. I had a lot of fun with the work that I did for it though, and it ended up being absolutely delicious with a great mix of flavors and textures. Plus, we made a HUGE amount of it and the leftovers were really pleasing. Needless to say, Hunter has agreed that stuffing is now going to be a must in all his future Thanksgivings!

    photo 3Garlic mashed potatoes are, of course, classic Thanksgiving food. We made ours simply by boiling skinned potatoes in our rice cooker/vegetable steamer….. (hey, we only have two burners on our stove, and had a lot of food to make). We smashed the boiled potatoes until they were a good consistency – mashed potato-y but still with chunky bits – with cream, butter, and plenty of sauteed garlic. Not skipping out on any of the fat here. They were delicious. We meant to stir in some freshly chopped parsley before serving, but forgot. Ah well, more parsley for our leftover potatoes.

    photo 4Sweet potatoes, made extra sweet. They were cooked up, again, in our steamer, then thrown in a pan to combine with all sorts of fun spices and things- brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and butter. But what made this dish extra fun was the homemade caramel sauce that Hunter whipped up for them. You’d think that as a baker, I would have at some point made my own caramel sauce, but to be honest it intimidates me a little. Not sure why, really, maybe because it’s so easy to burn. Well, Hunter’s caramel sauce was fantastic, and tasted really good drizzled over the diced sweet potato mixture.

    photo 5With all the heavy foods, some greens were necessary. Our green beans were steamed, then tossed with lemon juice, sauteed garlic, and sliced almonds. Our brussels sprouts were also steamed, then thrown into a pan to cook with crisped bacon, some brown sugar, and a syrupy balsamic reduction. Okay so maybe they weren’t the healthiest veggie dishes in the world, but whatever, Thanksgiving.

    photo 6Freshly made cranberry sauce! We were sure that we weren’t going to be able to find fresh cranberries in Amsterdam, but to our great surprise and delight, we happened to stumble upon a little produce shop that had a few bags of cranberries laid out while taking a walk. It was serendipitous. We simply cooked down the cranberries in a pan with lemon juice, sugar, and some water until it was the right consistency. So good! And perfect to eat with the turkey.

    photo 7Lastly, a simple gravy was made from our turkey drippings. And! Spiced apple “cider” with cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg :). All-in-all, a lot of work, but an even bigger reward. All the food was fantastic, and I was so so happy with each big mouthful that I took. Everything tasted phenomenal even as the food mixed together on my plate (Thanksgiving plates, always so big and full), but that’s the magic of Thanksgiving food. Bites of turkey + mashed potatoes + stuffing + cranberry sauce = good. Bites of green beans + sweet potatoes + stuffing = good. Pretty much any combination = good. A wonderful meal, a wonderful time in the kitchen, and a wonderful first holiday spent with Hunter!