Breakfast in a Basket

Breakfast might be my favorite meal of the day: eggs, toast, fruit, hash browns, bagels – I’ll eat it all! Okay not really, but there is nothing I love more than a big, filling breakfast, especially if it follows a tough workout or a long run. After a nice morning of sleeping in, I did this new workout called the “One Hundred”: 100 jumping jacks, 90 crunches, 80 squats, 70 leg lifts, 60 jumping jacks, 50 crunches, 40 squats, 30 leg lifts, 20 jumping jacks, then 10 minutes of running. In the sticky heat, on a hot tennis court under the sun, I could feel myself burning, but pushed through the pain and sweat. Yeah that’s right, I am a champ. The best part was yet to come: breakfast!

The sign of a good breakfast is an empty plate.

I decided to try making “eggs in a basket”, because it seemed to take a lot of the hassle out of making an eggs-and-toast breakfast. Normally, I make eggs, then make toast, and then dip the toast in the yolk. But because “eggs in a basket” puts your eggs INSIDE the toast, it combines all the deliciousness of a breakfast classic into one simple, streamlined, efficient breakfast plate!

Mmmmm.

Ingredients (Makes two)

2 eggs

2 slices of whole wheat bread

2 slices of cheese (optional)

butter or Pam for the pan

salt, pepper to taste

Hellloooo breakfast

Process

1. Grease up that pan, start heat on low

2. Using a knife, cut a large circle out of each slice of bread, then lightly butter each side

3. Place in the pan, and let one side get light brown, then flip over

4. Crack the egg inside the hole in the bread so that you have literally, an egg in a piece of bread, and let it cook for a few minutes until it’s firm but not completely cooked

5. Very carefully flip over, trying your best not to break the yolk, or let cook for sunny side up eggs

6. Melt some cheese on top, if you want. Pepperjack would be good with this! I used swiss and it came out great.

7. Place on plate

The perfect eggs in a basket will still have a runny yolk but be crisp on the outside!

See, easy! And delicious, especially with a cup of coffe 🙂

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Mexican Omelet

Okay so it’s not really that Mexican, but I needed a snazzy title for this impromptu recipe that I made for dinner tonight. I am now in Centre Island Village, on Long Island, in the state of New York. What you may not understand about this is that Centre Island is truly a village – there is 1 road, and no grocery stores or restaurants or anything. Just really big, massive estates and their respective driveways. It is beautiful, but as I am incidentally without a car due to, ahem, complications, I had to be crafty as far as food. I also had to be sparing, since I am staying in someone else’s house and thus at their mercy for ingredients. I thought I was a goner when I opened the fridge, but upon careful investigation I realized that I had just enough to work with. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s true: this is one of the best meals I’ve made myself, and it was totally impromptu!

The most delicious omelet. Ever.

Ingredients

4 eggs (you probably don’t need 4, 2-3 would work, but as I was winging it I went for more just in case)

1 avocado, sliced

a few spoonfuls of cream cheese (I like a lot, but tailor it to your own preferences)

salt and pepper

a bit of butter

salsa (I used Tostito’s Chutney salsa, but anything would work)

De.Lish.Iss.

Process

In a bowl, combine the eggs and salt/pepper and whisk using a fork (I prefer more pepper and a little salt). Heat the skillet on the stove on medium, and melt about a spoonful of butter evenly in the bottom. When it’s warmed up, pour the egg into the skillet and let it become firm-ish and a little golden around the edges. I am not the perfect omelet-cook, but this method worked for me. If you have a better way of making the omelet go for it – I am not an expert! When it has reached this point, flip it over carefully (tricky, I assure you). Place the avocados in the center (kind of in a line down the middle), and then some dollops of cream cheese on top. Don’t let it melt too much! Fold over each side of the omelet into the middle and press down over the avocado/cream cheese. Hold the spatula down on top of the folded part to make sure it sticks, just for a few seconds or until you are sure it’s held. When ready, remove and place on plate. Add salsa on top of the omelet, and enjoy!

Mmmmmm. I'll be making this again.

This was amazing, especially since I was enjoying it while looking out over beautiful Oyster Bay. A gorgeous day, and another gorgeous meal!

The salsa adds the perfect amount of spice, which is offset deliciously by the cream cheese. Ah. Maze.Ing.

The Perfect Summer Appetizer

Fresh tomatoes call for a light summer dish that lets you enjoy their full flavor without cooking, dicing, or squeezing. Luckily, I have your solution. Caprese salad is an Italian dish that uses buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes to create one of the most perfectly light, delicious, and simple recipes that is also colorful and looks great on a dish.

I have the Italian side of the family to thank for this one.

Ingredients 

**The amount of each ingredient depends how many people you serve. Best to do it impromptu and use your judgement!

1-2 ball of buffalo mozzarella

1-3 tomatoes

olive oil

fresh basil

salt

optional: balsamic vinegar

Mmm. I want some.

Process

First, slice tomatoes into perfect round circles and lay on a plate. I prefer thinly sliced, but use your own preferences and slice to a desired thickness. Then slice rounds of buffalo mozzarella and place on top of the slices of tomato. Add a little bit of freshly chopped basil to each mozzarella/tomato, then douse the entire plate evenly in olive oil. Add desired amount of salt, and if you prefer, a bit of balsamic vinegar.

Dee-lish.

A great variation of this for large parties was something I frequently did in Paris. I sliced tomatoes to a size that would fit on a toothpick, and used buffalo mozzarella mini-balls (they sell packs of them at the grocery store). Using two large cups, I first put the mini mozzarella balls in one, along with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar combination (and a little salt) as well as basil flakes. I then poured them back and forth in between the two cups (kind of like how a bartender would make a mixed drink), until they were fully covered in the combination. I did this with the tomato slices as well, and then on each toothpick put one or two tomato slices and a mozzarella ball. I served them in little dishes after sprinkling a little more salt over all the toothpicks for taste. They were a huge hit, though a bit time consuming.

Mom digging in.

This is one of my favorite foods of all time, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Lovely Lemon Cupcakes

These are the perfect summer treat: light, lemony, and delicious. As much as I love frosting, sometimes it’s too much. So this time, I stepped slowly away from the cream cheese and butter and sugary deliciousness in favor of a more summer-friendly recipe suggested by my mom. After a few hiccups in the process, we figured it out and it’s ready to share!

The perfect summer treat

Ingredients

white cake mix (Duncan Hines/Betty Crocker are good, or make your own)

lemon custard (we made ours with lemon pudding, but the canned stuff works best)

confectioner’s sugar

flour sifter

Process

Delicious!

First, bake your cupcakes, and let them cool

Turning the cupcakes over sideways in the pan helps them cool all the way through. Tip courtesy of Mom!

In the meantime, make lemon pudding or remove lemon custard from can and stir around so it’s not all can-y. Then, when the cupcakes have cooled, use a serraded knife to cut a small cone shape out of each cupcake. The circles should be the center of each cupcake, not too wide or deep, but also not too shallow. It takes a little practice, but you’ll get it.

It took me a while to get the right size, but when in doubt go small - you can always cut more out.

Setting the cone aside momentarily, fill each hole with the lemon pudding or custard. The hole should be full, but not to the brim – you don’t want it to overflow too much. Fill almost to the top and you should be good.

Aah, don't you just want to eat it up!?

Next, place the cone on top, using the pudding to hold it in like a little hat. Tilt it a little sideways. Then, put a bunch of confectioner’s sugar in the flour sifter and start making it snow over all the cupcakes – they will look like little snow-covered lemon drops! Use as much confectioner’s sugar as desired.

Handy dandy flour sifter.
I love lemon.

DIG IN!

Nom nom nom.

True story: my sister accidentally took pictures of these (they were in the background of other photos), and when she posted them on Facebook, someone commented “Those cupcakes are from White’s Bakery!” (a very renowned bakery in our town and the surrounding area). Psyyych – my sister had to politely correct her friend and say that her cool older sister made them 🙂

A good snack for an afternoon tea party under the sun.

Easy, right? And so delicious. They don’t last as long as regular cupcakes because of the pudding or custard, but they would be great for a party or afternoon gathering in the summer – and, like red velvet and cream cheese cupcakes seem to go magically with a cup of coffee, I can picture these babies tasting delectable with a hot cup of tea!

6 Simple, Effective Ways to Survive Finals

If I could, I would go home for finals: let my mom cook me dinner every night, study at our big granite counter and let the sun pour in from the windows, all while listening to the Red Sox game from a reasonable distance. Unfortunately, that’s not really possible, so I’ve had to find other ways to get through the most ridiculous week ever. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.

1. Dress Up.Yeah, you heard me. Whenever I have a monster of a paper to finish, I put on a cute outfit, wear an appropriate amount of makeup, and tackle that thing. My go-to item is a fun lipstick that makes me feel oh-so-pretty but isn’t over the top. I also give myself a little manicure before I begin typing papers – there is nothing more satisfying that perfectly painted hot-pink fingers flying across the keyboard! It’s been proven that making yourself appear successful – literally, “dressing for success” – translates into a more positive attitude and more positive results. Okay so I made that up. But it’s always worked for me! And more friends than I can count on two hands. No one feels like they can take on the world in sweatpants. Even if they’re Juicy.

Motivation can sometimes come in strange forms. Like Dior mascara.

2. Drink water. Coffee is great to a certain point, but once it hits 8 – 9 pm, I stick with my affectionately decorated Sigg water bottle. It’s better to hydrate. And it kind of makes you feel like you’re running a marathon – which is exactly what you’re doing.

3. Find the fun. I don’t mean that you should crack open a PBR in the library, or blend margaritas while everyone is trying to study. What I mean is, find the positivity. My school’s finals week turns into a sort of slumber party: we only have 1 library, so most students are there, suffering in mutual silence, eating piles of food, and bouncing between their cubicles and the Grind (short for “The Daily Grind”, our convenience store/Starbucks/smoothie stand). It’s kind of like a sleepover, only with lots of homework.

4. Treat yourself to the little things. Not a Ferrari. More like, some strawberry ice-cream or a school-themed sweatshirt from the campus store to cozy up in as you write that paper. Or maybe a new coffee mug, an at-home pedicure, or a couple of good pump-up songs on iTunes. Haley swears by new, fun-colored pens. Simple things. Those are the ones that count!

Aaaaah!!!!

5. Do something mindless – anything – for at least 30 minutes in between projects/before you go to bed. One of my housemates told me that when she helped out with math research, they were required to watch 30 minutes of mindless television before going to bed. Proof that the Kardashians are healthy for our brains!! I’m kidding. But seriously, the only way I can get through heavy political science and philosophy papers is by letting myself watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert before I crash and dream about Socrates and Plato. Running is also great for this, especially when combined with aforementioned mindless TV. Even better, buy some coloring books. I kid you not. Every semester, right in the middle of finals week, our school has “Midnight Breakfast” – read: eggs, bacon, french-toast sticks, and more donuts than you could ever imagine. And part of the festivities is sitting there, with your mountains of donuts, and coloring Disney princesses until your mind has been erased of all academic thoughts. It’s amazing. As I am writing this, my best friend is sitting next to me blowing bubbles. That’s what you get at a liberal arts college, I suppose. I wonder if blogging counts…

6. Make a playlist…or a kick-ass Pandora station. So my paper-writing music consists of the same music I usually work out to. Yup. I listen to Britney Spears and Lady Gaga while writing papers. With massive headphones that I stole from my dad. I get in the zone, get amped up and ready to be all scholarly, and go at it. I can’t even explain how helpful it is. I usually make one and title it “SURVIVAL MODE” or something kind of ridiculous like that, so I laugh a little when I press the play button. If you’re not familiar with Pandora, you should become best friends with it. It’s an online radio station (minimal ads, I promise) that allows you to select an artist/song/genre that you like, and then it automatically plays songs related to your selection. I have about 20 different stations, but my favorite at the moment is the Lykke Li station I started for finals week: it’s kind of relaxing, but a little fun and upbeat and quirky so I don’t fall asleep. And it’s free! Grooveshark is a similar site that allows you to create playlists out of songs; it’s basically iTunes, but it’s free and you don’t have to pay for anything.

That is an A+ student. Definitely.

SPECIAL: HALEY’S HELPFUL HINTS 

Play-Doh, bubbles, crayons
Coffee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Brightly colored pens/pencils/highlighters to make note-taking fun!
Her go-to Pandora station is her “the Who” station – oldies but goodies, she says. I say they’re timeless! Plus, as Haley puts it, “Listening to American Pie and writing political science…” well, they just go together.

Merci Beaucoup

It has just occurred to me that my blog has broken 15,000 hits. Really!? I started this as a simple, self-reflective process during my journey abroad, and I still can’t believe that that people actually want to read my random musings about life. Thanks to everyone who reads or subscribes, your support means a lot and I look forward to the continuing journey!

Feel free to leave some encouraging comments…those would be nice in the middle of finals week…

On Writing (Things You Don’t Really Want To Write)

It’s that time of the year again. The wastebaskets are overflowing with empty coffee cups, the library is so quiet you could hear a pin drop, and every student at any given university is sleep-deprived, grouchy, and would probably pay anyone a significant amount of money to write their papers for them. Personally, finals are not my least favorite part of the semester – research papers are something I have never really struggled with, so I am not quite as stressed as everyone else sitting around me (I only have one, and it’s due Friday). I might, however, be a freak of nature. I also find a weird kind of comfort in the crowded, coffee-filled library – a unique camaraderie that only comes with broke, hungry, over-caffeinted college students suffering in unison in one place together. Doesn’t that sound delightful?

And that's just after a few hours.

However, this year, I have a paper that is stumping me: I have to write about 20th century American political thought, and I am so frustrated that I just had to go take a walk to calm down. I did all the readings, I know my history, and yet I cannot for the life of me figure out what to write about. So, to help myself and anyone else out there struggling with papers, I thought I would lay out my own personal paper-writing process that has been highly effective in the past 3 years (I don’t think I’ve ever received below an A or A- on a poli sci paper, but that doesn’t include papers I had to write in different languages). I hope this helps any stressed college students out there 🙂

1. Create a kick-ass playlist, or find a quiet space without any noise. Add coffee and/or tea. This applies to all of the following steps, especially the “look stuff up” part.

Yes, I know this sounds weird, but I think that the first step is getting in the zone. I usually clean my room before doing any kind of homework, then sit down with my massive headphones and blast Lady Gaga, Benny Benassi, and related workout-esque music that gets me pumped up and ready to go. Sometimes I prefer low-key music like Lykke Li or Phoenix, but during finals I go for stuff I can jam to while I bang out paper after paper. If you’re one of those people that needs utter silence, find an empty room and sit. Get away from your friends and teammates, and just go for it. The hot beverage just adds a level of authenticity – sipping on a coffee as a write helps me channel Hemingway. The writing part, not the womanizing part…

2. READ the question. ALL the parts of the question. ALL OF THEM. 

Maybe your sixth grade teacher did this to you too: handed you a really long sheet of instructions that were kind of ridiculous. At the very bottom of the sheet of instructions, it said something idiotic like, “Don’t actually do all these stupid instructions!” If you were a dumb kid like me, you probably attempted to bake the cake or whatever it was, only to realize that the assignment was just to read the freaking sheet of paper. Don’t be that kid. Read and comprehend the question, and make sure you understand what the professor is asking of you. Professors have different expectations depending on the class and their teaching method in general.

3. THINK. 

Shaun's thinking repose. See? It looks relaxing, doesn't it?


So assuming you’ve done the readings, and you have a thoroughly comprehensive grasp on the subject, think about what you want to write about. For some people this involves brainstorming on a piece of paper – i.e., blurting stuff out on a piece of paper until you find a coherent thought – but for me this just means thinking. I find a question, or a problem, and narrow it down to something very specific that I am curious about. It helps if you have a genuine interest, but if you don’t, pick something easy – then at least you’re guaranteed a good grade.

For example, for a term paper last year in a class called “US Foreign Policy”, I had a strong interest in the many human rights atrocities of the 1990’s and how America dealt with them (or didn’t deal with them, really). I looked at the chronology of the 1990’s, and realized that we had refused to intervene in many genocidal conflicts, but then conducted air strikes in Bosnia to take down Milosevic. After over 10 years, and a disastrous situation in Rwanda, we had suddenly turned to an interventionist policy. My question was, what changed that made us want to intervene? My theory was that it was Madeleine Albright’s promotion from UN Ambassador to Secretary of State that made the difference. Other times, a statement or quote is good inspiration. For example, my paper that was recently published was inspired by a quote from Arne Duncan (former CEO of Chicago school system, current Secretary of Education to President Obama) in which he stated that there were no winners and losers when it came to charter schools. I was pretty sure I disagreed, so I made that my research question. When the option is there for creating your own research question, find inspiration and then run with it.

It also helps to talk it over with a friend, especially if it’s more of a philosophical question. Sometimes just letting your mouth run wild for a few minutes helps flesh things out, and you can get a second opinion on your ideas. I don’t think my paper would have been published without a good Skype sesh I had with a friend while I was in Paris and he was studying in Boston.

4. Look stuff up.

For me, this is the hardest part. Take advantage of the library, and don’t be afraid to ask the librarians for help. They’ve saved me many times. Honestly, the best strategy is to go to the online catalogue, find ONE book that pertains to your subject, then go to that section of the library and see what you find. Actually looking at, physically holding, and flipping through a real, live book is often more productive than reading 10 articles. I promise. Make sure you know where you’re looking, too: for example, don’t look in a History database for sources related to Economics. You won’t find anything. JSTOR, for example, doesn’t have sources from anything published in the last 5 years (or something like that), so if you want to write about Libya’s recent turmoil, that wouldn’t be the place to look. Make sure your sources are scholarly, blah blah blah.

Most important advice: if you’re pressed for time, or it’s just a paper that doesn’t serve some larger purpose, don’t read the whole book. Find what you need, find some quotes, and put post-its on them. Quotes are important. Find some. Use them. As you look through your sources, think about your research question, and find information that directly correlates to that question. For a recent art history paper, I wrote about a Greek sculpture, so I found a book about Greek sculpture, found the one I was writing on in the index, and found a quote directly addressing how the artist represented the human body in the sculpture.

This part is so important, don’t skimp. For a 10 page paper, you should have at least 5 sources, and for a 15 page paper I have used, well, 15. If you use more books, you could use less sources because books tend to have more information and it’s more comprehensive. Articles are very specific, so if you use mostly articles you should have many more. Make sure you write down quotes, post-it the important parts of books that you need, and generally create a sufficient knowledge of your sources and how they relate to your subject: this will help you be able to write without looking everything up every 5 minutes.

As you look through sources, it helps to keep track of what they are: I usually do this by keeping 1 sheet of paper with all of my sources on it, in MLA or Chicago-Turabian style citations, so that when it comes time to type up my Works Cited Page, I can just copy it into Word. It sounds excessive, but it helps in the end. You don’t want to be scrambling to put together your sources after 12 hours straight in the library and 4 cups of coffee. Trust me.

5. Create an OUTLINE.

Map out your ideas. Even if it’s not formal, just creating a general map of what your paper will look like organizationally is extremely helpful. This is particularly helpful in political science, where you often have to reconcile a significant amount of history with analysis and argumentation. When I create outlines, I usually include authors or works that I will use in each section, as a way of organizing not just my thoughts, but the arguments of other scholars who I will use to support my own statement.

6. Okay, so you have a general organization, and you’ve got all this information – so what does it mean? It means you get to THINK SOME MORE.

What is your thesis? By now you should have compiled a solid theory that you can support with lots of evidence. For example, I had a theory that charter schools actually created winners out of the elite class in Chicago, and losers out of poor and/or minority students because of social and cultural capital disparities (don’t worry about it). I found research to support that argument – and luckily, a lot of evidence that it was true – and developed a theory as to why this was the case, and how it had come to be that way. I had a solid grasp on the history of charter school reform, and understood the circumstances around which I was forming this argument. I knew many scholars who supported this argument, and had my own theory to contribute. So I created an outline, and inserted my thesis after I had developed it fully. A thesis can be one paragraph, or two if it is a loaded question. Don’t shy from making it longer than a paragraph – we’re not in middle school anymore.

Still very relaxed...sometimes it's helpful to change thinking poses. Helps the blood flow.

7. Sit down with that awesome playlist, hot beverage, and start writing.

I usually start with the context, then go into analysis/my own theory, and then a conclusion. I save the introduction and thesis for last, so that I make sure it encompasses everything I have written about. I can’t really say more about this – we all have our own style, but what’s important is that you just write everything you can. If you are using footnotes or in-text citations, make sure they all follow one format. Make sure your quotes are supportive, of appropriate length (nothing more than 2-3 lines usually), and directly related to the argument that they are placed in the middle of. Explain them fully!! Use them, don’t abuse them.

8. Give your paper to someone to read. Mom, Dad, a friend, even professors sometimes help with this. 

Get thoughts, get some red pen on that thing, and read it over a few times. Find where your flaws are – grammatically or theoretically – and think about how to fix them. Don’t get discouraged, this is the most important part of the process, and usually the most helpful.

9. Make those corrections. 

Use your discretion. Not every correction your friend provides needs to happen – sometimes we have very different writing styles, and as much as they want to make your paper in their own style, it’s important that it has your invisible signature on it. I prefer to go through on paper, but when pressed for time (and pay-for-print) I tend to just correct on-screen. Make sure it’s within the page limit, too. Read through it several times, and use spell check. Trust me. I almost didn’t do this before sending a paper off for publishing, and I am so glad I did. There were like, 10 typos that I missed just because I had read it over about 3943943098 times and was so familiar with it.

10. CITE!!!

Seriously. A works cited page is not that hard. EasyBib.com will do it for free if it’s MLA (it generates citations), and you can even type in a URL or book, and it will pull up a citation that has already been created. Or you can go old school like me and type them out by hand. Alphabetical order is imperative, blah blah blah. Just make sure you do it.

11. Crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s

  • PUT YOUR GOSH DARN NAME ON YOUR GOSH DARN PAPER
  • Include a TITLE that is compelling and tells the reader something about your paper: “The Charter School Game: Gentrification and the Fight for Equal Education in a Neoliberal City” – informative, interesting, and makes it clear what I’m going to talk about, even if there are lots of big, confusing words
  • PAGE NUMBERS!! Just do it.
  • Double space. Double space. Double space.
  • Margins = 1 inch, and Times New Roman is the most generic font EVER.

12. Print that baby.

Best feeling in the world. Print it, staple it, hug it close to you. You have completed a monster of a paper, and how good does it feel? So good.

I hope this has been helpful. As for me, I’m still stuck on this paper. I’ll get there though…

Helpful Resources:

  • The OWL at Purdue – a very helfpul source for how to cite, pretty much breaks it down so it’s impossible not to understand. Helpful for MLA and APA, as well as Chicago-Turabian (I’ve used C-T for poli sci as well as Art History)
  • EasyBib – citation generator, super helpful
  • UC Berkeley Chicago-Turabian guide – because sometimes it’s just really confusing