Caramel Apple Cookie Tartlets

I have a hard time accepting compliments on my baking. It’s not that I’m particularly good at baking, I can just read and follow directions. The only thing that I have going for me is that I’m not easily intimidated and I’m always willing to try new things. Sometimes, I might not have the exact recipe for what I want, so I have a tendency to take a couple recipes that are close to what I want and combine them.  

Sunday morning, when I was trying to decide what to bake for the day, nothing was hitting me. I was about tapped on pumpkin things, but it was too soon for anything peppermint. I remembered a post I re-blogged a few weeks ago that I’ve really been meaning to try: cookie cups. So I used that as my inspiration and combined it with my passion for fitting everything in my life to the season, and decided that I would make Caramel Apple Cookie Tartlets. I would use peanut butter cookie dough to make a cookie tart shell, and then fuse that with a fall classic, caramel apple pizza, to come up with the perfect fall treat. Let me know what you think of my idea!

Shell
1 package Pillsbury peanut butter cookie dough 

Peanut Butter Filling (inspired by this Caramel Apple Pizza recipe)
1/2 brick of cream cheese (4 ounces
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon milk 

Cinnamon Filling (inspired by this Caramel Apple Pizza recipe)
1/2 brick of cream cheese (4 ounces)
1 tablespoon Brown Sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla 

Topping
1 Granny Smith apple
2 tablespoons lemon juice
caramel ice cream topping 

Start with a roll of pre-made peanut butter cookie dough and a madeleine pan. 

Flip the pan upside down and press a thin layer of cookie dough on top of each madeleine shell. 

Bake at 350ºF for about 9 minutes or until golden brown. They will spread a little bit in the oven, so as soon as you take them out of the oven, take a butter knife and cut along the edges of each to separate. After five minutes, use a butter knife to loosen cookie cups and set on a wire wrack to cool.

Meanwhile, make your fillings. I couldn’t decide between cinnamon or peanut butter, so I made both. (If you would like to use one filling for all the tartlets, double the filling recipe for whichever flavor you prefer.)

For the peanut butter filling, combine brown sugar, cream cheese, peanut butter and milk. 

Blend until smooth, and then put in a separate bowl. 

For the cinnamon filling, combine cream cheese, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. 

Blend until smooth. 

Take your fillings and place each in a Ziploc bag. Set aside. 

Quarter a Granny Smith Apple and then cut off the seeds and core. 

Slice the apple into very thin wedges. Put the apple wedges and a few tablespoons of lemon juice in a Ziploc bag, leaving some air in the bag. Seal it and shake to coat all the apples.

Cut the corner off of each filling bag to make a 1/2 inch opening. Pipe the filling into the cookie shell, alternating between cinnamon and peanut butter. Top each tartlet with two apples slices.

Drizzle with caramel sauce. Serve!

Enjoy!

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Like Mother, Like Daughter

It’s really crazy how quickly you start to feel like an adult. If you told me six months ago that two of my best friends were going to be staying with me for a couple nights, I would have done little more than be sure I had a few extra clean towels. But for some reason, when those same two friends no longer live two blocks away, actually plan a visit, pack their things and then travel several hours to visit (regardless of the fact that they didn’t travel only to see me), it makes the whole thing feel like a new experience.

It’s like when I was a little kid and my grandparents came over for Christmas. My brothers and I would have to clean the whole house from top to bottom, and I never really understood why. To me, we had no one to impress! I knew my grandparents loved us regardless of the fact that we had Nerf amo all over the playroom floor. But now I feel like I am my mother, cleaning to try to impress people that there is no need to impress. I am my mother’s daughter.

However, I must say, that even though I did attempt to clean my house, I was very proud of the fact that it only took me about five minutes to do it. My apartment was just clean on its own today! I was very proud of this fact, because it’s the first time in my whole life that I’ve been really good about things perfectly in order.

So today, my friends will be arriving in the great city of Chicago, and I will be their lovely host. I love being a host. I learn from the best, actually: my mother. My mom is the definition of cute host. Every time I go home, my mom still vacuums my room for me, which I love! She decorates our house beautifully for every holiday and hosts a lovely family Christmas with made-up games and themed presents. She cooks the most incredible breakfasts (omelets, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, you name it!) every morning I’m there.

Between my mom and my dad, there is always a delicious dinner to be had.

My mom even keeps an overnight basket in the guest bedroom, every time we have visitors!

Straight down to the table settings, my mom always keeps our house adorably cute.

So I plan on taking a little bit of my mom’s magic and making a lovely stay for my friends … straight down to the table settings.

Pardon to Skull — it’s halloween this weekend!

XOXO EmJoyable

Before today, I hadn’t seen an episode of Gossip Girl since January, when I was sleeping on a blowup mattress in my brother’s basement in NYC. So when I stumbled upon Season 4 on NetFlix this evening as my man was on his way out the door for the night, I knew exactly what was in store for my night: several solid hours of trashy TV served along with a side of cold pizza and a frosty glass of Grey Goose and Crystal Light.

As tempted as I was to push my blog aside for the night and indulge in a few of my guilty pleasures, I figured I’d just capitalize on my hours spent in front of the TV and post it here. I’ve decided to share with you the five most important things I learned from Gossip Girl over the years. 

5. Almonds with Yogurt 
I had heard of yogurt with granola, but yogurt with almonds was a GG gift. I never would have thought of the combo if it wasn’t for the episode when Jenny starts going crazy and sends her minions off to get her skinless almonds on her yogurt that she ends up dumping or Eric’s head. Either way, I came out with my new favorite breakfast — probably the best thing Jenny ever did for anyone.

4. Fashion 
I’ve never claimed to be very fashionable. I like simple things, like solids, stripes and bows. However, GG confirmed my beliefs that high-fashion isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes seeing the things these girls sport makes me feel like my navy cable-knit sweater (however boring it may be) reins superior. 

3. Tights
We all know how I feel about tights (and if you don’t, catch up here). So while I’ve always had a thing for this darling winter accessory, GG taught me to be a little more saucy with them. On top of my standard black, grey and sweater-knit tights, GG gave me the inspiration to add red, plaid and dark purple to the line-up. 

2. Fancy Cocktails
Since the GG bunch were sophomores in high school, they were sipping on top-shelf martinis in long-stem glasses on the steps of the Met. I’ve never quite had the pleasure of doing quite that, but I am such a sucker for anything that ends in -ini: appletini, frostini, flirtini, etc. A perfect night out requires a pair of black heels, freshly applied mascara and a drink with at least 3 different fruit-flavored liquors. 

1. Good friends
I know as well as anyone that best friends fight, sometimes even more than good friends. I have had my share of stay-up-crying-till-2AM, call-each-other-every-name-in-the-book, stomach-wrenching fights with really, really great friends, but it happens. But it shouldn’t happen weekly for five years. Even though Serena and Blair have had some really great friend moments, I would never push my best friend in a fountain. Sometimes you need to be around really crappy people just to feel better about your own life, and GG really fills that role for me. 

Faux-tographer

First of all, how funny is this headline!? I mean, it totally would have earned me a big, fat “F” from my journalism editing professor during the Headlines unit, but I thought it was pretty funny. It describes my photography skills perfectly, in that they are very much fake. I know nothing about photography, which is unfortunate considering the fact that Tuesdays are supposed to be the day that I share photos on my blog (as you might have noticed, I have skirted around it for the past few weeks). I might have to work on changing the theme for Tuesdays, but until then, we’ll use this as a learning opportunity. 

I tend to use the same angles for just about every photo I take and act like turning on the black-and-white filter somehow makes it more artsy. I know nothing about any photography terms, and I sometimes have a hard enough time figuring out how to turn off the flash on my point-and-shoot digital camera. I know about the Rule of Thirds from the photojournalism unit in my graphics and design class, but I am terrible at visualizing where each third actually is and often don’t even know what the subject is anyway. I do know that no photo will do the sunrise over the lake justice and that sometimes turning the camera around and snapping your own pic of you and your best friend in the middle of the mall is actually the best photo possible. 

I have had a few moments where I think I might actually be decent at taking pictures, like the picture I took for my tights post, but those moments are few and far between.

Then there was a three-day trip to Lindenwood University to visit one of my best friends, when I thought I was really on fire with the artsy photos …

… but then I just realized that changing them to black and white didn’t always make them “artsy.”

I have friends that are really good at photography. I can always tell that it’s better than mine, but I can’t pinpoint the exact reason why. This one is one of my favorites from my friend Alex, Owner-Operator of AC Photography, which looks like it belongs in a silver frame in a holiday Macy’s window. 

Other than the obvious fact that his camera is substantially better than mine, there’s just something about photography done by a person who knows about photography that really makes it pop. 

I just now decided what my Tuesday Photo Post should be. Instead of showcasing my crappy photography, I’m going to make a legitimate attempt to learn a little something about photography every week. Then I will share a photo demonstrating my progress every Tuesday. Let’s see how this goes… 

Pumpkin Cookies

It’s funny how often accidents lead to great things. A few weeks ago, I forgot to eat the lunch that I brought with me on Thursday. The next Friday, I didn’t bring a bag to work with my lunch in it (since my lunch was already in the fridge at work). So afterwork on Friday, I ended up with a couple empty Tupperwares but nothing to carry them home in. It also just so happend that my boyfriend was meeting me after work to meet up with some friends for dinner, so I asked him to bring a sack for me to carry my Tupperware in. 

He forgot.

Not feeling like carrying my empty containers into a nice restaurant, the only solution was to buy something from the closest store so I had a bag to carry them in. That store was Crate & Barrel. The cheapest thing we could find there was a darling set of pumpkin cookie cutters. 

I didn’t have to have those pumpkin cookie cutters for long before deciding that I obviously had to make pumpkin cookies — both pumpkin shaped and flavored. The recipe I sought was just a few clicks away. I opted for the first one I stumbled upon to be honest with you, which was this one.  This was my first time ever trying pumpkin cookies, but I knew before even trying them that they needed cream cheese frosting. So that’s exactly what I did. Check it.

Pumpkin Cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest (I didn’t actually use this, but I’m sure it’d be great if you did!)
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of salt  
1 jar cream cheese frosting
food coloring, sprinkles or other decorating supplies 

In a medium bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar and orange zest (which I did not use).

Stir in the pumpkin.

Add the eggs and vanilla. Mix well.

Sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. If you don’t have an actual sifter (the name of which I don’t even know), you can use a whisk to make the flour and spices nice and airy — works like a charm. 

Stir into the pumpkin mixture. I can usually use my hand-held mixer for about half of the flour mixture, and then I start to stir by hand with a spatula. 

Chill the dough for 30 minutes. Since the dough is easiest to work with while it’s cold, I like to separate it into two parts. That way, I can work with one part while it’s cold, and then switch it out for the other section as it warms up. Wrap each section with wax paper and pop it in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 375ºF. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes (which are pumpkins — duh!).

Place onto an unprepared cookie sheet. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove immediately and let cool on a cooling rack.

Decorate! My favorite part … even if I did have to spend an hour and a half and go to five stores before I found orange sprinkles. 

Workin woman!

I love that my biggest concern about staying late at work today was “Shoot! My blog post is going to be late!” Sorry team, but my post will be late today – girl’s gotta pay the bills! 🙂

Amish Adventure

I’ve always been one to explore other cultures — partly because I find it intellectually stimulating but more so because I think it’s just plain fun. It might be the journalist in me that is fascinated by what I don’t understand, but I think it’s mostly for the same reasons that I like wearing cowgirl boots in Nashville and Toms to indie-rock shows. Luckily, I have friends who are equally fascinated by certain other cultures, and we get to explore them together! And let’s be honest, that’s where the real fun begins.

This weekend, we take to the Amish lands of east-central Illinois, and by “we” I mean two of the most delightful ladies I know. These girls know cute and adventure very well. The one is my very best friend in the entire world who is more honest, supportive and loud than I will ever be, and I love her for that. The other is her very best friend growing up (and recently a friend of mine due to our mutual best friend), who happens to be the most fun, inspiring and adorable girl I’ve ever met — and I’m talking featured-in-Brides-magazine adorable.

We each have our own reasons for being fascinated by the Amish. I can’t speak to theirs, but I can talk about mine. My interest took root last fall while I was writing an in-depth feature story for my journalism independent study in college. I knew that not far from the University of Illinois was the largest population of Amish in the world, and thus I knew that I wanted to write about it. I met a darling girl there named Martha who told me her life-story. She gave me the ins and outs of the Amish culture, religion and lifestyle. I had never met a person with more honest and unyielding devotion to her faith. You can check out the story by clicking below to view the rest of this post.

I’m interested to see how this trip is going to go. As you probably gathered by the description of my friends, I’m probably the least outgoing of the group. I fear that I’m probably going to get pulled into some situations I wouldn’t normally put myself in, like stopping a passing Amish family in buggies and asking for rides or chatting with the locals about the details and reasons behind their religion. Don’t get me wrong, I love that my friends pull me out of my comfort zone, but sometimes it just makes me a little nervous at first. So I’m excited to see what exciting stories I have when I come back.

I’m most excited about this trip, because it’s such a fall thing to do, which is why I’m writing about it in my this-is-how-we-do-things blog. Despite my personal fond memories of last fall in Amish towns working on my story, the whole atmosphere makes for a darling fall experience. Here’s why:

1. The Views

What’s lovely about visiting the Amish in Arcola, IL is that it’s a good 40-minute drive from the hustle and bustle of the UI campus, so you have drive into the heart of the country side, which at this time of the year is full of breathtaking views.

2. The Food

Fall wouldn’t be complete without apple butter, pumpkin pie and a few other perfectly selected baked goods, and straight from an Amish kitchen the best place to get it. It’s so fresh and delicious, but there’s also so much to chose from that it’s impossible to leave empty handed.

3. The Great Outdoors

The best part is that you have an excuse to spend a day enjoying the fresh fall air. There’s something about being outdoors in the country side that is like a whole different world. The air smells crisper, the sun is brighter and the trees are brighter are swear. It’s nice to have a reason to spend a day outside soaking it all in. 

Amish Life

Martha is beautiful in the purest, simplest of ways. She stands at five and a half feet tall on her petite frame. Her solid blue eyes are bright, but grounded. Her skin is pale, clear and fresh, a perfect complement to her warm voice. She carries herself with a subtle air of confidence, unintimidating and friendly. She’s young, at only 20 years old, and it shows in her high cheekbones and the frequency of her laughter. She’s topped off with a head of golden yellow hair, smoothly pinned back and tucked into a crisp, white bonnet.

Martha’s life is simple, too. Born into the Amish faith, her life revolves around her family, her church and her community in the small town of Arthur, Ill. She was raised to be in the wider world, but not of it. She has a sewing machine instead of a Mac Book. She has a bookshelf instead of an iPod. Her parents are still married and one of her nephews, at 11 years old, works in the fields daily without complaint.

“I might not have all my wants, but I have all my needs,” Martha said, matter-of-factly and without an ounce of disappointment in her voice.

She lives her life among people who share her values and beliefs in a pocket of faith tucked away in the countryside less than 10 miles from the bustle of Interstate 57. Her home looks strangely similar to many of the other houses along the country road she lives on with her parents in a white farmhouse that overlooks acres of the crispy remains of the recently harvested corn crop. Her garage is home to boxy, black buggies with neon orange reflective triangles on the back. Her backyard is spotted with old wooden barns with droopy cobwebs that fall from the ceiling and are alive with chickens, cows and horses. She has two nieces and two nephews who live with her brother and his wife in a matching farmhouse literally 10 feet away. The only phone for either house is located in a shed smaller than her bathroom in the backyard.

Martha’s life is an interesting blend of old and new. Her hand-sewn blue cotton dress falls well below her knees and is fitted with barely visible silver pins. She’s kept warm by a simple store-boughtblack sweater. She wears black Crocs to Rockome Gardens and rubber boots when she works on the farm.

Her home is a time warp. There are no light switches. Rooms are lit by flipping a lever that releases enough gas to start a ball of fire that lights the room just as well as an incandescent bulb. Her basement pantry is lined with jars upon jars of homemade canned peaches, green beans and applesauce. Just outside, her young nieces and nephews clad in suspenders and aprons chase a kitten while shabby cats drink from a tin full of cream. Her bedroom is decorated with a full-length mirror framed in hickory that was built specifically for. She has her own China cabinet full of exquisite China and “tiny drinking glasses” decorated with vacation destinations that she or her friends or family have been to such as Florida and Pennsylvania.

“I love to travel,” she says. “A lot of my friends say that I’m spoiled because I’ve been to so many places.”

In Martha’s family, the bible is their most treasured possession and the word of God is the sole governing body over all that is said and done. As a result, material objects in many cases are seen as a pathway to distractions from faith. The Amish lifestyle, free from many modern technologies, is meant to minimize want and avoid “keeping up with the Jones’” competition in order to devote the most attention to God.

It’s not that the Amish people are anti-technology, as they are often pegged. Their biggest concern is the way that technology imposes itself upon people’s lives. They fear the fast-paced world of technology will create a conflict with their values and morals that are built around family and community.

“We move at a human pace,” Martha says.

Her days are busy and selfless. She works at Rockome Gardens, a tourist attraction inspired by the Amish lifestyle, and gives all of her earnings to her parents, who use the money to help run the household. When she turns 21, she will be responsible for her own finances. When she’s not at work, she’s working at home helping her family with the daily chores such as gardening, cleaning or contributing homemade canned goods to the walk-in pantry in the basement.

“Our regular lifestyle is busy, but we can have fun,” she says. Her favorite pastime is reading, which explains the bookshelf in her room that is lined with

colorful novels. Christian books are her favorite, but she’ll read anything. She’s currently halfway through A Wedding Quilt for Ella, and loves it. She also loves playing volleyball and going to birthday parties. On Sunday nights, she and other youth in the community gather together to sing songs of praise and socialize, which is one of Martha’s favorite times of the week.

But, at the end of the day, her faith is the most important thing.

“To me, faith is to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and he died for our sins,” Martha says. “And I believe that, and that is the most important thing.”

Religion was a part of Martha’s upbringing, but it was never something that was forced on her. She chose out of her own free will to dedicate her life to God within the Amish faith. At 18 years old, she became a member of the church.

“When I was 16, there were lots of things I wish I had, but now, I joined the church and said I’d give it up. Some people have a hard time with that.”

She was not one of those people.

Since joining the church is not required of children growing up in Amish homes, she’s seen many people leave the faith. Martha’s friend, Sarah, grew up Amish, but did not join the church.

“It makes us sad,” she says. “We wonder, ‘What did we do wrong?’ We still respect them as people and respect their faith. We just have to consider that is their thing, and we do ours.”

Martha’s thing is prayer. Her days begin and end with prayer. Her father starts each day with a devotional reading from scripture and praying as a family. She helps prepare breakfast and then spends her days helping her family run the dairy farm or at her job at Rockome Gardens. She tends to her nieces and nephews, works in the family’s garden, sews clothes and many other household tasks. When the sun goes down, the family gathers around the solid wood table in the airy kitchen, thanks the Lord for their food and enjoys a homemade meal as a family. Before bed, the family gathers for an evening prayer.

On Sunday mornings, when the sky is clear and the air is quiet, she looks out onto the horizon, never doubting that God is present and that He created this world.

Vizualize

Graphics and Design is quite possibly the most dreaded class that a news-ed journalism student will take at the University of Illinois (that or Reporting II). I can kind of understand why, but by week 2, I knew that it would soon become my favorite class. In fact, it ended up being one of the very few classes that directly impacted the direction of my life. I worked my butt off in that class, and I’m sure I complained about it pretty regularly, but come the end of the semester, I got the A. I don’t think I’d ever been proud of myself. 

I’m not sure what it was, but information design really appealed to me. It was never something I had really thought about before, but it was fascinating. It was this beautiful balance of presenting so much information with so little mess. It was about displaying what the information “SAYS” not what it’s “ABOUT” and presenting the information hierarchically not categorically — both of which are much easier said than done. 

I could talk about it all day, but that’s not what information design is about; it’s about showing. My first, real, head-first experience in information design was my final project for my class. As a team of over of 30 journalists, ranging from UI freshmen through grad students, we extensively reported on crime on the UI campus and presented it in a uniquely interactive way. The result was CampusCrime.net.

CampusCrime.net was such an amazing experience. It was hard — gosh, it was hard — and we all put in more hours that we ever had on any final project before in our college careers. We stayed in that lab until 3 am and we did it often. We worked through parties we’d much rather had gone to, we worked when we probably should have been studying for our other finals, we worked on Friday nights and Sunday mornings but we wouldn’t have traded it for the world. When the semester ended, I hadn’t had enough. I gathered two other girls equally as crazy as me and we decided to launch an independent study to improve upon the existing site. 

The three of us decided that even though the old CampusCrime won first place in the national Society of Professional Journalist’s Mark of Excellence contest and even though CampusCrime was the featured presentation at the University of Illinois Undergraduate Research Symposium, it wasn’t good enough. We kept finding things we wish we’d done differently and things we wanted to improve upon. So we did. We recruited a new group of students and we produced CampusCrime.net 2.0. 

Luckily or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), a majority of students out there aren’t forced to take Graphics and Design and thus have never tapped into this fascinating craft. I want to take this time to share a few tools to build your own info graphics — to give back a little bit of the magic that Graphics and Design gave me.

Many Eyes is one of my favorite graphic builders. It’s a really great site that allows users to import their own data sets and create countless visual displays with them. A data set can be anything from a series of words to an extensive spreadsheet. There are a lot of really great graphics that can be created on this site, and there are plenty of really great examples to browse for inspiration. The other really great part about the site is that all the uploaded data sets are public, so you can use any set and create till you’re heart’s content. 

Another new site that I just discovered is called Vizualize. The site imports information from your LinkedIn profile and transforms the data into a resume graphic. Check out my resume here! It’s a really cool site, but lacks a lot of features that could make it great. It’s still in beta though, so I think there’s hope for improvement. 

The possibilities with infographics are endless. They display anything from the distribution of wealth among countries to the placement of my family members at my graduation festivities (as my boyfriend demonstrated so well in the chart below which tracks people, time, weather and locations).

For inspiration, be sure to check out Good. They have a lot of really great infographics (a few crappy ones, but what can you do) that can give you a better idea of the infinite potential of presenting data visually. 

Blink 182 – Neighborhoods

When I was a freshman in college, I applied to be a reporter for the music section of buzz magazine — the arts and entertainment weekly at the University of Illinois. As part of my application, I had to write an album review of my favorite album (which back in 2007, was of course Boys Like Girls’ self-titled debut). I remember writing that review like it was yesterday. I sat in my dorm room, door locked, music blaring, typing away feverishly at my chunky desktop computer. I had no idea what I was doing, but what I did know was that I was going to a music reporter for Rolling Stone within the decade.

I got the job.

From the moment I got hired as a music reporter, I was planning my next steps to reach that goal at Rolling Stone. The first step was to be music editor at buzz. So I applied, I put together a (fairly pathetic, looking back) resume, poured my heart and soul into my cover letter, put on a pair of heels and went to my interview. 

I didn’t get the job. I ended up having to do that three times before they finally hired me, but come January of 2010, I got my access card and I was (finally) music editor. I was living the dream. 

I wrote a lot of album reviews, went to a ton of shows, developed some decent writers and a great (or at least much better) taste in music — and then I realized I didn’t love it. My heart wasn’t in it and I realized I didn’t know enough about the mechanics of music to be great music writer. What I did know was that whatever I did with my life, I wanted to be great at it. If music writing wasn’t it, I was going to cut that chord early and figure out what “it” was. 

That was all well and good until I picked up the new Blink 182 album, Neighborhoods. The gears started turning and familiar questions started coursing through my veins. I started reading up on the album, Tom DeLonge and the influences of his other band, Angels and Airwaves, on the album. So I wanted to write an album review for old times’ sake. Let’s see if I’ve still got this…

Blink 182 – Neighborhoods

By the time you’re 30, you better fucking know who you are and have something to say, otherwise you’re going through life not doing anything. — Tom DeLonge

If ever there was an album that so clearly demonstrates growing up, it would be this one. While victim of much harsh criticism (we’ll come back to this later), the album is much less “fifteen” and a lot more “thirty.”  The album doesn’t just explore new lyrical depth, it boasts experimental musical qualities (clearly remnants of DeLonge and side project, Angels and Airwaves) previously much less common with Blink.  It’s clear right off the bat that the punk-rock boys of Blink 182 are now men. 

It’s worth noting my relationship with Blink 182 and Angel’s and Airwaves, as it’s led to a fairly neutral perspective on both bands, especially in the aftermath of Neighborhoods and the soon-to-be-released Love Part II. I was hardly a punk-rock kid — despite my short stint with some pink hair in college — so I never had that connection with Blink 182 growing up. In fact, it was probably late high school/early college before I truly became a fan (2006 – 2008 range), and by that point, AvA was already alive and well. At the time, the two bands had a fairly clear line between them that has since grayed a bit.

This is important because I didn’t love Blink for helping me find myself as a lot of punk-rock kids did. I didn’t love Blink for being punk rockers, I loved them for songs like “I Miss You” and “Feeling This.” I loved blink for their edge that I so clearly did not have. They said “fuck” a lot and I didn’t — they were cooler.  Then I looked to AvA when I wanted some thing more, something a little deeper both lyrically and musically.

 Neighborhoods is this weird mesh of them both. There’s songs like “Hearts All Gone” that is very classic Blink, songs like “Ghost on the Dance Floor” sound like they belong on the new AvA record and then “Natives,” that sounds like a perfect offspring of both bands. Any teenager who wanted another hardcore album was naive if they seriously thought that would come out of this band after what they’ve gone through over the past few years. They’re not the angry, screw-the-corporate-system kids that made Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. After the break up, they hated each other! While that’s all over and done now, you can’t go back to where you were before that without changing. To produce another album that was the same would denying the years that they’ve been through — no one stays fifteen forever. 

People didn’t like that though. Fans wanted the old Blink. To those fans, I suggest reading a great interview with DeLonge on Absolute Punk. Basically, he reiterates the growth that went into the new album, the purpose behind it and the relationship between Blink and AvA. He’ll say it better than I could.

Despite the critics, who will always be there no matter what you do, the album cuts to an important truth. The purpose of music as a whole is to give people something to think about — use a lot of words, notes and rhythms to bring meaning to things we can’t always understand, things like “love” and “pain.” While this album might not be as hard or ground breaking as their old albums, it still has the same purpose that Blink has always had: helping people figure shit out. It’s honest, which at the very core, is what Blink has always been about.