The “Em”my’s

I realize that I am by no means qualified to make a sound argument about the ranking of TV shows, given that I had never watched a full season of TV (other than Dawson’s Creek in 7th grade) before I started dating my boyfriend in February 2010, but it will not stop me from trying. I figured I could provide a different spin on the traditional Emmy winners, and give out my own “Em”my’s” (Get it? Since my name’s Emily? Too much?). In the past year and a half, I’ve watched more TV than my whole life combined. I’ve picked up on a few things here and there, I’ve developed a mild criticism for character and plot development, and most importantly, I’ve learned what I like and what I don’t like.

                    

So in the eyes of a self-diagnosed “newb,” I present to you the winners of the first (possibly) annual “Em”my Awards.

Best Show That I Totally Missed: Grey’s Anatomy
I’m not sure what I was doing in 2005, but I was among the few people not falling in love with Meredith Grey. I hear the show gets bad, but so far I’m only at the part where she gets all cute and doped up on Morphine (S3,E5).

Sneak Attack: Lost
I thought that Lost sounded like the dumbest concept for a show in the history of the planet. I never expected to like Lost, and in fact, I almost didn’t ever get the chance to find out since the crash scene in the pilot almost made me throw up. But I powered through it, and it soon became the first TV show I watched in full — and I loved it.

Most Addicting: 24
I swear there were a few seasons of 24 that I only moved to get food and coffee or to shower.  

Most Overrated Series: Breaking Bad
I just could not hop on this bandwagon. There was barely a character on the show that I could even tolerate (and she died!), let alone one that I actually liked. The season-long arch’s were underwhelming and the “craziness” of the show just never really appealed to me. Pass!

Best Comedy: Modern Family
Apparently even the real TV critics agree with me on this one, so no need for me to state the obvious.

Funniest Comedy: Wizards of Waverly Place
Alex is so witty! It just never gets old! I’m not even embarrassed about this one. Salena Gomez and I would totally be friends if she ever gave me a shot.

Most Lovable Character: Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation) and Claire Littleton (Lost)
I had a really hard time deciding this one. While there are no ties in the real Emmy’s, there are ties in the “Em”my’s and the winner is BOTH of these lovely leading ladies. Leslie Knope for her adorable energy and dedication to cute things — that’s my kind of girl! Claire for being adorable, Australian and the only one willing to give Charlie a real chance — she’s just genuinely nice, and I support that.

Boomerang: How I Met Your Mother
 HIMYM
started out phenomenal, went through a dry streak, but managed to come back strong this season. The show is finally starting to get back to the roots that it strayed away from last season, including Ted’s hopeless romanticism. The comedy is funnier, the story lines are stronger and season is already better than all of last season combined — and it’s only just starting.

Best Drama: Mad Men
Mad Men was a weird one because I was never particularly excited to see the next episode, but as soon as I started one I couldn’t turn away. It’s also just really pretty to watch. This show is really proof of how little I know about TV; I can’t pinpoint why I love it or what makes it good, but I just know that it is. 

Guilty Pleasure: Gossip Girl
I will always love Serena; Blaire and Chuck belong together; and I miss Jenny Humphrey before she went dark-eye crazy. I love the he-said-she-said bullshit because it makes me feel better about my life. I think that’s okay. 

Show I Really Need to Finish: Damages
I only watched the first season, but it was fantastic! I hear that the later seasons aren’t as good, so I’m hesitant to move forward, but I really do need to watch it anyway.

Cutest Couple: Troy and Abed (Community)
Come on! They’re hilarious! I’d say they’re one of the main reasons I love Community. Those bits at the end of the credits? Solid gold.

Thanks, folks! See you next year!

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Biscotti

My grampa is Sicilian and awesome. He’s taught me the art of stuffing and eating an artichoke, how delicious ricotta cheese is on waffles and the importance of a crunchy biscotti meeting a hot cup of coffee. Granted, he probably wouldn’t be happy about the fact that my biscotti are vanilla-almond and not anise, but at least it’s a start. 

Since I’ve been on my fall kick lately, more often than not I can be found sipping on coffee out of a cute mug and admiring my darling view. On Saturday morning, I poured myself a cup of Guatemala Antigua in my favorite mug and couldn’t help but notice that something very important was missing. 

 

I was missing a crispy, crunchy  biscotti to dunk in there! So I cracked open one of my favorite cookbooks, Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, and flipped right to Almond Biscotti page. I could tell from the start that it was a great idea. 

When I was done baking, I knew that the first thing I had to do was wrap up a few biscotti and stick them in the mail to send back to Gramps. I won’t know the official opinion for a few days, but I have to say that I think they turned out great. 

Almond Biscotti

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons finely shredded orange or lemon peel (I did not use either, I substituted 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract instead)
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds (I used sliced instead)

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Spray two cookie sheets lightly with Pam; set aside. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.

 

Place eggs and egg yolks in well and stir into the flour mixture. 

Add butter and vanilla (or orange or lemon peel if you feel like it); stir until dough starts to form a ball. Stir in almonds. 

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; divide into three equal portions. Shape each portion into a 14-inch-long loaf. 

Place loaves about 3 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets; flatten loaves slightly until about 1 1/2 inches wide. 

Bake 25 – 30 minutes or until firm and light brown. Cool on cookie sheets for 15 minutes.

Transfer baked loaves to a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to cut each loaf into 1/2-inch slices. Place slices on cookie sheets. 

Bake for 10 minutes. Turn slices over; bake for 10 to 15 minutes more or until crisp and dry. Serve with coffee, milk or cocoa. 

Sparkles

When I was in high school, fall Friday nights were for Rochester football games, Steak N Shake and bon fires. Friday nights were for French braids, cheerleading hoodies and swishy pants. Friday nights were the best. With the whole weekend in front of me and school a distant afterthought at best, I was free — well, as free as I could be with a strict midnight curfew.

High school feels so long ago now, but that sparkle attached to fall Friday nights hasn’t faded. Even more than Saturday nights, even more than Sunday nights of a three-day weekends, Friday nights are magical. They’re made for old friends, new friends, best friends. They’re made for adventures, for romance, for making memories. 

Grown-up Friday nights in the City are a whole different ballgame. They might be a lot more expensive than Steak N Shake cheese fries and s’mores, but they also have so much potential. I’m still fascinated by the options of things to do in Chicago compared to in Central Illinois. This whole town twinkles. 

So in the spirit of reliving my glory days, kind of, my man and I are hitting the town for an epic, kind of, Friday night. And by epic, I actually just mean a very classic, and slightly stereotypical Friday night on the town.

The plan? Cocktails and appetizers, followed by the main course of popcorn and sour skittles at a movie (Moneyball to be exact), then home to cuddle on the couch with a bottle of champaign and some old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. So here’s to reliving the sparkle of Friday nights. Here’s to making new memories … the right way.

[Pictures to follow]

Death By Cafe Day

Of all the things that I expected to experience when starting my first “grown-up” job in Chicago, coping with the effects of the beloved “Cafe Day” was certainly not one of them. At CDW, a Cafe Day is a very happy time when other companies bring in delicious lunches, snacks, drinks, etc. and use it to lure coworkers into a central place so they can pitch some sort of technology or service so we sell/promote their product. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works, at least. However, I’m in Coworker Services (HR), and we don’t sell anything (other than the company, I suppose), so it’s pretty much just free food. And it’s awesome.

Cafe Days can be just about anything. We have had energy drinks topped with “Crackheads,” a build-your-own nacho bar, apple cider, bbq brisket, deli sandwiches, Jamba Juice smoothies … you get the idea. It’s lovely.

The best days, though, are dessert days. I work with a very smart girl who happens to love sweets as much as me (actually, I’d venture out to say that she loves them even more than me). She is my partner in crime when it comes to all Cafe Days involving desserts, whether it’s build-your-own Cold Stone ice cream sundaes or a chocolate fountain. Today was another one of those epic dessert Cafe Days: a caramel apple bar.

Rocky Mountain Candy Factory was the sponsor of today’s cafe day, and with them, they brought an entire cornucopia of caramel apples. There was a huge table lined with caramel apples of every variety! There were caramel apples dipped in Reeses Pieces, Butterfinger pieces, toffee bits, chocolate chips, cheesecake, nuts, apple pie, M&Ms and more! I couldn’t even believe my eyes. I had to walk up and down the table more than once to make up my mind which one I wanted — this was an important decision! I went with Reeses Pieces and my two fellow coordinators got apple pie (which looked like caramel, then icing/cream, then dipped in graham cracker crumbs) and nuts.

So for everyone reading this who doesn’t work at CDW, you can order your own online on Rocky Mountain Candy Factory’s website. And you should probably do that right now.

You know, the point of this was supposed to get around to how I need to be careful because I’m going to end up gaining a zillion pounds. However, in the midst of getting there, I just ended up re-realizing how freaking awesome Cafe Days are. So fellow coworkers of mine, when you notice an extra layer of pudge developing around my middle, please do me a solid here and stop telling me when the Cafe Days are. Thanks, team! Meanwhile, I’m going to eat this apple …

Easiest Costume Ever

I’m notoriously bad with money. I’m not one to max out my credit card at the mall (anymore) or go to Europe on a whim, but I just really like doing cute things. I like going to cute restaurants and sipping fancy cocktails. I like getting caramel apples at the apple orchard, hot cocoa at the Christmas parade and an ice cold Guiness on St. Patrick’s Day. I like traveling to every Illinois home football game and wearing my Illinois Jersey. And unfortunately, cute things tend to cost money.

So, given those characteristics, you might find it odd that I have never bought a real halloween costume. Of all the places to cut corners, it’s weird that I chose this of all things to save a few bucks on. I’ve never been a hot referee or a sexed-up fairy tale character. Even as a kid, I remember going into the attic with my brother, pulling down the two Halloween boxes and tearing through it to see what we could wear that year — and we had a blast! Making my halloween costume has always been half the fun!

Last year, I made my Minnie Mouse Costume, which came out adorable (if I do say so myself). I made a Ninja Turtle costume at 10 PM the night of Halloween a few years ago — that was a fun one. This year, I’m working on making my Poison Ivy costume, slowly but surely. But if you are cooler than me (which, let’s face it, is not that hard) and don’t have tons of free time and craft supplies, I would like to propose one of my personal faves: my super-easy lion costume. 

I wore this costume for a jungle-themed party for my old gymnastics team, but there’s no reason you couldn’t wear it for Halloween instead. 

What you need: 

Yellow yarn
Orange yarn
Brown yarn
Yellow construction paper
1 plain plastic headband
4 rubber bands (I used hair bands)
Glue (I used white, school glue) 
Scissors 

What to do:

 Mane:
The mane is actually just a headband. Cut several pieces of yarn about 6 inches in length. Fold a piece of yarn in half. With the handband laying flat, place the yarn under the headband so it crosses perpendicularly. Pull the two ends of yarn, together, over the headband and through the loop created by the folded side. Pull firmly to secure. Repeat several times, alternating colors and bunching together tightly until you’ve covered the entire headband except the bottom inch on both sides. Secure the last piece of yarn on either side with some glue to keep it from sliding off.

Set aside to dry. Meanwhile, cut two “ears” out of yellow construction paper. I used a curved, triangle like this.

When the glue has completely dried, you can attach the ears and trim the mane.  Take your scissors and cut the ends of the mane evenly around — I have mine about 2 inches long. To add the ears, simply poke two holes on the bottom of each piece of paper. Using four pieces of yarn (one for each hole), string it through the paper and then tie it to the headband. And then you have a mane!

Wrist & ankle bands:
I just think these are fun! These are made exactly like the headband. Using the same looping method that you used on the headband, attach several 4-inch strands of yard to each of four rubber bands. I didn’t trim the ends of these like I did the mane. Wear one on each wrist and ankle.

Tail:
The tail is super easy.  Cut eight pieces of each color yarn to be about 4 feet long. Gather them all together so the ends are even (or close to even) and secure by using another piece of yard (about 6 inches) and tying a tight knot 2 inches below the top. Loosely separate the colors and braid until about 2 inches remain. Secure by tying a knot with another short piece of yarn. Last, cut eight, 18-inch strands of each color. Bunch these together, mixing up the colors, and fold in half. Secure to the end of the tail by tying with another short piece of yard. Voila!

Assembly:
Now that you have the accessories, the rest is cake. Throw on an orange, brown or yellow tank with a pair of jeans or leggings. This would also look super cute with a short and sassy dress that fits the color sceme! It shouldn’t cost you more than $10 and it won’t take you more than an hour to put together.  

                                 

The Battle Royale of Pumpkin Milkshakes

Despite our differences, at the end of the day my mom and I can always come together over plaid, decorating for the seasons and crusty bread and butter. Actually, we have very similar taste on a lot of things when it comes to decorating, activities and desserts. 

This weekend, I went home to spend some time with my friends and family in sweet home, Rochester, Illinois. My mom and I spent half the day on Sunday running a few errands, including getting the materials for yesterday’s Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins. So while we were out and about on a beautiful fall day, we passed a Culver’s sign boasting it’s new Pumpkin Spice Shake. The sight of it reminded my mom that her friend had said that Sonic had the “best” Pumpkin Pie Shake she’d ever had. Given our similar taste in fall and dessert, it took us less than a minute to decide that a challenge was in store. 

So we stopped by Culver’s and then scurried over to Sonic. We sat down at a bench outside, both contenders sitting side by side with two straws in each and looking all official.

We started with Culver’s Pumpkin Spice Shake, and at the same time, we each took one big sip. With a powerful pumpkin taste, it was unanimous that what we tasted was straight-up pumpkin pie. Everything from the richness of the custard to the spice combination screamed “Thanksgiving.”

We then reached for the Sonic Pumpkin Pie Shake in its shiny silver cup, took our perspective straws and took equally large sips. This sip crunched — it was chock-full of bits of cinnamon-y graham cracker pieces. This one really hit the consistency nail on the head. The pie shake was just like a pie from the crust to the whipped cream. 

But once we stopped chewing the pie shake, we realized that we couldn’t actually taste the pumpkin in it. It was so weak in pumpkin flavor in fact that we almost took it back up to the cashier to be sure that we got the right order. Even just looking at the color of each shake, you could tell that the Culver’s one had significantly more pumpkin in it. As disappointing as that was, we kept drinking it because the texture was so appealing. 

It wasn’t long until we realized that if we took a sip of one, then another quick sip of the other and swished it around our mouth, it was the perfect combination of pumpkin flavor and crunchy crust. 

Looking back, we realized that we probably should have tried the Sonic one first. Since it followed the Culver’s shake that had such a strong flavor, it probably got robbed on a completely fair evaluation.

But what was done was done and we were serious about our taste test, so there had to be one official winner. This time, it went to Culver’s Pumpkin Spice Shake! [Que Applause] There was just no getting past the superior taste, even if Sonic had the better texture. So next time you’re out on a beautiful fall day and are in the market for a twist on an autumn classic, we have to recommend Culver’s Pumpkin Spice Shake. 

Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins

Working at Starbucks for six years does a lot for a person — including spoiling the heck out of them. With free drinks on every shift, a free pound of whole bean coffee every week and constant, required sampling of pastries, it’s a hard nest to be pushed out of. After I left the company, I not only had to pay for my drinks, but I had to pay full price for them! I only had to buy a grande Pumpkin Spice Latte paired with a Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin for just shy of $10 a few times before I realized that I couldn’t afford my habit anymore. 

So I bought a coffee maker for $10, a coffee canister on clearance, some Coffee-Mate pumpkin flavored creamer, found a coffee grinder I bought a few years ago the day after Thanksgiving, busted out the few pounds of coffee I had left over from my green apron days and I got down to business. It took a few weeks, but I finally figured out the right coffee:water ratio and got used to my new version of my beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte.

The next step was trying to duplicate the Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin. I’ll tell you right now that I failed to do that. Despite my best efforts to come off as cutesy and a junior Betty Crocker, it’s simply not true. I mess up all the time. However, I tried really hard and the end product was still delicious in its own right. 

I couldn’t find a recipe that was quite what I wanted, so I took one for Pumpkin Cupcakes and combined it with a recipe for Spicy Pumpkin Bars. I was really hoping for a cream cheese filling, but as noted by the title, it turned out more like a cheesecake layer. They’re not what I wanted, but they’re certainly not what I’d call a “mistake” either. Check it out.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins

Cupcake:
1 box yellow cake mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ginger

Cheesecake:
6 tablespoons butter
9 ounces cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons flour

Start by making the cheesecake layer. First, cream the butter. 

Add the cream cheese and continue mixing. Then add the sugar and beat until fluffy.

Add the eggs, vanilla and flour until blended. Then stick in the refrigerator until you’re ready for it again. 

Now start making the cupcake batter. Combine all of the ingredients and mix on medium speed for two minutes.

The batter will be thicker than normal cake mix, but if it’s too dry, add more pumpkin puree 1/4 cup at a time. Use a cookie scoop (or a tablespoon) and put one scoop into each cupcake liner. 

Take the cream cheese filling and scoop it into a Ziploc bag. Cut the tip to leave about a 1/2 inch hole. Pipe a dollop of filling on top of each scoop of batter.

Top each cupcake with another half scoop of cupcake batter.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 – 24 minutes. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

City Girl, Friday Night

I’m new to this City Girl thing. In fact, I’m still under the impression that every mildly well-dressed girl I pass on the street is a columnist at a magazine, eats Greek yogurt parfaits for breakfast and does hot yoga on her lunch break. I still think that every suit wearing, Starbucks drinking businessman is an alcoholic and a jerk. To me, this whole city life is still one big stereotype, and I’m yet to really get a handle on what it’s really like. 

And what do city girls do on Fridays after work? They do happy hour. They wear black pumps, they talk about the new boss’ secretary and they drink dirty martinis out of longstem crystal-ware.

I happen to really like the girls that I work with. As some of my Facebook friends might recall, I work with “really pretty, brilliant, well-dressed, super nice people.” That was my first impression and nothing has changed. I’m lucky to not be one of the many people who hate the people they spend at least 40 hours a week with. 

So in the spirit of one of my lovely coworker’s bitter-sweet departure from our office (bitter in that we are losing her, but sweet in that she’s really excited about her new role), we will be celebrating with a Happy Hour out on the town. 

So while I’m no expert in actually being a city girl, I’m extremely good at doing things by the book. So I’ve decided to make the rules of Friday Night Happy Hour based on my this-is-how-we-do-things guide to life.

1. Order something “straight up,” “dirty” or “perfect,” because City Girls order their drinks with confidence, accuracy and a touch of high maintenance. 

2. Wear jeans darker than your eye shadow and heels taller than the poof in your hair. 

3. Never lose your composure. Use the bite-your-lip test: when it stops hurting, you stop drinking. Stay classy, ladies!

4. Limit your text messages to 1 per drink. Be in the moment! 

5. Laugh often, don’t dance and buy your boss a drink.

Cheers!!

inspired

As I sit on my couch, my boyfriend and I both typing away on our trusty MacBooks, matching his and her iPhones sitting on the coffee table and the Apple TV streaming our favorite show, it would be an insult to feature anyone other than the late Steve Jobs this Thursday. 

I can’t drop statistics on how many Americans own Apple products (though I undoubtably could look them up on either of the Apple products within arms’ length of me right now) or how Apple has changed the face of how people work, learn, play and live, but I can tell you the impact that Jobs’ products have had on me. 

I was late on the iPod train. In fact, when the first of my friends got an iPod (and I’m talking about the old, brick iPod), I looked at her confused and asked completely seriously what an iPod was. It was only a few years before I was dying to have one, but never actually bought one until my sophomore year of college. Not only did my new iPod hold more than just two albums at a time, but it got me my job as Music Editor at buzz magazine. Now that I could stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest music and could carry it with me wherever I went, my music listening skyrocketed and so did my music knowledge base. 

With my MacBook came my love for multi-media production. It was the day after Thanksgiving when I finally cracked and dropped a pretty penny on my shiny, new MacBook Pro — but it was totally worth it. With my new computer came a new portability, a new speed and a suite of better running programs. Combined with a school project that changed my life, CampusCrime.net, my new MacBook Pro helped me discover my love of animating graphics, mixing audio and producing videos, all of which led me to my video editor position at Chalk Them Up

I never wanted an iPhone, but after a rough trip to New York City for an internship that involved countless phone calls to my boyfriend to look up directions on his iPhone, I was sold. I got the white iPhone the day it came out, and I never felt more cool. With the help of that phone, I checked in everywhere, became exponentially better at Scrabble and Angry Birds, and immediately received an email about applying for a job at CDW. 

So, thank you, Steve. Thank you for helping me find my ambition, my passion and my job, among other things. You will be remembered by me, as by the rest of the world, as a seer, a builder, a doer and a sharer. 

There are many other tributes to Steve Jobs’ memory, thousands of Facebook posts and countless news stories about the man who (basically) made Apple. I encourage you to take a look at them, say a quick prayer or even just take an extra second to appreciate that contributions he made to the world as we know it. 

Edible Art

It’s photos like this one that make it clear that the line between food and art is severely blurred. While I’m far from decorating cakes that look so much like a Tiffany package that I want to tear it open before I think to want eat it, I do love to get a little crafty with my baked goods. (My personal favorite canvas? Sugar cookies.)

Let’s back track a little bit to the art genes that run in my family. My dad’s cousin is an artist by profession — he has done the artwork for everything from the Famous Amos cookie label to the paintings in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum & Library. (My brother actually studied him in college at the Ringling School of Art and Design.) My Uncle — the man who was the Art Director for Leo Burnett and then quit because they wouldn’t let him take summers off — is famous for his food photography, which has been featured on the front of many Kellogs cereal boxes. Then there’s my brother, an illustrator, who has already illustrated a children’s book and a medical book among other things. (I have to brag a little bit!)

So, one would think that I would be able to draw a person using more than 4 lines and a circle … but one would be wrong. I have absolutely none of these genes. I got robbed! What I did inherit though was my mom’s craftiness and her if-I-see-it-I-can-probably-make-it attitude; my dad’s ridiculous, borderline OCD, attention to detail; and my grandmother’s stop-eating-my-eclair love of sweets. This delightful mesh resulted in things like this …

… and this.

And sometimes, I even branch out to things other than sugar cookies!

I guess I’m not really proving much of a point here, nor am I making a very substantial argument considering the fact that I’m pretty sure that there’s no one out there who is truly disagreeing that food can be art. However, that’s not really the purpose of this post. Wednesday’s are my “craft” post, so I wanted to share with you another one of my favorite crafts: decorating baked goods! In the instance that you care about how good the cookie tastes as much as how good they look, check out this recipe for sugar cookies. It’s my personal fave. Enough about me though — if you have a family recipe or a personal favorite, please let me know! I’d love to try it!  

Happy baking!