Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Making Sushi: Tips, Tricks & Cooking Class Recaps

After months of anticipation, Stephen and I finally had the chance last weekend to attend our I Wish sushi-making class, which we discovered through a Living Social deal way back in October. Held at a charming community center in DC’s Eastern Market quarter, the class definitely didn’t disappoint, and we left armed with all the knowledge we'll need to start rolling our own Maki sushi at home.  

Here, a few highlights from our session, plus some of the key tips and tricks we learned throughout.

Workstation Setup

We arrived to find our workstations already set up and stocked with everything we'd need to make sushi rolls, including Nori seaweed wraps, bamboo mats for rolling, and fresh bowls of water, since  as we soon discovered  it is absolutely impossible to properly handle sticky rice without first having a wet hand.  

Cucumber Roll & Spicy Tuna Roll: 

Out of the three rolls we learned to make, the cucumber roll and spicy tuna roll were definitely the easiest, since both the rice and ingredients went directly inside each roll. To make these two, we started by first spreading sticky rice across the lower half of a Nori sheet, making sure to use the rough side, rather than the shiny side. We then added our desired ingredients and used a bamboo mat to roll up and seal the sushi. 

After letting it sit for a moment in order to fully seal, we then practiced properly cutting the roll, first once down the middle and then into equal-sized smaller pieces. When using tuna or any other type of raw fish, we also learned to always make sure it has been flash-frozen at -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Above that temperature, our instructor said, regardless of how fresh the fish might otherwise be, it has not gotten cold enough to effectively kill any parasites. 

California Roll: 

The California roll, which we filled with avocado and crab stick, was a bit trickier to execute, especially because the rice had to this time cover the entire rough side of the Nori, rather than just half. After completing this rather messy step and adding the desired amount of sesame seeds, we were then instructed to flip the Nori and add our ingredients to the inside, again using the bamboo mat for rolling once we were ready. Even though the thickness of the rice on the outside made this type of sushi tougher to roll and also harder to cut, I thought we still did a pretty good job overall, if I do say so myself! 

What do you think? Have we missed our true calling, or what? :) We both had such a great time learning the basics –  and eating the results –  that we've since bought the necessary tools and ingredients to start experimenting with veggies rolls and California rolls on our own this week. It should hopefully be fun and definitely very tasty! 

Have you ever made sushi or taken any other type of cooking class? 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Recipe Recap: Guacamole Greens Salad

With winter’s chill now a thing of the past and my graduation fast approaching, I’m constantly feeling motivated to get back in shape and focus on eating healthily again. Along with setting a goal to try out new healthy recipes, Stephen and I have also been going meatless at dinner several times each week and incorporating a wider variety of fresh fruits and veggies into our diet. 

When it comes to fresh and tasty meals, one of my all-time favorite lunch or dinnertime treats is a "guacamole greens" salad from Sweetgreen, a DC chain that offers local and organically grown products. This salad, in which I combine mesclun lettuce, roasted chicken or shrimp, avocado, black beans, corn, crushed tortilla chips, cilantro jalapeno dressing and a fresh lime squeeze, is not only delicious, but keeps me full for hours, even when I don't finish the entire thing.

However, since each Sweetgreen salad costs close to $10, I'm also planning to experiment in the coming weeks with replicating the "guacamole greens" and a couple other standouts at home. I'll be sure to let you know whether I succeed or strike out!

What's your favorite kind of salad? Have you ever tried to recreate a favorite "dining out" meal at home to save money or make it healthier? 

Friday, March 23, 2012

DC Up Close: Celebrating 100 Years of Cherry Blossoms

DC’s National Cherry Blossom Festival is beloved by both locals and tourists alike, and each year, I look forward to braving the crowds to take in the beauty of these gorgeous tress. Given to the United States by Japan back in 1912, the cherry blossoms are celebrating their centennial this year, and Stephen and I had a fun time heading into town earlier this week to capture a few late-afternoon shots.

While down at the Tidal Basin, we also enjoyed visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and catching a glimpse of colorful tulips blooming just about everywhere. 

Have you ever been to DC during the National Cherry Blossom Festival? What signs of spring are popping up in your area right now? 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Writer’s Life: It’s a Wrap!

This round of ROW80, that is…not my actual work in progress, which still has a long way to go, but in my humble opinion is definitely off to a strong start. How did I do in achieving my goals for this round? Let’s take a quick look.

1) Consistently write at least 2-3 High Heels & Flip-Flops blog posts each week. Check! I successfully kept up with my blogging schedule throughout the past several months and have every intention to stick with it.

2) Finish reading at least 1-2 novelist advice books to help refine my technique and focus. Check! Though I didn’t quite have enough time to fully complete The Successful Novelist throughout the past week, I did complete Story Structure Architect earlier in the session.

3) Complete the remaining historical research necessary to flesh out my plotlines and ensure their accuracy. Check! I feel good about the key pieces of research I have in place and am confident that I’ll be able to fill in the rest as I write my first draft and later make revisions.

4) Complete 50 pages of solid opening content by the March 22 deadline. Check! Although my content is certainly rough at this stage, I did meet my goal and am pleased to now have on hand a detailed plot outline, a character development guide and several opening chapters to give me a good foundation.

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And there you have it! I’m quite proud of the progress I’ve made throughout the first round of ROW80, since this program was a great motivator and stepping stone as I initially got started. Even though I had originally planned to also join in for round two, I’ve actually decided that I won’t be.

Why? Well, most importantly, with all the changes and potentially big decisions I’ll be facing over the next couple months, I’d really like this project to be something I can work on a bit more quietly and privately, without any pressure to meet a certain number of goals or to consistently share my progress with others. Will I still continue to make time for my WIP? Absolutely, hopefully getting ever-closer to the finish line with my first draft.    

Of course, I may also still share the occasional update with you here and hope to continue talking about my experiences as a writer in general, since I’ve really enjoyed sharing more about that aspect of my life. Thank you all for your ongoing friendship and support, and I hope you’ll keep working hard toward achieving your own goals, whatever they may be! 

Monday, March 19, 2012

‘Casablanca’ Hits the Big Screen

Happy Monday! I hope you all had a fun and relaxing weekend. I know I did, especially since after finishing up a nice batch of class reading on Friday night, I didn't so much as even have to think about homework all weekend long. Instead, Stephen and I decided to spend our time outdoors enjoying the great weather, grabbing Chinese food with friends and catching up on a little leisurely reading.

Although the start of the week means that it's time to get back into my regular routine, the next few days are also shaping up pretty well so far, with our planned outing to see the DC cherry blossoms Tuesday evening and a sushi-making class lined up for next Saturday. Plus, in honor of Casablanca’s 70th anniversary this Wednesday, I'm incredibly excited that 500 theaters across the country are showing the movie on the big screen, including one right here in the DC area.

I don't know about the rest of you, but in my eyes, Casablanca is and probably always will be the best film of all-time. I love absolutely everything about this movie, from the finely tuned script to the remarkable cinematography to the impeccable acting by some of Hollywood’s greatest legends. So, as you can imagine, I snapped up my ticket weeks ago via Fandango, and Stephen and I are both excited to take a rare weeknight break to catch Bogart and Bergman in theaters.

I hope you all have a great day and a fabulous week ahead! Are you also planning to see Casablanca on the big screen? What’s your favorite movie of all-time? 

Friday, March 16, 2012

DC Up Close: A Night at the Opera

As a welcome break from the class project madness, Stephen and I snuck away to the Kennedy Center for a few hours last Friday night to enjoy the Washington National Opera’s production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. Long a fan of musicals, I’ve recently begun to explore opera, as well, and Cosi definitely didn’t disappoint.

The story – a comedy-drama that offers timelessly serious messages about trust and betrayal – centers around two young men who make a bet that their fiance├ęs will always remain faithful to them, even if tempted by others. The men then assume disguises and each try to seduce the other’s lady, which of course has disastrous consequences all around.

Our performance featured a cast of up-and-coming actors from the Washington National Opera’s young artists program, and each of the performers did a truly impressive job. Also, since the opera was updated in both dress and supertitles to be set in modern-day DC, it was especially funny and relevant to the audience.

So far in my lifetime, I’ve seen more than 30 musicals, operas and plays, and I of course hope to keep seeing many more in the coming years. Here, a look at just 10 of my top favorites thus far.

1) Les Miserables
2) Cabaret
3) Aida
4) The Lion King
5) Chicago
6) The Sound of Music
7) Annie
8) Wicked
9) Mozart’s The Magic Flute
10) Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Are you a fan of musical theater and opera? What are some of your favorite performances? 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Writer's Life: Wednesday Flyby

With another massive group project wrapped up as of Monday night, I’m feeling a major sense of relief and am definitely looking forward to making the final week of ROW80 a strong one! Here, a few flyby thoughts this spring-like Wednesday.
  • I’ve still got a few more The Successful Novelist chapters to read and a few more pages of content to write before I can officially say that I’ve met my goals for this session of ROW80. And since I’ve still got a week to go, I'm on a mission to make it happen! 
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  • Even though I know it’s an unhealthy sign of climate change, the early spring-like temps here in DC have me itching to break out the flip-flops a bit early this year. Here’s hoping the 70-plus-degree weather will stick around through the weekend.
  • Speaking of the weekend, Saturday will mark my first one in over a month that hasn’t been almost entirely devoted to one of two huge group projects that basically took over my existence throughout the past few weeks. I’m very much looking forward to spending a little time shopping, reading and bumming around town with my husband, with no thoughts of industry sales figures or e-publishing usability test results filling my head.   
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  • My cap and gown have arrived in the mail, and I’m happy to say that my last eight weeks as a grad student are now officially underway! My final classes, focused on publishing management strategies, editorial functions and industry ethics, are shaping up to be interesting and a great way to close out the program.
  • With Brian Williams recently announced as the GWU graduation speaker this year, I’m even more excited to take part in the ceremony on the National Mall. Sure, it will likely be hot and crowded, but will I ever have a chance quite like this again? I think not.
How’s your week shaping up so far? Has spring also arrived early in your neck of the woods? 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reader Q&A Answers: Part Two

As promised, here are the rest of my answers to your Q&A questions. I had so much fun doing this and definitely hope to do it again sometime in the future. Cheers!

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

I’d have the power to see the future, giving me the chance to try changing certain things for the better ahead of time.

Tell a story about an embarrassing moment.

Slipping and falling down the stairs at work a couple years ago while rushing to a hearing. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt, and my friend was there to help me up. Tons of other people saw it happen, though!

How has the transition been from working in government to working in the wedding industry?

While there were many things I enjoyed about my job in government (my salary, for one), since leaving over a year ago, I’ve really been able to see how the environment and responsibilities were stifling my creativity. Though I still go through  "identity crisis" feelings now and then over all the recent changes I’ve been through, overall, I can see a huge difference in my happiness and outlook compared with back then. In exploring my love of weddings, I’ve also reignited my passion for writing, imagining and daring to dream big. I’ve become more comfortable speaking my mind and being vocal about issues I care about, without the past concerns about whether doing so would be a conflict of interest with my government role. My publishing grad program has also opened my eyes to a ton of new opportunities and has shown me that I definitely don’t have to box myself in. The future feels so much more exciting now!

What is your favorite food to eat? To cook?

My favorite food to eat would probably be a platter of spicy chicken enchiladas. My favorite food to cook is pesto pasta, because it’s tasty, fast and too simple for me to mess up!

What is the one little thing that brings a smile to your face?

Petting my kitties and watching them play. Animals are so innocent and inspiring to me.

What do you enjoy about being married?

I love spending every day with my dearest friend and dreaming about what the future holds for us.

What is your favorite upcoming spring trend?

I’m really excited about pastels and color-blocking. Pastel nail polishes have always been favorites of mine, and I’m looking forward to trying out some new shades and combos this year.

When you moved to the East Coast, was it your first time seeing snow?

My first time seeing snow was actually when my family visited Big Bear in California’s southern mountains when I was about six. Moving to DC brought my first experience seeing snow in a city, non-resort environment, though, and it was definitely exciting, even though I’m not a fan of snow overall. Somewhere, I have a picture that was taken by a fellow intern my first winter here, showing me standing in the snow with the Capitol dome rising behind me. I love thinking back on it and remembering my first few months in DC!

Have you had to deal with any bridezillas yet? If not, how do you think you would handle one?

I generally try to avoid the term “bridezilla,” since it is such a loaded, emotionally charged word. I think that too often, many brides (including me), have on occasion been afraid to speak up for what they really want in fear of being called or considered a ‘zilla. That said, I think it’s also very important, whether as a bride or wedding professional, to make sure that your personality and communication style are compatible with those you choose to work with. When two people understand one another and communicate well, it generally eliminates instances of intense frustration. I've had a great experience with each one of my brides thus far. Though they have each had different personalities and desires, in every case, we were able to work extremely well together, ensuring a positive experience on both sides. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Writer’s Life: Crossroads Ahead

Today’s ROW80 check-in begins on a high note. Yesterday, I got word that, so long as everything goes according to plan, a magazine article I feared had been rejected a few weeks back is actually scheduled to be published in April. To say that I'm excited about this is definitely an understatement. Plus, since I was also honored to have this piece picked up online via The Favour Shoppe, I’m very much looking forward to the increased exposure for myself and my sources. I’ll be sure to share more details once the issue has been officially published, but for now, things are looking good.

Also, while an intense round of class projects unfortunately kept me from posting my check-ins throughout the past couple weeks, I’m absolutely still on track to fulfill my goals for this round, and here's why.
  • In spite of my busy schedule, I’ve still been blogging regularly at least twice a week. This week, I’m posting four times, which is even better!

  • I’ve finished the major initial research needed for my novel, and should likely be able to fill in the rest as I go. I may even be able to further flesh out certain details during the revision phase, once I have the basic plot down on paper.

  • I’m on track to finish reading The Successful Novelist within the next two weeks.

  • Between my even further developed outline, recently created character development pieces and actual intro chapters, I’m just shy of competing 50 pages of "opening" content. Though I initially hadn’t planned on counting the outline and character development materials toward this goal, I now feel that I might as well. After all, they are vital pieces of the puzzle that critically impact my ability to continue moving forward. I can already tell that having solid versions of these items on hand will now make things go so much faster as I work on completing my first draft.
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With my graduation fast approaching in May (hooray!), I’m also approaching a major crossroads and will be spending the next couple months carefully exploring my post-grad goals and opportunities. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more with you as I go through this process and things start to come together cohesively. 

At the top of my goal list this week is to begin creating a personal website sharing details about my various professional experiences and aspirations. If anyone has good advice in terms of how to best go about doing so, I definitely welcome the input! Have a great day, and stay tuned tomorrow for my answers to the rest of your reader questions, which I first started answering in Tuesday's post.

Do you have a personal website, besides your blog? How did you initially go about focusing and structuring it? 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reader Q&A Answers: Part One

First, thanks so much for your many supportive and thoughtful comments in response to yesterday's post about my decision to part ways with the Catholic Church. While it has been very freeing to share my honest feelings and emotions, it was also in some ways a difficult post to write and make public. It really means so much to know that many of you can relate to the way I feel, or at the very least respect my opinion, which so many in our society and the media don't.

In other, more fun news, I've finally had time to compile my answers to your reader questions! I got such a great response that I've actually split my answers into two posts, which I'll be running today and on Thursday. Here's the first batch below.

What is your favorite clothing store?

My longtime favorite for both work and play has always been LOFT. I love the classic, feminine styles, and the prices are generally reasonable for my budget. With the proper care, I’ve also found some of the pieces to be pretty long-lasting.

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What is your favorite cuisine when eating out?

This is a tough one, since there are so many types of cuisine I love, including Mexican, Indian, tapas and sushi. Lately, I’ve also been on a Thai food kick, especially since we recently discovered a great new restaurant in our neighborhood. My husband has even been experimenting with making shrimp pad Thai at home, which is delicious!

If you had to re-plan a completely different wedding for yourself, what kind of wedding would you have?

I loved my wedding and will always enjoy looking back on those memories, but if I had it to do over, I would definitely skip a church ceremony and instead go for something more personalized and low-key outdoors. I would also probably go for an even smaller celebration, though our 75-guest wedding was definitely pretty tight-knit to begin with. If and when we do a vow renewal, I’d love a vineyard or Hawaiian beach ceremony.  

What do you think is the hardest part of being married?

It can definitely be hard to make sure your goals are consistently in line and that each partner is able to pursue his or her passions. My husband and I made the tough decision a couple years ago to turn down a job opportunity back in California – where we ultimately want to be – since I had just been accepted into grad school here in the DC area. Now that I’m about to graduate, we’re also trying to consider all of our options and arrive at the most mutually beneficial decisions.

Image Source: Damien Smith Photography
What is your favorite game (any kind, board, app, etc.)

I love the group party game Apples to Apples! It’s fun in just about every scenario.

What is your go-to office supply?

Post-It notes. I’m constantly making notes and to-do lists to help keep myself on track and make sure I’m not forgetting anything important.

If you drink wine, what is your favorite kind?

When it comes to whites, I love crisp Pinot Grigios, along with typically sweeter Vigoniers. I also love smooth reds, including Syrahs.

What do you like to pair with your wine?

I love wine with a good meal, but also love to pair it with gourmet cheeses of all types. For Christmas, my father-in-law gave us a membership to the Cowgirl Creamery cheese-of-the-month club, which has given us tons of great options to try out!  

Since you're a Cali girl transplanted in a wintry paradise, what's your one winter must-have?

Comfy and cozy boots with great traction! 

Have a great day, everyone, and see you again tomorrow for my ROW80 check-in and writing update. I can't believe this round is already nearing its end! 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Politics & Religion: My Breakup with the Catholic Church

Disclaimer: High Heels & Flip-Flops is not a specifically political blog, but this is simply an issue I feel passionately about and a piece of my personal story I’d like to share with my community of readers. I welcome an open discussion about this topic, but ask that the conversation remain respectful and open-minded.

This Lent, I'm giving up something I now realize I probably should have a long time ago – the Catholic Church. As an American and a woman, the overblown contraception coverage debate recently instigated by the Church has angered and disgusted me, to say the least. Though I was raised as a Catholic and was once a strong participant in its traditions, I haven’t formally practiced for several years, for many personal reasons, including my ever-increasing lack of agreement with the Church’s stance on contraception, gay rights, women’s rights, its handling of sex abuse cases, and more. I have, however, up until this point remained somewhat amicable in my position toward the Church, attending mass on occasion with relatives and friends, getting married in the Church (which both my husband and I now regret), and remaining connected to the community in a cultural, “this is my Irish-Italian heritage” sort of way.

However, the Church’s recent outcry concerning an Obama administration policy – one stating that religious institutions, including hospitals and universities (not actual churches), should be required to provide contraception coverage to their employees – has pushed me over the edge once and for all. As some of my longtime readers and friends may know, I grew up without health insurance and didn’t have coverage until I got my first full-time job at 22. I know what it’s like to be in a doctor’s office or pharmacy and see my family dole out exorbitant amounts of money – often the only savings we had – in order to gain access to needed exams and medications, all because my parents’ employers did not provide coverage and because my parents made "too much" to qualify for federal or state aid, but not enough to afford independent coverage. To this day, I'm still dealing with certain health conditions, including gum disease, that are the result of my lack of preventive care as a child. I also began using contraceptives as a young teenager to help combat severe acne and the even more serious polycystic ovary syndrome, long before I ever needed them for “other” reasons. Too often, it seems that our politicians and religious leaders forget, or simply don’t care, that there are medical reasons for using contraceptives other than preventing pregnancy.

Plus, despite the fact that as many as 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control, and the added reality that not everyone who works for a Catholic institution – not to mention those members of their families who are also included under their coverage – is actually Catholic, the Church’s male leaders have recently turned this important women’s health issue into their own political football. Especially shameful and disgusting is the hyped up language being used to describe the situation by the Church’s leaders and others, including such terms as “intrinsically evil,” “war on religion” and “grave situation.” This is especially shocking and straight-up unacceptable coming from members of an institution whose leader – the pope – grew up in 1930s Germany. In one news interview, I even heard a bishop make a direct comparison between this situation – the administration’s so-called oppression of the Church – and the policies of Nazi Germany. To say that this outraged me is to put things far too mildly.

Have we forgotten that freedom of religion also means the freedom to not practice religion and to not have anyone else’s religious beliefs imposed upon you? In my eyes, the Church wants to do exactly this by restricting employee access to contraception. All I seem to hear in the debate taking place nationwide, however, are concerns about restricting the Church’s own religious freedoms, rather than concerns about restricting a citizen’s individual right to not have someone else’s religious beliefs forced upon her.

So, in light of these developments, the Catholic Church and I have from this day forward officially broken up. If a friend or relative has a Catholic wedding or other type of celebration, I will of course go, realizing that their views and decisions are their own. But as far as my personal life and identity are concerned, the Catholic Church will no longer play any role, including if and when I have children, who I refuse to raise in what I feel is an increasingly archaic, misogynistic and hypocritical tradition. While a part of me is definitely sad to say goodbye to what I've long regarded as a part of my heritage and personal history, I also realize that standing up for my beliefs means actually living them, every day. As such, I often wish that more women, Catholic and otherwise, would join me, rather than sitting silently by while others continue to make important choices concerning our personal lives and individual healthcare needs, which cannot be generalized and should never be politicized. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Grad School Kitty

Stressed out? Too much classwork on your plate?

Fear not! Twix, the ultimate grad school study partner, has got this one covered.

Reading a little bit of this... 

Little bit of that... 

Good grief, this is all just too complicated! I give up... 

Happy Friday, everyone, and have a great weekend! :)