Monday, July 30, 2012

Okay, Okay, I Know

My recent blog posts have all been food-related. What can I say? It's a creative outlet with tasty results. Therefore, I love cooking. It doesn't tell you much, I know.

Should I tell you about the NYU Summer Publishing Institute? I can say a little. We had to sign a confidentiality waiver agreeing not to talk specifics of what we learned. There are big execs from big magazines/publishing houses who came and talked about stuff and maybe some of it was supposed to be a secret. So, I'm actually legally obligated not to talk about too much that went on there. I can probably say more than I think, but I'm not entirely sure what's allowed and what isn't, so I'm steering clear of the whole thing. But here's something I can say: I found a direction.

All my (academic) life, I have loved the subject of English. From the origins of an avid reader rose an obvious candidate for a major in English. It was a foregone conclusion that English was what I needed to study and so I did. This was both a blessing and a curse. Blessing: being passionate about something and having a history of said passion. Curse: the resulting assumption that all decisions in life would come so organically.

I went through college with no real idea of what I wanted to do with my eventual degree. I never worried, though, because I thought a path would unfold at my feet. I wouldn't even need to try, only wait. Silly rabbit. The years passed, sometimes I had a part-time job, sometimes I didn't. I took one summer internship doing research for an academic publication. I should have done more summer internships, but even the internship adviser struggled to suggest anything for such a wayward soul. So, I eschewed internships for the most part, making more assumptions that a girl with an degree in English, who performed so well in academics, would ultimately be fine. Everything was going to happen for me, in its own time.

An adorable reverie, in retrospect, but having nothing to do with reality. Not even my own reality. It's a little bit of a joke in the Reedy household that nothing comes easily for us. This has been true for me in the greater part of my life. While academics were easy enough for me, nothing else was. From romantic failures to geographic instability, to psychological afflictions, to whatever, you name it, I've always had a bit of an uphill battle. I'm not complaining, not really. I tend to persevere and find my footing somehow. Things pan out (except that romance thing), I just have to try for it. Why I thought career advancement was just going to happen, I'll never know. Perhaps I have a scrap of faith somewhere that yearns to be relevant and it's reaching out for any outlet it can, in the absence of religion. Who knows?

So, I graduated. And suddenly I realized I had no idea what my next step should be and I had run out of time to brainstorm. My future never came to me in the expected epiphany. Degree in hand and anxiety in the brain, I started to scrabble for something, anything. Grad school? For what? I still had no direction and you can't pursue a higher degree in you're still uncertain. Everyone told me to teach English. But you need certification and further investments that will ultimately lock you into that field even if you don't want it. I wasn't ready to play that kind of game.

The a friend told me to teach abroad. All I needed was a 4-year degree and to be a native English speaker. Check and double-check. I love English, I love traveling, what could be better? The opportunity would give me some idea of what teaching was like and maybe I'd realize that was the path for me. Or, I'd see that teaching wasn't right for me and I'd have time to consider other options.

Well, if you've followed this blog from its inception, you know how the teaching in Korea thing went. Overall, I think of it as an experience that was certainly enriching. Mostly, I learned that I could probably make a living teaching, but it would never be my passion. Passion, the elusive mistress.

Okay, so teaching was out. After that I drew another blank. And god, was i tired of blanks. At that point in time, I realized that maybe choosing a career couldn't be left to the gut. My gut clearly wasn't giving me any insights, time to switch tactics. This is a much more complicated ordeal than it sounds. I have always lived by gut instinct, been a follower of the heart, not the head. I wasn't sure I even knew how to start listening to my head, this late in the game. My head came up with all those ideas that I registered, but ultimately ignored. How do I even use this thing when it comes time for a decision?

What do I love? Was the first question I tried. It was a good segue between heart and head, I think. Books. I love books. Okay, what else? Insert the comedic sound of crickets chirping. Well, books then. How do I make this into a career? So on, et cetera until it seemed the logical step would be to pursue a career in book publishing. How to break in would be a different matter.

I tried to break in on my own for a while. Turns out, you can't just say you like publishing and have any prospective employer believe you. And you can't storm a castle without a battering ram. To regroup, I consulted a friend of mine who had managed to break into a book publishing career. She suggested enrolling in NYU's Summer Publishing Institute, which had helped her along her path.

I applied and waited and hey, I got in! Let me say, fr the record, that the program is spectacular. There are challenging group projects that will force you to play roles you've never played before and there are insightful seminars from big magazine and book publishing execs, it's all very cool fo someone who's into that kind of stuff (read: me). I went in, little ol' directionless me, with only a small idea of what I might be interested in doing in the publishing business.

The environment of the program immediately felt right. It felt like I was onto something. Over the course of the six-week program, big changes were underfoot. When we switched from the magazine portion of the course to the book portion, I knew book publishing was better for me. It was exciting, invigorating, inspiring. A little bit of me started to stir inside (forgive me for waxing poetic, I can't help it). Cool. Book publishing. Uh, then what? Editorial? Sales? Marketing? Literary Agent? There are a lot of facets to the industry. How could I know which one was right for me? I was leaning toward editorial because, hey writing, I like that! That was honestly as secure as I was on that front. In the very last week of the program, I was chatting with someone and told them I was looking at editorial. She gave me a weird look. "Your personality is too big for editorial. Why don't you consider publicity?" As it happened, the friend in publishing I mentioned earlier managed to set up an informational meeting between me and the publicist at her company.

Publicists set up book campaigns, book author appearances on TV and radio, work up the digital presence of an author/book. It's a job on the front lines of publishing, getting a book out there and making people want to buy it. It takes tenacity and an outgoing nature, both of which I have and would be ecstatic to use on a day-to-day basis. So, yes, publicity is the little niche for me and I have NYU's Summer Publishing Institute to thank for coming to this realization.

Now, I have direction. I know what I want and all I have to do is figure out how to get it. Another uphill battle, but at least I know what I'm going for. What's next? Well, I need to become a more viable candidate in the race for publishing jobs. I've applied to a bunch of things, jobs and internships, but I think it will take more to get my wayward history working for me. As such, I've applied to NYU's M.S. in Publishing program. If six weeks and a certificate in that school can move me as much as it did, imagine what two years and a master's degree will do.

Will I get in? Tough call. I aced the certificate course, which speaks to my character, but once a Reedy always a Reedy. Fate may throw another mountain my way. If that's the case, I'll have to come up with something else. Until then, I've got my fingers crossed.


Michelangelo Cake

Of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fame.
Why, is there another Michelangelo?

My brother, Mike, loves him some TMNT. And Michelangelo in particular (probably because of the name). He loved the old cartoon, the movies, he even had the action figures. The original ones with the squishy, rubber heads. We used to watch the show/movies together all the time. The movies (the first and second-- though we own the third, it's the black sheep) are among the set of go-to films we watch when we can't decide on anything else. We once had a revelatory moment by connecting two of our go-to films. We, of course, watched The Goonies all the time (though I've recently found out that Mikey never much cared for this film. huh) which features the incomparable Corey Feldman. In the movie, one of his character's best friends is named Mikey (played by SEAN ASTIN) and in the movie, he says "Hey, Mikey..." probably a couple times. In TMNT, Donatello and Michelangelo are hanging out in the sewer, waiting on a pizza, when Donatello breaks into a brief moment of reflection. "Hey Mikey..." he begins. And so it was that Mike and I discovered that Corey Feldman provided the voice of Donatello in the first (and third) TMNT films.

Great story, I know.

Anyway, Mikey and his wife, Nicole, are very busy during wedding season. I don't know how they know so many people, but they are booked tight for most of the summer. Last weekend, he told my parents and I that if we didn't see him then, he wouldn't have any free time until September. 

Now, while working at Goodwill a couple months back, I came across a Michelangelo-shaped cake pan that I knew I had to buy for Mikey's birthday cake. It was fate. So, I'd been hanging onto this pan for months, waiting for Mikey's birthday, which comes in late August. If I wasn't going to potentially see him until September, I had to make some command decisions. Therefore, the night before I went to see my brother and sister-in-law, I declared that the meeting was going to turn into a surprise birthday party, complete with amazing cake. I made my mother run me over to the supermarket for the appropriate cake and decorating icing.

The pan was kind of a dud. With irregular-shaped pans, I tend to go grease-heavy because you never know how that's going to work. As a result, I think I may have obscured some of the defining lines on the cake. When I popped that sucker out, it was pretty much just a cake with odd edges. Lucky for me, I can draw from a source image well enough, so I looked at the underside of the pan to get an idea of where all the lines went.

Blah blah blah, I made a cake and it turned out really well. It photographed even better. We took it to Mike and Nicole's and he was very please/impressed. He immediately took pictures to send to his friends. 

So, where do I pick up my Best Sister Ever award?


Monday, July 23, 2012

Chicken Piccata Time!

Chicken Picatta is one of my favorite dishes, which is why I decided to make it myself. I started with this recipe:

Of course, I'm me, so I only use recipes as a jumping board, in the best of times. Here are the ingredients:

Except the Mio. That had nothing to do with it.

2-4 Chicken breasts
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste
4 Tbsp Butter
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/3 cup wine
3 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1-2 cloves of Garlic
1/4 cup Capers (in brine)
Some Chopped Parsley

Okay, these were most of the ingredients. Until I got all indignant about the lack of garlic. There are some recipes that call for garlic, but this one didn't. As a lover of garlic, I decided to throw some in. And I nixed the Parmesan because my dad doesn't like it so much. You gotta play to type, kids.

What I usually do first is a little prep work. Chop the parsley, juice the lemon(s), uncork the wine, and then prep the chicken.

This made me feel like a Spanish Inquisitor.

So exciting.

So let's get the cooking started. I didn't even have any during-cooking wine. What was I thinking? If you replicate the process, make sure to add wine to yourself. Because, why not? After that, butterfly your chicken in half. This should yield 4-8 little cutlets. I had 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, so I got 6 thin cutlets.

Then, mix flour, salt, and pepper in a medium-sized bowl. It might be cool to play around with other spices. Maybe throw some dried parsley in there. Some cayenne if you're feeling spicy.

Rinse your cutlets and dredge them in the flour mixture. You want a nice, thin coating. The water will help it stick. You can also use some beaten egg to the same effect.

No idea why I went for the weird angle here. Awkward.
Let your watered and floured chicken breasts hang out on the cutting board for a minute. 

Heat up a large frying pan, on medium high heat, with 3 or 4 Tbsp of olive oil and 2 Tbsp of butter. I ran out of regular olive oil, so had to substitute in like a tablespoon of garlic-infused olive oil. No harm, no foul.

Once the oil is nice and hot, place your chicken breasts in there. I fit about three in at a time, don't wanna squeeze them in and make them uncomfortable. 

Fry the breasts, about three minutes to each side, until both sides are a light, golden brown. Cut a tiny slit in one of the breasts, or, if you're me, hack one of the breasts into pieces, to make sure the chicken is cooked through. You cannot serve chicken rare. That would be bad.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan and set it aside. I guess you can wrap it in foil if you're worried about super-hot food. I didn't bother.

If there's oil left in the pan, no worries, don't rinse that out. It just adds to the sauce. Add your wine, lemon juice, finely chopped garlic, and capers to the pan. It will steam a bit when you add the wine. Not a problem. Stir all this together, scraping up any fried bits on the bottom of the pan. 

This would be a great time to remember that dinner is usually more than an entree. Quick boil some water and toss some angel hair in there to cook down right quick.

After about five minutes, the sauce will have reduced a bit, add the rest of the butter (2 Tbsp) and stir as it melts in. And that's it. I could have used more sauce, to be honest. I'd probably double down on that part of the recipe. The amount was a little light for 3 breasts, in no way would have been good for 6.

Plate up! I put a little pasta down, then a chicken breast, drizzled some sauce on top, then cheaped out and threw some baby cut carrots on the top. Last minute, I threw some parsley on top. Voila!

And "Boom," goes the dynamite.