Sweetness: The Office

My first grown up job came about eight months after I graduated from college. Looking back now, I realize that I was even younger than I felt, and I’m sure that my colleagues–all middle-aged, all male, probably saw me as a child. I worked as an editorial assistant for a website that focused on cars, something I knew absolutely nothing about. It was a learning experience for me on a variety of levels; I learned about car trims, office politics, and the importance of speaking up for myself. A couple of my co-workers were especially kind to me, inviting me to eat lunch with them at Costco and taking me around in the press cars that car companies sent along. When I left my job for an ill-fated stint in London, I was shocked at just how sad I felt. I hadn’t expected to become fond of the people I worked with, let alone to bond with them and share inside jokes about Arrested Development.

One of the things that has struck me most about getting older is just how little I was prepared for how important work would become in my life. Not in the sense that I spend all my waking hours there or that my job is so demanding, but so much of your day-to-day life is devoted to getting ready for, going to, being at, or coming home from work. The people you work with, whether you like it or not, frequently become pretty prominent fixtures in your life. And because you don’t really have a choice in who you work with, they become a family of sorts.

The people you work with are people you were just thrown together with. I mean, you don’t know them, it wasn’t your choice. And yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family. But probably all you have in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day.

-Tim Canterbury, The Office (UK)

Friday marks the last day of my current job. It’s the longest I’ve ever been in any job (two years), and despite the fact that the circumstances that led to my departure were less than desirable, I find myself feeling a little nostalgic, and, hell, even a little bit sad. At a meeting on Wednesday, one of my former bosses handed me a card. I held off on reading it until I was on the bus ride home, because deep down inside I’m an incredible sap and I could feel tears welling up in my eyes throughout the meeting. It turns out my instincts were correct. The card and and notes inside made me full on cry, so much that the teenage girls sitting directly across from me were visibly embarrassed for me.

Two shows that are near and dear to my heart (30 Rock and The Office) came to an end this year. When I started watching the shows, I was a recent college graduate, put off by the idea that you would befriend people you worked withBoth shows have been there throughout the often painful professional development that has dominated my mid-to-late twenties, and I often saw myself and my co-workers mirrored in the characters on-screen. I cried at the end of both shows, aware that something was ending, both on television and in my own life.

So, no, leaving my job right now was not on any plan I’d laid out for the next year of my life, and the past few weeks have been a serious test of my resolve to not become an alcoholic,  but leaving has helped me put things in perspective–I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who challenged me and helped me learn in ways that went beyond how to edit HTML in SharePoint. My patience was tested on an hourly basis and there were days where I was sure that years were being shaved off my life with each email I received. But I gained a lot, too, things I probably won’t be aware of until my next job (that I start on MONDAY–what is wrong with me?), or even until the one after that. It’s a sad trick of life that we frequently don’t appreciate all the good we are surrounded with until it’s too late and the goodness is already gone.

As Andy Bernard says in The Office finale:

Thanks for the memories.

Advertisements

Sweetness: Like a Virgin

I took my first plane ride at the age of six–it was a United flight from San Francisco to Seattle to visit my dad during summer vacation, and I was beyond excited. One of my mom’s friends packed a bento box for me to take on the plane, and I remember being really excited that since I was flying alone, I could have as much soda as I wanted (I didn’t have that much). I got a window seat and did my level best not to kick the seat in front of me, and throughout the flight, the flight attendants would stop by with extra snacks and those plastic pin-on wings. At the end of the flight, the lady who had been sitting on the aisle said “Well you were just such a good little girl!” I beamed.

I’ve flown countless times since then, and it seems that every flight has gotten progressively worse. From oversold flights to seriously delayed to taxi-ing on the runway for what seems like hours and being nickled and dimed for subpar food/drink/service, flying is at best a mildly unpleasant experience.

A couple years ago, I took a Virgin Atlantic flight from Chicago to London and was pleasantly surprised. I flew economy but it didn’t feel as much like steerage as United and Delta do, the booze was free, the seats comfortable, the lighting an eye friendly version of a W Hotel lobby. Sadly, Virgin Atlantic doesn’t run from Seattle, and whenever I checked flights for trips to California, the fares for Virgin America were much higher than for Alaska.

A couple weeks ago, however, Virgin America ran a special and I was able to book a round trip flight to San Francisco from Seattle for just under $200. And let me tell you, it was worth every penny.

From the very beginning of your trip, you become acutely aware of the fact that this is not just any old airline. The same awesome mood lighting that made my trips to and from London so spectacular was present on my plane, along with a witty, animated flight safety video that you actually want to watch.

vsco_3

Seats were wide, and even though the woman immediately in front of me decided to recline her seat back as far as it could possibly go, I was still able to sit comfortably and watch television without reclining my own seat.

In-seat televisions include free, live DirectTV, as well as a seriously huge variety of pay-per-view movies, and a large (free) collection of movies. Maybe my favorite feature of all are the plugs and USB ports at your seat. You can order drinks, meals, and snacks from the same screen where you watch television.

It’s become widely accepted that from the moment you set foot into the airport to the vsco_2moment you collect your suitcase from the baggage claim, you’ve committed yourself to a hybrid earthbound/sky-filled purgatory. The wonder of flight is easily tempered by the joyless slog through TSA screenings and the check-in counter lines that look like something from a photograph taken at Ellis Island in the early 1900s. Virgin may cost a little more than other carriers, but the thing is, when I’m offered creature comforts (AND WIFI) at 36,000 feet, I’ll happily cough up more money.

After all, what’s a few extra duckets when you’re able to tweet in-flight photos while sipping a Rum and Coke you ordered from your seat while watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey?

vsco_1

Virgin America

Julia Child for the 9-to-5er: Madeleines

vscocam566As a child, I never understood why my mom would come home from work looking so tired. I’d been to work with her once or twice, and it just seemed like she sat there, staring at a computer screen, not really doing anything. It took years, basically until a couple years ago, for me to understand the sort of bone tired exhaustion that can come from what really does amount to just sitting there, staring at a computer. On the surface, you’re not really doing anything, but a grown up job that requires you to be actively engaged is really  eight hours of a living version of those whack-a-mole games I was so terrible at when I’d go to Bullwinkle’s as a child.

So now, I understand. I understand feeling mildly defeated after a long day at work where almost everything is out of your control. And sometimes, if I’m really feeling bad for myself, I think about how I get to do this for at least another forty years.

And this, my friends, is how stress baking came about. I’m grateful and thankful and happy to be employed, but it sometimes just feels nice to go into the kitchen with a mission and know that if I do everything as directed, something awesome will come out of the oven.

That’s where madeleines come in. About a year ago, I’d just finished an especially stressful day and wandered into Williams-Sonoma, a dangerous, dangerous place, where I chanced upon a glittery, golden madeleine pan. Like everyone else who has ever been to Starbucks, I’ve grabbed a pack of those delicious madeleines that taunt you at the cash register and thought about how difficult they must be to make.

It turns out, all you need is one of those pans, some butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

The shape and taste would lead you to believe that madeleines are an insane treat to make, something akin to macarons. And the reality is that they are incredibly easy to prepare and will never fail to impress people.

(I got this recipe from the back of that  madeleine pan I bought at Williams-Sonoma):

You will need:

Softened, unsalted butter for brushing molds
1/2 cup (75g) all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
2 eggs
1/3 cup (90g) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 tbs. (1/2 stick/60g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confestioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)
A madeleine pan

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 375°F. Using a pastry brush, heavily brush softened butter over each ofvscocam567 the 16 molds in a madeleine pan, carefully buttering every ridge. Dust the molds with flour, tilting the pan to coat the surfaces evenly. Turn the pan upside down and tap it gently to dislodge the excess flour.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, granulated sugar and salt. Using a wire whisk or a handheld mixer on medium-high speed, beat vigorously until pale, thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Sprinkle the sifted flour over the egg mixture and stir or beat on low speed to incorporate.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in half of the melted butter just until blended then fold in the remaining melted butter.

Divide the batter among the prepared molds, using a heaping tablespoon of batter for vscocam565each mold (At this point, I wrap the madeleines tightly in saran wrap and then put them in the refrigerator for at least an hour but up to overnight–this gives them that beautiful, trademark bump that will inspire your own Proust-ian moment of waxing poetic about madeleines) Bake the madeleines until the tops spring back when lightly touched, 8 to 12 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and invert it over a wire rack, then rap it on the rack to release the madeleines. If any should stick, use your fingers to loosen the edges, being careful not to touch the hot pan, and invert and rap again.

Let the madeleines cool on the rack for 10 minutes. Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the tops with confectioners sugar and serve. Makes 16.

vscocam564