Baked Brie with Jam, Nuts, and Seeds

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Just like that, it’s over; I graduated from Otis and now I’m done with my education! Time, apparently, flies by when you’re having fun and when you’re not. Fortunately for me, the last few years have been mostly fun.

The week before graduation, my classmates and I spent most of our time setting up for the Senior Show. I was soon disabused of the notion that we could all quickly set up our projects and then work together to finish the environmental graphics; instead, projects were moved around constantly and a lot of the work ended up being done on the last possible day. I spent most of my energy painting tables black, covering years of art students’ graffiti with each stroke of the brush.

On Friday I cleaned and cooked like a woman possessed, and was done in time to greet my parents, Emma, and Jonji (who had been in Santa Cruz for most of that week after completing his third year of med school). We spent a relaxed hour catching up until I had to depart for Industry Night at Otis. The event lasted five hours, during which we all had to stand by our projects and talk to any industry professionals interested in either the projects or us. Fortunately Alaura and I were next to each other, so we had someone to talk to when some professionals awkwardly avoided eye contact with us. My project, which was about tackling non-credible news stories by using a bot to fairly score all articles, received overall good feedback. I arrived home late and sat down for a brief dinner of chicken tacos and then called it a night.

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The next morning the five of us went to the gym to participate in one of the hardest partner workouts I’ve ever done, and we all left feeling rather shell-shocked. Cristy met us at our apartment acting as Breakfast Santa, showering us with gifts of eggs and bacon. We ate and showered before heading down to Abbot Kinney for coffee and window shopping. Bailey grabbed an Uber out of LAX to meet us there, and we all meandered around until the afternoon, at which point we could check in to their Airbnb house. Unfortunately, the house wasn’t as awesome as the pictures portrayed, and Bailey spent the next half hour cringing away from the couch and muttering about murderers.

Eventually we piled into our cars and headed out for a very early dinner at A.O.C., another one of Suzanne Goin’s restaurants. There, we were joined by Matt and his mom Cathy, Matt having been in town for a previous engagement. Ravenous, we ordered some excellent cocktails and devoured bread and butter before turning to the dinner menu. Bailey, who was anti-sharing, watched everyone’s dishes beadily as they went by, but stuck to her guns and ended up with a plate all to herself. Everything was delicious, even though our waiter judged food using a spice scale from another planet, and we eventually left to go to my Senior Show. At Otis, we walked around somewhat dazedly, admiring students’ work. I got to show them what I’d been working on for the past year, and it was fun to give some of my favorite people a brief tour of the place I’d spent the last three years.

I left early the next morning in order to practice my speech on stage with the mic before everyone else arrived. After a brief time with my classmates in the courtyard, everyone looking like Hogwarts students in their black robes, I had to retreat to the faculty “lounge.” Finally, we were told to line up. We made our stately way into the theater, past my beaming family, and up onto the stage. My nerves weren’t bad until I had to stand next to the podium as the provost gave a brief background on my achievements; attempts to manipulate my jaw into a smile began to feel similar to talking through a mouth full of dry peanut butter. Soon, it was my turn to speak. The stage was brightly lit; the audience became one large shadowed mass. To expectant faces that I couldn’t see, I spoke of the quirks of Otis students, the merits of imagination (yes, I did make five Harry Potter references, and I will never regret it), and the hope that creativity will pave the way for positive change in the world. The resounding applause as I left the podium was a relief, and I gratefully made my way back to my seat.

What felt like a million-and-a-half diplomas later, the ceremony ended. After finding my family and friends, we took a couple of pictures and then fled back to our apartment, glad to get out of the packed crowd of graduates and their families.

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After Bailey forced Emma and I to aid her in her quest for champagne flutes, because, according to her, “champagne tastes better in a flute,” we made it home. Champagne bottles popped, we quickly devoured cheese, olives, bread, crackers, and prosciutto. Finally satisfied, we flopped onto the lawn and enjoyed cocktails in the waning afternoon sun. I got thoroughly excited over my beautiful new copper Mauviel jam pot, courtesy of my family, and Harry Potter bookends from Cathy.

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Evening saw us sitting down to a simple and delicious feast of tri-tip, potatoes roasted in bacon fat, chimichurri, and salad. We finished the feast with my own vanilla and butterscotch-pecan ice cream alongside slightly-burnt meringues (my fault; you can’t always win). Everyone sat, laughing and talking, until it was time for bed. The whole evening was a wonderful end to an insane couple of weeks.

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We spent a couple of hours on breakfast Monday morning, and then I had to head over to Otis to clean up the Senior Show. I said my goodbyes, comforted by the fact that I would be seeing most of them the following day, and trekked off to campus for the last time in the foreseeable future.

The following day, Jonji and I packed the cats into the back seat and headed up to Santa Cruz. We made it there with enough time for a walk along Westcliff with Mom and Pip before heading out to a lovely meal at Home (the restaurant) for Taz’s birthday dinner.

On the third day, Jonji and I drove another few hours to stay at his dad’s new house by Grass Valley. Driving in, I thought we had accidentally taken a turn in Pine Mountain Lake; it looked so similar to my once-annual summer haunt. After a walk down by the lake with Jerry, Suzy, Grandma, and their furry friends, we spent a relaxed afternoon by their pool. Despite years going between games for me, Grandma and I managed to smash Jerry and Jonji in a game of Euchre, all due to Grandma’s skill and my own dumb luck.

The next morning was quiet except for the chirp of small birds. Seated on the porch with a view of the still blue lake, I once again wished that Jonji and I lived closer to nature.

We stopped in Davis, site of our first few months together, on the way home, grabbing lunch at the Co-op. The sight of the Davis water tower, the highest point on the land for miles, brought back memories of eagerly searching for that landmark out of a darkening train window, anticipating another reunion with the smiling young man I would one day decide to spend my life with.

The rest of Friday was spent at home, baking cookies and helping around the kitchen. Dad prepped his bar station, lining up gleaming coups and bottles full to the brim with simple syrup and lemon juice for his “Bee’s Knees” (honey, lemon, and gin—a new favorite). A small group of friends arrived to feast on a huge platter of cheese, spreads, charcuterie, and asparagus. Drinks in hand, small plates balanced in another, we gathered on the back porch to enjoy the remnants of the warm day. Double chocolate cookies wrapped up the evening, and soon there were only a few of us left. We wandered down to the Schmidt’s house, home to an endless history of water balloon fights, games of tag, and scoops of Skippy, to congratulate Karyn on her degree and subsequent graduation from Cabrillo.

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On Saturday, Mom, Emma, Bailey, and I spent a busy day at two bridal showers. The first was for Mallory, and we enjoyed a lovely lunch in the bright sun followed by a couple of shower games that thoroughly excited Meghan. It was a wonderful excuse to catch up with the Jackson and Pickett women and, of course, honor Mallory. The second shower was for Kelly at Auntie Paddy’s house. Her porch and patio were full of family and Kelly’s friends, and I spent another few hours chatting with those I don’t see as often as I’d like. After a couple of lively games, the four of us piled into the car and headed home, where we ended the evening with a few exciting games of Bananagrams with Dad.

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We were all sad to leave, including the cats, who had really started to feel at home at my parents’ house. But leave we did, once again waving until we disappeared down the street, hoping that this time next year we’ll be planning our move closer to home.

I’ve spent the past several days running errands, reading Saving the Season by Kevin West, and generally enjoying some time off before I start my new job next week. At the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market for the first time on Wednesday, I negotiated a good deal on blueberries and excitedly rushed home to make them into jam in my glorious new pot.

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It’s incredible to think that three years have passed since we moved to Los Angeles. I remember being excited and afraid to start another journey in a new city. And here we are: me with my degree from Otis, and Jonji soon to be completing his own. The constant in our sometimes crazy lives has been our apartment, the place that may not have AC or even anything standing between the cabinets and the underside of the building but which has nonetheless become our little sanctuary. The thing that sold me on this apartment, besides the gorgeous natural lighting, was the blooming hydrangea bush that peeks through both our bedroom and living room windows. Every summer I look forward to its exuberant bunches of magenta and green blooms; it’s always marked the beginning of another year in this spot for us. Next time it blooms we’ll be moving to a new place, a new adventure. When we leave, the hydrangea will remain here, quiet and regal in its sheltered corner, waiting to inspire the next occupants of Apartment 2.

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This week I decided to post two recipes, both of which represent the last couple weeks of celebration and decadence. Baked brie is sumptuous, rich, and special, and it will disappear in a few minutes at any gathering. Roasted asparagus, on the other hand, is delicious in its simplicity. Nothing beats in-season asparagus; cooked right, it feels like candy for grown-ups. It’s a celebration of an ingredient at its best, and it’s perfect for a special occasion—or really any occasion.

Side note: I just started an Instagram account for Feast, so if you want to see my food photos on a more regular basis, please follow its_a_feast. Thanks!

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Baked Brie with Jam, Nuts, and Seeds
serves 5–10

1 4-inch round of brie (I love triple cream goat brie, which I find at Whole Foods)
your favorite jam
handful of roasted almonds, roughly chopped
pumpkin seeds

Also good with chopped dried fruit, pecans, or whatever else you can think of; get creative!

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Place the round of brie in a small baking dish or pan. Smother the top with jam (I used my own Strawberry and Orange Jam) and then sprinkle generously with the chopped nuts and pumpkin seeds. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, until you can feel that it’s molten inside with a quick poke of your finger (or some cheese is oozing out).

Cool a few minutes (careful: the cheese is really hot) and then serve with good crackers. Enjoy!

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Roasted Asparagus with Pine Nuts
serves 6

2 bunches in-season asparagus
olive oil
salt
handful of pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Clean and trim the asparagus, then toss on a baking sheet with olive oil (oil amount is up to you, but I always say the more the merrier; when in doubt, lightly coat) and a couple big pinches of salt. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top and roast in the oven until tender, 5-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus, shaking the pan once or twice. Test for doneness by pricking the asparagus with a fork. Enjoy!

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