Vegetarian Bangers and Mash

“Bangers and Mash” is a quintessentially British meal with a predictably bizarre-sounding name. The word “bangers” comes from an early-twentieth-century reference to the fact that sausages would make popping sounds when fried (due to their high water content during meat shortages), while “mash” is simply short for “mashed potatoes.” This delicious vegetarian spin uses pre-made Italian veggie sausages and the fluffiest mashed potatoes recipe ever!

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Well, it’s official! GUESS WHO’S HEADED TO HARRY POTTER STUDIOS IN LONDON THIS SUMMER?!

Yeahhh, this girl is. Whoo-hoo!

Visiting the Hogwarts film set at Leavesdon Studios has been a dream of mine ever since prepubescent Daniel Radcliffe showed off his black-rimmed glasses (and terrible acting skills) for the first time back in 2001. I was, of course, majorly bummed when we didn’t visit the set during my trip to the UK last summer–but in a way I’m glad to be saving this special experience for one of the most magical years of my life to date. In addition to finishing my PhD, I’ve also started a brand new job and am incredibly stoked for this upcoming trip. The only real obstacle at this point–besides deciding which sites to visit and which ones to skip while I’m abroad–is trying to cram several weeks’ worth of clothing, shoes, meds, and essentials into my beautiful green 40-liter Osprey backpack. Wish me luck, and send me tips if you have them!

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In the spirit of my upcoming trip, my friend and I decided to co-host a Harry Potter-themed party replete with traditional Hogwartsian fare to boot. Twenty of us enjoyed Yorkshire pudding, treacle tart, shepherd’s pie, roast, and veggie sausages with mashed potatoes–or, as the British call it, (vegetarian) bangers and mash! The recipe I made yielded some of the smoothest, most buttery mashed potatoes that I have ever tried, and I would recommend it for your next big gathering without a moment’s hesitation.… Read more

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Chocolate Layer Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

This chocolate layer cake with peanut butter frosting is THE perfect birthday cake. Made with my favorite moist, rich chocolate cake and a fluffy peanut butter frosting, this cake is the perfect way to celebrate the chocolate-PB lover in your life!

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“Oh my god, it’s like I’m eating a PEANUT BUTTER DREAM!!!”

These were the words that exploded from one of my best friends’ mouths the moment she took a bite of this chocolate cake last week. Ten of us were crammed into my small apartment, forks at the ready and bodies half-sprawled all across my bed, couch, and carpet. We had gathered for a surprise birthday/farewell party for the screaming friend, who celebrated her 24th birthday on July 5th and would be leaving us for good the Monday preceding that milestone. Needless to say, she was more than pleased at our unexpected last-minute bonanza!

(This is a picture of her eating cake with chopsticks below. Meet Mops, everyone!)

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E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web (1952), once wrote of an unlikely fictional friendship: “Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” I think of this quote often–and not only because I happened to dedicate an entire chapter of my dissertation to this writer.

Over the past two years, I have been so lucky to cultivate the friendship of someone who is not only a true friend and an amazing writer (if you could only read this gal’s crazy stories!), but one of the most trusting, genuine, enthusiastic, and supportive people I know. She inspires me every single day to become a better version of myself, and we are going to miss her dearly now that she’s off to bigger and better adventures in India, England, and all around the world!… Read more

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Deep-Fried Cheesecake Bites

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CreateWithOil #CollectiveBias

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Boy, what a week! End-of-year dinners, graduations, and hangouts have been happening non-stop since last Monday, though it hardly feels like six years have flown by since I first stepped foot into grad school. (More about that in next week’s post!) I also made the journey down to Anaheim to cover some live events at VidCon–and finally made my 90s kid self’s dreams come true by getting slimed at the Nickelodeon booth! In the midst of all the hubbub, though, I’m happy to report that my family has found the time to visit and soak up some real SoCal sunshine with me. You can tell that summer is in full swing here: we can barely stand outside for five minutes without finding ourselves completely drenched in sweat!

From the beach pier where we walked last week, we could smell the aroma of freshly fried foods wafting across the boardwalk, and I was momentarily transported back to our family’s summer travel days. County fairs have always held a special place in my heart–every time we visited a new state on some road trip or another, we would visit the local fairs and try out all of the unique fried foods tantalizing us at each booth. Any fellow funnel cake fans out there? ;)

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In the spirit of summer, this week I decided to try my hand at deep-frying something right from the comfort of our own kitchen. Of course, deep-frying can make even the most unpalatable foods taste amazing (have you TRIED deep-fried pickles?), but what happens when you make great life choices and deep-fry something as inherently delicious as cheesecake?

Pure bliss, folks. Utter and edible heavenly bliss!

These Deep-Fried Cheesecake Bites are, without exaggeration, possibly one of my favorite in-kitchen creations to date.… Read more

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XL Bakery-Style Chocolate Chip Cookies

These bakery-style chocolate chip cookies are perfectly chewy in the middle, crispy around the edges, and filled with delicious semi-sweet chocolate morsels. Extra-large and certainly as good as–if not better than–the cookies you’d find in your neighborhood bakery!

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Like any good baker, I have been on a perennial quest to discover the BEST chocolate chip cookie recipe out there.

I’ve shared these perfect pudding chocolate chip cookies and my self-proclaimed favorite thick, chewy chocolate chip cookies, but I have yet to meet a cookie that fits the “bakery-style” bill quite as well as these do. Crispy edges, perfectly chewy centers, and chock-full of chocolate morsels: these cookies are bound to leave your friends stunned and begging for more! My swim coach’s wife apparently devoured seven before my coach even managed to snag a bite, and I’ve been delivering the rest to the entire department as thank-you gifts for putting up with me throughout these past few years.

Oh, and even my mom ate them. She actually ate several of them in one sitting without a single comment, which is basically the highest seal of approval that you can receive from an Asian parent.

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Between intermittent spurts of baking and work, I’ve been celebrating post-graduation life with–wait for it–one round of strep throat and another hearty bout of bronchitis/costochondritis! Hooray! I’d planned to post more frequently the moment I walked across the graduation stage (more on that exciting news next week), but I’m currently on my second round of antibiotics and hoping that this time they’ll actually do the trick. My right ribcage feels like it’s about to explode with all of the coughing and vomiting that have become my besotted bedside fellows over the past three weeks!

Sending all my love and a healthy dozen of these perfect, extra-large bakery-style chocolate chip cookies your way this week!… Read more

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Chocolate Crazy Cake–and an EXCITING announcement!!

I know that I’ve been gone for forever, but before I apologize, I have BIG NEWS to share with all of you that I think you’ll love…

https://www.katebackdrop.com/pages/custom-backdrops

Guys, I’M DONE WITH MY PhD!!!

It’s hard to even begin describing these crazy past three months. Back in February, I still had a full chapter, an introduction, and a conclusion to write–not to mention tons of revisions to wrap up and a lot of theoretical reframing to slough through. (In other words: LOTS to do!) Days were spent hunkering down in my woman-cave, a bowl of half-eaten instant ramen on one side and a steaming pit of deep despair on the other. My friends and fam–bless their souls–were absolute troopers during these whirlwind months, bringing the party to me when I couldn’t go out on a Friday night and surprising me by stocking my pantry with essentials whenever I forgot to eat. I could go on and on here about how these amazing folks saved my sanity, but I’m dedicating an entire post to that later (so stay tuned!).

Speaking of sanity, it has been in short supply for the past six years a few months now, because a lot has been happening apart from pursuing this prodigal PhD! Since February, I have:

  • Been to two weddings,
  • Baked a wedding cake,
  • Started seeing someone new,
  • Done live social media coverage for the second time at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards,
  • Completed my first sprint triathlon,
  • Hosted our first ever murder mystery party,
  • Seen six musicals/plays (The LionAmelie, Fun HomeFinding NeverlandBook of MormonIcebergs),
  • Stopped seeing someone,
  • Been to more grad bar events than I can count,
  • Traveled to Portland,
  • Hiked behind the Hollywood sign,
  • Attended my first-ever Meetup, and
  • Read a book for fun (omg it’s been SO long…the book is Frederick Crews’s The Pooh Perplex!).
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English Sticky Toffee Pudding

GUYS, I HAVE EXCITING NEWS!!!!! Can you guess what it is?

- Hint: there’s an important clue hidden in the post title! – 

No? Still no takers?

Then scroll scroll scrollllllll…

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IT’S OFFICIAL: I’m going to Europe again!!!

I’ve been bursting to share this news for months now, but since I didn’t buy my plane tickets until a few weeks ago I didn’t want to tempt the Fates and jinx anything. Now that all of us are officially squared away, though, I’m super stoked to tell that for about five weeks after graduation, I’m going to Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, and some place TBA (but equally exciting)!

You might remember that I spent three weeks last August traveling around Europe, staying with friends and visiting local sites in the UK, Ireland, and Italy. We hit a few snags along the way, but mostly I had an amazing time and couldn’t stop raving about it for months afterward (no more than I could stop making travel-inspired recipes!). This time, at the top of my bucket list will be the Harry Potter Leavesdon Studios, the Writers Corner at Westminster Abbey (where Chaucer, Kipling, Irving, Hardy, and others are buried), Stonehenge, a trip around the Scottish Highlands, and “les chauteaux en Espagne” that they commemorate in this song from one of my favorite French films, Les Choristes.

(Of course, the list will keep growing as we finalize our plans, but I must have missed something so please send recommendations our way!)

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In the meantime, I have been controlling myself just barely by making celebratory treats from some of the places I’m going to visit! First up is this English Sticky Toffee Pudding, a class British dessert featuring a warm, treacle-infused cake with a decadent toffee sauce poured all over it. I had only ever tried this dessert at Universal Studio’s Harry Potter land when we visited last year, but we immediately fell in love and I just knew that I had to recreate it at home.… Read more

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Orange-Glazed Tofu Bowls

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #BalancedMealsMadeEasy #CollectiveBias

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Excuse the radio silence here for the past few weeks, but I have so much to catch you guys up on!

With June right around the corner, dissertation-writing has officially kicked into overdrive: I still have my final chapter to go (eeps!), not to mention tons of revisions, an intro, and a conclusion. But what’s 100+ pages in four three months anyway, right? *cry*

To keep myself sane, I’ve been trying a whole bunch of new, exciting things lately–which I know sounds like a completely crazy proposal, but sometimes I think these new challenges are the only things keeping me on my feet! For example, my co-coordinator and I recently wrote a 100+ page Oscars-themed murder mystery party that turned out to be so much fun! I’m taking a break to visit Portland for the first time soon, and my friends and I are doing some major trip planning for this summer (so stay tuned!).

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One of the biggest developments is that I’ve also been semi-training for my first ever (sprint) triathlon this Sunday! If you’re unfamiliar with sprint tri’s, it’s basically a 400-meter swim, a 13.1-mile bike ride, followed by a 5k run. I’m incredibly nervous because I haven’t had a chance to train very much due to my crazy schedule, but I can’t wait to check this new challenge off my bucket list. Wish me luck!

In order to supplement my training regimen, I’ve been focusing on incorporating more balance and wholesome foods into my diet leading up to the race. This orange-glazed tofu veggie bowl has become one of my lunchtime favs recently: not only is it super simple to prepare, it’s the perfect way to unwind after a morning swim-run combo!… Read more

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The Cutest V-Day Idea: Custom Stickers & Baked Goods for Someone You Love!

Guys, HI. So y’all know that I love Valentine’s Day as a matter of principle–who doesn’t love a day all about the importance of love?–but this year I am beyond excited to share one of the most adorable V-Day ideas I have ever seen. Yes, I’m talking about these insanely cute–and did I mention customized?–labels that I’m using this year for all of my V-day baked goodies!

https://www.katebackdrop.com/pages/custom-backdrops

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If there’s one thing my friends know about me, it’s that I’m always looking for new ways to make holidays (and really any occasion) extra special through gifting. So when the amazing folks at StickerYou reached out to tell me all about their sweet selection of custom stickers, jar and bottle labels, and a whole slate of other creative personalized decorating items, and offered to send me a custom set to try, I squealed. I jumped for joy and did a little jig. Then I pretended to compose myself, said yes with admirable adult-like calmness, and giddily started whipping up a few designs for printing. And, oh my gosh–their whole team was so crazy personable and efficient: within a few days, my designs had been set to scale and printed on these thick, gorgeous glossy pages. (If you’re anything like me, you’d just love the beautifully-set, high-quality sheets of paper that they use!). And there may have been audible hallelujah choruses when I spread them all out together on my tabletop for the first time yesterday afternoon…

Best of all, all of the sticker labels I designed contain quintessentially wry Ala humor, complete with a few fanti-romance jabs for my friends who aren’t big fans of V-day! They just scream “personalized,” and I couldn’t adore them more. Here’s the full, lovely set:

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In case you can’t read them in this small picture (though they’re crystal clear in real life!), the print from left to right says:

– To: _______        From: Your Not-So-Secret Enabler

– You look pretty (darn hungry hungry right now, here eat this!)

– Eat Sweets (& Stay Sweet): Happy Valentine’s Day

– And the final two pages…

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Amazing, no???… Read more

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Slice-and-Bake Heart Sugar Cookies: How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day (on a Budget You’ll Love!)

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #Doingthe99 #99YourValentinesDay #CollectiveBias

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Love is in the air–and so is the aroma of these adorable slice-and-bake heart sugar cookies!

Last weekend, about 20 of us squished into my tiny apartment to eat dinner and bake Valentine’s Day cookies together. Since we needed a lot of dough (but had very little to spare from our wallets), I nipped over to 99 Cents Only to pick up flour, sugar, and all that jazz that I needed that night for our baking/dinner party! They have my favorite name brands at student-friendly prices, so shopping there really is a one-stop shop kind of deal for lucky me ;)

While I was there, though, I also found these super cute V-day cards (for under a dollar! Whoo!) and just couldn’t resist snatching up a few for my friends. Guess you never know what you’ll find when you shop at the 99, eh? I’ll be writing them next week, so if you’re lucky one might just be headed your way soon!

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The best part of this whole experience–shopping at the 99, making messy heart shapes out of red cookie dough and wrapping them in even more sugar cookie dough, and eating merrily at my place–was just spending time with some of my favorite people in the world. Best of all, since these dough logs needed to be chilled overnight before baking, we had an impromptu picnic the following Wednesday to enjoy the fruits (or hearts) of our labor!

So as you can see, this V-Day I have tons to celebrate: friends, cookies, and just about everything I need at unbeatable prices for a day filled with love. Wishing all of you the very same! (Hint: making these adorable cookies for loved ones are a great start–learn how to make your own in the recipe below!)

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 With love,

Ala

Slice-and-Bake Heart Sugar Cookies: How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day (on a Budget You’ll Love!)

1 hour

15 minutes

These adorable slice-and-bake heart sugar cookies are the perfect gift for someone special on Valentine's Day!

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10 Tips for Traveling On-the-Go (Like a Pro!)

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SpecialKGoodness #CollectiveBias

Remember two months ago when I was still gushing about my summer travels in Europe and just couldnotforthelifeofmestoptalkingabouttravel???

Well, if all goes according to plan, I have some pretty exciting news to share with all of you in the coming weeks (!!! so stay tuned). Until then, I’m throwing back to some of the best travel hacks that I learned during my time abroad–if you’re planning a sojourn anytime soon, you’ll want to keep a few of these in your back pocket so you can travel on-the-go like a total pro!

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10. Pre-print any documents you might need: directions, contact info, spreadsheets.

When you’re on the go, it’s always a good idea to print everything you need in advance. My friend recently sent me her crazy detailed Europe spreadsheet containing hostels, dates, rates, train times, and planned sites, which are all useful to keep on hand, but it’s also a good idea to print a few maps if you plan on traveling internationally without a data plan. That being said…

9. Contact your mobile provider in advance for international data and texting plans.

Before I left for Europe, I contacted my mobile provider and asked them about affordable international data plan options. I ended up purchasing a plan for unlimited international texting and something like 200 MB data for emergencies–thankfully, too, because I ended up using all of it (and then some!). While the price tag was pretty hefty, it felt good to know that I had a fallback in case I needed it.

8. Invest in a sizable external battery pack for your phone.

My friend lent me an external battery pack before my trip to Europe and it pretty much saved my life.… Read more

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