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There’s nothing that motivates me to cook more than throwing a party. There just isn’t the same healthy pressure when cooking for yourself. Even when I am motivated enough to whip something up that’s really good, the reward of cooking for lots of people is definitely greater.

When I have guests over, I actually buck the common wisdom and cook new things fairly frequently. What can I say? I like living on a very, very safe edge. I definitely have a few go-to dishes that I like to make for parties, but in general, I get bored when I make things too many times.

Last night was Mark’s birthday party, and I wanted to make a couple of simple snacks to avoid excessive drunkenness. Dips typically serve that purpose pretty well, especially when you serve them with lots of bread. For this dip, I incorporated a lot of roasted garlic and some caramelized leeks with white beans and other deliciousness.

For the desert, my decision was sort of circumstantial — I have a friend who works in a photo studio and gave me 9 granny smith apples that were left over from a photo shoot (I am not above free apples, people), so I finally made this apple sharlotka from Smitten Kitchen that I’ve had my eye on. I added some nutmeg to the mix, but otherwise followed the recipe faithfully. It is tender, moist, apple-filled, and nice and tart — in other words, highly recommended and quite simple to make. I have a 10″ springform and it was flatter but worked out just fine.

Full recipe for the dip after the jump!

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When I left my job three months ago, I felt like I had all the time in the world, because I sort of did. I went to yoga in the middle of the day, walked around outside, and fit work in around my other pursuits. But the euphoria of freedom quickly gave way to the reality that, to sustain this lifestyle, I had to actually make money. (duh)

Any time I read the advice to “follow your dreams” I roll my eyes a little bit. Not because I don’t believe it’s a great, wonderful, admirable idea. But because your dream job doesn’t necessarily add up to a living wage. Ask any working actor (the occupation my college degree would suggest I have) — you’re probably doing as much catering, bartending, and temping as acting, if not significantly more. And paid acting jobs might just be commercials for crappy products. But you do it so you can land that sweet part in a play downtown, bond with the actors and crew, add another line to your resume. It’s all part of the game. For me, in this more food-focused iteration of my life, I’m trying to find the right balance between doing what I know I do well and can earn a living doing (consulting) and what I love to do the most (cooking).

And to top it all off, I’ve got this blog here. There is something about having a blog that feels akin to having close friends who live far away. Bear with me. When you’re in close contact, regularly, it’s amazing and fun. Of course you talk every day! You love each other! But when busy schedules or missed connections create a small lapse — out of sight, out of mind — it’s easy to just let go of the commitment. And then once you’ve let go, the guilt that you are neglecting something critically important overshadows your desire to reconnect. Returning seems shameful, embarrassing, sad.

I don’t mean to overstate the relationship I have with this blog, but it is, in a weird way, an old friend that I neglect far too often.

Here’s hoping I can get back into the groove. I always find fall to have much more of a “new year” feeling that January — just that residual first-day-of-school reset I guess — so my resolution this fall is to focus on balance, and not lose sight of why I made the changes I’ve made in the past few months.

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