Life Tips

In-Door Grilling

Summer (aka grilling season) is just around the corner! The smokey, charred taste of scrumptious meats and vegetables is just irresistible. Cooking outside also helps to keep your house cooler (which saves on electricity). While the weather doesn’t stop some people from using their outdoor grill all-year-round, most people reserve grilling for spring/summer/early fall. I’ve always loved grilled foods, but found myself unable to cook them well until recently. To preface, no in-door grill will truly be able to provide that amazing “grill” taste – this you can only get from cooking over an open flame. However, there is definitely variability in the taste of various in-door grilling cookware/methods and I have experimented with several of them. Here are my experiences.

Oven broiler
I think of the broiler like an inverted grill. Instead of the heat source being directly underneath the foods, it is above it. I would only recommend the broiler if you have a gas stove (where there is a flame); I did not care for the taste of foods cooked with an electric stove broiler. In order to use your oven broiler, you need to position the rack about 4 inches away from the heat source (usually the first slot in the sides of the oven). For best results, I like to preheat the broiler for at least 10-20 minutes to get it nice and hot. The big drawback to using the broiler is that it is hard to control the heat and the house gets very hot.

George Foreman-type
These are the electric grills with a folding top that has grill plates to cook both sides of the food at the same time. The George Foreman grill is almost a quintessential tool of the college/single lifestyle. I remember being extremely excited with my first Foreman. Alas, like most things that are hyped, I was quite disappointed. My foods barely had any “grill marks” and I didn’t like the texture of the meats. I find that the closed structure causes foods to become “steamed” rather than “grilled”. I’ve purchased two separate models over the years and honestly have only used the Foreman no more than a handful of times. The disappointing tastes and the even more troublesome clean-up made it a less-than-desirable means of cooking.

Grill pan
A grill pan is basically a heavy cast-iron skillet with raised interior rows. It maintains heat really well and the design allows fat to drip down and also gives the meats those desirable “grill marks”. Similar to the Foreman, the clean-up is quite troublesome because you need to be careful to preserve the “seasoned” pan. As far as taste, I find it not much different than pan-searing.

An open-face grill is almost like a Foreman without its counterpart “close” top. You have to cook foods one side at a time. The only brand I’ve tried (and love) is Presto. It maintains heat very well, it is “smoke-less”, and so extremely easy to clean. This grill gives my foods those nice “grill marks” and/or charred edges every time I’ve used it. The meats/vegetables I’ve grilled on the Presto have all tasted delicious.

We Say
Until I found Presto, I pretty much gave up on the prospect of “grilling” inside. I was just never pleased with the way the foods tasted (especially with the George Foreman) and the clean-up just seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I am in love with my Presto grill and unlike most other kitchen appliances, it is not collecting dust on the shelf/stored in a box. In fact, it has been used many times since I’ve got it. While I will always prefer the taste of my outdoor grill, Presto will more than whet my appetite for grilled foods. In-door grilling is an easy, fast, and healthy way to cook, but you have to have the right tool to succeed. I highly recommend investing in a Presto grill!


Mother’s Day Gift Guide

May 10 is Mother’s Day! When we were young, our teachers guided us through drawings, cards, and small crafts to make Mom smile. Don’t forget to express that love as we grow older! This is the perfect occasion to pamper her. A perfect gift can be anything from a good book/musical album, to a spa experience, or a flight to her favorite travel destination. Or take a page from Thanh’s experience and gift Mom a painting you did! Below are a few more ideas to help you select that perfect gift for the most important woman in your life:

Bibelot Bakeware
Scarf-Print Sweaterknit Cardi
‘Mom’s’ Copper Mug
Tory Burch Eau de Parfum Set
Ocean Explorer Tea Set

Valentine’s Gift Guide

Shop Valentine’s gifts designed by Thanh!

We write the following gift guides with great hesitation. First, because we feel gifts to your significant other should come in the form of handmade love or an unforgettable experience. Second, we don’t want to contribute to the Valentine’s industry. But we understand that material gifts can come with love. And sometimes, a relationship needs a holiday as an excuse to exchange these tokens of love. So here are our gift guides. But keep in mind that anything that comes from the heart will be appreciated!

For Her

Kate Spade ‘It’s Written in the Stars’ Notebook
Dogeared Infinity Necklace
Ban.Do iPhone Portable Charger
JCrew Fireburst Earrings
LOFT Star Charm Bracelet
Knot Ring
Ann Taylor Fiore Stretch Bracelet
LOFT Snowflake Scarf
‘I Heart You’ Pillow
‘I Love You’ Wine Glass

For Him

Kiehls Men’s Refueling Kit
Portable Bluetooth Speaker
Kodiak Portable Charger
Burberry Silk Tie
Valentino ‘Uomo’ Fragrance
Ray-Ban Sunglasses
iPhone Wallet Case
Burberry Belt
Emporio Armani Watch
Fossil Messenger Bag

Shop Valentine’s gifts designed by Thanh!

How to Ace Graduate School Interviews

So you’ve decided to commit the next 5-7 years to graduate studies. (You’re sure? :P). You took the GRE. You wrote a phenomenal personal statement. You secured glowing letters of recommendation. And one day, your prayers were answered – you received an interview invite! Congratulations! In this post, I will tell you exactly how to ace the interviews so you can encounter the world’s greatest problem: decide which graduate school to attend!

The interviewing process for graduate students is very different from a job interview. We don’t just show up for an hour, present our best self, and leave. Our interview is an entire weekend long. Typically, applicants arrive on Thursday afternoon and join a students-only dinner/social event. Unless you have an extremely valid excuse, do not miss out on the social events! This is where you get to observe graduate students interact in a more laid back atmosphere and gauge how you might fit into the “social life” of existing graduate students. Mingle, mingle, mingle. Nothing is more concerning than an applicant in a corner all by himself/herself. If you’re socially awkward, make it charming. (If Sheldon Cooper can be approachable, you can too!) If alcoholic drinks are offered, either politely decline or drink lightly. While the atmosphere is casual, still be your best self. First impressions are lasting. You’re there because you have good credentials. Now we want to see you as a person – are you considerate, confident, and overall fun to hang out with? If you’re overbearing or overconfident, it’s a huge red flag for us. We need to be able to hang out with you on a daily basis. So make us like you! Students have a say in the admission decision. A huge say, actually. Faculty understands that admitting someone means giving us new colleagues, so they want to make sure we like the incoming cohort.

Applicants commonly have the choice of being hosted by a current student. Choose this option. You will get to see how and where they live. Thus you can infer what their stipend can afford. Also, it’s a nice gesture to bring a small gift (i.e. chocolate) for your host. This is not bribing! Hosts spend a lot of efforts to ensure that you enjoy your stay, so it’s the least you can do. And leave them with a handwritten thank you card.

Friday is an all-day interview marathon. You typically meet faculty and students back to back, either for 30 minutes or an hour. You will have a scheduled break. Take this break to jot down as many notes as you can. You will need these notes when writing thank you letters and when you’re trying to decide which program to attend.

Be prepared to answer the following questions:

– Why do you want to be an XYZ/researcher?
– What qualifications do you have that will make you a successful XYZ/researcher?
– Tell me about yourself.
– Tell me about your research interests.
– Without thinking of any constraints, what would your dissertation be?
– What attracts you to our program? What do you look for in a program?
– What do you bring to the program? What are your special attributes?
– Where else have you applied or interviewed?
– Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years?
– What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses?
– How do you work under stress or pressure?
– How do you handle criticism?
– Tell me something that isn’t on your application.

What interviewers ultimately want to know:

– How well you fit with the program
– How you can contribute to the program (skills, knowledge, and experience)

- What kind of person are you? (Reliable and personable? Can we trust you with our research 
– What distinguishes you from 20 other people who can do the same tasks?

Interviewers evaluate:

– Social skills 

– Emotional stability 

– Professional maturity 

– Focus 

– Goals 

– Development of pursuits

Your Interview Attitude:
Be honest. Be yourself. Be in the moment. Don’t worry. Don’t overthink. 
You are qualified to be there. Have confidence. Show enthusiasm, appreciation, and curiosity. Leave an impression. Be positive. But don’t be 
caffeinated/overly bubbly. 
Listen more than you talk. Don’t heed attention to the competition. Focus on learning as much as you can about each school, finding out from students and professors what types of work they’re doing, asking questions about what it’s like to live in the area, etc. Always be respectful, curious, eager, and passionate. 

Above all, be prepared to discuss the faculty’s research! When reading their publications, pay careful attention to their proposed future work. Chances are, they are pursuing this very line of research. Probe intelligent questions and propose future directions whenever possible. Keep in mind faculty wants someone who can advance their research, not someone who merely follows directions and do as told.

Questions You Should Ask:

To faculty:
– Address most of your questions about the faculty’s research. Then, ask these:
– Do most students support themselves through RAs, TAs or special assignments?
– Are RAs available for all students?
– Where do students typically get internships? Jobs?
– When does the program expect to have its applicants selected?

Overall, make sure your questions are well thought-out and that you have done your homework. Don’t ask questions that can be answered on the program’s or lab’s website.

To students:
– How would you describe student/faculty relations in your program?
– How does your advisor work with students? Faculty? Personal style?
– What is the cost of living?
– What is life like here?
– What do graduate students do for fun here?

After the Interview:
Write a thank you email to everyone you interviewed with. This is not because you want a last shot at impressing them, but because you are genuinely grateful they took time to meet and get to know you. Most schools make their admission decisions Friday evening, so your thank you notes have little to no influence upon your chances of acceptance. Write it because you’re courteous.

Remember you always have a choice. Even with only one admission offer, you still have the choice to accept or reject. 5-7 years would be a long time commitment even for something you love, much less something you settled for. So if you have enough reasons to dislike the program or potential advisor, do consider re-applying next year. Take the year off to make yourself more competitive. It all boils down to whether the program offers an environment in which you can thrive. I know of top institutions where many would dream of attending, but I’ve decided not to apply there because I knew (and have witnessed first hand) the competitive, back stabbing, gossipy atmosphere would break me. I’ve also interviewed at a school where I thought its extreme laid back attitude would crumble me – I thrive best in a cooperative environment that continues to value excellence and progress. When making your final decision, keep these factors in mind.

Want Additional Help?
You can always email me should you want one-on-one advice regarding graduate schools. We can also do a mock interview and I’ll provide you the same feedback I would to my advisor as if I was evaluating a prospective candidate.

Enjoy this process. It’s actually really fun to meet so many people with the same interests and passion as you. Have fun and good luck!

Holiday’s Gift Guide

Happy Holidays everyone! December 25th is just around the corner and we have some gift ideas for you last minute shoppers! :) We will not cover gifts for significant others or BFF’s as we feel these gifts must be unique and personable. After all, you shouldn’t need a guide to shop for the ones dearest to your heart. But sometimes, gift shopping can be tricky when thinking of colleagues and children. We’re here to help!

Gifts for Children
We have adorable nieces and nephews that we dote very much. Finding the right gift means it must entertain as well as enrich the young ones. Over the years, we’ve become consistent in providing gifts that delight the little ones as well as approved by their parents. Note that all our gifts are gender neutral.

To promote creativity & analytical thinking

1000-Pieces Augmented Reality Puzzle
The Magic School Bus: A Journey into the Human Body
Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Kit
DIY Snow Globe Kit
Gears Super Set
Scientific Explorer My First Mind Blowing Science Kit
Scientific Explorer Meteor Rocket Science Kit

You can never go wrong with books

The Fables of La Fontaine
Where the Sidewalk Ends
National Geographic Kids Beginner’s World Atlas
First Human Body Encyclopedia
Scholastic Children’s Encyclopedia
First Space Encyclopedia
National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Why
The LEGO Ideas Book

Gifts for Colleagues
We spend countless hours with our colleagues – they know our coffee order and lunch preferences. So this holiday, celebrate our coworkers’ support and camaraderie with the following thoughtful/useful gifts:

Thomas Kinkade wall calendar
Anthropologie monogram mug
Espresso set
Sparkling champagne water bottle
Glass bud vases
Waterscape votives
Agate bookends
Urban Outfitters’ knit eternity scarf
Cube terrarium

We Say
Above all, give a gift that comes from the heart. Have a great holiday season! Stay warm and merry!

How to Start Your Work Day

They say the most important meal is breakfast. Likewise, the first ten minutes of your work day is crucial in determining how productive and efficient your day will be.

You get into your office, turn on your computer, open up your favorite web browser, and check your email. Right? Wrong. That is the worst possible way to begin your work day. You want to start by being proactive, not reactive. Checking your email will simply initiate a domino effect of responding to others’ requests that may or may not align with what’s most important and urgent to you.

So how exactly should we start our work day? By taking a page from world renowned chefs. Every accomplished chefs engage in a concept known as mise-en-place, which means “everything in its place”. Chefs spend more time planning than cooking. They study recipes, think through the tools and equipment they will need, assemble all the ingredients in the right proportion, and evaluate their action plan for the entire meal. All this takes place before cooking begins.

How do we adapt this concept with our own work space that may or may not involve a kitchen? We begin our day by envisioning its end. Visualize your most perfect work day. What tasks would you have accomplished in order to feel a great sense of achievement and satisfaction? This will help us determine what’s most important and urgent. Next, create a plan of attack. Break down all the complex tasks into specific actions. For example, “put together presentation” could be broken down into, “gather data, review the market/literature, draft slides, incorporate images into presentation”, etc. With these specific actions planned out, we won’t be stuck at a lost for what to do next. Much like well planned chefs won’t be interrupting their cooking to find key ingredients.

Once your specific tasks are planned, start with the tasks that require the most mental energy. Research has shown that we have less willpower as the day progresses. This concept is known as ego depletion. So when our resources are at maximum capacity, engage in difficult tasks. When our willpower starts depleting, engage in simple tasks that don’t require a lot of mental capacity.

We Say
Start your morning with a simple routine to ensure your best foot is out the door. Once you get to your office, engage in a brief planning session to ensure your day is the most productive it can be. Before you leave the office, reflect back on what you have achieved and give yourself a pat on the back. Often times, we get lost in our mountain of to-do’s that we forget to reward ourselves for the tasks we managed to cross off.

How to Show Up, Shine, and Succeed at Work

My friend once said that if you hit the Snooze button three times (or more) in the morning, you don’t love your job enough to get up. If you’re stuck in a job that doesn’t hold personal meaning or challenge, it will suck energy and joy from all your life’s domains. So let’s fix that ripple effect with the following three steps:

1. Find Your Purpose
We wrote before that you shouldn’t follow an old adage that may be misleading: follow your passion. Instead, create your passion. Look at where there is overlap between what you’re good at, what you care about, where there’s value and a need in the marketplace that creates opportunities, and where you have some experience and skills. You’d be surprised that the answers may lead to your current job. After all, there is a reason why you sought and got that job in the first place. Sometimes, work can seem mundane. But don’t forget that you can reinvent your work. No one is stuck doing exactly what the job description says. Find where you and the job agree and focus on that aspect.

2. Stock up on Grit
Grit is the perseverance to stick to your long-term goals. Cultivating grit prevents burn outs and promotes resilience. How, exactly? Start by breaking a large, overarching goal into smaller parts. When you consistently realize these small goals, they build satisfaction, pride, and a steady appetite for accomplishments. You’ll start seeing your tasks as opportunities to excel and reach a greater good. Soon, that big goal will look a lot more attainable and you won’t be tempted to quit midway. Also, many studies have illustrated the strong correlation between exercising and grit. The hard work you put in at the gym to tone your muscles actually helps build your mental muscle. So, get moving!

3. Practice Self-Compassion
Embrace the fact that to err is to be human. Accept your mistakes and learn from them. Don’t ignore. Don’t overcompensate. Do not fear failure. Fear, instead, the inability to learn from failure.

We Say
It’s hard to always be perky. It’s hard to always be your best. The great news is… you don’t have to. We can afford a bad day. Even a bad week won’t amount to anything in the grand scheme of life. Don’t allow a few hurdles to interrupt your life. Get on track. Get going. When things get tough, hit the Reset button and persevere. It’s okay if things aren’t perfect, aren’t what you expect — that’s the beauty of life. Find your purpose, break down your goals, and keep on keeping on. Don’t forget that being you is always more than good enough. :)