Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Ashley Blom

The Internet is a great place – it allows you to shop for shoes from your desk at work, find gifs from your favorite TV shows just moments after they air, and they can bring you together with like-minded peers to become Interweb besties.  That’s how I feel about Ashley.  She’s the brainchild behind Quarter Life (Crisis) Cuisine and is smart, witty, and clever in the kitchen.  She was nice enough to share a little bit about her story, her blog, and her secrets (she’s a heterochrome!)

The lovely Ashley Blom

As is the custom here, please tell the readers a little bit about yourself!

My name is Ashley Blom and I have lived in Massachusetts my entire life. I’ve always had a passion for writing, which was jump started at age 6 when I won a children’s fiction contest sponsored by Jane Yolen, an author who lived in my hometown. As all little kids are wont to do, I immediately assumed I was the best writer in the history of the universe and I was immediately hooked. Though I’ve gotten a bit more humble in my later years, that initial passion of “this is what I DO!” has always stuck. Writing will always be a part of my life in some shape or form.

I come from a very small farming town–I graduated with only 28 kids in my public high school class. I chose to go to Emerson College to major in Writing, Literature, and Publishing because it was the one school that had the exact major that I wanted. I wanted a major with creativity, literature, more of my own voice, so creative writing was what I decided to focus on in college, with publishing classes supplementing my education so that I could have hope of finding a “real” job. The big city was a big change from my hometown, but one I embraced with my whole heart. I loved my college experience, to be surrounded by other creative minds was just a paradise for me. The fast pace of the city felt more like home than the endless farm lands of Western Massachusetts ever did. I truly knew I was a city mouse who had somehow grown up as a country mouse by sheer accident.

I’ve always loved anything creative. Writing is my first passion, but acting and singing are a close second. I often act in community theater and I know it will always be a part of my life in some form or another. I also love artistic things and am always trying to find new outlets to showcase my creativity. More recently I’ve been using my food blog as a way to practice photography techniques, since this is yet another creative outlet I want to explore.

College was also where I developed my love of travel (I’ve made the effort to see two new cities each year as a result). I spent a semester in The Netherlands, living in an old castle with 80 other students. This was in 2007, and at the same time that I had this amazing experience I also had a terrible one–my father died. He was my best friend and I was totally not ready for it. I had to take a plane home by myself, attend the funeral, and then since the trip was already paid for I returned to finish my semester. I think these two events were the most life changing things I’ve ever been through, and they’ve inspired a lot of my writing and life decisions ever since.

Currently I am living with my mom and stepdad and working as a Marketing Assistant 45 minutes away. The drive is terrible, but I love my job. After a terrible apartment search experience I’ve decided to continue to live at home until I have enough money to move to California–which hopefully will be soon!

It sounds like you’ve always been tuned into your passions.  What was your initial life plan after college?

After college, I saw myself working at a publishing house in New York City–living with other Emerson alums and working my way up the career ladder to be an editor while in my free time penning my first novel or collection of short stories. Today, I am living at home, working in marketing for an energy company, and dreaming of the day I can escape to some big city again. I didn’t expect my loan repayments to be this high every month, and it’s keeping me from getting too far from my safety net. I see friends who are getting financial support and I get utterly green with envy that I have to do it all myself. I feel like my finances are keeping me from my dreams and I get bitter. But I have realized that so many other people are in my same exact position, and I feel better.

I recently had a “quarter-life-crisis” where I decided I needed to stop being scared and pull myself up onto my feet and make my dreams come true on my own. So I’ve really buckled down and started to save my money. I traveled to California last year and fell in love with it, so LA is my goal. NYC will come later, since I know it’ll be easy to stay there once I’m established, and I really want to live somewhere different than the East Coast for at least a part of my life. I am halfway to where I want to be savings-wise and am trying to work up the nerve to actually make such a dramatic move.

You’re lucky to have a job that’s at least mildly related to your interests but you also blog as well.  What benefits have you derived, personally and professionally, from blogging?

I’ve been blogging in some capacity since age ten. My blogs have never been overly popular or gained thousands of hits, but I have a little cluster of loyal commenters that make me smile, and that’s enough for me right now. I love cooking, and writing, and since my current job doesn’t really let me do either in a professional environment, it’s a great way to keep my foot in the door. My hope for the blog is that it will be profitable someday, but at the very least I have a fun accounting of my recipe triumphs and failures and it’s a great and useful hobby.

My passion for food started with my internship at the Lisa Ekus Group. She’s a cookbook publicist (among many other things!) and I loved my time working for her. She still sends me cookbooks to review on my blog! I study her clients and take notes on what they do and how they’ve made cooking into a career. I’m finding that I probably could never have the patience or skill to produce my own cookbook, but I would love to be in the food publishing business in some way. Working for Lisa really helped me come to that conclusion and figure out what my “dream job” would be.

Post-college cuisine can be a challenge – we have limited time, money, and talents for good meals.  What are some tips for young struggling chefs?

In the kitchen with Quarterlife Cuisine

Use your weekends to cook and shop for the week. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is so nice to come home and have a ready-prepared meal waiting for you in the freezer if you just do not have time or energy to whip something up from scratch. When I lived in my own apartment I would make big pots of Hamburger Soup and freeze them in portion-sized bags for easy eating. Or I’d make salads on Sunday in little containers and eat them for lunch through the week–just don’t add dressing until you’re ready to serve them, otherwise everything turns to mush. I learned that the hard way!

Also, learn substitutions for hard-to-find products. One of my new favorite substitutions is for baking powder, something I never seem to have on hand. You use 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/4 tsp baking soda in place of 1/2 of your liquid in the recipe (and if you don’t have buttermilk, you just mix whole milk with vinegar, ta-daa! Buttermilk!) and they come out just fine. There are whole books dedicated to substitutions, but a simple Google search will usually suffice.

Also, sales are your friend. I find myself checking circulars and coupon-cutting like an old lady sometimes but it really helps! Buy fresh produce when you can, and save a few bucks by not buying it pre-prepared (chopped, peeled, etc) and do it yourself. Buy in bulk whenever you can for non-perishables like rice, beans, and frozen meat. The cost up front might seem like more, but it’ll last longer.

Can you share some easy, go-to recipes that are sure to help post-collegiates dazzle their friends and family?

Sure! Here are some of my favorites!

Spaghetti Carbonara – This is my absolute go-to for a quick meal that seems fancy

Chiang Mai Curry Noodles – This is a complicated-sounding dish that is really very easy to do

Chicken Cacciatore – This is another recipe that has lots of ingredients, but they’re generally cheap and easy to find–plus you get to drink all the leftover wine you don’t use!

Crowd Pleasing Taco Dip – My go-to party dip. People love it!

Turkey Ravioli – This is the best thing I’ve ever made. The recipe calls for wonton wrappers in place of making ravioli from scratch, which I think is pure genius and something I’ve definitely experimented with in recipes since.

Summer Sangria – And finally, what good gathering is complete without a punch bowl? Sangria is so easy to make and definitely does not break the bank.

Being a Millennial often means living your life online.  What’s your experience been with blogging?  Do you have positive/negative experiences you’d like to share?

I’ve had plenty of good experiences and friendships result from my blogs, but also my fair share of trolling. Most recently, I had a horrible experience where a blog I frequent that tends to discuss sexuality and women’s reproductive rights was targeted by either a person or group who wanted to shut the site down. Since the blog owner wasn’t about to shut down any time soon, the troll/s decided to go after her commenters–of which I was one of them. Somehow they got my personal information (full name, age, college, where I worked) and paraded it around the internet with claims about what a “whore” I am. They tried to attack my employer’s Facebook page and they took some of my pictures from my flickr account and put hateful things in Impact font over my face. All because I left a comment on a somewhat feminist blog that they didn’t agree with. Suddenly my Google results were tarnished. I went into hiding on the internet and was too scared to do anything that would give the trolls more things to throw at me.

After about six months I was itching to blog again. I remembered what my friend, a schoolteacher, had told her class during an internet safety lesson: “Nobody cares what other people write about you on the internet–they care about what YOU write about YOURSELF.” By locking down and shutting down my entire internet presence, the trolls’ hateful messages were the only thing left about me when you searched for my name. That’s when I began to rebuild my online presence. Due to the right of free speech I can’t get those hateful words taken down without a lawyer, an expensive process I can’t afford right now, but I can put positive, truthful things about my character back on the web.

I really appreciate you sharing that with our readers.  I think we take Internet safety for granted too often.  If you could go back to graduation day and give yourself advice, what would it be?

Perhaps I’d tell myself to stay in Boston for another year, before my loans kicked in. Try to get in with a publishing house out there. Don’t let boyfriends interfere with my life plans. Travel just a little more before I have to stick to a strict budget, and keep in better touch with friends from college. Cook more, write more, while there’s still time.

Hoping Ashley can make the move to California soon!

Many, many thanks to Ashley for agreeing to be featured and sharing so much with the blog.  Please be sure to check out the recipes listed above and read her blog!  As always, you can leave questions for Ashley in the comments section as well!

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