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How We Work

I picked up the most recent issue of Time Magazine to find Jonathan Franzen on the cover. I’m a big fan of Franzen and think what he does in depicting ordinary folks living ordinary lives is nothing short of genius.  If you’re looking for intricate plots and ax murderers, you won’t find them with Franzen. But you will find average couples sitting around the breakfast table all out of milk, listening to lawnmowers in the distance and wondering why it is they got married in the first place. The good stuff. The real stuff. So while the article made me interested to read his new book Freedom, I was most struck by the way in which Franzen works–his  process, his routine, his desk.

Franzen’s adamant about eliminating any and all distractions, and works in a rented office with absolutely no access to the internet, zero wall decorations and a completely empty desk. Basically, a shell of a room with an old Dell laptop. This got me thinking about the way I like to work and the ways I’m most productive. Since I do a lot of writing at home, I could relate to much of what Franzen said about eliminating distraction–although I’m not nearly as vigilant (and therefore, probably much less productive) about it as he is.  That’s my desk below. I hoard dessert books and like to keep little plates of lemons around from my mom’s tree. And that’s my new Target binder. Yeah, I’m getting organized. Oh, and that’s my favorite coffee mug of all time.

I think when you live alone, your sense of how you best work naturally regardless of anyone else’s schedule, baskets of laundry cluttering up your space, or favorite television shows blaring in the near distance becomes quite amplified. I work more at night now then I used to. I gear up my Pandora and have fresh flowers around my desk.  And numerous glasses of water. I won’t answer the phone and I’ll turn off twitter.

The other room, besides my office, where I get lots of work done and find a great sense of peace is in the kitchen. So I got to thinking about what kind of space I like to keep there and how I best function. I’m not one of those easy-going kitchen people. I don’t really like to breezily chat with girlfriends while I whip up something quick for dinner. I know people who do this.  I’m so not in that club although I aspire to be. I concentrate, reread recipes numerous times, lay things out in minorly-obsessive ways, clean as I go, pace a little. I will never be one of those moms that includes their kids in major cooking projects. The thought of help in the kitchen–especially help from lots of tiny hands–makes me immediately begin to sweat.

Sometimes the nice thing about a recipe is that it allows us tightly-wound kitchen folks to loosen our apron strings just a little and ease into a new way of doing things. This is the case with this fabulous cookie recipe I found on my friend Kelsey’s blog, The Naptime Chef. Kelsey focuses on recipes that busy moms can accomplish during the time in which their kids are taking a mid-day nap. So these are darn simple cookies. But what I really love about them is their crackly tops, rich chocolaty flavor, and bits of chocolate and pecans scattered throughout. They’re also not at all too sweet–the espresso powder and unsweetened chocolate kind of temper that. I made a few minor tweaks to Kelsey’s recipe–mainly in the addition of pecans and just a little less flour. If you’ve got some cocoa powder lying around from the deluxe brownies, use it up here.

From uncluttered desks, to decorated cubicles, to telecommuting and skyping–whatever you do for work and however you find productivity and inspiration–I’m thinking a chocolate cookie always helps. Happy Monday.



Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies
Slightly adapted from The Naptime Chef

Ingredients:
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. instant espresso (I use Medaglia D’Oro)
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup pecan halves

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy in a stand mixer or with hand beaters. This should take a good five minutes–you really want to aerate the cookies and fully work in the sugar here. Then add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition until just combined.

In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and espresso powder. Stir with a whisk to make sure the dry ingredients are well mixed.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure smooth incorporation. Don’t over beat–just mix until all ingredients are combined. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix in chocolate chips and pecans.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Using a 1 1/2″ ice-cream scoop or plain old teaspoon, scoop dough onto the sheet and lay out 2″ apart. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before serving.

Makes: 44-48 cookies

  1. Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:23 am

    i really enjoyed this post, megan. your desk is so clean! i share a tiny apartment with my fiance, so my writing space involves a computer, a couch (there is no room for a proper desk and chair), and a baseball game blaring in the background. it gets frustrating, and sometimes i have to lock myself in the bedroom to get anything done. the kitchen is definitely more of a relaxing space for me.

  2. Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:35 am

    I love hearing about your work space and work habits. Its so interesting to learn about what other people do. I’m settling into a new place and looking for a job, so things are kind of sporadic and I don’t have a solid routine yet. Cookies always help, though I’m not sure if they help with focus or distraction!

  3. Posted August 16, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    The light coming through your window is so inviting! More than anything, I think, a desk with personal touches and a well-situated window make work seem welcoming.

    I always used to clean my desk at college before I could get down to the business of writing, and I still find it’s the best way to eliminate distractions and prepare myself to focus. It got me through four years of academic papers, so there must be something to it! :)

  4. Posted August 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Love your office space. :)

    I really cannot cook and chat, either. I wish I could, but alas. Eh, some things aren’t meant to be. But cookies are. They sound great!

    PS: Glad to see you using those chocolate chips!!

  5. Posted August 16, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    I’m always intrigued by process, all types. I recall touring the Blistex factory (a former client) and Hamburger University (McDs–another former client) and finding it all so interesting. I love seeing the way other people cook in their kitchens (don’t worry, I won’t stop by for a chat…) and the way they tend their gardens. Thanks for sharing bits of Franzen’s creative process and your own. Good fun!

  6. Posted August 17, 2010 at 2:36 am

    I’m in agreement with you. You know how sometimes, new friends learn you like to cook, and they go “oh, we should cook together sometime!!!” Um… No? Or when my mom wants to cook with me. I’m a little controlling in the kitchen, you know? I don’t know if I want people I like to see that side of me. The only thing I let my boyfriend do in the kitchen is wash lettuce for salad (and dishes).

  7. MomGordon
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 4:59 am

    That desk looks tidier than when I last saw it! This bodes well for the rest of the house :)

  8. Posted August 17, 2010 at 6:50 am

    The Corrections is on my all-time favorite book list – glad to know we have that in common! :) We just put a new desk in our study and I aspire to have it looking as clean and lovely as yours. Love that light. I always thought I would be the mom who would bake cookies with my kids but in truth, I am not. I have gotten so accustomed to cooking and baking while they are sleeping that it is hard for me to do it with them. Love those cookies!

  9. Posted August 17, 2010 at 6:59 am

    this post completely fascinates me, partly because I work from home and partly because your desk is soooo pretty! I feel like I spend a lot of time these days thinking about being productive rather than being productive, trying to find a rhythm rather than finding it. Maybe that’s how beginnings go. But this was more fuel for thought.

    ps – Now I want to read Franzen.

  10. Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:45 am

    A few years ago The Guardian published this slideshow of all of these authors’ offices and it was really fascinating to see how everyone works. It varied from cluttered desks, to totally bare, to authors needing a specific, special chair.

    I also think Frazen’s routine goes to show how even he battles with productivity and procrastination.

    Your space looks so peaceful. I love the plate of lemons for that splash of brightness!

  11. Posted August 17, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Oh, your desk is inspiring! I work best like Franzen — few distractions, no internet, occasionally no windows. But all that is surprisingly hard to manage in our well connected, well lit world. Every day has to have its challenges, I guess.

  12. Posted August 17, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    awww, that is SOO nice of you! I was just doing my daily drive-by of ASS and was so honored to find this. I LOVE your desk by the way, and you are right, our cookbook collections are veryyyy similar!

  13. Posted August 17, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    I’m looking forward to a more permanent writing space, as my current one is on the bed. Not the most comfy. The new house seems like it’s going to provide a quiet little nook that will do the trick.

    Cheers to getting most of your work done at night!

  14. Posted August 18, 2010 at 5:04 am

    Love the idea of moving into a barren space to write. Brilliant! The biggest distraction is baking and these cookies…yum!

  15. megang
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 7:18 am

    Yes, Shannalee. I think it takes a good, long while to get into a groove when you’re working from home. You’ll find it. It’s that weird balance where you kind of feel like maybe you should be working all the time b/c your computer’s there and you could check email and you could… got to find a way to have normal downtime, too. I struggle with that. And yes, read Franzen. I think you’ll like him.

  16. megang
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 7:22 am

    Thanks, everyone, for sharing your thoughts on your spaces, working, and inspiration. Fun to compare notes. And Kelsey, this may be the first time I noticed that my blog’s acronymn is ASS. Not sure how I feel about that one :)

    Happy Wednesday…

  17. Posted August 18, 2010 at 7:48 am

    I just moved from Chicago to New York, and I’m finding the transition from big work space to small a little daunting. Your post was inspiring because it reminded me that size shouldn’t be the only thing that matters — it’s also about how you fill it! Plus, I love Franzen and chocolate. :)

  18. Posted August 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

    What a great way to spend a Monday. munching on coffee filled chocolate cookies.. I think I need these right about now..

  19. Posted August 19, 2010 at 4:55 am

    I have a similar coffee mug. Love your little office. I need natural daylight when I work. It is a must. And the cookies? Well, double chocolate? Y- UH-UM!
    :)
    Valerie

  20. Posted August 19, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    love the light and the view from your desk! so, so lovely!

  21. Suzanne T-H
    Posted August 19, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    I find that working together & chatting while cooking can be great fun. There are some folks who just click with me and sense what needs doing. I love cooking with them. Other folks can drive me nuts, so they can hopefully be happy with a glass of wine or a cup of coffee while simply visiting.

  22. Posted August 21, 2010 at 4:58 am

    So true! when I left home to live alone, my work organization/schedule changed so much! i hear you about the kitchen not team up… i like to work alone, clean while things are in the oven and take the whole process as pretty much a ritual… these cookies want to be made today for a mid-afternoon snack!

  23. Posted August 24, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    That’s such a sweet-looking workspace. My desk never looks as neat as that unless I’m going away on vacation! ;)

  24. Posted August 27, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Hello! New to your blog and really enjoying it.
    I live with someone and it really impacts my space! ha. Things are a lot more rough around the edges with two. Interesting to think about.

  25. Posted August 31, 2010 at 7:39 am

    Hi Megan. I love this blog. I am a photographer, I love taking pictures. The only problem is the time I have to edit and layout photos, that’s where I get stuck in front of the computer. The kitchen is the only place that gives me peace mind. I guess for foodies like us, the kitchen is our holy ground. lol..If you wont mind I’d love to guide Foodista readers to your post. Just add the foodista widget to the end of this post so it will appear in the Foodista pages and it’s all set, Thanks!

  26. Posted September 22, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    My god, those look delicious. Espresso + chocolate will be in my near future.

  27. Melody Hyatt
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I made your cookies yesterday for my friend and I and they are my new favorite! My friend was very impressed. Thank you very much.

  28. megang
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Great, Melody~ I’m so happy to hear that! Happy New Year.

One Trackback

  1. By Melody hyatt | Shereesvoice on September 21, 2012 at 1:17 am

    [...] How We Work | A Sweet SpoonfulAug 16, 2010 … Melody Hyatt. Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:34 am. I made your cookies yesterday for my friend and I and they are my new favorite! My friend … [...]

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