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.
Slightly adapted from The Naptime Chef
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
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.