Hidden Pockets of Opportunity


I’ve been thinking a lot about how I spend my time lately. Mainly because, more than ever, I feel like at the end of the day I plum run out of it. And the feeling of balance seems to be skirting around me. There are so many pieces to each day, between making and shipping granola, sourcing ingredients, trying to gain new granola vendors, writing online columns and freelance articles, writing a proposal for a bigger project, working on the house, planning a little housewarming party — there’s a lot going on. I know I’m not the only one. I know you’re busy, too. In fact, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal discussed the state of being busy, and how many Americans claim to be so busy when, in reality, they aren’t as harried as they think. Writer Laura Vanderkam encourages logging the way your spend your time: how many hours do you really sleep? Walk the dog? Check Facebook? Vanderkam thinks you’ll be surprised with what you find: “We all have the same 168 hours per week — a number few people contemplate even as they talk about “24-7″ with abandon — but since time passes whether we acknowledge it or not, we seldom think through exactly how we’re spending our hours.” If we did, I think we’d actually find hidden pockets of opportunity.

Now I have absolutely no interest in logging the hours I spend on various activities throughout the day. While I’m certain it would be quite revealing, it also seems a bit obsessive. Regardless, I think there’s some good stuff here. We’re competitive folks. This extends even, oddly enough, to our own proclamations of how busy we are. It’s almost as if a lack of sleep or boasting about working 16-hour days gives you a cultural one-up, as if no one else could possibly understand everything you do in a day. I do this sometimes. You might, too. So here we are.


In a recent TED talk, psychologist Shawn Achor explores one of the biggest ways we spend our time: work. He says that we all believe we should work to be happy. If we work harder, we’ll be more successful and –you guessed it– happier. But Achor explains that it’s actually quite the opposite because every time your brain senses success, it changes the goalpost of what success looks like (good grade? need to get a better one next time) — your brain keeps upping the ante, so you never feel truly satisfied with your small gains. The trick is to not rely on notions of success for your own happiness. And to not measure success on how much you may get done in a day. One simple way to do this, Achor explains, is to think about 3 things you’re grateful for each day. If you do this for 21 days, he insists that your brain will start to reprogram itself to notice good things, no matter how insignificant, that fill up your time.

So while there’s no way I can log the way I spend my time, hour by hour, I can (and will) write down 3 things I’m grateful for each day. Little or big. Silly or substantial. And scan my day for hidden pockets of opportunity. That’s actually how this cake came to be. It happened last night around 11:45 p.m. in-between volunteering at The Pantry during their layer-cake class and getting some writing done with Sam in the breakfast nook (come evening, the nook often transforms itself into a dual office complete with crackers and cheese and bourbon-based cocktails). I didn’t spend much time thinking it through or debating if I really felt like baking, I just started grinding cardamom and zesting an orange and in no time the kitchen smelled of warmly-spiced, buttery cake. Always a good thing at 12:25 a.m.

This recipe is from the new River Cottage Cakes (a beauty of a book!). Sam picked up a copy at Booklarder and I’ve been thinking about the simple Cardamom Cake for days and days. It’s a decidedly English cake in that it’s simple and not fussy with overly sweet icing (or any icing at all, actually). It’s what I like to call a snacking cake: one layer, finished with just a dusting of confectioners sugar, and perfect in the afternoon or for breakfast. If you even remotely like cardamom, this cake will quickly assert itself into your dessert repertoire. I find snacking cakes to be an incredibly gratifying thing to bake. They’re comprised of such simple ingredients you likely have lying around the house.  Making one is a good use of your time. It will, on first thought, add to your busy harried day. And once you’re mixing your butter and sifting your flour, all that jazz will seem a little less significant. And that is where hidden pockets of opportunity arise. Trust me.

I’m not assuming that you’d want to share 3 things you’re grateful for here, but in the case that you do, I’d love to hear them. Here are mine for today:
1. Exchanging photo texts with my mom and sisters about what we’re eating for dinner (my mom wins).
2. Little flakes of snow this morning while making a pot of coffee.
3. Sam’s lentil stew.

Cardamom Snacking Cake

Cardamom Snacking Cake

  • Yield: 8 servings
  • Prep time: 20 mins
  • Cook time: 50 mins
  • Inactive time: 10 mins
  • Total time: 1 hr 20 mins

If you can, this cake is a good excuse to break out your spice grinder and grind your own cardamom. It is such a fragrant cake and the spice has center stage, so it really is worth the effort. Do be sure to use green cardamom pods as their seeds have a much brighter flavor. If you’d rather use ground cardamom from the store, I’ve given you measurements for that as well. I adapted this cake at the last minute, adding ground pistachios and a little orange zest. The ground pistachios gives it more of a loose, mealy crumb and the citrus brightens the whole affair. It will sink a little in the middle a little — that’s o.k. Dust a little more sugar over the top and embrace it.

Adapted from: River Cottage Cakes

Ingredients

20 green cardamom pods (yielding 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup superfine sugar
8 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups crème fraîche*
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup pistachios
confectioners sugar, for dusting

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and set aside. Split the green cardamom pods open, remove the seeds and grind with a (clean) coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and ground cardamom seeds together in a small bowl and set aside.

Pour the sugar into a medium-sized bowl. Warm the butter in a small saucepan until just melted. Pour the butter into the sugar and whisk until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the crème fraîche and whisk until you have a creamy batter. Add the flour mixture, 1/3 at a time, folding it in carefully with a wooden spoon.

Grind pistachios in a food processor (or with a mortar and pestle) until fine and crumbly. Add pistachios and orange zest to batter and fold in to combine. The mixture can seem quite sticky at this point — don’t over mix.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the cake springs back slightly when touched. The middle should still seem a bit soft to the touch. All to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. To serve, sift confectioners sugar over the top of the cake and slice generously. This cake is a champion, and will keep for 5 days in an airtight container.

*If you don’t have crème fraîche at home or would rather not buy it (it can be expensive) you can make your own by adding 2 tablespoons buttermilk into 1/2 cups of cream. Let is sit at room temperature for 24 hours. If it hasn’t firmed up, place it in the refrigerator and you should have crème fraîche in no time. Alternatively, I think the recipe could be successful with full-fat Greek yogurt. If you try this, let me know!

Comments

  1. Kasey

    I actually have been pondering the same thing, after reading a post summarizing the WSJ article on A Cup of Jo. I feel like I'm always busy, but the bottom line is that I think I'm just not prioritizing...or finding those pockets of opportunity. It's ridiculous how much time I probably waste. Thank you sharing your insights from the TED talk. Too often, I think, we take the little joys of every day for granted. I'd like to make a point of writing down what I am grateful for every day, too. And also, cardamom. That smell is truly intoxicating! xo

  2. Your Sam

    Hello, Dear Baker,
    I see your Shawn Achor TED talk and respond in kind with an Arianna Huffington talk for TED Women from a few years ago. Though I'm not so much a fan of Ms Huffington's actual work, I do appreciate her take on "sleep deprivation one-upsmanship" and how we might more productively, rewardingly approach our work (and our life).

    I say: http://www.ted.com/talks/arianna_huffington_how_to_succeed_get_more_sleep.html

    And also, thanks for the cake!

  3. Danielle

    Goodness lady, you read my mind. I've been thinking alot about success and work and busy-ness lately, and it's led to some refocusing and re-prioritizing of goals. It's so true that our brains up the ante every time it senses success. So so true. Gotta go check out that TED talk. And this cardamom cake reminds me that it's been a while that I've used that spice, love simple cakes like these.

    My 3 things I'm grateful for today:
    1. RAIN!
    2. Making it through yoga practice despite the time-lag of DST.
    3. Good coffee.

  4. susan

    1. hmmm... I might be grateful for this cake.
    2. Eagles daily out my window.
    3. Walking with Joe.

    I think WF Seattle needs your granola.

  5. Nicole

    I know that I have a lot of these pockets of opportunity. I waste a lot of time in the early morning hours, yet I think those times are important to collect my thought. I saw something similar to your idea, but it was to write a list each morning of three things you want to get done during the day. That way at the end of the day you always feel like you have accomplished something.

    1. megang

      Hi Nicole - I like the list of things to accomplish throughout the day although I do this and they turn out to be never-ending to-do lists that sometimes feel exhausting. I suppose if I wrote more realistic to-do's, that'd be a good first step! I agree with you about early morning hours: it's a quiet time before everything gets going and a good time to pause.

  6. Ashley

    I just love the idea of a snacking cake. Because really, who doesn't want to snack on cake.
    Today, I'm thankful for this post - the recipe it brought to my attention and the reminder to be thankful.

  7. Kristina @ MouthFromTheSouth.com

    Megan - I love this post. I've been trying to find the right balance for what needs to be important in my life right now. Here are my three things that I'm grateful for:

    1)It is 72, sunny & the redbuds are blooming.
    2)One wall in our guest bedroom is finally smooth enough to paint. Just one so far but it's a start.
    3)the overwhelming sense of gratitude that I've had this whole month for the fact that I am friends with women that are kickass, big-hearted, true blue & amazing. That includes you. :)

  8. nicole

    This looks perfect - two of my favorite things! (cardamom + pistachios)

    Three things I'm grateful for today:

    1. Rain in the Bay Area (and it's set to last all week; we need it so)
    2. A chat with my sister-in-law on Sunday as she drove from Boston-Maine in which the subject was mostly food/cooking
    3. My run on Sunday.

    Thank you for the impetus to remember these little things ... I'm left with a good feeling this afternoon :)

    1. megang

      Nicole: You'll dig this recipe. I just know it. I know exactly which sister-in-law you're speaking of from your most excellent NPR pieces. And thank god for running -- helps maintain a little bit of sanity, no? Thank you for your thoughtful comment and for sharing your 3!

  9. Jacqui

    I love this idea. Here are mine for the day:
    1. weather warm enough to grill burgers in March (dinner tonight! yay!)
    2. talking seriously about big future stuff with Murdo
    3. my sister's pregnant belly

    I probably have already told you this, but I'll say it again: Your posts always help me put the big things in perspective and appreciate the simple things all the more. Thank you so much for that, Megan.

    1. megang

      Jacqui: Burgers in March?! You're killing me. My youngest sister lives in NYC and apparently it was 70 today?! How is that possible? Future talk and sisters and babies are all good things. And thank you so, so much for your sweet blog compliments. It really means a great deal that you are enjoying them. Here's to a great week -- and more grateful lists!

  10. kale @ tastes good to me!

    1 - A duvet that got shoved into a suitcase, traveled across an ocean, and is still wonderfully fluffy.
    2 - A husband who let me sleep in until noon and refuses to allow me to feel guilty about it.
    3 - The first signs of growth in my new herb garden.

    Great idea, and great post. :)

  11. la domestique

    I love cardamom, everything River Cottage, and often end up baking late at night- will definitely be making this cake. I'm grateful for:
    1. My "little" sister (she's all grown up now) and our daily phone calls
    2. My husband and best friend
    3. The unexpected kindness of strangers

  12. olga

    Megan - man, you're IN my head with this post. I soooo feel what you're going through. never enough time. i feel like I'm falling behind on things and there's never a time to kick back. what is with that? everything river cottage is magical and everything cardamom is magical too! i hope you are settling in nicely.

    1. megang

      Hi Olga! I know: I haven't read a book for pleasure in so long. It's silly and I hate making excuses, but it also seems pretty legitimate. Maybe we take a self-proclaimed kickback come summer?! Agreed re: River Cottage. Sometimes just leaf through for their photos and spare prose. Hope all is well there (I hear you're having crazy warm weather!!)

  13. Jess

    Hi, Megan. I've been feeling grateful for the big things lately: good health, good friends, and getting to work hard on stuff I care about. I'm so happy for you and Sam and your new life in Seattle together, breakfast nook, crackers, bourbon and all.

    1. megang

      Hello to Jess! Yes, the big things I've been thinking about, too. Getting to work hard on stuff you care about is huge. And I'm sure the wee one has a way of putting every little thing in perspective, no? Thank you for the sweet comment - do let us know if you ever make it for a visit. Love to get a coffee with you!

  14. Denise | Chez Danisse

    Good post! Interesting topic and just my kind of cake. Yesterday, around 7pm, I had no interest in preparing dinner, but was fully in the mood to bake a cake, so I skipped the glaze and made grapefruit olive oil cake our dinner. I'm beginning your 21 days of 3. Why not? Seems optimistic and rewarding to me. Thanks!

    1. grapefruit.
    2. writer's high.
    3. buttermilk as a secret guacamole ingredient.

    1. megang

      Danisse! I need to know about this buttermilk with guacamole action. Sounds interesting! And you may already know how I feel about grapefruit (Strongly). Thank you for sharing your 3 with me.

  15. Bowen

    So many things I can relate to in this post! (In the same way many others can, as it appears from the comments above.) So glad to see you're enjoying your new environment and your new community. I'm very jealous about your time at The Pantry!

    I briefly tried to start a daily dinnertime tradition of sharing the best and "least best" parts of our days, which I think can help better process the things that don't go well and better appreciate the things that do. Feeling like maybe I should bring that back ...

  16. momgordon

    I dug out an old "gratitude journal". (I was way ahead of you on this). It was 1995, you were in high school and I wrote, "I'm grateful for watching Megan sneak the ice cream to her room, again!" Miss you!

  17. Kimberley

    Ah, the very thoughts I daily chew on myself. As always, you hit the nail on the head, and so eloquently and thoughtfully. I love that talk and have started to keep a little notebook by my bed to do as he proposes every night before I fall asleep.

    1. Like Danielle, I'm very grateful for today's rain. We need it!
    2. I'm grateful for my inspiring visit to Santa Barbara last weekend.
    3. I'm grateful for the delicious cara cara orange that I just ate.

    Cardamom is probably my favorite spice. Your description of a late-night, simple cake for snacking has got me all set to follow your lead tonight.

    1. megang

      Kimberly! Now that I think about it, I think I heard about the TED talk from your beautiful blog! I love the notebook before bed idea; I'm going to force myself to try it, too. And I heard you all have rain. Yay! Let me know how you like the recipe -- if you're a cardamom fan, I think it's going to strike a cord. Happy baking, my friend.

  18. Jessica Willis

    Today, I am thankful for
    1) Friends to call for advice on anything
    2) Deep purple, budding Magnolia trees
    3) Daphnee bushes preparing to share their fragrance (it is my favorite scent all year in Seattle!)

  19. Amy

    Today, I am thankful for
    1) Early spring weather
    2) Finally taking a photo of a spot I've been wanting to take for a long time
    3) This post. Seriously. It's exactly what I needed to read right now, and it prompted me to take advantage of a pocket of opportunity to work on something I'd been putting off.

  20. Mittle Gordon

    first off, *ahem*, lets look back to group picture text from March 10th...mom clearly gave me the award for THAT dinner :)

    i keep a gratitude journal as well. i write three in the morning, and three in the evening...here are mine from today:
    AM: sherman's morning kisses, budding pear trees, texts from zoe
    PM: ice berg lettuce salads (we're not here to judge right?), mom's knack for choosing cards that perfectly fit me, snow flurries at sunset

  21. Liz

    what a great, inspiring post! i can't wait to try the cake. thanks for the opportunity to share what i am grateful for this morning:
    1. therapeutic massages from friends
    2. quinoa
    3. my husband's amazing singing voice

  22. Anna

    Absolutely love this post! This type of understated, un-iced snacking cake is my very favourite type of cake. They're so humble but so satisfying at the same time! I can't wait to make this one.

    Today I'm grateful for:

    1. Autumn in Sydney. It's my very favourite time of year.
    2. Pinterest. I find it fun and inspiring and much more addictive than Twitter.
    3. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

  23. Anna

    The cake sounds amazing, and thanks for the reminder to be grateful. I need more of that, so this will be day one of forming the habit of gratefulness. So far: The sound of several different birds singing outside, a slow start to the morning, my cup of tea.

  24. Denise | Chez Danisse

    I had a little extra buttermilk after baking a cake, so I added a splash to my regular guacamole, to make it a little creamier. I'm usually a purist with guacamole, but I really liked the addition and will do it again.

    1. megang

      Sounds fantastic -- thanks for the tip!

  25. Tori (@eatori)

    I love this approach. It's such a great way to start scanning for the good and turning up the volume on it. Today I'm happy that; 1) I found your beautiful, beautiful blog. 2) My husband and I found time to walk and get a great coffee together 3) Planning a weekend to Lake Como. I'm so excited I can hardly sit still.

  26. Aaron from The Amused Bouche Blog

    As a writer, it's so nice to read something like this and to remind myself that despite the long hours logged working (instead of writing) that there is plenty to be thankful for and to seize the opportunities we do have. I like that you call this a "snacking cake" btw - makes it feel less indulgent and that I can eat a lot of it!

  27. shanna

    Oh, I can't resist!

    1) working from our living room sofa today, in view of our open front door, where warm sun brightened absolutely everything

    2) wearing a dress and boots with no tights! in march!

    3) sitting next to Tim this afternoon, taking a break from work, just being quiet and still and together

  28. Brian @ A Thought For Food

    I am with you... I don't know where the time goes. It's really crazy.

    But now I'm here baking a cake, checking out some blog posts, and just enjoying life. I can't think of a better way to spend my time.

    Speaking of cakes... this looks divine... and I'm a sucker for anything with pistachios, so you sold me there

  29. Staci

    For about 15 years now, I have fallen asleep each night rattling off a list of people and things that I'm grateful for that day. (Call it a mental gratitude journal.) Some things are constant--friends and family, my health, B--and some things are specific to that day (a nice exchange with a student, lovely weather). I find it such a peaceful way to end the day and to maintain perspective, especially when things feel stressful.

    Here are three things for today:

    1. B
    2. The cheery blossoms in bloom
    3. Talking with a newly declared English major about the joy of literature

    Hugs to you and Sam!

    1. megang

      Oh Staci, I love the idea of a mental gratitude journal (especially since I've been forgetting to actually write mine down and feeling guilty in the morning!) The cherry blossoms are blooming here, too -- c'mon, spring! Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  30. tracy

    i went to make this,but couldnt find the amt of butter needed..tx

    1. megang

      Hi Tracy. I'm so sorry, and thank you for alerting me to this. I'm not quite sure what happened there, but the recipe is amended and corrected now. I hope you enjoy it! ~m

  31. ileana

    Megan, just found your blog, and I can already tell I'll be back. Really liking this idea of taking the time to write down three things you're grateful for each day. I'm not working full time right now and wondering where I'll be by the end of the year. That can give me too much time to worry, and I sometimes forget to look on the bright side. There are def other *great* things in my life. :)

    1. megang

      Hi Ileana-Thanks so much for you sweet comment, and I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog. Have a wonderful Sunday. ~m

  32. Jen

    1. Baby girl smiled at me the moment she woke up
    2. The sun in my face
    3. Husband making me sandwiches.

    I think I will start writing 3 things down too.

    1. megang

      Sun and sandwiches: winning combination, Jen. Thanks for checking in and for your sweet comment. Hope you're keeping up with the 3 things (I'm finding it easy to forget lately!)

  33. Laurie @ limonata

    The ingredients list looks divine! I have never used cardamom before...so i'm excited to experiment. Thanks for sharing, Megan :)

  34. Deborah Van Dyke

    Thank you for your wonderful blog! I made this cake this afternoon and the smell as it wafted through the house was worth it alone. It was hard waiting for it to cool but we managed to restrain ourselves and then enjoyed with a cup of Earl Grey tea - Divine! The only problem is now its 6:30pm and we've lost our appetite for dinner, oh well.

    I didn't have creme fraiche in the house so substituted 1/4 cup sour cream (all I had left) and the rest, 1 cup, of plain yogurt. This substitution worked perfectly. I also eliminated the salt in the recipe since my pistachios were already salted. That too worked well.

    Yes Megan this cake is a champion, but I highly doubt it could ever last five days around our home!

  35. Kelsey

    I love a good call to action. There really is nothing more centering than a gratitude list, publicly all the better. Let's see. (1) the quiet chill lingering in the apartment after a few days traveling (2) shaun waking up early to get oats for porridge (3) emails from mom with inspirational ted talks and words of wisdom.

    Love this cake, Megan. Will definitely make soon.

  36. Kristen

    Thanks for your GREAT blog! Since going through breast cancer I have been trying to keep a gratitude journal...today I am making a commitment to do it 21 days in a row..today I am grateful for:

    1. Waking up to see my daughter dressed in a t-shirt, short skirt, stripped tights and boots...she's 10 and looked so cute!

    2. Seeing my perennial gardens starting to bloom...already...2 months early!

    3.For stumbling upon this site, blog and recipe!

    Will be making this cake soon...sounds yummy!

    1. megang

      Hi Kristen-Thank YOU so much for stopping in and leaving a sweet comment. I am envious that you have a perennial garden...this is something I know absolutely nothing about and am eager to get into. I think you (and your daughter) will really like this simple cake. Best of Wednesdays to you! ~m

  37. Deb

    I subbed whole wheat flour, raw sugar and 2% greek yogurt and still delicious :)

    1. megang

      Yes!! Happy Sunday, Deb.

  38. Shila

    I love love love your writing. It reminds me of dana velden's weekend meditations. It elevates the ordinary in such a beautiful homey way. And I mean ordinary in the best sense of the word; the simple daily things and moments that make the meat of our days, but I might not savor or notice so beautifully.

    Thank you.

    1. megang

      Hi Shila. Thanks so much for your sweet comment about the blog. Yes, Dana's writing is quite something, isn't it? We write together on The Kitchn and I always look forward to her pieces. I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog and take the time in your day to drop in. Have a wonderful week, ~m

  39. molly

    Megan,

    I'm pretty sure I've already commented on this one. But that was before. I'm doing it again. Because I am grateful. And also, it is after.

    I made this cake, today. Well, not this cake, exactly. I actually ordered the book, when I first saw this post, purely on your recommendation. It's now prickly like a porcupine with sticky notes. We waited (impatiently) for an opportunity to bake it. Turns out, our stuffed penguin had a birthday party today. Bingo! Turns out I'm also horrible at metric conversions and seed pod assumptions. I added a full Tablespoon of cardamom. It was DIVINE.

    But what I'm grateful for, what I wanted to tell you, is this space. I'm so please to have found it, thanks to your dropping notes months back. It's a little sparkle in a week, a drop of sunshine (and rain, all in due measure, I love them both). And it brings me a smile, always. No small thing.

    Also, I've got a (second) batch of the buttermilk yogurt straining as I type. Hot dog, that stuff is good...

    Cheers to you,
    Molly

    1. megang

      Molly-
      Your note thrills me to no end, largely because I'm such a fan of YOUR blog and it's so nice to see you're enjoying this space as much as I'm enjoying yours. Also, for some reason I thought you were still in Seattle and I was harboring thoughts of becoming coffee pals soon. Shoot.

      I'm so glad you liked the cake and bought the book. It is such a fabulous book, isn't it? I need to revisit it and choose another cake. If you like this style of cake, do you have Nigel Slater's newest book, Ripe yet? He's the master of great, simple snacking cakes and I think you'd very much like it. And be easy on yourself: I think everyone's bad with seed-pod conversions. I was skeptical and really wanted to just use ground cardamom, but I think it really does make such a difference: didn't the kitchen smell incredible??

      So thank you for stopping by and saying hello and leaving this sweetest of comment. I hope you're having a wonderful week.
      ~m

  40. Patricia

    I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme.

    Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone
    to do it for you? Plz respond as I'm looking
    to create my own blog and would like to know where u got this from.

    cheers

    1. megang

      Hi Patricia! I helped with the colors / layout ideas but I had a company called Webdev Studio do the backend for me. Thank you + glad you're enjoying it!

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Confetti Quinoa Salad

Confetti Quinoa Salad

We just returned from my mom's cabin on Lake George in upstate New York where we often spend the 4th of July. As usual, each bedroom was packed with family members (this year the couch was even occupied for a night), and our days with reading, lounging on the dock, swimming a bit, maybe jogging down the road or playing tennis if you were feeling ambitious. We drank a notable amount of seltzer water; I managed to read three books and my mom threw us a family baby shower complete with balloons, chocolate cake and Mike's rhubarb bars. In previous years, my mom has planned most of the dinners and  even some lunches, but for breakfast we'd all fend for ourselves. I'd often bake a pie or a batch of brownies in the afternoon and everyone would help out where they could, but she would largely do the shopping and brunt of the cooking. This year was different: having just moved from California to Vermont, my mom had a lot on her plate and sent out an email before the holiday weekend asking us all to chip in and help with the meals. Sam and I claimed Friday dinner: we grilled sausages and Sam made his famous deviled eggs. We cut up some unusually seedy watermelon that I found at the co-op in Burlington before we drove out to the lake, and I made a summery quinoa salad that I expected to be kind of epic. The trouble was that it wasn't. I overcooked the quinoa until it was kind of a congealed mush and everything just went downhill from there. But I knew that the idea was strong -- to pack a whole grain salad with all the things of summer (corn! tomatoes! basil!) -- so when we got home to Seattle I tried again. And this time it's a winner.

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