Coming back from vacation is no easy feat, if not exactly a hardship. I know this is true for most of us, but for some reason this one was particularly tough. I think Sam and I had been looking forward to Palm Springs for so many months, envisioning it as the one saving grace from a busy season of work and wedding planning and then when we got home … work and wedding planning were still waiting right where we’d left them. So last week wasn’t the easiest — my car was hit while we were out of town, I have a wonderful employee who has decided to leave to pursue growing another company, and our house is basically infested with ants. But something Sam and I talked about while in Palm Springs is how to reframe things that feel burdensome and difficult — how to claim more control over our days and weeks instead of just letting them happen to us.
Right at the end of my book tour, I traveled to Chicago for the annual IACP conference and had the opportunity to sit in on a session by one of the Zingerman’s bakery founders, Ari Weinzweig. We have Weinzweig (and partner Paul Saginaw) to thank for their addictive coffeecake and brownies (easy mail order!), but he’s also started writing books based on the lessons gleaned from growing the business. His latest is called A Lapsed Anarchists’s Approach to Managing Ourselves and he gave a talk based on some of the main points: essentially that managing ourselves is the crux of running any organization or business, the one piece of it that we all so often neglect. The point that really stuck with me were about the power of language and the way we talk to ourselves when it comes to work tasks or things that need to get done. Instead of saying “I have to go to Marge to pack boxes today” or “I should tackle this spreadsheet” you can rephrase it — literally — and tell yourself “I’m going to go to Marge to pack boxes today” or “I will tackle this spreadsheet.”
It sounds silly and trivial, but these little tweaks highlight the fact that it’s all free choice: ultimately no one’s forcing me to go to Marge to pack boxes. This is what I’ve chosen and reframing it to feel more positive has made all the difference. For several weeks after the conference I’d been turning over these ideas, and then a few friends linked to a great article in Time, “I’ll Finish the Dishes When I’m Dead“, by Brigid Schulte. The take-away? Between work, managing a household and having a family, Schulte says she’s “scattered, fragmented and exhaust[ed]. I was always doing more than one thing at a time and felt I never did any one particularly well. I was always behind and always late, with one more thing and one more thing and one more thing to do before rushing out the door.” She calls this The Overwhelm. Oh yes: in capital letters, people. In case you were curious, Sam has elected me president of The Overwhelm. Any volunteers for a Chief of Staff?
This article inspired a biiiiig step back and some thinking about the way I manage my time. I’m no busier than many of you. In fact, many of you are likely far busier than I. We don’t have kids or pets, we don’t have much of a commute — there are a lot of hassles or time-sucks that we don’t have to deal with. That said, it’s a rare GOLD VICTORY lately if we have a homemade dinner together before 8 or 9 p.m. and this has been a bummer for me lately. Emails and work have crept into the late night hours, and it’s hard for me to see an end to any of it. So while many of you are likely just as busy, I hope you’re doing a better job managing it than I am (any tips?). At the end of her article, Schulte describes how she ultimately goes to a workshop led by time management specialist Terry Monaghan in which she realizes “You can’t manage time. Time never changes. There will always be 168 hours in a week. What you can manage are the activities you choose to do in that time. And what busy and overwhelmed people need to realize … is that you will never be able to do everything you think you need to, want to or should do.”
Basically: your plate will never be cleared (and I’m not even sure you’d want to be a member of that particular Clean Plate Club). So all the occasions I tell myself ‘if I just get through my email inbox, tomorrow morning will be a breeze’? It’s a lie. Something else just replaces the emails on the to-do list. So I’m working on being much more content with the work I do get done in a day instead of looking at all the boxes that didn’t get checked off. I’m scheduling in yoga classes now just like meetings to ensure I get to go. I’m trying to have evenings off with a book or movie, and realizing that all the time I spend worrying about what’s not getting done is time I could go on a walk with Sam or eat fried chicken by the lake — which we did Friday night. And it was grand.
In the spirit of being more content with what I can manage in a day, this past Friday I took time to exercise, did a little wedding planning (what do we think about this wedding arch?!), hired a new employee (!) and made this killer granola bark. A well-balanced to-do list I’m proud of. And really, the biggest question lurking behind this entire post: why haven’t I combined dark chocolate and granola before?! I stumbled across the idea in this month’s Food and Wine but decided to make my own tropical version using toasted coconut, dried pineapple and goji berries. I used Marge Original Granola — I may be a bit biased, but I think it’s the most robust, classic granola I’ve ever tried and it’s truly loaded with nuts and seeds which makes it perfect for this particular recipe. I’d say to spring for the good chocolate here — it’s really the star of the show. I hope you all have a good week in what I know is your own version of the trenches, preferably now with a little more chocolate.
Adapted from: Food and Wine
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir over low-medium heat until the chocolate melts. Remove from heat, stir in dried fruit, nuts, coconut and granola.
Scrape the chocolate onto the baking sheet and spread it in a 1/2-inch thick layer. Sprinkle a little extra fruit, nuts, coconut and granola on top. Let the bark cool to room temperature then refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 1 day to firm up. Break into pieces and store room temperature in an airtight container.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.