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.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
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).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.