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 Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
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).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.