After we cleaned the kitchen and put away all the platters, I made myself a cup of tea and thought about what could be done differently. This Thanksgiving was our first year actually cooking and hosting and honestly, for two longtime ex-vegetarians, preparing a turkey feels like a pretty major task. The week before, we had family in town for Oliver’s first birthday party and between baking cupcakes, ordering helium balloons and thinking through a simple brunch menu for close to 50 people, I felt pretty spent as far as entertaining was concerned. So Sam took on all things turkey, and I made my cranberry sauce and pie Wednesday night. A good compromise. And yet, it still felt like a lot for some reason and I found myself pacing around the house throughout the day, deliberately staying out of the kitchen and wondering at what point in adulthood things feel more natural (if not actually seamless) when it comes to entertaining during the holidays.
I think for a lot of us, the holiday season can be more of a source of stress than we’d like to admit. Or I’ll just speak for myself. There’s this short window of time that I so look forward to all year: we string lights outside the house, and spend more time indoors cooking and listening to records. We have a mulled wine party that always guarantees steamy windows and tipsy friends, and I bake things I’d usually consider too decadent or time-consuming. But along with that comes the flip side: the pressure to find gifts for friends and family, get our holiday card done, manage a handful of social obligations, hit important holiday sales goals at Marge, purchase plane tickets, and on and on. All of those things take up a good chunk of the next month, but they’re rarely the things I remember nor are they the things I necessarily look forward to when I think about the holidays. So instead of pacing around for the next month feeling much like I did on Thanksgiving day, I want to take a step back.
There are a few ways that I’ve decided to force myself to pause this season, and I thought I’d share them here in case you need a self-enforced break, too. First off, I’ve been carrying Rescue Remedy Drops around in my bag and keeping a bottle next to our loose teas for those moments when things start feeling like a little too much. If you haven’t heard of Rescue, they’ve been around for a looooong time and make a variety of products, but I like the homeopathic drops the best for minor, everyday stress relief (and they don’t cost a fortune, which is a bonus this time of year). I just put a few drops in my tea or water (or coconut milk eggnog, as is the case here) and forge on.
I know some of you may already use meditation apps and I’m a little late to the party here, but I’ve fallen pretty hard for Headspace, and have been trying to remember to sit still once a day, close my eyes, and focus on my breath. A lot of the meditation advice I’ve heard encourages you to find a quiet, peaceful corner in the house and aim to start your day with uninterrupted time before things kick into gear — and I think that’s why I was pushing back against practicing for awhile: like most parents, I don’t have control over when my day starts and I certainly don’t have the luxury of rolling out of bed and heading to my quiet, solitary meditation pillow. But I’ve tweaked things a bit and generally find time in the late afternoon to sit quietly, resetting my day and recalibrating things for the evening ahead.
Another little thing I’m finding helpful in managing everyday stress is trying really hard to work in exercise or walks with friends whenever I can. Living in Seattle you get used to dark days. It’s not as rainy as many people think but the winter is dark. So waiting until the weather is pleasant to head outdoors is something you have to let go. I remember when I first moved here, I thought it was so odd that people walked in the rain without umbrellas, completely unphased. Similarly, friends would meet up after work — in the dark — to get in a lap around the lake.
In addition to battling the diminishing light with walks and fresh air, I’ve also been trying to create more light: usually we string twinkly lights on the outside of the house for the holiday season, and this year we decided to bring them inside as well — I have a few strung in the dining room and I’m working on the mantle today. Deep breaths, walks, the light: All little things, really, but together I’m hoping they help make me feel more equipped to prioritize what’s most important this holiday season. As for this recipe: it seemed fitting to share something I’ve been making lately that is meant to be enjoyed slowly and deliberately. Eggnog isn’t really something you take a few quick swigs of on your way out the door: it’s meant to be savored and shared — so let’s. While I like real eggnog, I’ve long wanted to develop a coconut milk version because I love coconut milk and like to control the sweetness of my eggnog (some of the store bought stuff is so, so sweet). As a trifecta of stress relief, I’ve been sipping this lately with a few drops of Rescue Remedy (you can add it to hot or cold beverages) while sitting on the couch under our twinkling mantle lights. I’m not getting anywhere with that holiday card yet, but I am feeling a little slower, more intentional, and more deliberate with the days so far. I hope you are, too.
I wanted this dairy-free eggnog to be naturally sweetened (but not too sweet) and to taste much like traditional eggnog, so there’s a nice balance between coconut sugar and maple syrup and a generous hand with the nutmeg. I love coconut sugar because it’s unrefined and has a slightly dark, caramelly flavor profile, which feels just right here. It’s best served cold right out of the fridge and is pretty decadent, so a little goes a long ways.
Bring coconut milk to a simmer in a medium pot over medium-high heat. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, coconut sugar, salt, maple syrup and vanilla until smooth.
Gradually whisk the hot coconut milk into the egg mixture, streaming it in slowly as you go so as not to cook the eggs. Pour the mixture back in the pot and cook over medium heat until thick, stirring to avoid burning, about 2-3 minutes.
Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a large bowl. Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours and up to overnight. To serve, pour into your favorite cups and grate nutmeg on top.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.