I’ve been spending some time organizing photos lately, trying to actually print a few to frame for the house, and purge others from my phone. We took so many while in Hawaii: great ones of epic beaches and outdoor picnics, moments that you’d expect would feel important and memorable. But in thinking back, it’s neither of these things that stand out for me. Instead, the night I’ll remember most is when we pulled up to a beachside restaurant we’d been excited to try for dinner and were told that the wait was 60-80 minutes. With a toddler that’s basically a lifetime, so my immediate reaction was a firm No. But Sam pointed to this big grassy field right next to the beach with lawn games and string lights, and in his never-failing positivity, promised the time would fly by.
We waited for a bit down by the beach where dozens of other families and couples were taking photos of the sunset and kicking off their shoes to walk in the sand; Oliver got in the large shored kayaks and pretended to paddle or beep the imaginary horn, humoring us just once with a family selfie. He was wearing the Hawaiian shirt that Sam had bought him earlier that day, and his curls were particularly wild given the humidity. I stayed on the beach for a bit while Oliver and Sam walked up to the grassy field, playing chase, searching for treasure (a dime Sam had found that they continued hurling and then patiently hunting down) and climbing on top of corn hole.
We were still waiting to head into dinner, but the dinner is something none of us will remember. And not because it was bad (it wasn’t!) but just because it wasn’t that important: in a given year, there may be many dinners out and they fall in the realm of the ordinary in many ways — or at the very least, expected. But that evening itself was anything but expected or ordinary. There was a feeling. Just a genuine, grounded sense of happiness running around the grass with Oliver, falling down a few times, laughing so hard we almost didn’t hear our dinner buzzer in my jacket pocket.
I just started a book called The Power of Moments, and it’s gotten me thinking about the defining moments in our lives, why in particular these moments make the cut, and how we can actively create more of them (versus passively waiting for them to arrive at the stoop, so to speak).
The authors of the book, Chip and Dan Heath, note that, “A defining moment is a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful … there may be a dozen moments in your life that capture who you are — those are big defining moments. But there are smaller experiences … that are defining moments in the context of a vacation or a semester abroad.” And these smaller moments are what I’m most curious about. How snorkeling with manta rays may not win out over playing at dusk with your son and husband under the palm trees — what the Heath’s would call a “moment of elevation” in which you “transcend the normal course of events” into the extraordinary.
So what defines these moments? Do they share any traits or characteristics? The book discusses how there are four elements; some moments have all four while others may only have one or two. The first is Elevation, or the feeling of rising above the everyday. The second is Insight, or a rewiring of our understanding of ourselves or the world (they give the example of a moment when you knew you should leave your job or marry your partner). The third element is Pride — the way in which a defining moment captures us at our best (a graduation, for instance). Last: Connection or the social aspect of defining moments, where we’re strengthened because we’re sharing a moment with others.
Back home, much of the day is spent parceling out time to get our work done, keep on top of emails and just run a sort of functional household. In this sometimes frenetic-feeling scheduling and segmenting of the week, it’s easy to get immersed and simply bogged down in the day to day. The ins and outs of it all. The ‘what do you want to do with this sausage tonight?” of it all. But moments like our night in Hawaii become so memorable, I think, not just because they transcend the everyday (because many things we did there did just that), but because we were all deeply connected with each other and the space we were in. How often does that really happen if you’re honest with yourself? The sunset had left fiery streaks in the sky, the fellow diners milling about created an ambient buzz, the lights came on as dusk neared and we raced and laughed, barefoot, hungry, and collectively not thinking about the fact that it was already past Oliver’s bedtime. In that moment, it truly didn’t matter.
Note #1: I’m only at the beginning of this book and haven’t yet gotten to the second half where they discuss how to be more of an active player in creating more of these moments, but I’m really enjoying it so far and though instead of waiting until I finish it (real talk: could be awhile), I’d share it now in case some of you are looking for a new, interesting read.
Note #2: What do these donuts have to do with Hawaii? You know, not much! Although Sam would make the argument that they have a lot to do with defining moments as he’s deemed them the best donuts he’s ever had. I generally don’t like to blog about recipes where you need special equipment but you do need a donut pan to make these — and in my mind, it’s worth the investment as it doesn’t take up a ton of space and baked donuts are so easy and feel far more special than the time it takes to pull them off. I’d recently made baked donuts for Simply Recipes and wanted to try making a version with one of my favorite flavors, using coconut milk, coconut sugar and shredded coconut. They’re super tender and light thanks to the almond meal, and not too sweet. We are pretty big fans of them, and I think you will be, too.
While I love the triple whammy of coconut here, you can make some substitutions and your donuts will turn out just fine. Feel free to swap in melted butter instead of coconut oil if you’d like and use a turbinado or unrefined sugar instead of coconut sugar if you have a tough time finding the latter. If you’re not a fan of spelt flour, you could use a whole wheat pastry flour or even an all-purpose flour. Do know that when you open your can of coconut milk, spoon off the coconut cream at the top and just use the liquid milk for this recipe; the cream is wonderful in smoothies or folded into soups to add a little thickness. Like most baked donuts, these are best eaten the day they’re made. That said, they’re just fine the next day if stored at room temperature and covered.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a donut pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, almond flour, coconut sugar, baking powder, and salt.
In a small bowl whisk together the egg, coconut oil, coconut milk, and vanilla extract.
Fold the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir to combine. Let dough sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Use a kitchen spoon to scoop the dough into the wells of the donut pan, stopping when each is almost full (these donuts don’t rise a ton, so I fill the indents almost to the top). The dough will be thick and sticky, so use your fingers or the back of a spoon to gently press it into the indentation.
Place the pan in the oven and bake for 9 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan before inverting onto a wire rack to cool down until you can handle them.
Make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, coconut milk and salt. You’re looking for a smooth, pourable glaze. If your glaze is too thick, add additional non-dairy milk one tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Similarly, if your glaze becomes too thin, simply add a little more sugar.
Glaze the donuts: Cut a piece of parchment paper the same size (or slightly larger) as your wire cooling rack and place under your cooling rack to catch drips. Dip one side of each doughnut in the glaze and place glaze-side up on the cooling rack. Allow any excess to drip off. Allow the glaze to set and firm up before enjoying a donut, about 20 minutes (if you can wait!)
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.