When I graduated from college, I didn’t want to go to all the ceremonies. I felt above it all. Don’t get me wrong–I was glad that I’d finished, but I went to a school the size of my entire hometown, and felt I’d just be lost in the crowd during graduation. But my mom talked to me about the importance of ceremony in your life—milestones deserve their moment. And she’s right. Ceremony and a little pomp and circumstance sort of force you to reflect on your accomplishments. Otherwise, something as big as a college graduation or a wedding would be just another day that, eventually, you wouldn’t remember apart from the rest. You need finality, you need reflection, and you need to share and celebrate accomplishments with others.
I just got home from upstate New York last night where I saw my youngest sister graduate. I saw her messy apartment (you seriously didn’t notice that dust covering the TV?!), her favorite bars, met her wonderful girlfriends, and experienced what she meant when she said she lived in the middle of nowhere. And, of course, I saw her graduate. But there was more than that. There were the cocktail parties, the baccalaureate ceremony and the torchlight tradition where graduates carry a torch down to the campus lake at dusk singing, drinking, crying, reminiscing.
These are all things that my own college didn’t do—things, knowing myself, I probably would’ve scoffed at. But things that I’ve since realized are so, so important and I’m grateful Zoe got to experience them.
Zoe. No one can quite believe you’ve finished college. Most of my friends remember you as a skinny, freckly little girl with wild and crazy curls—shocked that you’re now a young woman moving to the city and starting a life of your own. For me, I remember you bouncing away on the trampoline in the back yard, how obsessed you were with those coconut boobs mom and dad bought for you in Hawaii, your affinity for gardenia perfume, your rather advanced (and pricey) taste in clothes, and the summer I lived with you and you earned the nickname “Crumbs.” Oh, and obviously your love for Nutella (clearly we’re related).
So I know you’re probably experiencing that odd mixture of fear and excitement right now. And I also know a lot of people tend to dole out advice during these milestones and you’ll hear them, but you can’t really absorb it. You may not be ready yet. They’re telling you what they’ve learned after decades of trial and error. Now is your time to set out with your own trails and your own errors. But there are a few things that I know to be true: there are people in this world where, generally, things just work out for them. I think you might just be one of those people. Remember to put things in perspective. A job’s just a job, a boy’s just a boy, an apartment’s just an apartment. Follow your instincts. Follow your heart. If you do those two things, you’ll be just fine. And when you’re not, you know who to call. There’s a brood of us cheering you on.
So thank you for making this skeptical older sister soften to ceremony, sororities, and milestones this weekend. I’m so happy to have had a glimpse inside the last four years of your life and the people and places that loved you (and that you loved back). From your oldest sister and the one applauding you from all the way across the country—here’s the simplest of Nutella pastry to celebrate a milestone. So simple that you will be able to pump it out even in the smallest of New York kitchens.
This recipe was inspired by a recipe for Chocolate-Almond Pastries in the December ’09 issue of Martha Stewart Magazine. I gave it new life by using hazelnuts and Nutella. It’s a versatile recipe–you could easily use any combination of nuts, dried fruits, and chocolates. Next time I make it, I’m going to add a few dollops of Mascarpone cheese to finish it off.
Preheat oven to 45o F. Arrange puff pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Form a 10-inch square and fold each edge in to make a 1-inch crust. Poke middle of dough numerous times with a fork. Brush edges of dough with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Freeze for fifteen minutes.
Transfer baking sheet to oven and bake until pastry is puffed and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and spread Nutella evenly across the pastry. The Nutella will begin to melt, making it much easier to spread. Sprinkle with sea salt and hazelnuts and cut into 4 squares or 6 triangles. Serve warm.
Healthy Comfort Food
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.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
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.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)