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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.