When I was about 13, my Dad got stationed in the Northeast, teaching ROTC at MIT and Harvard. Instead of living in Boston, he settled in Portsmouth, an idyllic little New England town on New Hampshire’s tiny stretch of coast. My parents had just separated, and so for the next few years my brother and I spent at least part of each summer with Dad, living on our 38-foot Mariner, the Celebration, which was moored in the harbor of the naval station just across the bridge in Kittery, Maine.
If you start the pizza dough right now, you could be eating this for dinner tonight.
When I’m teaching classes, many people tell me they are afraid of making pizza dough at home. What is the worst thing that could happen? It might not be perfect the first time, but you’ll get better at it. Like anything else in life, it just takes a little practice and patience to learn the technique. Find the baker in your life and make pizza dough with her the first time, so you can absorb the rhythm of kneading and understand how to listen to the dough. And if you struggle with practicing meditation, kneading can help. You’ll find your mind empties as you concentrate on the soothing cadence of rolling and turning the dough. It’s one of the most satisfying cooking experiences.
When my Mom and I are travelling together, everyone always asks us if we’re sisters. It’s happened ever since I was in college when she used to come and visit me for the weekend. The salesperson at the store, the server at the restaurant—they would look at us and say, “You two are obviously related. Sisters?”
Elie knows me so well. Not long ago, he came home with a gift, the Cookbook Book, a beautiful book about cookbooks and how they shape our lives. A cookbook offers possibility—of romantic dinners, celebrations, family traditions, memories. Cookbooks inspire us, allowing us to dream not only of the meal itself but how making food for someone shows love, inspires conversations, nourishes, heals.
Two weeks ago, I turned 40.
If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know that I had planned to be biking through Vietnam on that day, but we had to cancel the trip. Instead, Elie made sure I was spoiled. I went to a yoga class with Mom, got pampered at the spa, spent time in the hospital with Moe, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Hawksworth. It was a great day, and a joyful one.
Truth be told, I wanted to be biking through rice fields when I turned 40, because I thought it would distract me from that milestone. Historically, as my birthday approaches, I click through the running life list in my head, making note of the things I haven’t yet done, my shortcomings, the failures and disappointments, the mistakes I’ve made. Am I the person I want to be? Have I accomplished enough? Done enough? Am I enough?
The world probably doesn’t need another granola recipe. There are certainly enough out there to choose from. But, here goes anyway, because you never know when the next one you make might become your favorite. And, because this is what we’re eating this week as we sit in the hospital and wait for Moe’s heart valve transplant.
Most granola recipes are too sweet for my liking, so this one has just a hint of maple syrup to give it an earthy sweetness that keeps it just shy of savory. I like whole nuts in my granola, so I can pick those out and snack on them when I need a little something but not a lot of something. If you like your granola on the sweet side, just add more maple syrup. Or substitute honey. If I were making this granola just for me, I would add coconut. But Elie will eat three-quarters of this granola, so there’s no coconut. The whisked egg white makes those great crunchy clusters that say: this is good granola! But, if you want to make a vegan version, feel free to leave it out. It will still be good. While many granola recipes call for cinnamon, I like allspice. And, as the names suggests, I love the faintly aromatic flavor (and health benefits) of olive oil in my granola, but you can substitute coconut oil or melted butter. Elie likes his granola toasty, so I bake it just shy of starting to burn.
Take those tips into consideration and then make this granola your own.
We were supposed to be leaving for Vietnam tomorrow, on a luxury biking tour with Butterfield & Robinson. Instead of packing today, I’m in Vancouver and getting ready to head back to St. Paul’s Hospital, where my father-in-law is there awaiting a procedure for a new heart valve. We’ve actually been in the hospital with him for the last two weeks, sitting by his bedside first in the intensive care unit and then on the general cardiac ward. He has had amazing care and is in good spirits, but he can’t go home until his valve is replaced.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that we’re not going on the trip. It promised to be an amazing tour, and it was Elie’s gift to me in celebration of my 40th birthday. Although a birthday is just a day, 40 feels like a big deal and a milestone worthy of the reflection, challenge and celebration. I’ll just now be doing that reflection in Vancouver, which is not such a bad thing.
I was eight when I got my first diary. A small, red leather book clasped with a gold lock, sitting under the Christmas tree. I wrote faithfully in that diary each night before bed, with the worries of a young girl’s mind. From that time on, I’ve collected dozens of journals, filled with my thoughts, observations and dreams, written sometimes more regularly than others.
The end of this Christmas season and the beginning of a brand new year launches me into excessive self-reflection, leaving me equal parts joyful, thankful and sad. Joyfulness for the grace that Christmas brings and the boundless possibilities a new year holds. Thankfulness for the most amazing husband, for loving relationships, for the opportunity to freely pursue my passions, for feeling safe, for health. And sadness for the grief I carry in my heart—both my own sorrow and the prayers I have for others.
I know I’m not alone in this schizophrenia of emotions, and many of you share this roller coaster with me. It seems to be another hallmark of the season—one moment humming while cheerfully covered in flour and butter and the next fighting away tears.
As I start this new year, I’m committing to acknowledging the sadness but focusing on the thankfulness and joy, to letting go of unrealistic expectations of what should or could be, rather than the blessing of what is. If you’re struggling to balance your emotions along with me, I hope you will do that too. Focus on the joy. Focus on living with abundant thankfulness.
I almost didn’t write this post. The topic of easy holiday entertaining sounded trite to me, and maybe even a little pompous.
Because really, holiday entertaining can be stressful. Especially if we start to compare ourselves to Pinterest boards and Instagram posts and beautiful blogs portraying perfectly set tables (or perfectly imperfectly set tables) and hand-designed place cards and gorgeous vintage platters of food and homemade gifts. But that’s not real life. It’s like a photoshopped version of life, one in which all the imperfections are erased—the dirty dishes, late nights of planning, the closets filled with the contents of the last mad-dash to straighten and organize.
But then I started thinking: I have a lot to say on this topic. I have learned so much over the past few years about welcoming our friends into our home. On a typical week, we may have friends over two or three times, sometimes planned and sometimes spontaneous. And so I’ve learned how to make it easy(er).
Here are my lovingly-given thoughts on how to welcome family and friends into your home over the holidays with as little stress as possible.