Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Embarrassing -- but true -- Story of What Happened the First Time I Opened This Book

I have been following this blog for quite a while, and I have never prepared anything from Jenn that we didn’t absolutely love. I pre-ordered her cookbook as soon as she announced it. This was months ago, and I have been very impatiently awaiting its arrival. The Amazon box finally came, (thank you, Amazon!) and I promptly ran off to teach a class and forgot about it. 

[This never happens. Amazon boxes are like Christmas — I can’t wait to tear open the packages and see what’s inside — even if I only ordered it two days ago! But for some reason this package got swept aside and tucked in a dark corner of the basement.]

Long story short — Mother’s Day is approaching, and I started wondering what happened to my book. And then I remembered that abandoned box in the basement (and since we’re not at the airport, I felt completely fine about opening it.)

First of all, I was impressed with the heft. This is no flimsy leaflet. It is more than 300 pages, beautifully bound in a hard cover and dust jacket. It feels SIGNIFICANT. 

I immediately opened it up and started thumbing through the pages. As fate would have it, I landed on Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding. Okay, forget about the Mother’s Day Brunch. Can I pease just have this right now?!?

There was beautiful photography throughout. Dozens of amazing-looking recipes I can’t wait to try. And a few favorites from her blog I’ve already been enjoying. The book includes fun, chatty side notes about her former job, her kids, and her kitchen. I noticed there were official looking stamps on certain pages, marking each as a “recipe tester favorite.”  She includes her "Pro Tips" in the margins. Likewise, “Sourcing Savvy” and "Heads-up" advice.

But what really just kept me spellbound was the photos and their accompanying recipes:
Blueberry Scones with Tart Lemon Glaze. Pan-seared halibut with cherry tomatoes & basil. Cauliflower puree with thyme. Toffee Almond Sandies. Fiery Roasted Tomato Soup. Thai Crunch Salad with peanut dressing. Baja Fish Tacos. Red, White, and Blue summer berry trifle. Steak Au Poivre. Curried Roasted Carrots. Classic Chocolate Lover’s Birthday Cake. They all look and sound amazing!

Now for the embarrassing part: The next thing I knew I was shocked to see a little string of saliva escape my mouth and land on my blouse. That’s right. I drooled. Not just figuratively. I did the deed. Oh, my. (T.M.I.) I guess the cookbook is just that good. 

I raced upstairs and made Blueberry Scones with Tart Lemon Glaze before my husband left for work. They were as delicious as promised. (Thanks, in part, to the 2/3 cup of cream.) The lemon zest in the glaze is a perfect addition. I may have eaten more than one two. Someone please save me from my baking addiction!

The last time I reviewed a cookbook here was way back in, oh, 2009! Since then I have bought, perused, and cooked from at least a dozen cookbooks (probably more.) And exactly zero of them have made me drool. Until today. Enjoy!  If it makes you drool, you don't have to tell anyone.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Making the Leap

A few years ago our son Josh was looking at some of my artwork and said he wanted to write some music that would inspire me while I paint. I told him I love to work to instrumental acoustic music. That December he wrote me a really beautiful piece of music–soothing harp, soaring trumpets, the works–and gave me the finished recording for Christmas. To this day it is one of my most memorable and treasured gifts! I'm pretty sure I cried when he played it for me that Christmas morning.

Since then every once in a while Josh would send us some new music he was working on...the soundtrack to a buddy's movie, some "beats" for rappers to use,  a silly Beatles-esque song about the name he picked out for his baby brother, etc. It became very clear that music was his passion. And I love that.

About nine months ago, Josh quit his full-time job, rented a U-Haul Trailer, and drove across the country in his Ford Mustang, with all his possessions trailing behind. He had a couple thousand dollars in a savings account, the address of a friend in Massachusetts, and the dream of becoming a music producer.

His story took several twists and turns, involving:
  • A roommate who came home drunk and tried to beat him up
  • Lovely people at the church in that small MA town who listened to him, fed him, and tried to help find him a new place to stay
  • A strong whisper of a feeling that he was supposed to move to Brooklyn
  • A church housing list in Brooklyn that miraculously had someone with a spare bedroom
  • Driving a U-Haul trailer through Manhattan (I love this image)
  • A kind branch president who helped him move in, invited him to dinner
  • A funny freelance job removing wrinkles from sheets in photoshop for hours on end
  • A guy at a storytelling event who just happened to need a lead guitarist for his band
  • Interning at Electric Lady a couple of times
  • Eating lots of ramen and dollar pizza
  • Finding a terrific full-time job in Midtown working for with some jewelry photographers
  • Still doing the freelance job with the sheets at night
  • Moving two more times in two months
  • Finding a great brownstone apartment in Brooklyn with space for all his sound equipment
  • Getting up at 5 am to work on his music before riding the train to his day job
  • So many miracles, and so. much. work.

I am so proud of him. It's been awesome to have a front row-seat for all this drama in his life...and then slowly watch the miracles unfold and see our boy work hard, trust his intuition, and learn how to make his way in the big, beautiful, scary world.

Today he released his first album. How cool is that? It's available on every possible streaming service and device. To my great delight, it is nearly all instrumental–my ideal painting music. (WARNING: I guess it also sports an explicit label–but he assured me it is only one song that got the explicit rating–and I'll be skipping that one.) Here's the link, since I know you're interested:

No matter what else happens, I believe he has accomplished something extraordinary! May we all so courageously follow our passions and bring our dreams to reality.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

I was looking for an old set of scriptures with some notes in the back, and stumbled across this:

It made me smile inside, reminding me of a sweet, humbling experience that happened about 20 years ago:

When our daughter (now almost 23) was a toddler, I caught her scribbling all over the inside covers of my leather scriptures. She had been extremely intentional and diligent--using a combination of ballpoint pen and two different markers. (See proof above). I was mildly horrified.

"Sweetie, those are very special books, those are my scriptures! Let's not draw in there!" I said, gently taking the books and the pens away and handing her a sheet of paper.

Her response stopped me, stunned.

"But I want to be like you, Mommy. I'm marking my scriptures!"

I had no idea she was watching me....paying any attention at all to what I was doing when I could steal a quiet moment or two.

I will always think of her sweet response whenever I see those "marks" on this book. There are plenty of behaviors our daughter could have chosen to imitate, many of them unattractive and embarrassing, or involving bad words, but I'm so grateful that at that moment she was mimicking something actually worthy of imitation—studying the scriptures.

She didn't know that I was searching for answers and inspiration, singling out specific verses, making notes in the margins about what struck me as meaningful and powerful. But she saw me with these books, and an array of pens, every day. And she must have felt it was something good that she wanted to do too.

That was one of those moments when I realized I was doing at least one thing right.

If you're interested —like our daughter was — in what I do every day with those books and those pens, head on over to Feasting on Small Plates, where I have an entire blog dedicated to my personal scripture study and sharing the insights and truths I mine there. I'd love to hear your insights too.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

She forgot my biggest emotion! (I swear this is a thing.)

A few weeks ago we heard our dear friend and clinical psychologist Julie De Azevedo Hanks speak at an arts retreat. Her entire presentation was engaging and captivating, and there's more I want to explore here, but for now I can't stop thinking about this one concept: the difference between primary and secondary emotions.

Her definition is so simple:
The primary emotion is what you feel FIRST.
The secondary emotion is what you feel MOST.

She gave several examples, such as an initial primary emotion of fear, followed by a stronger secondary emotion of anger. Loneliness, followed by a stronger secondary emotion of sadness.

But I think I have only one secondary emotion (this one wasn't on her list, but it has to be an emotion, because it works in the exact same way):

Primary emotion: Sad (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Afraid (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Ashamed (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Lonely (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Bored (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Happy (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Sleepy (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Are you seeing a pattern emerge?
I am clearly an emotional eater. Especially when it comes to comfort foods.
No wonder I need to lose ten pounds!

QUESTION: Are you an emotional eater?
Do you have a different pattern of experiencing primary and secondary emotions?
I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Inherent Danger of "I'm Right! You're Wrong!" --Understanding Those With Different Perspectives

Every day I sit at my kitchen window and look out at this patch of scrub oak in our back yard.

One day I was struck by the notion that while all the other scrub oak trees grow with crooked, twisted trunks, there is one tree that stands perfectly straight. So strange. Yet I could see it with my own eyes. There it was. Straight as could be. See it there on the left?

I kept wondering how that one tree managed to grow straight up while all the trees around it grew in every chaotic direction.

Then I walked out in the yard and realized if I looked at the same tree from a different direction, the tree I thought was straight is actually just as crooked as all the rest—it just looked straight because of my point of view. From my kitchen window I was looking at it straight on and couldn't see the directional bend.

I also realized that from the new spot in the yard where I was standing, there was yet another tree that appeared to be perfectly straight, while all the others around them were chaotic and crooked. See it there, just off center in the back?

In fact, from nearly ANY spot in the yard there might be one tree that appears to be straight while all the others are crooked. 

So three different people, standing in three points of the yard, could all be looking at different trees at the same time, and say that THEIR tree is the straight one. They would all be right. And they would all be wrong.

Oh, the lessons from nature! Could it be that all our perceptions are at least partly colored by our perspective and experience? How many ideas are we digging in our heels about, when it might pay to stop and look at the situation from another person's point of view?

QUESTION: What political party might have a helpful perspective you haven't considered? When was the last time you added to your faith by including the perspective of someone from another persuasion? 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Motherhood Math: It's Complicated

(apologies in advanced to any mathematicians in my readership.)

When you get married you start multiplying everything by two...a nice even number. Easy third grade math.  

But then you inexplicably also divide the amount of time you spend together by two. You assumed your time together would be doubled, but life, school and work get in the way, and instead it’s halved. 

Later you realize that when you're unified, 1 x 1 = 1. Two people multiplied is greater than two people just added together.  The first of many paradoxes: One is greater than 2. 

Things get a little more complex when you add a baby. You think you could just start multiplying everything by three. But the baby equals 2.75 adult humans (diapers for one month = 2 adult t-shirts that will each last five years.) Cost of breastfeeding for first year: 0. Cost of motorized breast pump: Astronomical.  Baby also demands 6 times more attention than your husband. Divide time together by another third.

Double and triple recipes as more children are added to family. Double and triple laughter and love at same rate of recipes and grocery bills. 

Write down a number for your ideal hours of sleep per night. Multiply that number by 2/3. Try to escape sleep debt using debt-reduction formula from financial planning class. Fail.

Story problem: 

If a mother has one child to shuttle to elementary school, one to drop off at preschool, and one crawling on floor at rate of 1mph, how fast does the mother need to run to keep up with them all?

Average number of times per day you quietly move dirty dishes from sink to dishwasher: 5 

Hire a babysitter for weekly date night with spouse. Multiply mother’s hourly rate by 10. Oh, wait…that’s still zero. Scratch that. No comparison to mother’s investment. Budget x dollars a week, then double it. Multiply previous total by 5 for longer outings. Joy at finally having a 12-year-old = short-lived.

Add a teenage boy with a speeding ticket and a fender bender to your family auto insurance and multiply previous insurance premiums by four. 

Teenage boy also stays out past curfew. Reduce sleep time by another 1/3. Sleep now dangerously close to zero. Sleep debt approaches bankruptcy.

Sending first child to college = scholarship + tuition + books + housing - grandparents’ 529 plan + 2500/semester - tax credit. Repeat annually with variables. Subtract cost of feeding teenage boy at home. Multiply by four. Seeing that child in a cap and gown: worth every penny. Value of that education: priceless. 

Marry off a daughter and the price of the wedding is triple the amount of the tax credit you lose that year. Total financial loss, including incidentals: cannot add that high. Value of a stellar son-in-law: inestimable, far outweighing any financial losses.  Cost of temple sealing: 0. Value of eternal union: infinite. There is no earthly equation to equal that kind of blessing.

Youngest son leaves to serve a mission. Joy = Given. Cost zeroed out by car insurance reduced (total annual estimate for three drivers, now divided by four) plus cell phone line removed, plus packaged food and gallons of milk no longer consumed. Dirty dishes in sink now equals zero. Shoes by back door still equals 2--because I can't bear to move them. Complex emotions surface. For every missionary letter: Multiply both sides by joy raised to the power of sacrifice and faith.

Oldest son moves to New York. Multiply faith and prayers by 10. Double that number for daily and weekly miracles pouring in. Scratch head. Look at lifetime of tithing receipts. Does not come close to equalling the value of the blessings and miracles. Wipe away tears.

Delight when we hear from each of our children: Enormous. Hours we want to spend with them: infinite. 

Number of people in household now: 2. Number of empty bedrooms: 3
Divide all recipes by 4. (Except the ones you divide into 2/3 when married kids come over for dinner). 

Multiply time together with spouse by 2.5. Raise total to the exponent of fun, now multiplied by 30 years of depth and life experience. This is what you call rich.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What three things can help defuse teen anger?

I was talking to some mothers of teenagers the other day, and one asked about 13-year-old Boy Anger, wondering specifically, "Is that a thing?" (It is.) And "Is there anything that helps?"
(—Other than the cure for the common cold: It will eventually end?)

Our youngest just turned 18, and while I readily enjoy our kids at every age and stage, I can't say I'm sorry to see all the teenage mutant ninja hormones in the rearview mirror! But I do have some pointers for those just entering or in the throes of this parenting thrill-ride:

First, find them a physical outlet. I remember our oldest saying one day, much to my horror, "It feels so good to hit people with sticks!" Of course, he was talking about lacrosse, not beating somebody up in a dark alley, but it also revealed that deep need in a developing male's psyche to have an outlet for his anger. —A safe outlet, where he wouldn't be punished or penalized for letting some rage take over, and literally beat it out on the field, as long as he followed the rules.

It doesn't have to be lacrosse. They can ride it out on a surfboard or a snowboard, pound it out on the pavement, tackle it on the football field, pedal it out on a mountain bike, or chase it out on a tennis court. Any safe physical outlet will do. The more passionate your teenager is about the activity, the better.

Second, support them in a creative outlet. I recognize daily how much peace and deep soul-satisfying fulfillment comes through music and painting. And it turns out it's not just me. Nelson Mandela's widow, Graça Machel discovered a child's soul can be soothed by participation in the arts. Machel launched a 10-year study on Children and Conflict that concluded in part: "If their energy is channelled creatively, however, children and young people can become powerful forces for peace."  For teenagers, this effect is even stronger if they become teachers themselves, helping younger children learn to express themselves artistically.

My third piece of advice was less obvious, and came to me a little later, after things quieted down:

When our oldest and angriest son was in the throes of hormonal rage, I was praying hard about how to deal with him, and the answer came to me as a line from the 13th Article of Faith, but in a way I'd never understood it before:

"If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

I had always thought that meant to surround yourself with the best literature, and other beautiful things in the world. But in that moment on my knees, God taught me that it can also suggest a way to interact with your angry teenager: If there is ANYTHING virtuous, lovely or praiseworthy [about them], we seek after these things.

Praise. Could it really be that simple?

I started seeking—really looking hard—for things to praise about all our kids, and specifically our teenagers, watching for things they were doing right—ANYTHING. Then I'd point it out to them, no matter how small or obvious, both privately and in front of other people. I was determined to say every positive thing I could think of, right out loud. To them.

And it worked. Or at least it helped. Most of the time. Which is huge.

People were happier. Fewer doors were slammed. Fewer voices were raised. Fewer tears flowed. (Mine. As well as theirs.)

It wasn't the cure for cancer. Hormones will be hormones. But it did make a significant difference in the spirit of our home, and in my relationship with each child. 

It turns out, I learned later, there's scientific evidence behind the praise phenomenon. The pleasure centers in our brain crave sincere compliments more than food, alcohol, money or sex. Seriously. That could solve 80% of teenager problems. Am I right?

What has helped you in dealing with angry teenagers? What wonders have you experienced through praise? I'd love to hear about it in the box below.