Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Oignons Glacés à Brun

I have lots of ideas for blog posts I'd love to share with you this Thanksgiving. There's still a lot left to do in my kitchen and I may be a tad overzealous in thinking I can get it all done and write about it, so no promises. We'll see how it goes (but I'm feeling pretty optimistic)!

Personally, I think side dishes are the best part of Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey's great, don't get me wrong, but when I go back for seconds (and thirds), I'm loading up my plate with sides. This year I'm making, among other things, pearl onions glazed in butter and sugar to create a deep brown color and a rich, caramelized flavor. It's called oignons glacés à brun. They're super easy to make and offer a big wow factor to enjoy.

Peeling pearl onions can either be the most annoying process known to man or it can turn into a meditative experience that comes from choosing a relaxed approach. When you focus on a repetitive process with the intention to let everything else go (in yoga, it's called japa), your parasympathetic nervous system steps in to help back you away from the cliff of stress. And who doesn't need a little calm, especially in the face of cooking Thanksgiving dinner?! Here's a trick: put the onions in a pot of boiling water for a minute, which will make the skins a lot easier to peel off. Leave most of the root in tact so the onions keep their shape (just shave off a sliver of the bottom with your paring knife to neaten them up).

Lay out your peeled pearl onions in a single layer in a sauté pan. Add a tablespoon of (unsalted) butter, a generous pinch of salt, and about a teaspoon of sugar. Fill the pan with enough water to come only half way up the sides of the onions.

You'll need to make a fancy contraption called a cartouche, or a parchment paper lid. The cartouche pushes the steam back into the onions, cooking them quickly and trapping in moisture. I swear we used a cartouche in every single class at the French Culinary Institute. It's an awesome little invention and I'll be sure to share other ways you can use it in your kitchen.

Fold a piece of parchment paper into quarters. Think of it like a little book and keep the "binding" to the left. The folded seams stay at the top. Fold the paper in half from the bottom to the top, and then repeat that fold two more times until you have what looks like a paper airplane.

Measure the circumference of your pan by placing the tip of your cartouche in the middle and then cutting the parchment where it touches the rim. Unfold your paper airplane et voilà, your very own cartouche! Très bien!

Snuggle your cartouche right on top of the onions and turn on your heat to medium-high. Allow the water to simmer down to almost nothing. The timing really depends on the size of your pan, but plan on checking in after about 10 minutes. If it's your first time, don't go too far. Stay on top of the situation. Stab an onion with the tip of your paring knife to make sure it's tender (and if it's not, just add a little more water and let it simmer a bit longer). 

Once you have about a tablespoon of water left, remove the cartouche.

As the water evaporates, the sugar will begin to caramelize and coat your pan in a lovely shade of brown. Get those onions to roll around in there so they don't stick. When things start getting really brown, add a little bit of water to the pan (like a teaspoon), give the pan a good shake, and you'll see the onions start to take on all of that delicious brown color. You can repeat this process—adding water, shaking the pan, coating the onions—until you get the color you're looking for. Any shade of brun tastes good, folks, so it's really up to you.

You can makes these in advance, store them in the fridge, and then just warm them through before dinner. This would be a great side dish to bring to someone's house. You could add some lardons in there for a salty kick to compliment the sweetness of the onions. I mean, lardons make everything taste ridiculous. Just have fun with the process; it's a great one to add to your cooking repertoire.

Ok, I'm off to make a pumpkin pie, set my Thanksgiving table, and hopefully share it all with you. If you don't hear from me it's because I got caught up in the moment. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Love in the Aftermath

Jersey City waterfront preparing for Hurricane Sandy. 

In the wake of hurricane sandy, I find myself feeling simultaneously grateful and guilty for how lucky I was to have survived unscathed. Besides some flooding in our basement and 48 hours without electricity, the only victims in my life were the containers of stock and soup and other frozen memories from cooking school that I had to heave because of the power outage. During our brief stint in the dark I was able to shower at my sisters' place in Brooklyn, where my brother-in-law made us a hot spaghetti dinner. Our power came back on just in time for my birthday and I celebrated (both momentous events) by baking a brownie pudding and an apple tart.

Just three blocks away, the sidewalks are littered with the contents of peoples' homes—furniture, clothes, and personal effects—and the owners are wrapped up in coats and scarfs to try and stay warm in their beds at night. Hoboken suffered considerable water damage. The Jersey Shore was completely destroyed; Seaside Heights, Atlantic City, and on and on are on their knees. Staten Island is a war zone. Thousands of people are now homeless and my heart hurts so much I don't know what to do. As I write this post from the comforts of my home, with the Food Network buzzing in the background and a warm meal in my belly, I feel completely removed from the magnitude of this collective pain.

My street.

My yoga practice reminds me that distance is an illusion; we are all connected because we share in this experience of being human and in the painful truth that pain is part of life. Hiding from pain (dvesha) is an obstacle (klesha) because it prevents us from experiencing the totality of our existence. Like the current gas shortage, perhaps there is a fear that if we get too close to the suffering of others we risk losing our precious (and perceived) commodity of happiness. To roll up one's sleeves and voluntarily wade through the flood waters of someone else's life takes courage, plain and simple. Inaction feels like the safer option, but it only perpetuates separateness.

Aftermath at Liberty Landing Marina. They've made an amazing recovery in the past few days.

The yoga of action/service (karma yoga) asks us to open our hearts to those who are experiencing the kind of loss that many of us may never know but, through acts of love, can hope to understand. The easiest way to help is to reach out to your friends, family, and community. For those of us in the hard hit areas, we need only to step outside and ask neighbors "What can I do?" Paulus Hook has been an inspiring place to call home: restaurants are offering free food, coffee, and internet; friends are cooking meals and hosting impromptu block parties; folks are stopping one another in the street to offer a hot shower or a warm bed. (Check out ways you can help Jersey City or Hoboken.) On the other side of the Hudson, fellow NYC YogaWorks' teachers Jeanmarie Paolillo and Paula Liberis are leading a huge donation effort at the Upper Westside studio to deliver necessities to devastated areas. Their actions are so inspiring to me and I'm very proud to be their friend. "Whatever a great man does ordinary people will do; whatever standard he sets everyone will follow" (Bhagavad Gita). One of my girlfriends asked me to donate clothes/home goods/anything to someone she knows in NYC who lost all of her belongings when her apartment flooded. And that's just a tiny snapshot of my own personal network.

Those of you who are farther away, get in touch with those you know who live in Sandy's path to find out how you can make a difference. Financial donations do help. For everyone, near and far, here are just a few options and resources I've found to help you get started.

Occupy Sandy Relief - This is a fantastic online resource of relief/volunteer information in our area. You can sign up for texts or emails to stay informed. There's also a volunteer update page that tells you what's happening on the ground and how you can help. - An online community that allows neighborhoods to efficiently come together to help those in need. There are pages for Red Hook, Astoria, the Lower East Side, and Staten Island.

Red Cross - You can text REDCROSS to 90999 and instantly donate $10 to Disaster Relief. Or you can donate online. For other ways to make a financial donation, click here.

NYC Service - An amazing resource for up-to-date opportunities to help.

The Salvation Army - To make a monetary donation. There are also separate websites specific for NY and NJ.

The Humane Society - It's totally inconceivable to me that many people were rescued from their homes but were not allowed to take their pets. You can make a donation to help the Humane Society's efforts in recovering animals after the storm.

Benefit Yoga Classes - Many of the NYC/NJ studios are offering benefit classes to support relief efforts. Check your local studio.

"God is attained by all those who see God in every action." - Bhagavad Gita

Ellie, doing her part to help clean up.

I find this metta (loving kindness) meditation to be helpful during painful times when I feel powerless. Repeating this mantra, with my whole heart at the wheel, helps me connect to myself and others in a positive way.

May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be content.

May (________) be filled with loving kindness.
May (________) be well.
May (________) be peaceful and at ease.
May (________) be content.

For those of you feeling the effects of anxiety, hopelessness, and fear, here are some yoga practices that can help.

Prone Savasana - Lie down on your abdomen, place a rolled blanket or bolster under your ankles. Turn your head to one side (switching half-way though) and cover yourself with a blanket.

Restorative Yoga - Supporting your body with props allows your nervous system to relax. Sand bags/eye pillows are extremely helpful in easing anxiety.

Exhale-based Breathing - Lengthening your exhalations has a calming effect on your entire system.

Forward Bends - These postures are cooling and calming. Seated forward bends can be held with the help of bolsters and chairs (or, in my case, with the help of a golden retriever).

Restorative Upavistha Konasana.

This experience is giving us the opportunity to practice yoga when it matters most. Taking action to help others is a powerful form of yoga and one we can practice in both little and big ways, everyday. As we come together—neighbors and strangers—to seek solace and support in our respective communities, I hope we can all remember the power of union. May we all be flooded with gratitude, compassion, and love in the worst and best of times.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Salade Niçoise

I took two hugely memorable summer trips to Europe as a teenager, accompanied by my whole family. We wandered through Italy, Switzerland, and my beloved France, exploring the tastes and sights as we traveled across the countryside in our rented Volkswagen bus. There were no reservations and no agenda other than the list of flea markets, organized by date and town, which my mother boldly used as our road map.

Les marchés aux puces are what I remember most about our trips. Each market gave us a snapshot of what life was like in that particular corner of the world. We would make a day of it, arriving early to snatch the best goods, resting for lunch in a nearby café, and then wandering a bit more until exhaustion forced us back to the car in search of a place to rest our bones. I always loved the moment when I stood at the threshold of the hunt, not knowing what treasure I might find buried in an unassuming box or strewn haphazardly on a table amongst a sea of junk. In life, that sense of not-knowing doesn't typically fill me with the same excitement and so browsing the flea markets is, in a way, my practice—a reminder to gaze into the unknown with awe and wonder. We frequented dozens of markets in our travels, and my eyes were soon able to scan the aisles like a pro, quickly seeking out the glimmer of silver or the softness of linen. I credit my love (and any skills I may possess) for design to those hours spent curating my own personal collection of flea market finds.

Fervent shopping was hard work and so we would all break for lunch, collapsing into an outdoor café, our mouths parched and our stomachs grumbling. My mother—a perpetual creature of habit—devoted herself to the tireless work of taste-testing the same lunch, day in and day out. Unbeknownst to the country of France, she became the unofficial connoisseur of her favorite dish: la salade niçoise.

To this day I have a special place in my heart for a niçoise salad. It's true that it is especially delicious in the summer, when the more delicate varieties of lettuce are in season. But it's also true that when you love something that much, it doesn't really matter when you eat it. What I learned from watching my mother enjoy the many incarnations of this meal is that there really isn't a 'right' way to make it. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I have adopted her love for cette salade. I like to be able to create a dish in much the same way that my mother planned our trips through Europe—with her passion and her instincts as her guide.

Salade Niçoise

Lettuce of your choice. Butter lettuce (Boston Bibb) or Oak Leaf lettuce are my favorites.
Can of tuna packed in oil.
Green beans, boiled for 5-8 minutes in heavily salted boiling water, then shocked in an ice bath. 
As many hard boiled eggs as your heart can handle.
Tomatoes, rough chop.
Olives (which I don't always use but sometimes they just feel right).
Potatoes, boiled until tender.


Whisk together dijon mustard (an oversized teaspoon), chopped shallots (let's say a tablespoon), red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Slowly pour in your oil as you whisk. Remember: 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.

This brown transferware pitcher is one of my favorite flea market finds.

Like in a true salade composée, neatly arrange all of the components on top of your lettuce instead of tossing everything together. This is a great salad to serve guests because you can place the prepared ingredients into separate bowls and allow your friends to follow their fancy.

After a lazy lunch spent recuperating from our morning's adventure, we would gather our things and head back to the van. We must've been a sight—awkwardly managing our shopping bags and, like true tourists, maneuvering through crowded cafés and busy sidewalks leaving a path of destruction in our wake. Luckily my parents always packed garment bags (for oil paintings), duck tape (to secure boxes and the garment bags) and extra luggage (for all of our brocantes). In those days you could still lug bottles of olive oil on board a plane along with your other six pieces of carry-on. Ahh, those were the days.

I hope you enjoy this salad—a veritable meal in and of itself—as much as I do. Every bite transports me to those summers in our rented Volkswagen van, driving off to the next spot on my mother's map. I believe it's good for the soul to make something in your kitchen that reminds you of the sacred moments in your life. There is a little piece of my soul in this salad. Bon appétit!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

I've been eating tons of veggies this summer, thanks to the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share I purchased at the beginning of the season. Every Wednesday I receive a bushel of produce and I'm left with the challenge of trying to figure out how to devour it all in one week. Lest I remind you that my beloved doesn't eat anything green. He just watches me gorge myself on vegetables while he casually sips his Coca-Cola. My fridge is literally overflowing with the bounties of summer—beets, cabbage, sweet peas, salad turnips, swiss chard, and on and on. Sautéed greens in olive oil and garlic has become a staple in my diet (I especially love it over pasta with a little homemade pesto).

My problem (besides the fact that I struggle to eat everything before the arrival of next week's delivery) is that it's too freakin' hot to cook anything. Out of desperation, I created a summer coleslaw that allows me to throw everything but the kitchen sink into one dish. It has been a lifesaver!

To make the coleslaw I simply chop up summer cabbage and whatever else I'm trying to eat before its shelf life expires. Kale, summer turnips, radishes ... the sky's the limit. I would say the only required ingredients are cabbage (or some kind of hearty green) and shallots, which round out the flavors. The dressing is non-fat Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and dill. I usually start with about a 1/2 cup of yogurt and 1/2 lemon, tasting and checking that there's enough dressing to coat all the veggies, adding more as necessary. I finely chop the dill (I like a lot of dill, but any amount will taste fantastic) and then add sea salt and pepper to taste.

It is seriously the simplest salad in the world and it tastes so insanely fresh. I love recipes where there's no right or wrong because it forces me to trust my instincts. Have fun experimenting with different combinations of vegetables and savor your efforts with a perfectly chilled glass of white wine. It's heaven on a hot day.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Stoop Sale Cookies

Last month I decided to get rid of the storage unit I've been hanging onto for the past six years. Truth be told, I hadn't thought much about the unit (thanks to AutoPay) until I started watching the show Storage Wars on A&E. Being a flea market/thrift store fanatic myself, it's no wonder I like watching a bunch of reality show characters bidding blind on storage units in the hopes of finding something valuable amongst piles of unmarked boxes. I also find it endlessly fascinating that people could just simply abandon their belongings. This point is fantastically ironic given the fact that my storage unit had been all but forgotten save for Christmas when we would make our annual pilgrimage to retrieve the holiday decorations.

A few months ago I couldn't have told you what was in my unit. Sure, there were some large items I could see from the front door, like the mountain bike I bought on a whim that summer in the Hamptons when my house mates wanted to take a stab at roughing it. There was also some furniture I bought at the antique store where I worked on the weekends right after college; I thought it would be a great way to meet people and pay for the pieces I needed to furnish my first apartment. Besides what I could see from the threshold, I was at a total loss for what sat waiting in those cardboard boxes. Had my unit gone up for auction, I wouldn't have had even the slightest competitive edge over any of those Storage Wars personalities. Emptying the unit was a huge undertaking but I was highly motivated, not just because of the oodles of money I would save, but because it dawned on me just how ridiculous it was to hold on to things that I had no knowledge of owning.

Rummaging through all the stuff was like revisiting my past lives. Each object seemed to embody the spirit of another me, and although they triggered faint memories, it almost felt as if I was sifting through someone else's belongings. The good news was I thought I had superb taste! I found a whole box full of kitchen supplies and happily snatched up some beloved linens and books. The bad news was that for every item I wanted to bring home I found ten I wanted to throw away. How is it that I could have accumulated this much crap? The fact that I had paid to hold onto this stuff just added insult to injury. Surrounded by piles and piles of junk, I felt keenly aware of the yogic practice of non-hoarding which, up until this point, had remained completely illusive to me. In that moment I understood the value of non-attachment because each object I now categorized as junk had, at some point in my life, been considered precious.

I had to let go. There was no other choice. A wave of clarity washed over me as I sorted through the mess. Photo albums, college memories, and old letters went into the "keep" pile. The rolls of wrapping paper with only enough paper left to wrap a 1-inch square box, the clothes (oh my God has my style changed) and the manuals from my 200hr teacher training (although hilarious to flip through) went directly to the "Goodwill" pile. There were some things I loved but just didn't need, so I decided to have a stoop sale to make the act of letting go a little less painful.

We hung signs up all over my neighborhood, advertising my goods and bribing people with homemade cookies ("available only to those who BUY!"). I figured an oatmeal walnut chocolate chip cookie sprinkled with sea salt would help turn any ambivalent waffling into a final sale. These cookies were my first attempt at creating my own recipe for a baked good. The science of baking is totally lost on me so the task of figuring out the perfect ratio of flour/sugar/baking powder/egg was daunting to say the least. I decided the only way to figure it out was to try. Luckily I had many willing taste testers (like any good yoga teacher, I bribed my students with homemade cookies if they really gave their all in class). With a little tweaking, the feedback was unanimous ... the cookies are delicious!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream 2 sticks of room temperature butter, 1 cup of tightly packed light brown sugar, and 1/2 cup regular sugar. Add 2 eggs and 1 tsp vanilla. Add the dry ingredients—1 1/2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt—only until just combined. Finally, stir in 3 cups of oats, 1 cup of chocolate chips, and 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts. Spoon about a tablespoon of dough into your hands, allowing the heat of your palms to form the dough into a presentably round shape. Once they were on the cookie sheet, I flattened the tops just a little and sprinkled each one with a bit of Maldon sea salt flakes. Bake for 20-25 minutes on the upper rack of your oven, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack.

Books for sale resting on top of a 1950's table.

A collection of shoes resting on a 100 year old trunk.

The stoop sale was a huge success, if you count my having fun as being successful. If you count my financial gains relative to how much I originally spent on each item plus the money I spent to store it all ... well, let's just not count my financial gains. Practicing Sutra 2.39 (aparigraha, or non-hoarding) seems pretty wise. We do not need all of our stuff. Moreover, we cannot find our sense of self in all of our stuff. We are not our cars, or our shoes, or our furniture. What was once your prized possession is later left collecting dust in some storage unit. It makes me think that non-hoarding is not simply the practice of letting go—of saying goodbye at the end of a long relationship with our forgotten belongings. Aparigraha is also the practice of taking a powerful pause before buying that special something you feel will fill the gaping hole in your sense of wholeness. It is the skill of knowing that the answers do not abide in the external, but rather deep inside. Clearly (as illustrated by the photo above), no amount of shoes will help you step forward in the direction you want to move. On a side note, no one bought any of my shoes, so I donated them to Goodwill. Someone is now walking around in a killer pair of Barbara Bui flats, and for that, I couldn't be happier.

Monday, May 28, 2012


I read somewhere that you should never try a new recipe if you plan on sharing the end result with others. The logic behind this advice is intended to save you from the humiliation of failure should your kitchen experiment go awry. While I'm sure this suggestion has proven helpful to some, I wholeheartedly disagree. There's no fun in making something safe—a proven winner—because the whole joy of cooking (at least for me) comes from my connection to the process, not the end result. Julia Child was quoted as saying, "The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a 'What the hell?' attitude." My thoughts exactly. That being said, I've had my fair share of flops, but they've taught me to let go and move on (which has only served to further fuel my courage in the kitchen).

So when my friend Paula asked me to bring dessert to her cookout, I was inspired to try and make Tiramisu. When I embark on this kind of challenge I usually pull a few recipes and start to get a feel for the ingredients and the process. Tiramisu is an icebox cake, so there's no cooking involved, just assembly. How hard could it be? And with espresso, chocolate, heavy cream, mascarpone cheese, and brandy as the ingredients, how bad could it taste, even if I screwed up? After flipping through a few books, unable to find a recipe that really spoke to me, I just decided to wing it. What can I say—I like to live on the edge.

Be forewarned: there's enough espresso in this recipe to grow hair on your chest and enough brandy to give you a bit of a buzz. This dessert is not for the vice-free partygoer. This dessert is the life of the party.

First, choose the dish you're going to use. I initially pulled out a large 8 x 12 inch baking dish but as I started to place the lady fingers in the bottom I realized that I wouldn't have enough cookies to fill the entire container. I ended up choosing a slightly smaller, oval dish. Whatever you have will work perfectly.

1 package of Savoiardi cookies (Italian ladyfingers)
3-4 shots of espresso (you could probably use strong coffee as a substitute)
1 pint heavy cream
8 oz mascarpone cheese
6 T brandy
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
any good quality chocolate you have laying around (to shave on top)

Prepare the espresso first so it has time to cool (you can let it rest in the fridge while you get everything else ready). Whip together the heavy cream, mascarpone cheese, brandy, vanilla, and sugar until soft peaks form.

Now for the fun part! Pour the cooled espresso into a shallow bowl. Give each lady finger a quick dip in the espresso (on both sides) and place it in your dish of choice. The key to the dipping is to keep it brief; do not let your ladies bathe too long or you'll get soggy tiramisu. Layer the bottom of your dish with the caffeinated (or caffeine-free) cookies and then pour half of the whipped cream concoction overtop. Shave a little chocolate over the cream.

Ellie, my assistant, surveying the ingredients.

Two happy blondes.

Repeat the entire process, creating a second layer. Place in the fridge for an hour or (if you're a planner) overnight.

Over at the barbecue, I admit I was the tiniest bit anxious about how my dessert would actually taste, but when those vrttis (thoughts, mental interruptions) popped up I just doused them with my vodka tonic and continued having fun. By the time I got to the Tiramisu it was half gone. It was a huge hit! A few people told me they loved that the ladyfingers still had texture, and I enthusiastically explained to them the secret of the "quick dip". They were amazed.

I loved this dessert so much I decided to make another one today; this way I get to share the recipe with you and I get to eat it again at my family's Memorial Day barbecue. (It's not all looks, folks.) I was so excited to make it I forgot to add sugar to the whipped cream, but I'm confident it will still taste good. Attitude, after all, is as important as the ingredients.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fettuccine with Asparagus and Poached Egg

Last weekend I made dinner for my mother on her boat. It couldn't have been any more perfect just to float on the Hudson and enjoy a homemade meal. What I loved about the whole thing was how it all came together. Meandering through the farmers' market only a few hours earlier (inspired by the fresh produce and the fact that I had the weekend off) I was suddenly struck by the desire to cook. I bought my ingredients—asparagus, eggs (from Grazin' Angus, the best eggs ever), strawberries, and goat cheese—called my mom, and the rest was history.

And what could've been better than fettucini? You're right, nothing. While the water was boiling, I chopped the asparagus into bite-sized pieces. The asparagus were added into the boiling pasta during the last two minutes of cooking. As I drained the pasta and asparagus, I reserved one cup of the water to help make the sauce. 2 T of butter, a few T of parmesan, salt, and pepper went into the pot with the pasta and asparagus, and I added enough of the reserved pasta water to help the sauce coat the fettucini. I plated the pasta over at the boat, where my mother poached two of those amazing Grazin' Angus eggs. Lots and lots of freshly ground pepper gave it the perfect taste. I could hardly contain myself as I split open the poached egg and all of the neon orange yolk oozed down into the layers of fettuccine goodness. Each bite was like heaven in my mouth.

The goat cheese was crazy good. There are no words. 

For dessert we had fresh strawberries, which actually tasted like strawberries, a detail that I know must resonate with everyone. They were sweet and tart and bright red. A little shortbread cookie was the perfect compliment.

I loved the simplicity of this meal. As I stretched my legs out, staring out over the city skyline, I felt so grateful to have allowed myself the luxury of getting swept away by my creativity. I'm learning that creativity is similar to meditation. Trying to be creative prevents me from being creative.You can't force it to arrive, you have to invite it in and then get out of the way. Totally relaxed and inspired, I found myself saying, "More of this, please." Allowing rather than doing makes the space for life to unfold on its own. It's my new summer mantra and I'm excited to see where it will take me.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

(Easter) Sunday Brunch

It's been a million years since Easter, which makes writing about Easter pretty useless at this point. You are probably as interested in bunnies and Easter eggs as you are in, oh let's say, your taxes. I feel the need to explain. I've sat on this post since, well, Easter because it kept needing more time in the oven. I decided to just wait until the cake tester came out clean rather than trying to pawn off some uncooked post about a holiday that has long since passed. Ironically, in waiting for my thoughts to bake, I came face-to-face with the exact struggle I was trying to articulate—guilt over not doing "enough"—and to prove (to myself) I have truly learned my lesson, I've decided to move full speed ahead with this post. If you keep reading you'll find a recipe for buttermilk biscuits, so at the very least I hope you'll be inspired to put on an apron this Sunday and whip up some brunch.

This Easter, I reluctantly accepted that I would need to let go of my penchant for perfectionism because I didn't have the time to do everything I would've like to have done. The entire holiday weekend was jam-packed with commitments, not the least of which was a five hour anatomy lecture I had to teach on Easter Sunday. No matter how I sliced it there just wasn't enough time for elaborate entertaining. Instead, I rummaged under my bed and found the remnants of decorations from those years when I must have had a lot of spare time on my hands. Peering through the dust bunnies, I found some baby chicks, birds' nests, and robin's eggs. I felt both grateful and disturbed to have had a small forrest of creatures living under my bed.

The large branches I bought at the Union Square Green Market made a statement without a lot of effort. Wait, what am I saying? Carrying them home on the PATH train was an all-out war; I'm fairly certain I took a few peoples' eyes out that day. When I finally arrived home I realized that I could've cut the same exact branches off the trees in front of my apartment (although I think it would've been illegal to do so). Drama.

On the menu front, I decided to stick with something relatively simple—scrambled eggs and bacon—until the shame of not doing enough prompted me, at the last minute, to make homemade buttermilk biscuits. Thankfully they were a breeze to make. They even gave the bacon a run for its money.

Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits

8 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t salt

I made the dough right in my food processor. Combine all of the dry ingredients. Add the butter and pulse until it's the size of small peas. With the blade running, pour in the buttermilk until the dough just comes together. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and kneed with your hands. Roll out and cut out the biscuits with the rim of a glass (unless you happen to have biscuit cutters laying around). Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350, or until the bottoms are golden brown.

Breakfast tasted so yummy, in that good 'ole fashion Southern kinda way. I could've used a Bloody Mary, but other than that it was a lovely Easter. In retrospect, I'm thankful to the Universe for forcing me to abandon my typical "go all out" approach to entertaining (or life, come to think of it). I learned a lot by observing myself through the process. Admittedly, I felt anxious about doing less. My emotions waffled between pride (for attempting to let go) and inadequacy (What are we going to do without homemade menu cards? How will we manage?). I'm so used to trying to accomplish it all that I felt naked without a long to-do list. Some compassionate post-game analysis revealed that perhaps, to some degree, I see the success of a perfectly executed to-do list as a benchmark of my own worthiness.

The pillows I bought at West Elm, which I carried back to Jersey along with the deadly branches, because I felt like I hadn't done enough to decorate.

I'm currently reading Brené Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and it's calling me out on the shame I feel about not doing enough. As a shame researcher, it's only fair that she uses examples from her own life to illustrate her points. She writes, "...there are days when most of my anxiety grows out of the expectations I put on myself...I want to show the world how great I am at balancing my family and career. I want our back yard to look beautiful. I want people to see us picking up our dog's poop in biodegradable bags and think, My God! They are such outstanding citizens." Frankly, it's just so nice to know I'm not alone.

Make no mistake, if I had had time to dye my Easter eggs with a homemade concoction of extracted organic beet juice, I would have. Spending hours lost in my creativity is extremely relaxing to me—it helps me refill my well. But then there are those times when I just have way too much going on and I can't, for example, make homemade buttermilk biscuits and then write a timely (and perfectly perfect) blog post about it. It kills me, and it's hard to let go of feeling like I'm not doing enough ... of feeling like I'm somehow not enough for not doing enough. Sometimes I force myself to find a way to do it all, but then I black out and wake up months later covered in paper mâché, or sprinkles, wondering what the hell happened to me. Brené sums up this need to keep up with my expectations: "When we struggle to believe in our worthiness, we hustle for it."

All of this self-study reminds me to be aware of what's motivating my efforts. Why do I do what I do? If it makes me truly happy, it becomes an uplifting experience; it brings me closer to myself. If I feel like I have to do something in order to be enough, it only makes me feel more inadequate. I'm trying to edit my overzealous to-do list by learning how to discern between what empowers me and what makes me feel less-than. If not, my long list of expectations will continue to loom over my head, threatening to perpetually make me feel like I'm always falling short of the mark. It's challenging because the unrealistic bombshells are strategically hidden amongst the benign chores.

Do the laundry. 
Make dinner. 
Answer emails. 
Look like a supermodel. 
Take out the trash.
Lower your cholesterol.
Hand-paint Easter eggs.
Be better at everything in general.

I know I'm not alone. Elizabeth Gilbert, in an article she wrote for, suggests the following: "As we head into this next decade, can we draft a joint resolution to drop the crazy-making expectation that we must all be perfect friends and perfect mothers and perfect workers and perfect lovers with perfect bodies who dedicate ourselves to charity and grow our own organic vegetables, at the same time that we run corporations and stand on our heads while playing the guitar with our feet?"

Time with my family reminds me of what's important.

And so it seems a perfectly performed to-do list is not a report card for the Soul. I'm learning that imperfection and inadequacy are not synonymous. As a reminder, I've been repeating this mantra from Brené's book: "Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough."

This work is big and heavy. I'm happy to put my Easter post to bed because I need a break from all of this self-study/vulnerability/shame stuff. I want to go do something fun. As my teacher Mark Whitwell says, "Just live your life and have a nice breathe." Maybe I'll go make a scrapbook of my recent vacation. Or maybe I'll make some homemade lavender sachets for my underwear drawer. Oh, there's so much to do!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spring Flowers

Spring has sprung and I'm literally giddy with delight. After a thorough cleaning of my home (which coincided nicely with my annual tax time procrastination) I desperately wanted to bring the season indoors with some fresh flowers. I love the creative process of arranging flowers because you get to play with so many design elements—texture, color, proportions and shape. The overall aesthetic is up to the creator and you can take risks knowing that it will always be inherently beautiful. Flowers, to me, are decadent necessities; they brighten my home and my mood.

I adore simple arrangements of just one type of flower, like these amazing tulips from the Union Square Green Market. When you bring your tulips home, wrap the stems in parchment paper (if they're not already) and secure with a rubber band. Give the bottoms a fresh cut and let them sit in a vase of cold water for a few hours, which will toughen up the stems and hopefully prevent them from drooping.

These antique hydrangea make a statement and I especially love the unexpected whimsy of the viburnum, whose daintier heads pop up above the regal crowd. As much as I cherish hydrangea, they're high maintenance (a character flaw I put up with because they're so gorgeous). After giving them a fresh cut, take your scissors and cut the bottom inch of the stem in half and then into quarters (making an "x"). Put them in hot water from your tap. If they start to wilt, you can repeat the process and then spritz the heads with cold water.

I made this pretty pink bouquet of peonies and ranunculus to try and keep my spirits up in the midst of preparing my taxes. They sat on my desk, whispering sweet words of encouragement when I wanted to curl into the fetal position. Who knew a little floral pick-me-up could save me from such loathsome intensity?

The most important thing to remember about arranging flowers is that no matter how they turn out, you'll soften just a little bit every time you look at your creation. Flowers are a reminder that beauty can be found in ordinary things. Sometimes it's the simplest moments of appreciation that can change the way we look at our experience.