This time last year, on a particularly stressful day, I challenged myself to a 30 minute free write. My task was to list, in no particular order, as many good things from 2013 as I could remember. Before I got to 10 I was feeling better and building momentum. By the end I was at number 50 and almost weepy with gratitude, the insignificant hiccups of the day a distant memory.
2014 had plenty of ups and downs, laughs and challenges alike, with much to be thankful for, all the way around. When Thursday’s daily writing prompt was a 10 minute free-write, I knew it was time to repeat the drill, so I took a few breaths to get in the right frame of mind, set a timer and hit Go. I suppose having done this last year gave me a bit of preparation, so it was easy to cross the 50 mark by the time the alarm sounded. Again this year, as last, writing the list filled me with appreciation. And again this year, I could easily have kept going after the allotted time ended. (Yes, I did clean up the list afterward; if you saw the original scribble, well, just trust me that it needed a bit of tidying. And pictures.)
Having a less than perfect day? Give this exercise a try. You’ll feel better in no time, I pinkie swear.
50 Happy Things from 2014
- Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize.
- Teaching myself to make macarons, and filling them with bittersweet chocolate ganache.
- Starting the year with sparklers in the front yard.
- Completing 52 straight weeks of #postaweek.
- Finishing the dining room chair painting project.
- Cory Booker’s “Selfies with Senators” photo campaign.
- A tennis party on my birthday, complete with champagne and Philip Ashley chocolates, thanks to some wonderful girlfriends.
- Well deserved recognition and accolades for Soldier Girls, a terrific book by my friend Helen Thorpe.
- The Car Talk tribute to Tommy.
- The Skimm, the best daily news brief ever, delivered right to your email inbox.
- Going to Julia Reed’s reading/book signing on the spur of the moment with my friend Marjorie.
- Watching my daughter learn to play the upright bass.
- Not paying for haircolor.
- Tennessee Brewery Untapped.
- “Dear Mom, I know you love me, even when you’re mad at me.” (Mother’s Day note)
- Making chocolate soufflé with my fellow cooking gal pals.
- The galvanized tub that has become the neighborhood kids’ fire pit & gathering spot.
- Being picked by Hipstamatic for my Thanksgiving Day “Have a Carrot” pic.
- Paddleboarding for the first time (to my kids’ disbelief).
- The Bitter Southerner membership drive.
- Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York UN tour.
- Picking out new bikes for my children’s birthdays and watching them race around the neighborhood.
- The Beta Club induction ceremony.
- Finding a New Orleans chef in Plover, Wisconsin.
- Staying at the Hotel Monteleone.
- She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb (if you haven’t read it, make sure to get the 20th anniversary edition and read the forward).
- Fun blogging friends, including Michelle, Jen, Ray, Dawn, Wendy, and Roger.
- Front porch crafting.
- #JaxStrong and the McCulley family, whose tiny, fragile baby inspired a multitude of blood donors.
- Taking a mother son trip to Sacramento.
- Seeing dear Harriet, my sweet neighbor who moved away, while we were there.
- Anne Lamott.
- Jeanne Shaheen.
- Garlic scapes.
- Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen.
- Being Freshly Pressed twice in one year (for this post and this post).
- Wanting to write something good about my hometown, sitting down to do it, and being overwhelmed by the great reader response.
- Ski Welsh Village.
- Bramble cocktails.
- Bernard’s quitting the FedEx night shift.
- Awesome, now a code word among friends who follow my blog.
- Sorting through my mother’s books.
- Being driven around Houston by a cab driver from Bethlehem, the real Bethlehem, and talking about figs, olives, farms and family.
- My Paris Kitchen.
- Figuring out the secret to Stouffer’s Spinach Souffle (hint: nutmeg).
- 40 Hours at Bratton Green.
- My son’s asking to buy a collared shirt instead of my forcing him to wear one. (teenage boy and his buddies head to a boy/girl dance, and the world changes entirely).
- Last minute getaway to Nashville over Labor Day weekend to see my sister and her family.
- Seeing a real goldfinch in the school garden.
- Having a brand new Fresh Market store in my neighborhood.
- My bountiful basil harvest.
- My equally bountiful green onion harvest.
- Morning Edition’s new book club.
- Fruit, almost fully ripe, on my Meyer lemon tree. Finally.
Food | Week of December 15, 2014
And speaking of stress relief, I’d say a suitable alternative, any night, is a cheese plate with some fresh whole grain bread. And wine. Or sparkling pomegranate juice. And maybe a tiny bit of dark chocolate.
Simple Pasta with Meat Sauce (adapted from Marcella Hazan’s recipe)
If you’re a fan of the weeknight Bolognese recipe that I’ve shared several times, then you’ll like this (and it’s super easy): Sauté an onion (chopped or finely chopped) in some olive oil until onion is soft. Add a pound of ground veal or turkey and cook until all of the meat is browned. Add a can of diced tomatoes and a bit of tomato paste, only if you have a can or tube open (it’s not essential). Cook until liquid is mostly evaporated, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1-2 Tbsp. butter. Serve over wide noodles (pappardelle or No Yolks dumplings) paired with a simple green salad.
Tandoori Spiced Chicken | Basmati Rice | Carrot Salad
Need a fragrant, cozy dinner to settle your hustle-bustle schedule? This is a good one, and not nearly as hard to prepare as you’ll think: Tandoori Spiced Chicken, the Basmati rice and mustard seed pilaf, and carrot salad.
Creamy Parmesan Polenta | Roasted Butternut Squash | Garlic Roasted Cauliflower
Time for the old reliable, Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That? In case you don’t have the book, all of the recipes are available through the Food Network; here are the links: Creamy Parmesan polenta, roasted butternut squash, garlic roasted cauliflower. An alternative would be some roasted winter root vegetables – parsnips and turnips are better than you think, especially when tossed in good olive oil, roasted in a hot oven until they just start to brown, and then sprinkled with kosher salt.
Bangers & Mash
This dinner is as easy as breakfast for dinner, and just at well-loved at our house. I usually buy bangers at Fresh Market and use Yukon Gold potatoes. Any chicken or veal sausage will work, and here’s a recipe for Ina’s mashed potatoes if you need one. I serve with a variety of mustards, although, as you know, my kids will always ask for ketchup.
When the going gets tough, the tough buy ready-to-serve. Cheese ravioli fits the bill perfectly when there’s no time to cook. If you’re super ambitious and have extra time on your hands (seriously?), cheese ravioli is surprisingly easy to make. This recipe from Food & Wine is similar to the techniques in Marcella Hazan’s books. It’s less than two weeks until Christmas, so I’ll buy Contadina. I usually just toss it in butter and top with a bit of grated cheese instead of using sauce. I will make the garlic spinach, at least. Here’s Ina’s recipe for that, if you need one. And another green salad is always a good idea, especially during peppermint bark and salted caramel latte season.
All words and images belong to me, Jennifer Balink. Want to borrow? Please ask first.