This week I’m sharing our Easter dinner menu, as well as tips for preparing a holiday meal. For Easter, I often make ham with a grainy mustard & brown sugar glaze, but this year I wanted to try lamb—It feels special and seasonal. But while I love lamb, but I’m slightly intimidated to make it. The meat is tough if over cooked and can taste gamey if not properly prepared.
With this in mind, I’m excited to introduce my friend, Stephanie Maxwell, who walks me through a step-by-step tutorial on preparing and roasting lamb (check out videos at the end of this post). Steph is a great cook (think modern-day Julia Child), and I know I will be referencing her tying and trussing tips for years to come!
Below is what’s on the menu for Easter dinner. And what I really like about this menu is that everything can be prepped the day before, which makes day-of prep much easier.
Roast Boneless Leg of Lamb
Cheesy Hasselback Gratin Potatoes via the New York Times
Popovers with jam via Cook’s Illustrated, adapted by adding cheddar cheese.
Lemon Pie via Magnolia Table
A couple quick planning suggestions. Split the work into three days if possible—Trust me, it’s much more enjoyable for everyone if you plan ahead. My natural inclination is towards procrastination, or overfilling my schedule, but years of holiday meals and event planning has taught me that slow and steady is the better course of action.
Day 1 (Friday). Make grocery list and shop.
Day 2 (Saturday). Prep as much as possible (including setting the table).
Prepare popover batter.
Make pie crust & filling. Pie should set overnight in fridge.
Make lamb rub, prepare & truss lamb, refrigerate overnight.
Peel and slice potatoes (store in water in an airtight container).
Day 3 (Sunday). Finish assembling and cooking food.
Prepare a timeline. (Often I just use a scratch piece of paper to make sure I know what time everything needs to be in and out of the oven in time for dinner, but both my mom and Stephanie keep spread sheets for events). Not only does this keep things super organized, it’s also helpful from year to year to look back at menus & timelines. It’s amazing how much you forget from one year to the next!)
Lamb: Make the rub, trim and truss lamb the night before.
Stephanie’s rub for a 5-6 lb. leg of lamb:
3 cloves of garlic
2 tsp of salt
Pound garlic and salt in mortar with pestle until a paste forms. (A small food processor would also work if you don’t have a mortar.) Add rosemary, oregano & lemon:
2 TBSP rosemary
1 TBSP oregano
Zest of 1 lemon (Make sure not to get the pith or white skin beneath the yellow lemon zest.)
Grind the herbs and zest into the garlic-salt paste in the mortar (or food processor), and then add:
1/4 cup of olive oil
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 tsp of ground pepper
Trim as much fat as possible from the lamb. As I learned from Stephanie, the gamey taste resides in the fat, so remove as much fat as possible before butterflying.
Butterfly the meat. Place lamb fat-side down and score interior of the lamb so the rub can penetrate the meat. (Be careful not to cut the meat all the way through).
Spread half of the rub into the scored meat, and then roll the meat before trussing.
Truss the lamb and cover with rub. (Watch the trussing and tying video for detailed instructions). Marinate a few hours or overnight.
Roast at 450 degrees for first 20 minutes, and then reduce the oven to 375 until the roast reaches an internal temperature of 130-140 degrees (usually about an hour). In this case, we roasted a 4 lb lamb, and it took about an hour total. Note that your roast will continue to cook as it rests. So if you plan to let it sit for more than 10 minutes, take it out when the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees to ensure you don’t end up with overdone meat. Serve warm with one or both of the sauces below.
Yogurt sauce: Mix together
1 cup whole milk plain yogurt,
a squeeze of lemon to taste, salt to taste,
1/4 c. diced onion,
1/4 c diced cucumber,
a pinch of cayenne, and
feta on top (optional)
Chimichurri sauce: Mix together
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. red-wine vinegar
1/4 c. finely chopped onion
2 TBSP minced red bell pepper
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 TBSP chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 tsp oregano leaves
1/4 tsp hot red-pepper flakes
Popovers—Recently, Brock and I ate at a steakhouse and had the most delicious cheddar-cheese popovers. This started me on a quest to find a recipe for Easter. They feel like fancy holiday fare, but truthfully, the batter is simple to make. I use a 12 cup mini-popover pan, though I read a number of recipes that say you can use non-stick muffin pans as well (you fill half full). After making a recipe from The Joy of Cooking and a Cook’s Illustrated version, I settled on the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. There are a few key differences between Cook’s Illustrated and The Joy of Cooking.
First, to get tall, substantial popovers, Cook’s Illustrated doubles the batter, and they also use bread flour. Second, because they use bread flour, they have you rest the batter for an hour or over night. This is a bonus for me—it allows me to make the batter the day before and bake the popovers the day of. You can also make them ahead and warm up in the oven. Also, I added cheddar cheese to my recipe. Pour batter into each mini-popover cup (about half full), sprinkle the batter with cheese (about a 1-2 TBSP) and then top each cup with more batter. Each popover cup should be about 2/3rd full before baking. Serve with homemade jam & butter. I find that the trickiest part of making popovers is really knowing your oven—With both recipes, my popovers cooked in 1/4 of the time listed in the recipe. I suggest using the oven light to watch that they get a deep golden brown, but do not burn.
Cheesy Hasselback Potato gratin. This has become a favorite at our house. A couple of tips: I peel and slice my potatoes the night before, cover with water and store in the fridge. The water & dark fridge keep them from browning. I drain them before tossing with the garlic, cream & cheese mixture. And once I stack the potatoes in rows in the baking dish, I immediately pour the remaining cream mixture over the potatoes—I’ve found that half way up the side of the potatoes is good coverage (enough that it’s rich and creamy, but not too much that it spills over the pan).
Baby peas—frozen baby peas (I used Birds Eye brand). Stephanie taught me a great way to gently prep peas so they don’t get shriveled and over cooked. Boil water, place peas in a colander and pour hot water over the peas. Toss as you go to defrost peas. Serve with a pat of butter and salt to taste. So easy & delicious. Thanks, Steph!
Lemon pie. I found this delicious and simple recipe in the Magnolia Table Cookbook. It reminds me of key lime pie. I made an easy graham cracker crust (also the day before), and made the custard the day before as well. Future tweaks: I would add some lemon zest to kick up the lemon flavor a notch.
So that’s my Easter menu. Check out the prepping and roasting lamb videos below. And of course, I would love to hear what’s cooking at your house!
I’m a few weeks behind on this one, so I have a lot of thoughts percolating. My mind is often on overdrive with a variety of disparate thoughts from the philosophical to the more trivial. So of course, I’m inviting you into the weeds with me. : ) Without further ado, here they are in no particular order.
One. This article, Creativity Beyond Crafting resonated with me. It made me think about what I do on this blog, and how I love to create, but not necessarily in a traditional manner. I love menu planning, setting a welcoming table & sharing those ideas with others. And I really love collaborating with other creative people. For instance, when I put together a holiday blog post, I like pulling in my mom and friends with creative eyes to help me tweak & finesse. And I love working with my friend & photographer, Rachel, because she captures my ideas beautifully—much better than I can. What ways do you enjoy creating?
Two. All things Enneagram. A couple years ago, I was introduced to this book. Full disclosure—I’m a bit of a personality test junky. I enjoy them in part because I like learning how other people tick—and I’m always looking for ways to improve how I engage with the world at large.
Ironically, Brock, my husband—our career & household therapist and chief finds them a bit annoying. Mostly because he doesn’t like labels, and thinks that they lean towards putting people into a narrow box. But, after two years of incessant discussion, I got him on the Enneagram band wagon He appreciates that it’s a bit more complex (here’s your personality under stress, here’s what it looks like when you’re healthy, etc..). . At the very least it makes for great conversation, and this podcast is a good introduction. Recently, I also listened to episodes 124 & 125 from Donald Miller’s Storybrand podcast regarding your Enneagram personality in the workplace. Also interesting.
Three. Clothes shopping at Costco. A few weeks back I bought these FILA joggers. So comfy & affordable. I needed something for when I’m justing cleaning/hanging around the house. Perfect! We also get most of my husband’s work pants there, and I last fall I found a really cute Ben Sherman coat that’s perfect for spring/fall. Super affordable, stylish & convenient. Though I’m sure my 25 year old self might be rolling her eyes at me right now. Ha!
Four. Maybe it’s spring fever, but I’m thinking about cleaning. A number of years ago I was introduced to Basic H by Shaklee, and it has been my go to. It’s non-toxic and lasts FOREVER (I still have my first bottle from at least 7 years ago). It’s highly concentrated and you simply add a few drops to water. And it’s safe on my new bathroom quartz countertops so that makes me even happier. I also like their spray bottles because you can use one for windows, one for general cleaning and one for degreasing. I recently decided to try their scrubbing paste and Basic G for disinfecting. Finally, I also really love the Norwex cleaning cloths—in particular the window cloth.
Five. Recently, Brock and I went to eat at The Chophouse in Ann Arbor, and they had the most delicious gluten free cheddar popovers (and I’m not a gluten free girl). They were made with tapioca flour—after the meal I immediately started searching for a similar recipe. I found this one via King Arthur’s flour. And stay tuned, I also made traditional popovers this week in preparation for Easter.
Finally, Things my favorite boys can’t stop talking about, and secretly, I’m pretty excited as well.
Six. The Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham, revamped defensive line… 12-1 odds that we’ll win the Super Bowl. And Jim Rome’s on board.
For non-Clevelanders, what you have to understand is the Browns haven’t been good since I was 13 years old. That’s 30 years ago. I was in seventh grade. Bernie Kosar was quarterback. My own son is 13. The two seasons before this past one, they had a 1-31 record!!!!! Possibly the worst stretch in professional sports history. To say there’s been a football drought in the land of Cleve is an understatement. Wonders never cease.
To all of my Irish friends & wannabe Irishmen (this includes me), I’ve been on a quest for the perfect corned beef. How many of you the week of St. Paddy’s Day think, I want to make corned beef at home but don’t because either you don’t make it often enough, never make it, or find yourself overwhelmed by the endless recipes online? If so, this post is for you. This year, I purchased two corned beefs and made them two ways—by oven & Instant Pot.
Quick backstory: Each year, as long as I can remember, my Italian grandmother celebrated St. Patrick’s day with a traditional corned beef and cabbage feast. And since I moved away from my hometown of Cleveland nearly 8 years ago, I had to learn how to make it for my family. So year after year I would call my grandma and ask her to remind me how to cook cabbage and noodles, how to boil corned beef, and glaze carrots. Slowly, I’ve added my own traditions. I found a delicious Irish Soda bread recipe via Ina Garten (she’s often my go to), and I started to experiment with corned beef recipes. Instructions on the package are fine, but I knew there were ways I could add a little pizzazz.
Two years ago, I found a corned beef recipe via Rachel Ray that included a brown sugar & stone ground mustard glaze (I also included it at the end of this post). You roast it in the oven for about two hours, wrapped in foil and covered with the glaze. My favorite thing about this recipe is the glaze, but I struggled to get the beef super tender. This year, I decided I would experiment with oven vs. the Instant pot. Increasingly, my Instant Pot has become my go to. In my opinion, it’s way better than the crockpot—I find that most things in the crockpot end up tasting the same.
Despite my growing love for the Instant Pot, I was a bit nervous to try it with the corned beef. The verdict (taste tasted by friends with refined palettes): While both the oven and the Instant Pot took about two hours, the Instant Pot corned beef (see adapted recipe at end of post) was fall apart tender—not mushy. Because my favorite part of the oven roasted recipe is the glaze, this weekend I plan to make more corned beef in the Instant pot, and finish it off in the broiler with the brown sugar/mustard glaze. I will keep you posted!
Oven vs. Instant Pot Corned beef
Instant Pot Corned Beef
(adapted from a Striped Spatula recipe)
1 Large onion, pulled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with back of a knife
Package of pickling spices (that comes with the corned beef)
2 cups water
12 oz of beer (in my case, I just used 12 oz of beef broth because I didn’t have beer on hand)
Combine onion, garlic cloves, pickling spices and water in the bottom of the Instant Pot. Place corned beef, fat side up on top of mixture. Cover with beer or in my case beef broth.
Seal lid and set the unit to HIGH pressure for 85 minutes. Let pressure release naturally for 20 minutes, then manually release the remaining pressure.* Remove corned beef and place on a dish or a cutting board, spooning a bit of the cooking liquid over the top. Cover with foil to keep warm.
Slice corned beef against the grain. Spoon a little bit of the reserved cooking liquid over the corned beef slices on your platter. Serve corned beef with mustard, horseradish, etc..
*Read some of Amanda at the Striped Spatula’s notes on venting the Instant Pot. For instance, she mentions that you should NOT use a towel while venting because it can damage the pot or cause a malfunction. This was news to me—I’ve used a pot holder while venting, but after reading this will take precaution not to cover the spout with a potholder or towel while releasing the steam.
Brown Sugar Mustard Glaze
1/3 cup dijon or country-style grainy mustard (I used grainy mustard, but you could even mix dijon and country style)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar or plain water
Mix ingredients in a bowl. Set aside. Once meat is finished in Instant Pot, place it on a large piece of foil, fat side up, cover with glaze. Broil in oven on high for 2-3 minutes. Slice meat against the grain.
Here’s a very “recipe heavy” list of things I can’t stop talking about. Clearly the end of winter, beginning of Lent is a good time for cooking.
One. Brunch with friends. I realize this is something I discuss often, but it’s because I believe that shared meals are a fundamental part of relationships—whether with friends or family. Recently I gathered with a few friends for a birthday celebration. I brought a crustless bacon, mushroom, and onion quiche.
I’ve been looking for a good crustless quiche recipe and was pleased when I happened upon this Epicurious recipe. Like many comments suggested, I added a 5th egg. Also, I did not have heavy cream on hand so I used whole milk and half/half. I also added 3/4 cup of crumbled bacon & I used a mix of gruyere and cheddar cheese that I had in the fridge. I love a recipe where I can improvise a bit.
Two. Paczki: Ahh, Fat Tuesday, thank you for giving us an excuse to eat fried dough filled with creamy, sweet deliciousness.
And for the first time ever, I made my own and I’m sold. I used this recipe (it made about 4 1/2 dozen small Paczki). It wasn’t difficult as much as time consuming. I started the dough around 3 p.m., and we were frying them by 8 p.m. at night. I also made dinner in between, so there was a time lapse. I suggest making it a family affair. My husband fried the donuts, I took them out and drained them, and my mom rolled them in powdered sugar and filled them. We made custard, lemon filling, and raspberry preserve Paczki.
Three. This quick homemade mac-n-cheese recipe. You cook the pasta in the water & milk and then add cheese. Brilliant! And literally took less than 30 minutes. My husband shredded the cheese so that was a huge help. Also, the blogger recommends not using pre-shredded cheese because it’s coated to keep it from clumping in the bag. Totally agree. Finally, if you want to take it to the next level, I suggest using a quality cheddar. A family favorite is the white, extra sharp from Cabot cheese. You can buy it in large blocks at Walmart and Costco. I also added a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce based on a recommendation. Definitely adds to the flavor!
Four. This is a bit of rabbit trail, but… printing recipes. For longer than I would like to admit, our printer was broken. Seriously, why didn’t we replace it? I was always looking up recipes online and cooking via my phone or computer. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of online recipes. They are amazingly convenient, and I find all the comments & feedback helpful.
However, I do not love reading/cooking from them. My screen saver always turns on, then inevitably my screen gets dirty, and soon enough I forget where I found my “favorite” recipe. I also like writing cooking notes on my recipes. Needless to say, I was delighted when my MIL gifted me with a new printer. I love quickly printing a recipe and adding it to my recipe binder.
Finally, here’s my very rudimentary system for storing recipes. I don’t have the patience for label printers, so a sharpie and masking tape it is!
I always love hearing favorite weeknight recipes and people organize recipes, so please share.
One. Dark chocolate cookies with sour cherries via Martha Stewart. It’s winter. I continue to crave chocolate, and these cookies mixed with dried sour cherries are delish! A few notes: I only had Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa in the house and that worked just as well as Dutch Processed. Also, I let my cookies cool on the pan. I find that they’re too gooey to transfer right after baking. And you can definitely make the batter and refrigerate some of it to bake later. I have baked a pan three different times this week. Weirdly, the recipe only gets 3 stars on Martha’s website—but there are 72 reviews. I think it has to do with cooling and transferring the cookie.
Two. Using the Instant Pot for Indian food—I know this isn’t anything new to people on the Instant Pot band wagon, but it’s been a game changer for me. I’ve made the butter chicken recipe, and on the stove, I make curried red lentils to accompany the chicken. Also, I pressure cooked frozen chicken breasts last night. I followed this recipe (though I added some olive oil, kosher salt, & cracked pepper) and then made a quick stir fry with veggies and leftover rice. Simple and good.
Three. The Spatty —Happily, I happened upon this accidentally when I asked a cosmetics retailer the best way to get the 20% of product left at the bottom of my foundation. I guess it’s a Shark Tank product. Either way, I’m excited to use it. It’s so frustrating spend money on makeup & lotions and then waste so much.
Rabbit trail conversation: I think I’m an old soul (basically, 43 going on 90) and really prefer a traditional department store makeup counter to Sephora. In Michigan, we have a department store, Von Maur—it reminds me of Nordstrom—I mean, who doesn’t love a little piano music while you shop & they have a great shoe sale room.
Last week, the makeup counter person called to tell me about an upcoming sale and that’s when I asked about getting the last bits of product out of my foundation bottle. I realize that I could have Googled this, and that sales people can be annoying, but it was so nice to have someone call & check in. And I actually needed a few items, so I placed an order — which they ship for free — along with advice about the Spatty. : )
Four. For Valentines Day, I did a FB live for Tree Classics on The 5 Love Languages. I think it helped me more than anyone else. I ended up having the whole family—Brock, kids, and my mom, take the quiz. It was a fun re-introduction to the 5 Love Languages, and a good reminder that each of the kids & my husband experience love differently.
Five. Reading through the Psalms for family devotions. I hesitated to share this one because I realize that there is no one size fits all for family devos, and for fear that as soon as I share this we’ll fall off the wagon. ; ) In fact, our oldest is 13 and we have struggled for years to find something that really fit & is consistent. We’ve been hit or miss with fighter verses (though I think they’re brilliant), we’ve tried reading short devos to the kids and they seem to tune us out.
That said, Brock, a month or so ago shared that his men’s bible study had read scripture together and answered three questions: what leads you to rejoice, repent, request when you read through these scriptures. We decided to apply these questions to the Psalms, and the kids have been really engaged every night. It may be that they’re at the right age for it (13, 11, 9 & 9) or maybe it’s more interactive. We read the Psalm out loud, take a few minutes journaling our answers and then we finish by sharing answers and praying.
Finally, I would love some input! We need a list of good family movies. I have been feeling the slow creep of garbage movies making their way into our home. It’s always slow and a bit insidious. So I’m trying to compile a list of movies that we want to watch as a family so when Friday night rolls around we’re not scrambling. Would love to hear from you!
Our pink bathroom got a makeover! Before I get started with all the details, let me preface with a few notes. The bathroom hadn’t been updated—except for basics like paint and accessories—since it was built in 1960. How do I know this for sure since we only lived in the house for 7 years… because we found newspaper wrapped around electrical wiring from the 1960 Nixon/Kennedy election. No kidding. Bottom line, it needed to be gutted. Scroll through these photos and check out the crumbling pink tile shower.
This particular bathroom is the main bath off of our kitchen & living room and is also our kids’ bath. My goal: attractive, functional & kid friendly. For that reason we decided to ditch the tiny shower (it was dark and cramped) and combine it with our bath. We kept the original cast iron tub because it was in good shape, and nothing can truly replace old school cast iron! Combining the shower and tub allowed us to add a tall cabinet for towels, medicine, etc, as well as a double sink so two kids could brush their teeth at the same time. I also included four drawers on the main cabinet so each child could have their own drawer—to minimize arguments, of course. : )
Blue has always been one of my favorite colors, so needless to say I’ve happily embraced the dark blue cabinet trend. I color matched a sample I found via the Sarah Sherman Samuel line by Semi-Handmade (a company that makes semi-custom fronts for Ikea cabinets), and went with simple Shaker in set doors. I had a local cabinet maker, Brian Stoll, make the cabinets and he did a beautiful job—basically I described what I was looking for and he sketched & built the cabinet. I love the deep inky blue! I was really inspired by the beautiful design work of Sabbe Interior Design as well as Jean Stoffer Design. And I pulled in my friend, Rebekah Dell throughout the entire process. She freelances as an interior designer and has a great eye. If she didn’t have a full time job, I would find away to work with her on all projects.
For the hardware, I looked at all sorts of spendy places but settled on Martha Stewart pulls from Home Depot. I had to draw the line somewhere, and couldn’t stomach the spendy prices. This is where I love blogs. I had saved some notes from Erin Gates of Elements of Style. She’s got a great, traditional New England look and fabulous taste, so when she says that the Martha Stewart line is quality, I believe her. And there was a $100 price difference between that at Restoration Hardware and Rejuvenation. Not to mention, a bunch of their hardware was back ordered.
Also, I decided to mix metals which makes everything less matchy-matchy, but holy cow, it was no fun trying to find the right shade of brass. Seriously, there’s unlacquered brass,super shiny, aged brass, etc... I went with a polished nickel for my plumbing fixtures, which is a warmer metal so it plays well with gold and silver. The gold overhead pendant lights are from Pottery Barn—another suggestion from Rebekah. They add a bit of warmth and a bit oversized which adds balance to tall glass medicine cabinet.
Also, I spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to enclose the bath/shower. As I mentioned, we tore out the separate shower and added a shower head in the bath. But, I didn’t want to create a full wall to enclose the bath for fear of losing natural light. This decision was tricky because it’s the kids & guest bath. So I want it to be welcoming, but I also wanted to make sure we didn’t flood the bathroom. If you have kids, you probably get this concern. ; ) Originally, I ordered an L-shaped curtain rod to use with an extra wide shower curtain but those seem to look better with a claw foot tub. Also, I thought it could attract mildew over time.
My other option was adding a piece of glass to the side of the tub. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to have a piece of glass and and shower curtain. After discussing with friends with eyes for renovating, I decided to go with the a piece of tempered glass to keep water from splashing all over the half wall. I am so glad I asked for their input.
Also, I’ve got stuck in the proverbial weeds when it came to smaller details. It reminds me of planning an event (I planned weddings in a past life). You feel like you’re doing really well—you’ve got the venue, caterer, music. Phew, but then you get closer to the event and the devil really is in the details (place settings, table décor, music list, party favors and such). It’s the same with house renovations. I had the contractor, picked out the vanity & counter tops, even the plumbing fixtures. But then I started feeling pretty overwhelmed with the minutia: is the height of my wainscoting too tall, not tall enough, how many sconces should I go with and does the style fit the look of the bathroom? Don’t forget to put dimmers on lights, what about towel hooks, bars & such? What color should I go with for the grout, what type of grout should I purchase, and on & on… These are the details that really make a difference and can make or break the look of a room.
This is where a second & third set of eyes helped. As I mentioned above, while I pulled together bathroom story boards, I also consulted with my friend Rebekah & my mom for some of the final details. As for wainscoting, I finally decided to go with 42” vertical shiplap with a ¼” spacing (again, a decision I had to make on the fly). For mirror(s), I originally wanted two antique style tilt mirrors, and sconces flanking each side, but sink and tall cabinet placement didn’t allow for that so I had our previous mirror cut down and framed with gray trim to tie together the tiles from the bath with the rest of the room.
Here’s where I made one of a few mistakes. I handed my contractor a piece of tile and told him to have our cabinet maker match the mirror trim to the tile. Now, my cabinet guy is great, but why in the world didn’t I think to take a few minutes and look through a Ben Moore fan deck that I had sitting on my dining room table!?!I think I was just tired at that point and wanted the bathroom to be done.Bummer! Because, while I like my mirror size, I’m not super jazzed about the gray. It skews more icy cool blue than a deeper, warm gray.
And of course, like many projects, I still have some details to finish. I need to add artwork, upgrade the window treatments, and we will eventually change out the 1960’s bathroom door when we update the rest of the house. It’s true that when you start doing one project, it mushrooms! Though we’ve happily taken a couple of months off in between projects to gear up for our next big project—a kitchen & living room remodel.
The holiday fog has finally cleared. Post New Years, it takes me about two weeks to dig out, regroup, and to start missing people again. ; ) As January draws to a close, and winter has clearly set in (currently digging out from 8” new inches of snow and prepping for Polar Vortex 2019), I’m often looking for ways ways to stay active when my body is screaming, “hibernate!”, to engage my mind & gather friends. As you can imagine, winters in Michigan are long and often the skies are gray. Human connection makes a big difference.
The last two Christmas seasons, I’ve hosted a book swap with a few friends and we’ve had so much fun. I love books, friends, great conversation, the holidays season & brunch! So why not combine a few of my favorite things? It’s a really fun way to celebrate the season together. But I think it also translates well into a good winter gathering. I truly believe that meaningful conversations, shared meals, and good books are a natural mood booster.
And it’s flexible. Last year I suggested people bring their favorite non-fiction and favorite fiction book. This year, friends brought a recent favorite and a favorite from last year. I served coffee, mimosas, my favorite Mushroom Swiss Chard Sausage Strata and friends brought food to share as well. The goal was to swap books throughout the year. Unfortunately, trading books throughout the year didn’t go as planned so I had people bring a favorite book from the previous year. Each guest drew a number and then picked 2 books. We chose White Elephant style, so the person choosing could unwrap a book or steal a book.
Educated by Tara Westover (I read this book in a few days—great read and leaves so much to discuss. Though it impeded some of my pre-Christmas work. Oops! I’m one of those readers who can’t begin a good book if I actually have things I need to accomplish. The author drew me in to her harrowing family story, but I also appreciate the care she takes care to present facts as faithfully as possible. Throughout the book she recognizes that memory can be a tricky thing, and she tries to corroborate as many details as possible.
Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance—One of my favorite memoirs from the last couple of years. I’ve recommended it often. Much has been written about it in light of the 2016 election, and I certainly think it lives up to its reputation as a behind the scenes account of life in modern rural Midwestern America. If you’re an audio book fan, check this one out. The author narrates, and it really brings some of the characters, like his grandmother, to life.
In His Image by Jen Wilkin
Joel: A Boy of Galilee by Annie Fellows Johnston
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett—I've heard good things about this and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’ve been a bit apprehensive to start because it’s a longer read and I fear that once I start, I won’t be able to put it down.
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi This was my selection, and a book that I often think about and want to discuss. Dr. Qureshi, was a Christian apologist who came to his Christian faith as a medical student. His mind is razor sharp, and his journey to faith in Christ compelling. I first read this book in 2016 and later followed his apologetics ministry along with his battle and eventual death to stomach cancer in the fall of 2017 at the age of 33.
Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
Waiting on the Word (advent book) by Malcolm Guite
A few 2017 favorites:
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg—if you love food memoirs, this is a great one.
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken—Have read this a few times and it’s a tear jerker. A beautiful love story with poignant spiritual depth. Includes letters between the author and CS Lewis.
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt—I hope to read this soon. I have an almost teenager and three on his heels, so I’m always looking for good Young Adult lit.
Quick note: The above books were favorites of a group of friends. Some of the books I haven’t read so I am not necessarily recommending, just sharing what we traded with one another. I think that’s what makes this a fun gathering—I love seeing what friends are reading and also being challenged to read outside my comfort zone. My personal favorites from the two lists (understanding that I haven’t read all of the books so there may be new favorites lurking) are Educated, Hillbilly Elegy, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, A Homemade Life, and A Severe Mercy.
Funny, I’m noticing a theme here… human narratives. It’s true. I’m a people person and I love the deep dive into real stories—how people deal with life—tragedy, conflicts, limited resources, etc… and ultimately how they persevere. With that said, I would love to hear some of your reading favorites from 2018 and what you plan to read in 2019.
New Year’s Resolutions… Do you or don’t you?
Ugh! I don’t even like typing “resolutions.” To me, it’s synonymous with promises I will break. If I have an obligation to work, to a friend, to an organization, I’m 100% all in and committed. But, obligations to myself are much easier to break. Thus, my dread of New Year’s resolutions. Much easier to not make them than to disappoint myself.
And yet, there really is something important about fresh starts, goal setting, and keeping promises to ourselves. So, I’ve had to get creative—basically, to find ways around my worst self. Truthfully, given to my worst inclinations, I am given to inertia. I prefer a cup of coffee, a good book and a couch. And while those are fine things, I’m my most fulfilled when I’ve put in the hard work and treat myself with relaxation. It helps that I’m married to a mental health counselor—and someone who prioritizes goal setting and is more likely than me to meet his internal resolutions.
Over the last two years, I’ve also appreciated reading/listening to books by Gretchin Rubin. Just this past December, I started to read her flagship book that launched a website, podcast and many other books, The Happiness Project, and I love it. I actually listened to her follow up books, Happier at Home and The Four Tendencies first.
I resonate with her system. Clearly, she’s a very accomplished (Yale Law Review, clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor), but doesn’t make you feel like you’re not good enough. Her message is that we can make life changes by incrementally (in her case, month by month) looking at areas of our lives that we want to improve. These changes ultimately improve our day to day life. I haven’t systematically followed her rules (yet), but I’ve implemented a few and it has shifted that way I look at things. I’ve realized that for many years I have felt stuck. But as I’ve really examined my own personality, temperament, and strengths/weaknesses, I am working hard to work around my weaknesses and play to my strengths.
It was eye opening listening to her book, The Four Tendencies, to realize that of the four (Upholder, Questioner, Rebel, Obliger), I’m an obliger. As an obliger, my tendency is to fulfill outward obligations to people which makes me a good employer and friend, but I really struggle to meet my own inner expectations. I spend my energy taking care of needs, but often fail myself by not meeting said expectations. For years, I thought I was just unmotivated. It was helpful to recognize that it’s not an issue of laziness, but instead I work best with deadlines and —as she calls it, outer accountability.
Honestly, this annoys me about myself. I want to be an upholder with the mantra: “discipline is my freedom,” not the person who struggles with inner accountability. But all the gnashing of teeth in the world isn’t going to change how I’m hardwired. Instead of beating myself up, I’m actively looking for ways to create accountability. Interestingly, I surround myself with upholders—I think this is one form of built in accountability. It’s important to spend the most time with people who inspire and encourage us to be our best selves.
A few other ways I hold myself accountable include: For little things, like early prep for dinner or washing the dishes before I go to bed, I often ask myself how future self will feel. I’m old enough now (ha!)to know the pain of waking up to a sink full of dirty dishes. I also love learning & good conversation—so in particular, when I’m cooking in the kitchen or folding laundry, etc… I make sure that I stay motivated by listening to good podcasts, audio books or catching up on phone calls.
For bigger tasks, such as creating my own website—I have had to invest more money and external accountability. Bottom line: I need real skin in the game. So I hired a graphic designer to help me craft my brand & I work with a recent marketing grad on some of my social media & scheduling. Some would see this as a big expense, but for me it has been a good investment & a vehicle to fulfilling personal goals.
Inspired by the Happiness Podcast, here are my 9 Resolutions for 2019:
1. Exercise: more walking (track my steps), weight training, and stretching. I really need to work on my posture—I have a very bad habit of slouching and not holding my shoulders back. And big surprise, it’s not improving as I get older. So I’m dedicating 2019 to getting serious about this particular issue.
2. Step up on the blog—weekly post, monthly email, research the business side of the website. Part of this includes making a concerted effort to write daily. Ideally, 1.5 hr increments. I can overthink projects and because of this really procrastinate. But there is something to setting a timer and breaking tasks into bite size pieces that makes things far less overwhelming. And again, once I get moving, push past my fear and inertia, the words come. I’ve been writing this particular post for 2 weeks. Sounds ridiculous I know. But I’ve been adding and subtracting content, and this is more personal to me than a post about Christmas trees, recipes or decorating. Slowly but surely, this post has taken shape.
3. Decreasing time on social media—only 2 x’s a day. This is to review Instagram, catch up on blogs, and read news. Like many of us, I have a love hate with social media. I like keeping up with people’s lives, and I like learning from the various talented bloggers online (one of the reasons I started my own website is because I’ve learned so much from other women who’ve made careers writing about books they read, time management strategies, menu planning, and home décor). But it can also be an exhausting, comparison game, time suck. Alas, how do we take the good & leave the bad…
4. Memory books—pretty behind on this one. Like 12 years of family photos all stored online behind. My pipe dream goal is to make one scrapbook a month for the next year. Probably unrealistic, but a girl can dream. : )
5. Spend less money on incidentals, bring less into the house. Another personality trait I’ve had to come to terms with… I’m a spender. Some people under spend and have to learn to treat themselves & be more generous. I have to learn to spend less & more wisely. One budgeting tool that Brock and I have loved is the budgeting app: YNAB, short for You Need a Budget. It’s been a game changer for us—we do pay a yearly fee, but it’s been super helpful tracking every dollar and helping us save more. Of course, there’s always room for improvement. Thus I’m trying to decrease nickel & dime purchases. : )
6. Continuing to organize, purge and declutter the house. This goal is tied to #5. I started this process when the now very popular book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo burst on the scene 4 years ago. There’s a reason it has nearly 14,000 4.5 star reviews on Amazon and she has a new series on Netflix. Her steps work. There are a few weird things that I don’t subscribe to—basically treating inanimate objects as living things—but I do love looking at the items I own, or am considering purchasing, and asking the question, “does this spark joy?” There is something to having less but loving each item instead of being overwhelmed and frustrated by the endless organization of mediocre stuff.
7. Saving more for travel & bigger ticket items. Again, directly correlated to goals 5 & 6. Our oldest child is nearly 13, and the way we see it, we have 5 summers left with him living full time at our house. Big fat sigh. I want to use this time wisely. My goal—spend time & money on things that really matter.
8. Go to bed earlier (by 10:30, up early, up by 6 a.m.). I am hoping the Brock is the “wind beneath my wings” in this area. I’m a late night girl, and he loves early mornings. I’m trying to go to bed with him, read for a bit, and then get up earlier. This has been hit or miss so far.
9. Consistent quiet time with the Lord each morning (this is tied to going to bed earlier and getting up earlier). The joy of the Lord truly is my strength. But I can’t experience that if I’m not spending good time with Him. My husband, Brock, is tapped into this—as a human being who counsels other humans, he can’t function before he spends a lot of time reading the Bible, devotionals, reflecting, and praying. Often, I find myself riding his spiritual coat tails and coasting along until I find myself worn out & irritated with everyone in my general vicinity. Truth is that on my own, I don’t have enough love, patience or strength.
My true source is Jesus and his Word. When I open my Bible, turn on worship music, spend time in prayer—this is the place I am truly encouraged & nourished. I simply don’t have it on my own. He, the sovereign Lord and king, the giver of life and peace, who tells us to come to the living water and drink from it (John 7:37-39, paraphrase) has to be my main source.
Finally, because Brock counsels college students, he often discusses goal setting & such. So I asked him for a bit of feedback on how he encourages people to fulfill goals. Here’s what he had to say: “Why most people have a love/hate with resolutions is that we love newness, it’s the hope that things are going to change. Which is true—new job, new love, new year… it’s possibility for change. But—truth is that it has too much emphasis on external locus of control.
Change comes from inside… Most resolutions fail because they are pipe dream or a magic wand that you want to wave over your life and have instant change. Change happens through hard work, setting objectives to bringing about the goal, by accountability.”
Why most people have a love/hate with resolutions is that we love newness, it’s the hope that things are going to change. Which is true—new job, new love, new year… it’s possibility for change. But—truth is that it has too much emphasis on external locus of control.
Change comes from inside… Most resolutions fail because they are pipe dream or a magic wand that you want to wave over your life and have instant change. Change happens through hard work, setting objectives to bringing about the goal, by accountability.
Naturally, I asked him what he suggests people do to fulfill there resolutions. “Pretend I’m a client in your office, what would you tell me?”
Review your resolutions/goals every day
Hang them up where I can see them
Focus on how you think & feel and be if I accomplish them.
Journaling about something that didn’t want to do, but I did do. Journal & reflect on things that went well. Not just the hard things.
So that’s it for the moment. Would love to hear some of your New Years resolution and ways you plan on meeting them! Cheers to 2019 & greater growth!
I’m not particularly trendy or cutting edge with my cooking, my approach to feeding people is—keep the kitchen stocked with good food & your doors open. If you feed them, they will come. : ) Sometimes it’s fancy feasting, but most of the time it’s simply an open invitation to come and sit, have a cup of coffee, a biscotti (or whatever I can pull together), and chat about life.Read More
I’m feeling particularly nostalgic this Mother’s Day. April would have marked my grandmother’s 91 st birthday—she passed way in October. I’m incredibly grateful for the 40+ years that I had with her, and when Tree Classics asked me to share an heirloom recipe I knew this was the perfect opportunity to explore her recipe box. It didn’t take me long to settle on making her pizzelle cookies. I can’t remember a holiday without them, and hers were my absolute favorite.Read More