Sunday, March 16, 2014

Trading The Smith Homestead for a Hotel (for now)

2013 was a pretty crazy year. And by pretty...I mean insanely. And then we met 2014...and you multiply that "insanely" by 467 and you might be in the ballpark of what life looks like nowadays. In every aspect.
But I guess in most respects, we have never really lived a "normal" life. We've crammed about 10 lifetimes into this 15 year marriage and there seems to be no slowing down on the amazing adventure.
So when I tell people that we live a life of simplicity~ it doesn't usually compute properly. But for us, life is rather simple. We surround ourselves with joy and forgo clutter. We tackle projects and goals that are in line with our passions and purpose in life, nothing that derails or over complicates the big picture. We keep our schedules streamlined, keeping family time as the priority...and to us, that's about as simple and beautiful as life can get.
Almost two weeks ago we said goodbye to our homestead. That little home just on the outskirts of downtown came to be the heart of our family and our community of friends. It was a painful goodbye. Maybe a bit more than we had anticipated since we didn't have that next homestead to look forward to.
With the closing papers signed we said goodbye to Lexington and took the biggest leap we've taken as a family to date. We moved to Ohio~ following Mike and his career. The past week has been a blur. Enrolling kids in school, inspections on a house we hope to buy, living in a hotel for the foreseeable future, operating the magazine from wherever I can capture WiFi, giving Mike the time and space to get his feet wet in his new job, coming alongside the kids with words of encouragement and help as they make new friends and dive head first into these life changes with us.

For now....the hotel is our home. Simplicity to the max. And truly, it couldn't be more perfect. Our room has become like this little cocoon of ease and reprieve for our family. Each morning we wake up and stumble down the hallway for a hot breakfast and coffee before heading off for school. And we spend each evening watching Food Network, swimming and sleeping soundly with the same four walls around us. Between those times, we have maid service ;)

I never thought living in a hotel for nearly a month would be so....necessary right now. But nothing could be more so. The whirlwind of the past 2 months has been incredibly chaotic and as much as I thought I wanted to just swiftly move into a new home in our new town, I wouldn't trade these days and weeks of solitude in our corner of the hotel for anything. Choosing paint colors, unpacking boxes, setting up bed frames and filling a refrigerator can definitely wait. Because getting to explore a new town with these boys without the lingering house-unpacking-to-do list is absolutely the best idea we've had in a long time...


Monday, February 03, 2014

Thin, Cracker Crust Pizza and the Snow Day

Snow days are a rarity for my boys. Partially because we live in Lexington, Kentucky~ not Detroit, Michigan and partially because their school just rarely shuts down for weather. At any was one of those rare days. A snow day.

the birdhouse Mike's dad made many years ago

I LOVED snow days as a kid, yet in all honestly can't recall what I did on one of them as I sit here writing about it. They say children who are raised as only children (me) have a hard time with childhood memories. They have no siblings to continually recount things to or play back over and over again. Makes total sense because I seriously come up empty on most of my childhood years...including snow days. But I do remember those giddy feelings nonetheless.

Now I am a mom of three boys and snow days are both exhilarating and exhausting. It literally takes 45 minutes to hunt down boots, gloves (never matching), coats, scarves....just to send them outside for 15 minutes before they are back at the door, red-cheeked and fuming that a brother has pelted another with a snowball to the face. ...that's the exhausting part.
The exhilarating part is definitely #1 sleeping in (me) #2 making a big breakfast #3 wearing pajamas all day #4 loads of cuddles on the couch, board games and endless snacking.

Today was no exception. Add to the mix packing boxes for a move (I'll save that for a later post...yes, we're moving!) there is little left sacred and serene in the house anymore. But I do hold tight to a few...

I can't bear to pack up the rock collection yet...

My recent painting of 'Goodnight Moon' along with memories from my 2013 trips

Loads of roaring fires in the fireplace, piles of quilts and our favorite antiques keep us warm and happy
Otto spent his snow day as he spends most days. Discovering music on Spotify. Both a fantastic and sometimes not so fantastic thing depending on the genre he discovers at the time. This boy was born with music in his soul.

And Jameson the bunny has new digs in an old antique record cabinet that is now his cozy home. He is litter trained so he is free to hop about, but loves his posh rabbit hole....especially on snow days.
Now onto the snacking part of our snow day. Pizza.

For those of you who call yourself a friend of mine, if asked in a trivia round what Megan Smith's favorite food is, you would Thick, thin, round square, spicy, sweet, loaded, naked, authentic, sub-par...I really just don't care. If it has the resemblance of pizza, I'm game.

With that said, I'm always on the hunt to perfect pizza. The most recent of which is the crispy, cracker-like pizza crust. Thankfully (or not so thankfully) it didn't take many experimental rounds to find the ultimate one. And to boot? Its so flipping easy you can pretty much do it with your eyes closed.

Two days ago my fridge was empty.  Empty to the point where you open it and close it three seconds later and declare, 'we have no food in this house.' Those times, my dears, are the absolute best times to create great food. This time was no exception. The pizza we created that night was pure, empty- fridge genius. The ingredients may freak you out a bit...don't let them.

The Best Damn Pizza With No Clever Name 

 Pizza Crust
*Preheat oven to 500 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, preheat that as well. Make sure the rack is on the lowest rung of your oven.

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer or in a large glass bowl. Add the water/yeast mixture. If using a standing mixer, attach the dough hook and turn on low to combine the ingredients into a dough ball. If doing by hand (my favorite way), use a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients into a shaggy dough ball. Dump onto a floured surface and knead until smooth about 5 minutes. 

2. Once you have a uniform, smooth ball of dough, cut the dough in half and shape each half into a ball. Place both on a floured counter top, cover with a towel and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.

3. Cut 2 pieces of parchment paper, approx. 15 by 15 inches (I'm loving the pre-cut parchment now widely available). Place one of the dough balls on the parchment and begin rolling it into some sort of shape....yes, circular would be ideal...this is not easily achievable. If yours looks more like the state of Oklahoma, don't beat yourself up. Embrace it and move on. This dough should be thin...I mean PAPER THIN. Use your hands if you prefer~ I like the weight I can apply with a rolling pin but its ultimately up to you. You shouldn't need flour to do this stage. You sort of want your dough to adhere to the parchment.

4. Once you have a flat pizza dough (just pinch together any holes that may biggie), take a flat cookie sheet and slide it under the paper. Use this to transfer the pizza dough to the preheated oven. If you have a pizza stone, slide it on the stone. If not, slide the paper/dough directly onto the oven rack. Set a timer for 2 more, no less.

5. After 2 minutes remove the pizza crust from the oven the same way you put it sliding a cookie sheet under it. See how it is puffing up? Creating those little air pockets that will become ultimate crunchiness?!  Now its time for toppings...

Toppings for the best damn pizza ever:

A little pool of olive oil. Use a pastry brush to spread this edge to edge.
Sea salt. Sprinkle over the olive oil
Julienne spinach leaves. Sprinkle on top of the salt.
Crumble goat cheese next.
And here's the magic....
Warm about 1/4 cup of Red Pepper Jelly (we use Trader Joe's brand) in the microwave for 20 seconds. Pour in a fancy zig zag pattern the warm (pourable) jelly over the pizza, edge to edge.
Sprinkle the finished pizza with basil, oregano...anything dried and green that looks like it could be on Italian food.

6. Sliding the cookie pan back under the finished pie, put the topped pizza back in the oven. Set a timer for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, check the progress. I like mine pretty darn crunchy so I look for some nice browning on the edges. Its totally up to you from the 5 minute mark on.

7. Once you have the pièce de résistance you're hoping for, remove it from the oven carefully and let it rest. LET IT REST for goodness sakes! You will burn the roof of your mouth off if you don't follow this step.

8. And! Seriously you can have a thin crust pizza together, start to finish, in about 30 minutes or less. This makes 2 pizzas so have fun experimenting. I also made the boys a cheese and summer sausage (leftover link from the holidays) pizza. Both pizza's were scarfed down in less than 6 minutes.

And for the record...this is the real Smith Homestead on a snow day. Nothing but absolute crazy, discombobulated goodness.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Morgan Day Cecil

Years ago I met someone. One of those people you wonder where they've been all your life. One of those people that literally light up a room and when they leave you want to follow them to stay close to that light.
That is Morgan. She's like this illuminating presence of everything inspiring and heartfelt and honest and real. She has been on a journey unlike most I have ever met. She has waded through the depths of valleys that many of us will never venture to (thank God) and has come through each as a testament  that we can overcome trials more radiant, beautiful, graceful and loving than we ever imagined possible.

Now Morgan lives thousands of miles away from me. But I am continually inspired by her through her Instagram shots, her Romance & Adventure blog posts, her endeavors and the goodies in her Etsy shop Maidservant of Encouragement.

I swoon over the designs she creates and think you will too. Until Feb. 6th here is your buy-one get-one free coupon coupon code: HIPHOME. 


Friday, January 24, 2014

True Success. What 2013 Taught Me.

I’ve blinked  and its already 24 days into 2014. For the past 23 days I had anticipated curling up under a quilt and spending a few minutes (hours) typing this blog post….board games with the kids and late night homemade pizza dinners with Mike have taken the front seat.

I’ve thought a lot about how to encapsulate last year into a blog entry nutshell. Its not possible. FB posts and Instagram photos give just a few pieces of the puzzle for all of us. 

Without a doubt, I have had an incredible year, I won’t lie. I’ve had lunch with the President of Cartier International in Normandy, France and chuckled as he said the words, 'eat cake, drink whiskey, talk shop'. I’ve started a magazine that was just named one of the ‘Hottest Launches of 2013”. I’ve won awards, spoken at events, been in meetings that would be the envy of any CEO in any part of the world. But that reality…and yes, for me that was reality~ still isn’t the entire story. The entire story will require a few hours, many pots of hot tea and a lot of honest, heartfelt words.

I won’t be that candid here. 

But I do want to share with you the ‘behind the scenes’ of 2013. Because, at the end of the day whether I am running a magazine or not.  Writing popular Huffington Post pieces or not. Jet setting to London or not. I am on a journey just like you. A journey that has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. A journey that tests me at every turn. A journey of inward truthfulness and outward courage. And a journey that sometimes leaves me utterly rattled with anxiety and insecurity.

2013 was the hardest year of my life. 
Hands down. 
I am not sure I even would have the capability of repeating that year without a straight jacket. 

But 2013, for better or worse, allowed me to find out, for the first time in my 35 years, who I am at the core, what I truly value and how that shapes my future. For the first time in my life I drew close to incredibly wise mentors and truly authentic friends that walked the journey with me. They didn’t take (I’m naturally a giver)... instead I learned to receive. It transformed me.

Most of all, I fell more deeply in love with my family than I knew was possible. My children are growing and maturing more quickly than should be legal and each day they become my most cherished friends.

In 2013 I was utterly humbled and in awe of the man I married 15 years ago. We traveled some deep, treacherous valleys together over the past 12 months~ and my respect for him soared, watching as he battled through the darkness for us….for me…for our future. Even through the parts of the journey that made Mordor look like Disneyland he gave me a smile with the morning cup of coffee, left my vitamins in a wine glass on the counter before going to work (just for fancy-ness sake) and reminded me often of his love and devotion. That’s pretty powerful stuff. 

And now as I look ahead to 2014, we're already in the thick of it.  
December 31st brought about yet ANOTHER layoff for Mike thanks to shifts in the pharmaceutical industry...Jeez….again!? (having an "Are you there God, its us the Smith's" moment~). 
Some huge decisions lie ahead for CAKE&WHISKEY's growth and we weigh out a possible relocation with the uprooting of schools and daily life. 

Yet I’ve never felt more sure that this journey, with its manic twists and turns, is truly about searching out the tiniest bits of simplicity, joy and love along the way. If we can do that, we’ve found the key to true success. And that’s the only success I am seeking in 2014. 


Thursday, January 09, 2014

Tangerine Mille-Feuille with Homemade Pastry Cream and Puff Pastry

Someday soon I will sit down with a pot of tea and give you a full wrap-up of 2013. For those of you that have followed this blog for years, you obviously were attune to the fact that my sweet Art of Homemaking was rather a quiet place in the blog world last year. How do I put a bow on and present in an understandable fashion such a year as 2013? There were so many moving parts...many that continue to move and have no bow yet. Many events and emotions and opportunities that have shaped me into a much different person heading into 2014. For the best.
So much to catch you up on...I promise...soon.

But lets chat about sugar and flour and butter for a bit until then, shall we?
I woke up this morning ready to tackle something. Something big. Something new. Something beautiful. Of course I do this every day from my studio computer. In fact, Issue Four just headed off to the printer.
But truly my creative being was crying out for something less... technological this morning.

Before the sun had even fully risen I had made a batch of pastry cream and started rolling out a block of puff pastry I made over Christmas break. This was my first attempt at puff pastry, in fact. I loved the process. Much more puff pastry to come in 2014.

early morning sun streaming onto the butcher block. My happy place

A couple of months ago, a friend across the miles, Chef Staib, sent me his beautiful new cookbook, A Sweet Taste of History. I spent the holidays pouring over the recipes and more importantly getting a great education in our country's cuisine foundations. This morning, his recipe for Mille-Feuille was calling my name.

Mille-Feuille, French for "thousand-leaf", has two of the best things desserts have going for them: buttery, flaky layers of puff pastry and silky vanilla pastry cream. His recipe used raspberries. It was below twenty degrees this morning so the grocery store in my fuzzy slippers didn't seem like a trek I was willing to make in the name of comfort baking. The bowl of tangerines sitting now for two weeks on my counter was Plan B.

Over the course of the early morning hours
and my inbox, phone and kids would allow...I candied peel, chilled pastry cream, baked pastry and constructed our Tangerine Mille-Feuille.

Below is the cookbook's basic recipe for pastry cream (with permission from Chef Staib). You'll have to grab a copy of the cookbook for your collection and for the full Mille-Feuille recipe~

**When I asked Chef Staib for permission to share his pastry cream recipe on the blog, this was the response...which I absolutely adore. Food and learning...totally gives validity to calorie consumption through desserts~

"Hope you had fun making the recipe… and eating it! Tangerine sounds delicious! Did you know that many wealthy people in American during the 18th century had “orangeries” and green houses. It was a great show of status to be able to serve fresh citrus from the garden rather than the fruits imported from the Caribbean and Spain"

Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 egg
2 egg yolks
5 Tbsp. cornstarch, sifted
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Set out a 9 X 13 glass or ceramic casserole dish. 

2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and 1/4 cup of the sugar to simmer

3. While the milk is heating, in a medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg, yolks, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and cornstarch until smooth.

4. Once the milk has simmered, add it, 1/2 cup at a time, to the egg mixture, whisking all the while, until it has been completely incorporated. 

5. Return the mixture to the pot and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until the mixture begins to thicken. 

6. Pay close attention to the thickening mixture, and when the first boiling bubble comes through, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla. 

7. Immediately pour the custard into the casserole dish spread it evenly, and lay plastic wrap directly on the surface. 

8. Refrigerate until the custard has cooled completely. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Times Are in Your Hands

We all get words, phrases, songs, limericks and sayings stuck in our head. Some weeks I'm humming a top 40 chorus, some days I'm recalling a movie line. For the past two weeks a Bible verse hasn't left my mind or my heart for more than a couple of hours.

My times are in Your hands... Psalm 31:15

Time. The precious commodity. The fleeting one. The thing we always want more of and yet the thing we often neglect to prioritize properly.

Today, a missionary my age, who I graduated Bible college with many years ago had a sudden heart attack and passed away. Leaving a wife and three small children behind in Indonesia.

Yesterday, at the gas station not too far from our sleepy little neighborhood, a random robbery ended in death.

And this week I lost someone very dear to me to cancer. I'm heartbroken at his passing.

Time is not guaranteed to us and it is most definitely not in our hands. Yet each day that it is gifted to us, we have the amazing responsibility to use it at our discretion.

I have always had an immense respect for time. Call me sentimentalYet because of my awareness of it, I have always managed it properly and re-evaluate where I spend it, making course corrections when things get out of whack. I am thankful for it and I treasure each moment of it I get here on this Earth. And I am resolutely aware, that my times are not just in my hands. They are in the One who gave me life and who keeps hope in my heart each day.

But what I do with my time, each day~ each year matters. My children are growing up and my relationship with my husband is evolving. This new thing in my life called "career" is blossoming and new opportunities open each day. My friendships are expanding and my closest ones remain dear to my heart.

And each day I want to use my time with wisdom and thoughtfulness. I don't want to spend 15 minutes scrolling through Instagram photos when my 7 year old is sitting on the couch next to me staring at a TV. I don't want to schedule unnecessary meetings when I could be putting it towards mentoring another or helping a friend in need. I don't want to be missing out on the chance to bless my neighbors with kindness, send a letter across the miles or make a candlelit dinner for my family at the end of the day. friend who passed away this week...Steve and I would write letters to one another. He was a mentor since I was 13. He gave me the only nickname in life I've ever been given, MP (Megan Page). The time he invested in my life is incalculable. He cheered me on through those confusing middle and high school years and made sure I never forgot my worth, value and beauty. He was a father figure to many and I'm so blessed to have been one of them.
Last month, knowing he was growing weaker by the day, I stopped in the middle of dish washing and sat down to write him another letter. A longer letter. A walk-down-memory-lane letter. A thank you letter. My last message from Steve was a note on my Facebook wall thanking me for it. I only wish I could have had time to hold his hand and tell him those things in person.


Sunday, December 01, 2013

Football Season's Sweet Ham and Yeast Rolls

It’s football season. Oh, and it’s consistently 42 degrees outside. And my yoga pants, fuzzy boots and cozy over sized Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt has become my daily wardrobe.

What is it with these cold weather months? In the summer, I can go weeks on salads, grilled chicken and pineapple (and large doses of ice cream too, of course). But the minute that thermometer dips below 60 degrees, I’m scarfing down every carb-ridden, mayonnaise-laden, rich-sauced bit of food I can find, like a Survivor competitor winning the food reward at a challenge. (Hence the yoga pants reference up there.)

And with all of this hunker-down-and-enjoy-the-snowfall goodness, the Smith Homestead kitchen has officially made its annual rotation from summer menu to winter menu.

This weekend we spent much most of our Saturday watching those incredible rivalry match-ups happening on football fields around the country. And forgoing the typical pizza and chips route, I dug through some of my favorite Fine Cooking back issues to discover this gem of a recipe for yeast rolls…the foundation (and roof) for dozens of mini ham sandwiches to feed this small army of men in the house. 

You could really dress these little sandwiches in all sorts of garb. Relishes, mustard, veggies, cheeses, sauces, etc…. But honestly, nothing is more pure than some sweet ham and a warm roll. Quintessential simple food.

And what I love most about this entire package is that is just so, so simple. The yeast roll dough can be made the night before, shaped and left to rise in the fridge. I did a variation on this recipe. 

I put the ham in the slow cooker for a couple of hours while we went to pick out our Christmas tree and then made a really basic sugar glaze, spread it over the cooked ham and popped it under the broiler till crispy. 

All this to say….on game day, I wasn’t slaving in the kitchen. I was cuddled under the quilt with those sweet boys of mine, cheering on my beloved Buckeyes to their victory over Michigan~ and munching on some really great wintery food. 

Make Ahead Dinner Rolls

4 cups AP flour
1 package (or 2 1/4 tsp.) instant yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1 t salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 large egg yolks

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the dough hook (or by hand), combine dry ingredients. Mix gently. Warm the milk and butter in a saucepan (or microwave...that's a little more volatile...keep a watch out for pour over.) Warm the butter and milk to 115 degrees. (If you don't have a thermometer, put your index finger in the milk mixture. You want it to feel quite warm but not hot to the touch.) 

Add the warm milk/butter mixture to the bowl with the egg yolks. Mix on low speed until it comes together and then allow the dough hook (or by hand) knead the dough for 5-6 minutes until it looks and feels smooth as silk. 

Shape into a ball and place the dough in a buttered glass bowl~ one large enough to allow for ample rising. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise...about an hour. 

Butter a 13 by 9 baking dish. 

Turn the dough out on the counter and divide the dough into 16 pieces. I like to use a kitchen scale and weigh to ensure all dough balls are evenly sized. If you go this route, the magic number on the scale is 2oz. per dough ball. As you shape the balls, place them in the buttered baking dish. You should get 16 rolls total. 

**To make ahead: At this point, cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight. The following day, remove the pan and let it sit at room temperature for 4-6 hours before baking. Proceed to baking as follows.

If baking immediately: Cover the baking pan with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap when the rolls are puffy and ready for baking. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.

Basic Sugar Glaze:

1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup water

Mix all three in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk until it liquifies. With a pastry brush, brush the cooked (hot) ham with the sugar glaze and  place it under a high broiler until the sugar has browned and the ham is looking glorious.

**Little scrumptious tip: Take a bit of that sugary glaze that has dripped off the ham and into the pan below and brush it on top of the roll. Seriously heavenly. Makes your fingers slightly sticky and best-of-all, deliciously sweet.