Friday, July 11, 2014

From Concrete Jungle to Canvas Yurt

It was on the flight home from NYC that I called Mike on a whim and asked him to book the boys and I a three night stay in a yurt.
Meetings at Tory Burch's headquarters, fancy dinners near Union Square and turnaround trips to Connecticut via train are totally up my alley. Just as much as dirt under my fingernails, smoke laden hair and curling up in a damp sleeping bag is.
I'm a Gemini after all ;)

The plane flight many  have been recently...was delayed. And after three days of meetings (upwards of 6 a day) and 23 days of consecutive work (not something I make a practice of), my soul was letting me know that it was time for a break. Plus, my eyelashes needed to come up for air after a marathon of mascara smothering and my feet needed reprieve from wedge heels.

Sitting on the runway, I texted Mike. It was 4:45 on a Friday. 15 minutes left in the week to call a state park to book a camping spot for Monday morning.

The boys and I (sometimes with Mike, sometimes without~ depending on his work schedule) love to camp. Always in a tent. But since my time in Mongolia 14 years ago, I've wanted to stay again in a yurt (pronounced "ger" when in Mongolia.) The state parks here in Ohio have a few for rent...and lucky us, one within an hour's drive.

Mr. Johnny-on-the-spot (Mike, that is) booked it before the EOD and by Sunday evening we were all moving our graham crackers and Hershey's, board games and crafts, sweatshirts and bug spray and flashlights and books into our yurt for a few days in the woods.

We had dad there for night one. A treat for us all. And then the boys and I settled in for what would become a camping trip of epic proportions.

Promptly after this series of pictures, my camera battery died. And I had limited phone reception...which was
perfectly fine with me. Unplugged few days. Memory...just don't fail me.

There was rain. Loads of it.

Hence there was Monopoly playing. Loads of that too thanks to the rain pattering on our canvas roof.

We savored the moments of sun and breeze while making felted animals from wool, painting,  hiking and writing letters to friends and family around the country.

There was Otto. Who never ceases to be totally over the top. OVER THE TOP! ( he called Mike in Nordstrom Rack with my phone and started the conversation, " Forget about it (insert Bronx accent). You're forticulous." (his word for ridiculous.)

There was Ezra. Our amazing fire builder.

And there was Canaan. Our always on-site safety expert and order keeper.

All three of these boys drove me absolutely batty at times over the course of those three days. And all three made my heart swell with pride at the men they are becoming and the friendship we all share.

Our little yurt....which Canaan squealed upon arrival with "ITS PERFECT!!!" ...was just what we Smith's needed.

Just what this Gemini needed.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Giving Myself Permission.

It’s a muggy one in NYC today where I write my first post in months from a little table at Le Pain Quotidien at 44th and 3rd.
I feel like I should start this post out with apologies…followed by explanations…followed by recounts and updates on life as I now know it that has ultimately kept me away from moments here on my treasured piece of blogland.
But I think I’ll actually forgo the apologies and explanations. Because I think you understand.
Life has ebb and flow and seasons and moments in the journey that require us to sometimes do a 180 degree turn in another direction and give our all to something else. That’s where I’ve been. Giving my all to something wonderful, knowing that this little space of mine in blogsphere hasn’t left….its waiting for my return and I’m feeling its tug for reconnection to its simplicity and its grounding more everyday.
I said I wouldn’t do apologies and explanations…BUT what I will do is give an update on life as I now know it:
The Smith Homestead has taken up roots and moved to Ohio. I’m back to the motherland after nearly 15 years away. That little idea of a magazine I had a couple of years ago called CAKE&WHISKEY is growing…thriving! I get giddy thinking about it and humbled by it. Its mission is something that at its very core impacts lives and moves people to a place of authenticity and connectivity to others and themselves in a world of disconnect and falsity.
Canaan is now 11. Ezra is 8. Otto is 4. They are more handsome everyday.
Never has another child made me laugh more than Otto. I don’t want him to grow up. Seriously. Its so tough watching that happen. I think he should be cloned as he is the most perfectly maddening and irresistible child imaginable.  
Ezra, with his sweet freckles and soccer ball constantly at his feet, gives me the full dose of ‘all boy’. He broke his arm over Easter. Surgery and the whole bit. Tough stuff for a little guy who ended up having to miss soccer season entirely. When I start in on a mom lecture with Ezra, his eyes glaze over and he starts saying, almost mantra style “uh huh, uh huh…” It makes me smile. And reminds me that sometimes a kid just wants the cliff notes version and to be on with the day. (Canaan ALWAYS preferred the 1 hour back and forth lecture/discussion.)
Our relationship with Canaan is making that subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) transition from simply ‘child who follows the rules’ to ‘independent thinker who has a valuable opinion that we should take into account’. I actually love this stage much more than I thought I would. It’s rewarding as a parent to give him more freedom, watch him both flourish and stumble and recover and still rely on the anchor and safety and unconditional love of home.
Mike and I celebrated our 15 year anniversary in January. And to keep it all brief but honest…over the past 2 years, Mike and I discovered the depths of marital un-bliss (that hyphenated word is the biggest understatement of this blogs life, for the record). We hear this isn’t uncommon at this stage in the journey…but  oh, my. That’s the stuff that’ll make or break you as a person and a family. And thankfully, it did end up making us and continues to makes us better than that initial marital bliss of the early years. So….if you are wading through the thick of it. I’ve been there. Drop me a line. We can chat it out over a shared slice of cake across the table or across the miles.
We have bought a 1920’s home in a small sleepy town in Ohio. And its becoming a bit more than we bargained for. So likely, as I dive back into the land of Art of Homemaking here and there, you’ll get a glimpse into the happenings at our own version of This Old House.
Speaking of that domestic goodness that fills my creative bucket…
On the cooking front...when not in NYC or DC you'll find my nose in a cookbook or whipping up something in our makeshift summer kitchen.  My true kitchen is torn down to the studs, so cooking or baking nowadays usually involves a griddle or grill. And I have a seriously uh-ma-zing recipe to share soon…maybe I’ll tackle that this week. Hold me to it!
I haven’t sewn in a few (many few) months. But there’s some crafting action about to start up again…my fingertips are missing needle pricks.
We spend loads of time outdoors right now. Tennis, hiking, picnicking, kayaking, frolicking on lakefronts and exploring our new town.
And I do travel away from home more… NYC mostly. And although four years ago I couldn’t have dreamed up a scenario in which I was sitting, having coffee and oats by Grand Central Terminal alone after 3 grueling days of meetings, it really IS dreamy to be here in this moment. Yes, I miss those kiddos desperately and Mike even more so. Choosing whether to venture from the hotel for dinner at 9pm or just sleep because rest seems more necessary than meeting the calorie consumption I missed by only eating a beet and arugula salad at a lunch meeting… that feels a far cry from sewing marathons at the kitchen table with a pie baking in the oven and the kids playing Uno in the next room over.
But in reality, I do still get those times. Just less frequent than before. But that’s not a bad thing. Pie everyday isn’t so good for the blood sugar levels, anyhow.
My phone goes off on the weekends (I’m not ignoring your texts, friends and family!) and I keep an office away from home now so the Smith Homestead has once again become simply, home.
Any entrepreneur knows the demands of time and focus that creating something requires in the early stages. I can see how easy it would be to slip into that pattern long term…I’ve been tempted to dip my toe into that high productivity, all-else-takes-a-backseat world.
But I said 'no' to the temptation. And I'm so proud of myself for giving myself permission to do that.
Today I’ll head home after a glorious week doing the work I love.
Next week spend some time camping with those three amazing boys.  
The days are long but the years are short.

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.