Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Breakdown (and Rebuilding) of a Marriage

Ok...I really didn't airbrush this. It uploaded with a haziness (weird.) Mike says he's excited about no wrinkles ;)
Over the course of 8 years writing this blog, I haven’t steered clear of heavy topics.
I love blogs for their realness. Yet often they take us, the reader, out of reality with their overly whimsical view of someone’s supposed daily life. My life is quite whimsical (to me) but also quite real. Like nitty-gritty real….no one escapes nitty-gritty real, right?
The purpose of my blog has always been to document life here at The Smith Homestead….because I have a fantastically bad memory. The blog has been my source of memory-lane-walking over the years, a wonderful gift I’ve given to myself to keep it maintained and alive.
Mixed into this life of food and family and home renovations and backyard parties and crafts and entrepreneurial ideas…all of which are REAL stuff….is the other real stuff. The layoffs, the financial struggles, the failures and missteps, the spiritual questions and heavy life issues that weigh heavily at points in the journey.
Recently I’ve briefly shared about, but I want to dive in a bit deeper today, into something that hit our little homestead hard over the past 3 years.
The discovery of rock bottom in our 15 year marriage.
My brief mentioning’s have flooded my inbox and my FB messenger with notes from friends and readers who find that they too, are at their own rock bottom with their partner.
So this post is a bit of a journey through what I have learned over the past year in particular and a bit of wisdom I’ve stumbled upon that just might resonate with another struggling at this same point in the journey. I’m not going to dive super deep into details…because blogs aren’t the place for that. But if you want to grab a cup of coffee and sit down for a chat, let me know. I had an amazing friend that walked this journey with me and I am eternally indebted to her and happy to pay it forward.
Let me first say, I am learning more and more as I open up with others about this topic that this is really, really common. That isn’t to say it’s a good thing. But if you do find yourself in a place like I did….like we did… don’t ignore it. Don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t feel like a failure or wonder ‘what’s wrong with me?’.  Don’t run to the doctor for your first prescription of Zoloft and don’t start making drinks with friends after work the new norm.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Raw Carrot Cake Love

I remember a few years ago when the idea of 'raw' food really started trending. Did any of you ever pick up a copy of this? I had one on my bookshelf.
Never made a single thing out of it.

As much as I'd love to fit into my jeans from senior year, have glowing skin for another three decades and a memory like a vault, I'm just not willing to say goodbye to all 'bad' foods. The thought of pizza not making an appearance in my life each week...well no words can describe the horrors.

And along with pizza, cake plays a rather large role in my culinary life. Heck, I even figured out a way to weave its presence into a business magazine. Genius, right?

Carrot cake is one of my favorites. The small British tea shop across the street from my office makes one of the best I've ever had. And my recipe, found in this Southern Living cookbook, isn't so shabby either.

So why go and mess with a good thing by going 'raw' with it?
Because this cake is pretty remarkable.
No sugar, no flour, no vegetable oil, eggs or butter.

The ingredients are simple.
Carrots, dates, almonds, cashews, a splash of maple syrup.

I literally crave this cake. Its my go-to quick breakfast (oatmeal is on hiatus until the first frost). And its my late night dessert.

While snapping a few pictures last night at sundown, Otto showed up in the kitchen. Never before has he walked over to something I'm photographing and started digging in. But that's exactly what he did. My first instinct was to jump in..."Otto, mommy is photographing this. You need to wait, please." But I didn't. Instead I smiled as he loudly stated "Cake! It's my birthday!" (not true...rarely what he says lives in reality).

So this four year old boy who had never eaten my raw carrot cake before and who has the least desire of any child I've ever known to venture out beyond peanut butter and jelly on white bread, dug into this piece of cake like it was a ten mile high chocolate birthday cake.

His response?
"This is awesome."
And then he danced a little jig.

I thought so too. Because if I can get my PB&J phene to eat dates, cashews and carrots without any trickery or hiding of ingredients involved, I'm game.  (scroll below for recipe)

Beyond food, life is beautiful here. And a beautiful mess...depending on the day and the situation at hand.

We'll attend a funeral this week for a family member that left before any of us were ready to say goodbye. That's tough. And the boys head back to school tomorrow (6th and 3rd grade) and that's hard on this mama who isn't ready to send them off.

But we are well~ carving out time for often breakfasts on the back porch, celebrating with popcorn-making for finally getting the pilot light in our 1920's stove to work in the kitchen, taking long hikes near our house and mowing the lawn between conference calls at the office.


Raw Carrot Cake with Cashew Frosting


Cashew frosting

2 cups raw cashews, soaked for 30 minutes in hot water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1/3 cup maple syrup (or sweetener of choice)

Warm water, as needed

Carrot Cake

2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 1/2 cups almond meal

2 cup medjool dates, seeds removed

1/2 cup organic shredded or desiccated coconut (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tsp salt (optional…helps bring out flavors so I like to add it)



1. To make the frosting, blend all ingredients in your blender (high speed preferably) until smooth, adding in some water as needed. *

2. To make the cake, chop the carrots into small pieces and then throw into your food processor with the other cake ingredients and pulse until it's all in really small pieces and sticks together. *

3. To assemble, put half of the cake mix into the bottom of a lined spring-form cake pan and press firmly with a spoon. Then spread on about 1/3 of the frosting. Then place into the freezer until the frosting is hard.

4. Then put the rest of the cake mix into the pan and press firmly with your fingers or the bottom of a glass.

5. The put the remainder of the frosting into the cake pan and place back into the freezer until the frosting is hard.

6. Either leave in the freezer or store in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, take out of the freezer and let stand at room temperature until a knife goes through smoothly. If storing in the fridge, slice and enjoy immediately.  

* I’ve made this in my food processor as well. It will work, just won’t have quite the same smooth consistency. Set aside.

*If you don’t have a food processor, you could shred the carrots and dice the dates and mix by hand.



Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Rosemary Buttermilk Biscuits

Despite being sans traditional kitchen set up right now, baking hasn't fallen too far to the wayside. Fingers in dough is a form of stress relieving therapy for me. Even before we bought a little counter top convection oven I was grilling pita bread and pizza dough as often as I could.
This weekend we took brunch to a family across the street with a sweet little baby girl welcomed into their fold of two older sisters. Thinking of what to feed a total of 9 mouths with my grill and counter top convection oven proved to be a fun challenge. In the end, I settled for homemade granola with yogurt and berries and grilled sausage patties on flaky rosemary cheddar biscuits. Easily made, easily transportable.
The recipe is adapted from who knows where. I've kept a 3-ring binder now for 15 years of odds and end recipes with my notes in the margins. Newspaper and magazine clippings, handwritten recipes from those light bulb/improv-in-the-kitchen moments, recipes passed down from friends and family…it’s a huge hodgepodge of crazy and its one of my most treasured bits of goodness.
I have added chopped rosemary from my kitchen window herb garden, to the recipe along with a few tweaks here and there to make these a bit more billowy and flaky. They are super, super simple. I often mix the dry ingredients the night before, chop my butter and keep it wrapped in the fridge and then in the morning~ between groggy eyed sips of coffee I simply assemble, roll out, cut and bake.

Rosemary Buttermilk Biscuits ~ Yields 12-14 biscuits

4 cups AP flour (I use White Lily for biscuits)
4 Tbsp. chopped dried or fresh rosemary
4 tsp. baking powder
4 tsp. sugar
1.5 tsp baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1.5 sticks unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1.5 cups cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Whisk together the dry ingredients except for the chopped rosemary. Blend in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the dry ingredients resemble clumped sand. Stir in the grated cheese and then dump the buttermilk into the bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until incorporated and a dough ball begins to form.
At this point, dump the dough onto a floured surface and knead gently a dozen times or so until it a cohesive dough ball but absolutely DO NOT over knead or else your beautiful little balls of butter will start to melt from the heat of your hands. That’s a no no.
Pat the dough (or gently roll) until it is around 1.5” in thickness. Cut the biscuits with a cutter (I use a square cutter from King Arthur Flour.)
Arrange them about 1 inch apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and the biscuits are cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven, split and fill with any goodies your groggy-eyed-self desires. And don’t forget to share with the neighbors….


Monday, August 04, 2014

Unpacking and Rediscovering Home

I had forgotten how long it takes for a new city, a new street…a new house to feel like home. For some, it may happen as soon as the first box reveals something familiar to place on a shelf. For me...it takes a bit more. In fact, we lived in Lexington nearly a decade and it wasn't until our last couple of years that everything finally ‘clicked.’ Relationships flourished, our favorite dinner spots had been deemed, I knew what racks to hit at the shops for the best sales, my secret parking spot downtown was always open for me, school days and soccer schedules felt routine… things became…should I dare say, easy?

But change is good, right?

And my life is always FULL of change thanks to this daily bit of goodness. And because of that, home is one thing I’ve come to rely on for my ‘ease’ factor in life…when all else is in beautiful chaos and unpredictability.
But we said goodbye to Lexington nearly 6 months ago. Goodbye to those routines and parking spots and great sale finds, weekly outings with girlfriends I didn't want to say goodbye to and to our favorite take-out Chinese spot, Pete's Wok.
And we headed off for a new city, a new street, a new house.

Ezra's rooster painting..one of my favorite things. 

Our city is really quaint. Like Mayberry quaint. We have the ice cream shop and the tea shop and the independent grocery store and even a bonafide toy shop. (I’ll give you a tour someday soon.)
Our street is even more amazing. We have incredible neighbors who offer us tools for our endless projects (getting to that…), bake us bread, invite us for backyard barbecues, put our naughty escape-artist dogs back over the fence when they get out, chat with our kids and leave fresh cucumbers on the front porch while we’re out running errands. 

The orange cone...the city beautification team has come to our street this week.
Artwork~ AspenMark on Etsy

Our house is a blessing. Because to complain about anything that provides a roof over our head and shelter from storms and heat and cold would be ridiculously bratty.
When we bought this 1920’s house, it hadn't been cared for in many years. The care it did receive was surface level at best and that caretaker must have really had a penchant for dark caramel color. Because no wall or trim paint was given reprieve from its hue.
This singular element alone made me second guess the purchase. I have since found out there are many many more that should have caused me greater concern than poor design decisions.

But I digress.

Over the past 3 months, when not landing in a new city to speak or have meetings, or I’m not in the office with interns or hiking at the park with the boys, I am painting. Coat after coat after coat after coat. I really have no fondness for painting at all. So this, my dears, is a true labor of love and testament of my character.
12 weeks later and the painting is nearly done. Two to three coats of paint on every wall, window and door frame. Ceilings are next, I think I need a professional for that. Two rooms left…we’ll tackle those someday down the road when my hand releases from its cramping. 
But at least now I can breathe. Lightness is like air to my creativity and productivity. Necessary, not optional.  
And speaking of productivity....

We gutted our kitchen down to the studs. GUTTED. We had no clue what that would mean in actuality and some days I think the 1980’s IKEA kitchen with bing cherry colored walls and black, white  and mirrored tile back splash may have been better than the discovery of faulty wiring and plumbing issues. 

Its coming along slowly. The stove is a recent find, gifted to us by our Realtor as a welcoming gift to our new house. Can you believe that?! Seriously this is Mayberry, people.

Until last week we operated the new The Smith Homestead with no sink, stove or oven. We are still sans oven/stove until the gas line gets installed. Our meals are made on the grill most days. Or we eat simply with salads and cereal and toast with peanut butter. And of course there's the local pizza place that we frequent far more than we should.

We've never been microwave people…that poses a challenge with reheating my crock pot steel cut oats the following mornings. But we did finally invest in a little counter top convection oven a couple of weeks ago. That has revolutionized meal time while we lay flooring, smooth out drywall and install cabinets.
Of course, no renovation would be complete without delays. Our counter tops may never make their arrival….so we improvised and installed plywood. Not just any  plywood though…this gem came from the base of Ezra’s bed in Lexington….it made the trek because as we were moving we saw he had, at some point, crawled under his bed and with red marker wrote “I love Isabelle.” It made us smile…and still does.

Mayberry still doesn’t quite feel like home yet. Neither does the new Smith Homestead. Mike always turns the wrong way on our street coming home and I can’t remember the names of some of my neighbors even though they know mine (that drives me nuts.) We did find good Chinese though.
Slowly the boxes are getting unpacked and this little house of ours is getting the first touches of home. The most important of those being memories and relationships…which I have to keep reminding myself will take time to build. 

Even in the kitchen mess...a small spot of organization and beauty is a must. 

Our morning breakfasts at our long farm table, games of Sorry and Clue (our new summer favorites), Otto’s endless laps around the downstairs with Sherlock and Watson at his heels, early morning coffee and late night peppermint tea in our tiny corner bedroom…this is the good stuff. This is becoming home.


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 home...as 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! (sidenote...today 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...