Thank you for your comments, emails, and caring messages last week. My family has felt your love and support and we are so grateful. After a whirlwind week in NYC, I fly back home to Missouri tomorrow to deliver another week of TLC and homemade food to my recovering mother, my adapting-to-change father, and my literal life-saving sister. We are all going to be okay.
Every October I have a practice, a tradition, handed down to me by my dear friend Christopher. It’s a minimalist challenge; a paring down game. A month-long investigation of needs versus wants while reflecting on what is truly serving me. I get to ask myself, What am I holding on to that is dead weight or what possession in my life needs an upgrade?
The challenge goes like this: On October 1st, we get rid of one thing. October 2nd, two things... October 29th, twenty-nine things - those last three days of the month are tough because you’ve got nearly 100 back to back items that you’re eliminating. (This is an actual going-through-closets exercise but it can also be applied to many things -- relationships, habits, services, etc.)
It sounds daunting, but I’m sure you have stacks of junk mail waiting to be discarded, a drawer that’s a catchall, chipped mugs, or books you promised yourself you’ll one day read. Or four pairs of the same color pants. Or a cool hat or two you always think you’ll wear and never do. Christopher comes across items like these and says, “I don’t want to take care of this anymore,” and he sends them on their way.
All these extra things not only take up physical space, but they take up our mental and emotional space, as well as our time. Time we could be using elsewhere. They are in the way or on top of what we might really need, physically, mentally or emotionally. Those unnecessary things that we convince ourselves we need are actually crowding out our true treasures.
For me, this isn’t just a practice of throwing things away, it’s about valuing the things that I truly love by giving them room to breathe. Giving my space some space. I was lucky to have have been raised in a sprawling ranch style home where we have many spare rooms with closets, spacious cabinets and shelves. As a family we became accumulators. We held on to many versions of the same thing just because we could.
I’m not throwing my parents under the bus when I say that they can’t find what they need because they have so much stuff they don’t need. We are all like that. Me too! I moved six and a half months ago from a spacious apartment in Queens with a whole extra room just for me and my stuff! Now that I have less space, I have to have even fewer things.
Throughout this month of my minimalist challenge, many items get recycled, trashed, or simply left on my stoop. I give favorite things to friends who might enjoy something ‘new.’ I donate gently used items. I also have a consignment shop I’ve been working with for nearly 20 years which gives me a small return on my super special vintage clothing and antiques.
True confession: I always thought I’d open up my own shop of old things so I’ve held on to some vintage beauties for years. “I don’t want to take care of this anymore.” That saying has made it so much easier to let go of or find new homes for these things. I’m happy to let someone else dust, launder, stare at my unneeded objects.
The super cool thing for me is that every October, with all of the letting go of tired and over used items, I also allow myself an upgrade. I indulge in something needed and new.
This year I said goodbye to my Australian Blundstone boots. I bought them when I was a nanny one summer in Maine in 1998. I have worn those boots every winter in New York City for the last 17 years!!! I love them and they have served me well, but it is time to move on. (As soon as I snapped this picture and left them on my stoop a neighbor lady asked me their size and she snatched them up! Yay!)
I upgraded my Blunnies with a pair of Tsubos. They’re kind of space-age sneaker boots. I feel like a super hero in them. These new boots have brand new traction, not the slippery bald soles I’ve skidded around on in snow and ice. (Though I just came from the Blundstone website and man-oh-man they've upgraded their classics.)
We upgrade our computers and smartphones all the time. Their applications are constantly insisting we upgrade to get the latest technology working for us. What does upgrade even mean?
Improve. Modernize. Elevate.
Aha! Those are all great words.
I’ve been working with the Pomora company and elevating my recipes and menus with their glorious olive oil this year. It is a wonder how my food has improved by the use of a higher quality product. Have you looked them up yet? Those of you that adopted an olive oil tree from them, are you loving your olive oils? I just got the basil, mushroom, and garlic oils in the mail. Oh. My. Krishna. So good, so special. so fresh. Check them out and gift yourself or someone you love an olive tree and the year's supply of its yield.
This week I cooked and served a dinner party celebrating a young girl who loves chocolate. For dessert, I suggested an old fashioned chocolate layer cake. It’s a recipe I’ve turned to for years. It was an old fashioned recipe way before I started playing around with it. I make an amazing citrus olive oil cake, so why not update this chocolate cake by swapping out some of the butter with olive oil? Less animal based fat, more fruity flavor from a plant based oil.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a modern Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake: The Upgrade. Isn’t she stunning? And her insides were made with a smoother batter and a healthy fat, (and for my darlings avoiding animal products completely, swap out all the butter for olive oil and make those crazy flax seed ‘eggs.’ Then frost your cake with a tub of Duncan Hines ready made frosting because that yummy $h*t is vegan!)
Clean your closets. Make a cake. Upgrade your life!
Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake With Olive Oil
adapted from Nigella Lawson's classic recipe
CAKE - This makes 4 layers, but halve the ingredients if you just want a 2 tiered cake - which is also lovely.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2/3 unsweetened cocoa
- 16 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 stick softened salted butter
- 4 large eggs
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 12 ounce bag of bittersweet chocolate chips
- 5 cups confectioners' sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- sugar flowers
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter or nonstick spray 4 round cake pans lined with parchment paper circles. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process until batter is smooth or place it all in a large mixing bowl and beat with a hand mixer. Evenly divide the batter between the cake pans and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool on a wire rack while still in the pans.
For the frosting, melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave or in a double boiler. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the corn syrup, vanilla, and sour cream. Stir to combine everything. Sift the powdered sugar into the chocolate mixture and beat with a hand mixer to combine. Be careful it will shoot out everywhere, so do a little at a time on low speed and then you can speed the mixer up to make it all smooth.
Pick your platter or cake stand and turn out one of the cakes, flat side down. spread a layer of frosting on top. turn out another cake and place it dome side down onto the first layer. Spread a layer of frosting on top. Repeat this with the next 2 layers. Connect the frosted layers covering the cake from top to bottom with the frosting. If you've got sugar flowers, decorate the top. Gently place the cake in the fridge for the payers to set so there's no fear of them sliding.