Here’s my new productivity plan: Tackle one small thing a day. Lately, that’s been cleaning my space in miniature increments (as in, one drawer at a time)—but I’m finding it to be incredibly effective. In the past, my productivity plan often looked something like this: Make a very long list of all the things you possibly could and should be doing, including but not limited to large, random life tasks like filing your insurance claims, fixing your water meter, writing thank you notes, and remembering to meditate. Of course, I’d also pile on all my work to-dos, and then my personal work to-dos (go write a book proposal! while you’re at it, remember the blog you write?).
By the end of all that list-making, I’d be so g-d exhausted that I’d have to take a restorative hour to sunbathe on the terrace and perfect my tan while nibbling on a bowl of cold cherries in order to refresh my delicate constitution. You understand.
The end result? Nothing gets done on my list. I ignore said list, casting disparaging glances at it and burying underneath a pile of books while I make dinner and watch a Mad Men episode and pretend the list really never existed to begin with. Job well done! I survived a full day, so who really cares if I did anything conventionally “useful”?
But now, I am wiser. I am taking a more mature approach. And in all seriousness, joking aside, I am asking less of myself and as a result, doing more. I am chipping away at things, and every time I check off one tiny task (like, say, throw away old almost burned-out candles or scrub the shelves in my bathroom cabinets), I feel really excellent!
The other brilliant knock-on effect of this new plan is when I set my sights lower, I achieve concrete things, which in turn makes me feel more empowered, which in turn often makes me do more than I planned. How’s that for an unexpected win?
Consider this week. Concrete tasks achieved, I carried on to roast a chicken and make a batch of cashew milk and granola on Monday, make a second batch of granola on Tuesday because I burned the first batch (Ina Garten never burns her granola), replace my shower curtain, and wrap up a batch of pesky work emails that had been languishing in my inbox.
Of course, the to-do list is still long. And it’s incredibly tempting to mentally flip through all I still have to do, and to keep adding more. But I have to remind myself that not only does that make me jittery and overwhelmed, it’s counter-productive: I’ll end up doing less when I mentally catalog more. And also, it reminds me of the this quote which I came upon recently on the blog Swiss-Miss (and don’t have a source for!): “Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.”
With my new stripped-down, one-task-a-day approach, I have more pockets of time carved out for leisure—and I appreciate them more. Like the moments I sit outside and read—no, devour—this novel I’m halfway through (which is so incredibly good, I can’t recommend it highly enough). Or taking an evening walk around the reservoir in Central Park as the heat of the day slowly disappears and talking to my mom. Or taking the ferry over to Shelter Island in the early morning, buying a BLT at the little market in Deering Harbor and eating it for breakfast with my feet dangling over the edge of the pier.
I have time (and reasons) to make a lot of goof things—between having house guests and testing recipes and birthday baking. In fact, there’s so much I want to tell you about (the perfect ratio for Rice Krispie treats! Snickerdoodle Rice Krispie treats! a new favorite blueberry loaf! s’mores cookie bars, two ways! triple berry cake!) that it’s a good thing I’m back here with this blog after all these weeks because we have a lot to talk about.
I hope you’re hungry. And that maybe you missed me? And that you’re still here, with me, reading and being your wonderful selves?
Let’s start with something pretty and pink and summery. This is a twist on Bon Appetit’s rhubarb cake, with a few tweaks that I found helped to make the end result much lovelier (by preventing the stalks from sinking) and tastier (more rum, duh, and some raw sugar and whole wheat flour).
Rhubarb Custard Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit
4 tablespoons (56g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup (90g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (28g) whole wheat flour (or almond flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups (247g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (55g) +2 tablespoons turbinado or raw sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
2 1/2 tablespoons rum (or substitute vanilla extract)
zest of one lemon
13 ounces rhubarb stalks, cut in half lengthwise then in 4” pieces
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously grease and flour a 9” springform cake pan (I like to line mine with parchment paper first).
In a large bowl, whisk together the baking powder, salt, and flours in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a stand mixer, beat together the eggs, egg yolk, and sugars—except for the extra 2 tablespoons of turbinado sugar—until pale and thickened in texture, at least 2 minutes.
Separately, whisk together the butter, sour cream, rum, and lemon zest, then add this mixture to the egg/sugar mixture and beat until just combined.
With a spatula, gently fold in the dry ingredients until the batter is smooth, but don’t overmix.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and chill it in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes—this will help the batter thicken and encourage the rhubarb not to sink.
Gently place a few slices of rhubarb over the top of the batter—you can do this in a pretty pattern like I did, but there’s no need to! It’ll be delicious either way. Start with just a few—if you put them all on, it’ll sink. Instead, start baking the cake but keep most of the rhubarb off for now.
Slide the cake into the oven and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, the batter should be thickened but the top should still be wet, so it’ll allow the rhubarb not to sink if you do it this way. Arrange the rest of the rhubarb stalks on top, then sprinkle with the reserved 2 tablespoons of turbinado sugar.
Put the cake back in the oven and bake for another 25 to 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
Remove from the oven, and let cool on a rack for about 10 minutes. Then slide a knife around the edges, carefully remove the outer collar of the springform pan, and let the cake finish cooling before slicing.