hygge & cinnamon pear cake.

last year, talking with a few girlfriends about books we were reading, a friend said she was reading The Year of Living Danishly. she had just started it but said that so far it was funny and interesting and explained that the part she was in was talking about a Danish word: hygge. she said it was something about being warm & cozy, and we all laughed about how to pronounce the word (“hue-guh” not “hoo-gah”).

sounding like an interesting, light-hearted read, i put the book on my to-read list, but i was the most intrigued about that word: hygge. warm? cozy? sold! Google, of course, gave me lots of great places to learn more, which i did lightly, but it wasn’t until the end of the year that i really came back to it.

each year, i choose a word to focus on for the year. i first heard about “one word” in 2012, and i think of it in a few ways: sometimes as a word that i need to focus on…something to choose. other times the word is more of a lens…something that helps me as i’m making decisions. without much expectation, i chose “breathe” for 2013, and lo & behold, it truly was a word that helped guide that year; so i kept at it.

usually a word would surface as the year began, but at the end of last year, “hygge” popped back into my mind. i felt like it would be a good word for 2018, so i started to dig into it more seriously. without a direct English translation, hygge can maybe most closely be described as a feeling, but as i continue to learn, it seems more like a mindfulness or an intentionality to me. i love how alex at hyggehouse put it:

…whether it’s making coffee a verb by creating a ritual of making it every morning to a cosy evening in with friends where you’re just enjoying each others company to the simple act of lighting a candle with every meal, hygge is just about being aware of a good moment.

and with that: i think hygge is basically my life word…but starting with a year is probably a good idea ;o) hygge effectively sums up in one word what i’ve been using many words to try to describe for the past few years; what i have been working towards & how i want to continue to grow.

wired for productivity & feeling a constant need to be a better multi-tasker, i truly long to slow down & be more intentional. getting married, becoming a parent, and moving into our house are all things that have made continuing to choose this new lifestyle even more meaningful, but – even after a few years of work – daaaang do i have a long way to go! i know i’m doing a lot of re-programming after so many years of feeling like i’ve needed to work harder, do more, and excel. i remind myself often that Rome wasn’t built in a day & that small steps matter.

by the grace of God, i’m getting there, and i feel like learning more about hygge is already another helpful lens for me. it’s helped me take a step back & think less about what i need to do or not do and more about how i do things. how i hope others receive time with me or time with us at our house.

then it hit me, these past few days, that it also includes how i go about doing even the most normal things & the simple ways i can enjoy them – or enjoy them more. lighting a candle while i work. [finds & lights candle; immediately feels more cozy.] a cup of tea. gardening. weekend brunch. a vase of pretty blooms. typing those things out makes them sound so simple, and in general they are, but i know that the profundity of hygge is the balance it strikes between how we do what we do, why we do it, and who we do it for (ourselves included). and that sounds like a very worthwhile life – er, year – pursuit.

it could just be me, soaking up the cozy, slow nature of these snowy winter minnesota days, but i think winter may draw out the hygge-ness in many of us. bundling up to head out, then the rush of warmth as you enter a cozy house and gather around fireplaces and tables with friends and family. slow meals. pajama-jamy days with only playing & naps & movies under soft blankets on the agenda. whatever it is for you, i hope you find those simple moments more readily and that they leave their joyful, peace-breathing mark on your heart each time.

one thing that brings me great joy & slows me down is cooking & baking for others. the very nature of cooking & baking evoke hygge for me (maybe not so much weeknight cooking hygge-ness, yet. i love it but, i’m working on more cozy/calm, less post-work hustle/multi-tasking. maybe lighting a candle will help? haha!), and the recipe below was really fun to make and has been a gift to enjoy together this weekend.

:: cinnamon pear cake with vanilla fudge sauce ::
adapted slightly from nigel slater, ripe

pear cake slice

nigel writes, in the head note for the recipe, “This is the most gorgeous fudge sauce imaginable, tasting like melted, creamy vanilla toffee. The pear cake isn’t bad either.” our family would like to enthusiastically second, third, and fourth his sentiments. that sauce…

i needed to make a few ingredient substitutions:
–  i commonly sub light brown sugar for light muscovado sugar and did so here.
– i used granulated sugar in place of golden baker’s sugar. google pointed me in that direction, letting me know that golden baker’s sugar can be found – it’s just rather expensive.
– i didn’t have self-rising flour but found a number of recipes that all lead me to the same result: it’s super simple to make. to each cup of flour, add 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ¼ teaspoon of salt. whisk well & use as directed in recipe.


14 tablespoons (200g) butter, softened
1 cup (200g) golden baker’s sugar [sub: regular granulated sugar]
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1½ cups (200g) self-rising flour [if making your own: 1½ cups flour + 2¼ teaspoons baking powder + ⅜ teaspoon salt]
½ teaspoon baking powder

1½ pounds (750g) ripe pears
½ lemon
3 tablespoons (40g) butter
3 tablespoons light muscovado sugar [sub: light brown sugar]
heaping ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

vanilla fudge sauce
scant ½ cup (100g) light muscovado sugar [sub: light brown sugar]
⅓ cup (100g) maple syrup or golden syrup [i used maple syrup]
3½ tablespoons (50g) butter
⅔ cup (150ml) heavy cream
a couple drops of vanilla extract


  1. preheat oven to 325º.
  2. lightly butter a 9½ inch springform cake pan (ours is 9 inches and was fine. i don’t see why an 8 or 9 inch square cake pan wouldn’t work).


  1. peel, halve, and core the pears. dice into ¾ inch cubes. to prevent pears from browning, you can put them in a bowl of water mixed with the juice from the half lemon.
  2. melt butter and muscovado/brown sugar in a medium sauté pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. add pears (drain, if in lemon water) and cinnamon to the pan, cooking until they are tender and the sauce coats the pears; about 5 minutes. take pan off the heat to cool.


  1. in a medium bowl or stand mixer, beat butter and golden baker’s/granulated sugar until light and creamy.
  2. alternating (so that the mixture doesn’t curdle), add eggs and half of the flour to the butter/sugar mixture, mixing well after each addition.
  3. using a spatula, fold in the remaining flour and the baking powder, followed by the cooked pears and their syrup.
  4. pour batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake 45 minutes, until risen and golden. a metal skewer inserted in the center of the cake will come out clean when it’s done. in a pan smaller than 9½ inches, the cake will take longer.
    * i checked the cake every 3 minutes and ended up needing and additional 6 minutes for a 9 inch springform pan.

vanilla fudge sauce

  1. stir together sugar, syrup, and butter in a small sauce pan.
  2. bring mixture to a boil for about a minute, stirring only enough to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
  3. stir in the cream, remove from heat.
  4. add the vanilla, stir well, and leave to cool. sauce will thicken as it cools.

serve slices of cake topped with a spoonful of sauce. slater also recommends ice cream which would be decadent, but even with “just” the sauce, it’s a warm, cozy, luxurious treat.

yield: one 9½ inch cake; approximately 1 cup of sauce; 8-10 servings


weekend scenes

nightstand books 2018-01:: current reads & re-reads ::

new growth
:: when your husband gets you birthday flowers,
and they’re still giving & giving 3 weeks later ::

bulbs 2018-01:: 40º in january = a second chance at spring bloom prep ::

latte:: st. paul exploring ::

banana bread
:: banana “fuffin” bread ::

then, there is this video. on repeat. often. and i’m not mad about it ;o)
something about the way the instruments come together at 1:37 gets me every time.

our greatest expression & a first-in-twenty-years garden.

tomato-basilthere’s just something about having my hands in the dirt & watching things grow.

peaceful and grounding.

soothing. intentional. life-giving. healing. hopeful.

when i was 12 years old i had surgery, and when i got home after too many days in the hospital, apparently i walked straight through the house to the backyard to check on my vegetable garden.

for our wedding, we got a lemon tree instead of a unity candle. to commemorate our first anniversary we got a fig tree.

to celebrate the birth of our son and my husband’s sweet grandpa’s life-richly-lived, we got a beautiful Charles White peony.

my mother’s day gift this year was a little stunner of a rose bush. as if the sweetly scented, delicate, creamy-apricot-y blossoms weren’t enough, the name is fantastic: Champagne Wishes.

and this spring, i got to build my first garden at our very own house. to say that it’s been a treat to spend mornings and evenings watching things grow is an understatement. for Christmas and my birthday, i asked for a gift certificate for supplies. i poured over catalogues and websites hoping to find just the right mix of trusted, must-grow and fun, new-to-me flower and vegetable varieties to plant in my first-in-twenty-years garden.

as seed-starting and mother nature would have it, there has been plenty of trial & error, anticipation, shriveled seedlings, and excitement woven throughout these past few learning-laden months. i’ve planted & re-planted seeds. some sprouted the first time. some sprouted the second time. some sprouted when i tossed a handful on a patch of bare dirt a few weeks ago. others i’ll try again next year. we had a big storm in the spring with wind that scattered my fledgling vegetable plants, damaging many of them. and as for the raised garden, i planted it late in the season and for sure planted more than i had space for.

we have to start somewhere, right? and sometimes starting is the most important step, even if the rest looks a little more trial & error and a little less polished & perfected. as it turns out, i’m ok with this year being more about simply enjoying that i finally get to have a garden and a yard to experiment in, learning through experience, and tucking observations & tidbits away for next year. i’m a rookie, i tried some things i knew could be challenging, and i often learn best as i go. or maybe i’m just in la-la land since somehow my dahlias & sweet peas are blooming after having absolutely zero success last year. that alone is a gigantic – and beautiful!- win in my book.


as i’ve spent mornings and evenings watering, weeding, and watching our backyard actually turn into something rather pretty, i’ve thought a lot about what it is about gardening that draws me in. because, truth be told, it’s a lot of work. much more work than i anticipated it being back in march/april when my mind was a swirl of idyllic daydreams. it was a fair amount of work & time to build the raised bed. planting took time to plan, prep, and actually do. since our yard was full of random overgrown bushes, digging everything up & preparing the beds was a task and a half. and now the watering, worrying about 90º+ days, and maintaining everything takes time away from other things i’d like to be doing.

but even with all of that, gardening brings me incredible joy & thankfulness, and i’m realizing two things.


first, i want to pass gardening on to charlie in some way. not that he’ll want to be in the garden with me all the time or will be a farmer some day…but just the simple joy of watching something grow. the being-together-ness of it. planting seeds with him this spring was an experience i’ll always treasure, and it’s been so fun to see him still get excited to water the plants (tonight’s entertainment: him running back & forth between his water table & a planted container on the patio, watering the rhubarb).

i love that sometimes as he plays in the backyard, he’s running over to me with a bubble wand, as i prune the tomato plants, so that i can blow bubbles with him or with a toy from his water table, as i snip flowers for a bouquet, for me to come splash with him. i’m thankful that he sees and experiences what’s growing around him and that it’s all part of where he lives, plays, and is learning about the world around him.

gardening buddy

second, and probably the most enduring truth in my life about gardening is that it holds immense hope for me. and when so much these days feels uncertain, hard, or discouraging, getting my hands in the dirt, catching a new blossom opening, and watching our vegetables grow feels…healing. it causes me to take a deep breath. to slow down. it restores something that was missing…something that i can’t quite put into words but am deeply grateful for.

floret_truckthe process of creating our little garden began over the winter as i thought ahead to the promise of warmer days. then in march/april when we were all completely over winter, i was able to tuck seeds into their little piles of dirt with hopeful anticipation…waking up each day to see what had sprouted overnight, watching them stretch and grow. once the days were warmer, i nestled the seedlings that had soldiered on through the long, cold winter into the ground, believing that one day, a little bud just might pop out.

then one did! and another. and another! then things started to grow much bigger than i imagined (hello 6 foot tomato plants?!)…some budded but didn’t blossom…a storm/extreme heat left their marks. i know in my head that it’s just a garden/plant/seed, but when those things happened, i felt guilty for having been over-zealous and planting too much, for not planning better, for not thinking of all the random scenarios so that i could have avoided them. and you know what i’m learning (albeit very slowly and with lots of over-thinking)?


it’s ok. the plants figure it out. earlier this spring, after a particularly damaging storm hit their farm, our CSA (and favorite) farmer said, “[the plants] mostly just simply re-grow…sometimes even growing back even bigger and more bountiful than before. what a lovely example of resilience for us all as we weather life.” oh my heart, if that it’s so. dang. true.

veggie babes

and i figure it out, too. i trim the squash back to keep them from trampling the carrots. i found 6 foot polls to stake & secure the tomato plants. i let the shallots go & will plant them in a different spot next year. the peony is in the ground now (so its growth won’t be confused by my planting it too late), and i’m guessing it will be just fine. i’ve learned how to prune a rose bush and lemon tree. i’ll try ranunculus again next year.

garden bouquet

while there are things i’ll do differently next year that may result in a few more wins, there will still be lots of learning. and that’s a really good thing. because it means i’m still trying. still hoping. still getting to have these crazy fun, life-giving, special experiences with my boy.

while i have the wonderful gift of gathering little fistfuls of blooms that i grew. watching tiny cantaloupe buds turn into actual growing melons…streaky red-yellow tomatoes grow, slowly but surely…peppers slowly transition from green to bright red.

both/and. the tension of growth & learning, letting go & transitions, holding hope & trusting.

for a seed to achieve its greatest expression,
it must come completely undone. the shell cracks,
its insides come out, and everything changes.
to someone who doesn’t understand growth,
it would look like complete destruction.

~ cynthia occelli



a happiest place & veggie fried quinoa.

cooking is, and has always been, one of my happiest places. it soothes, refreshes, motivates, & heals me. i like to start with a clean kitchen & open work surfaces so i have a full arsenal of vessels & tools to pick from and plenty of space to spread out. then a little more cleaning – this time the ingredients – before prepping, & chopping. i love the sound of the water, the rhythm of the knife, the colors as the ingredients find their order, & the aromas as it all comes together…mmm.

there are pictures of me in the kitchen spanning almost every age, i think. one of my favorites (that i’m still trying to find) is of me standing on the open dishwasher door, probably not even 2 years old. my mom was making brownies, & i wanted to help mix the batter :o)

my love for the kitchen grew deeper as i grew up. i had cookie parties with friends, i baked with all the kids i babysat ([insert unfathomably messy toddler & kitchen images] – totally worth it), & in college my roommates & i cooked dinner on thursday nights before Friends came on. the connection that cooking creates for me is indescribable. it connects me to deepest places in my spirit that i can forget in the hustle & bustle of a tedious day. it connects me to family & friends. as if that wasn’t enough goodness, over the past 5 months, i’ve been able to experience yet another connection: i’ve been incredibly blessed to be able to share my love of cooking with my most favorite cooking partner of all.

i can’t wait to keep sharing & learning together in the kitchen. cooking through what i can already see will be a growing collection of incredible cookbooks, trying new ingredients, supporting our beloved CSAs, exploring farmer’s markets, gathering loved ones around our table. sharing life, joy, sorrow, celebration, stories.

and, one day, passing our passion on to our own family. what a gift this life is!

:: veggie fried quinoa ::
adapted from peas & crayons

veggie fried quinoa

you can truly make this recipe your own in so many ways. you could simplify everything by subbing frozen veggies. if you pre-cook quinoa & keep it in the fridge or freezer, that makes things even easier. sometimes we soak our quinoa*, and sometimes we cook the quinoa in vegetable or chicken stock to add a little extra flavor.

2 cups quinoa
2 1/2 – 3 cups water or vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 lb chicken, ground pork, shrimp, etc., optional
1 tbsp butter or oil (coconut or olive oil work well)
1 small onion, diced
2 – 3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 cup peas or edamame
2 – 3 eggs
2 – 4 tbsp low sodium tamari or soy sauce
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 tsp ground ginger, optional
1 tbsp sesame seeds, optional

to prepare quinoa
first, rinse quinoa in mesh strainer for a few minutes (to rinse of the bitter outer coating). add rinsed quinoa to medium sauce pan & enough water to cover quinoa by a half inch. bring the water & quinoa to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until water evaporates (7-10 minutes). quinoa will be al denté.

to prepare veggies/protein
in a large sauté pan, heat butter or oil over medium heat. add half of the onion & cook 1-2 minutes. if you’re including a protein, add it to the pan with the onions and sauté until cooked through; remove from pan & keep warm in a medium sized bowl.

return pan to heat and add remaining onion, carrots, & celery. stirring occasionally, cook vegetables until they are tender (about 5 minutes). next, add garlic & peas or edamame and cook 1-2 minutes longer. remove sautéed vegetables from the pan, adding them to the bowl with cooked protein.

place pan back on stove. if needed and/or if you want, now might be a good time to add a little more butter or oil to the pan. crack eggs into pan & scramble, cooking to desired texture.

to assemble
once eggs are cooked, you can begin adding everything back to the pan: quinoa, veggies, and protein, if included. add tamari or soy sauce, salt, & pepper. if you are including ginger or sesame seeds, you can add them now, too. mix to combine & warm all the ingredients.

* soaked quinoa has a softer texture, but it also has nutritional benefits. i first learned about soaking quinoa from summer, then read more from the nourshing gourmet. it is an easy, almost entirely hands-off process that includes rinsing the quinoa, covering it with water & mixing in a little lemon juice, raw cider vinegar, or kefir, & letting it sit for 8 hours or so before cooking it however you usually do.


may god bless you.

may god bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may
live deep within your heart.

may god bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

may god bless you with tears to shed
for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
and to turn their pain into joy

and may god bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

:: franciscan benediction ::