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The powerful thing that happens when you turn a rut into a ritual


How many rituals do you have in a year?

Maybe you eat fish stew on Christmas Eve and black-eyed peas on New Year’s, and make sure your holiday thank you cards are written by the Super Bowl and that your sister gets a card in the mail for her birthday.

What about how you make your coffee or put your kids to bed? What about where you get breakfast tacos on Friday mornings or the special bakery where you like to get a nice loaf of bread for the weekend?

Jenny Rosenstrach us to appreciate the everyday rituals in our lives.

Rosenstrach, as the writer behind a website and book called “Dinner: A Love Story,” is perhaps the biggest champion for making dinnertime the most important daily ritual, but in her new book, “How to Celebrate Everything: Recipes and Rituals for Birthdays, Holidays, Family Dinners, and Every Day In Between” (Ballantine, $30), she advocates readers to employ that same intentionality to so many other moments in life, too.

Rosenstrach says that most of us are aware of the traditions and rituals around the big holidays, but we often have smaller, day-to-day rituals that might not seem worth celebrating. How you make your oatmeal. The specific route you take to work. The doughnuts you buy for your coworkers’ birthdays or the goodnight song you sing your kids.

Don’t call it a rut; call it a ritual.

“Every day is a race to the finish line, and I don’t want days to feel like that,” she says. “The rituals you create with your family can infuse your life with meaning, every day.”

Her own kids, ages 13 and 14, are going to be out of the house soon enough, so she wants to slow down and appreciate her time with them. “There’s no way to solve the time-going-too-fast problem,” she says, “but rituals shine a spotlight on the moments that are memorable.”

In the Rosenstrach household, where her teenage daughters are not allowed to eat dinner in front of the TV, Rosenstrach recently added an exception: They may eat there on the night of big broadcast events, such as the Super Bowl and the Oscars.

It’s a small shift to acknowledge this as a new family ritual, but it infuses the act with more consciousness and appreciation. She takes notes after big family dinners to record the details of the day. They eat their great-grandma’s meatballs so often that her recipe now graces the inside of the kitchen cabinet, almost as a piece of art, an homage to that particular tradition.

When she and her family go on vacation, they always buy Pop-Tarts. “We don’t get Pop-Tarts in our everyday lives,” she says. “Now, as soon as we get to the place we are going, the kids say, ‘We gotta go get the Pop-Tarts.’”

Adding rituals around recurring activities that you don’t love to do, such as going to the dentist or taking down the holiday decorations, can give you something to look forward to.

“Every year, my husband is maniacal about taking down the Christmas tree on New Year’s Day. We dread it so much because it means the holiday is over, but this year, I’m going to make a cake and we’re going to try to make it into an occasion,” she says.

Another wintertime tradition comes from Rosenstrach’s childhood when she and the rest of her family would write letters to themselves to pack into the box of holiday decorations. The next holiday season, you’d get to read your letter to yourself. You could extend this idea far beyond a year: A friend recently solicited letters for her toddler’s birthday that they plan to give her when she’s 18.

Those letters are proof that the rituals that don’t cost anything often bring the biggest returns.

What rituals and traditions have you incorporated into your life, both during the holidays and beyond? We’d love to hear some of the everyday celebrations, food-centered or not, that readers enjoy in their lives. Let us know by emailing abroyles@statesman.com.

I’m including two recipes here that remind me of food-related rituals I’ve had on and off in my life. This year seems like as good as any to reintroduce them.

Missouri Cookies

These are the most quintessential no-bake cookies, in my humble opinion — the perfect balance of peanut butter and cocoa, with all the chew of those oats. When we made them as kids growing up in Missouri, we just called them no-bake cookies, but Rachel Hollis, blogger behind TheChicSite.com and author of “Upscale Downhome: Family Recipes, All Gussied Up” (St. Martin’s Griffin, $19.99), knew them as Missouri cookies. No matter what they are called, they are easy enough for young cooks who know how to use a stove and tasty enough to snack on all week long.

— Addie Broyles

2 cups sugar

3 Tbsp. cocoa powder

1 stick butter

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

Pinch of salt

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large pot, mix the sugar, cocoa, butter and milk over medium-high heat. Stir until the butter is melted. Cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients until well combined.

Using a medium ice cream scoop or two spoons, portion out the cookie dough into even mounds on the prepared baking sheets. Allow to cool down to room temperature or in the fridge until set. Makes about 24 cookies.

—From “Upscale Downhome: Family Recipes, All Gussied Up” by Rachel Hollis (St. Martin’s Griffin, $19.99)

Hungarian Chicken Paprikash with Dumplings

This thick, brick-red stew with all its gorgeous chicken fragrance and flavor is something I dream about. I can’t go more than a couple of weeks without making it.

Paprika was one of those spices that I didn’t really know what to do with until I was well into my 30s. Before that time, I regarded paprika (also known as paprikash) as nothing more than an adornment to deviled eggs or maybe cream of potato soup — a contrasting color, not a flavor.

My ideas about paprikash changed when we lived in Europe. In the Czech Republic, I tasted authentic goulash for the first time and marveled at the rich, red stew with its comforting but not altogether familiar flavors. In Hungary, I became addicted to chicken paprikash; it’s the perfect balance of umami and pleasing sour notes from the sour cream.

Paprika imparts a fabulous, distinct flavor to both of these dishes. In the United States, paprika comes in three distinct types: sweet, hot and smoked. I keep a small tin of each in my spice cupboard and use them regularly. Make sure to use a fresh tin of paprika. Hungarian paprika is considered the most pungent.

— Jennifer Brulé

1 (3- to 4-lb.) chicken

2 celery stalks, trimmed and cut into quarters

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into quarters

8 cups chicken broth (homemade or store-bought)

For the dumplings:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt

For the stew:

2 cups crushed (unseasoned) tomatoes

2 Tbsp. sweet paprika

1 Tbsp. smoked paprika

1 tsp. kosher or sea salt

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sour cream

Remove the chicken from its packaging. If a bag of giblets and neck is inside the bird, take it out and discard it or freeze it for making gravy. Don’t rinse the bird; just snip off the trussing string from around the legs and the wings and place the chicken in a deep 8-quart pot, such as a stockpot or pasta pot.

Add the celery and onion to the pot and pour in the chicken broth, making sure that the chicken and vegetables are covered; if necessary, add enough water to cover them.

Cover the pot and set over medium-high heat. Bring the liquid just to a boil, then immediately turn the heat down to medium or medium-low and crack the lid of the pot. You want to keep the broth gently simmering, with constant bubbles but no vigorous bubbling. Simmer for 1 hour.

Remove the chicken from the pot and set it in a bowl to cool. Scoop out 1 cup of the broth and set it in the refrigerator to cool completely. Fish out the onions and celery with a slotted spoon and discard. Leave the broth in the pot at room temperature for up to 1 hour while you make the dumplings.

Once the broth in the refrigerator is cool, combine the flour and salt in a large bowl, then gradually add the broth, mixing with your hands. You may only need 3/4 cup of the broth, so don’t add it all at once. Add just enough broth to form a stiff dough.

Knead the dough in the bowl until relatively smooth (it will be somewhat dimply, not perfectly smooth). Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set aside.

Pull the chicken off the bones, discarding the bones and skin, and chop it or shred it by hand. Keep the meat in a large bowl in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Lightly flour a clean, dry surface. Place the dough on the floured surface and lightly flour the top of the dough. Flatten the dough into a disk shape, then roll the disk with a rolling pin, pressing down as you roll, until the dough is about the thickness of pie dough. Using either a pizza cutter or a table knife, cut the dough into 1-inch-wide strips, then cut each strip into 2-inch-long pieces.

Bring the broth in the pot to a strong simmer over medium-high heat. In a large bowl, combine the crushed tomatoes, paprikas, salt and flour, and stir until there are no lumps of flour. Pour this mixture into the simmering broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, and stir every few minutes. The stew should bubble but not boil. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes.

Add the dumplings, one at a time, to the simmering stew. Do not stir. Adjust the heat to keep the stew at a constant simmer (but don’t let it boil), and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes, or until the dumplings have expanded in size and are soft. Remove the stew from the heat and stir in the sour cream, followed by the shredded chicken. Serves 8.

— From “Learn to Cook 25 Southern Classics 3 Ways: Traditional, Contemporary, International” by Jennifer Brulé (University of North Carolina Press, $30)



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