Rx for modernity: Google the blog "5thjoy," 5thjoy.com. Read it everyday. In a short while your home will look like something from the pages of Elle Decor. You'll learn why you should love matcha tea. You'll understand the whole satisfaction of both procuring a treasure from the Goodwill Online Auction site, and knowing you're ethically re-using someone else's cast-off. You'll find new appreciation for girlfriends (if you're a woman), twirly dresses, straw clutches and a simple white bean and kale dinner.
From "found objects" to "objets d'Art," 5thjoy celebrates the art of unearthing brilliance just about anywhere. It says that life should never be without five joys: fashion, food, feathering the nest, flotsam, and writing, which Abby Cahill O'Brien, the blog's author, does very well. Oh, and when she's not improving our lives with eclectic blogging, Abby practices this 5th joy by writing fiction.
Here are more numbers on Abby Cahill O'Brien: She is 29, and No. 8 of nine children. She's been married almost three years, and recently exchanged a glamorous life in Manhattan for a glamorous life in Rockport, where she grew up, and where her mother and three of the nine Cahill siblings also call home. (Three other Cahill kids and their families are close enough to be included in Sunday night suppers.) Abby's husband still works in New York City four days a week, so for the days he's away, Abby gets to tinker almost endlessly, tracking down vintage loot on eBay, experimenting with interesting recipes, and hosting sleepovers for her sisters, enviously fun nights (read about one on 5thjoy) void of pizza — these ever-current girls have take-out lobster risotto, champagne, and hulu. We, the readers of the blog, are the lucky beneficiaries of all this experimentation with style.
Dark haired and small framed, Abby has saucer-size blue eyes that are all the better for spying essential good taste and plum ideas. Abby can spot a collection of porcelain cookware — its design inspired by 18th century hairstyles — and make the connection for us on her blog to the Picasso sketches she just saw at the Met. Reading that post was one of those startling moments of early-morning Internet browsing that makes me shake my head and smile, and sends me into my day enlightened.
Riddled with wit and pluck, the writing on 5thjoy keeps me from The New York Times most mornings. A good read about the best classic everyday glassware (Picardie Tumblers from Crate and Barrel) is, yes, maybe more relevant, and inspired, than one might think.
From what I gather, it's a Cahill art to know the secret nooks and crannies where life store's its best stuff, sometimes expensive, sometimes free. Some mothers might drop off a bargain they found at Marshalls on a daughter's doorstep; Abby's mother, as reported on 5thjoy, recently dropped off a sculpted hunk of driftwood she found on the beach, the exact chunk of botanica Abby had been wishing for to place beneath a glass cloche for a homemade lamp.
But this is a column about food, so let me count the culinary reasons 5thjoy succeeds in marrying swank to practical: No. 1. Roasted Halibut Puttanesca on Large Garlic Croutons. No. 2. Cleaning-out-the-Fridge Salad with Watercress & Prosciutto. No. 3. A post-yoga meal of English muffin, scraped with something called Bacon Marmalade (read about it on 5thjoy, then go buy some, now!), topped with thick-cut tomato, avocado and two perfectly poached eggs. No. 4. Lavendar Panna Cotta with poached rhubarb. No. 5. Tom Block's Smoked Tomato and Paprika Popcorn. No. 6. Roasted lamb chops with figs, curried quinoa, and kale citrus salad. No. 7. Kale Chips.
I could easily count to 40, but you can see how Abby is brilliant at culling the best of what's going on in the food world, bringing it back to her kitchen, giving it a go, probably trying her translation out on whichever relations are kicking about, until it's flexible and delicious enough to earn a spot on her blog.
The posts on 5thjoy resonate with food and affection, and clearly Abby's large family is close. The day I made a video with Abby, Maggie, one of the other four sisters, came by just to proudly watch her little sister guide me through the preparation of a tasteful, simple appetizer Abby first had in a Soho bar. The night before her brother-in-law had dropped off a dish of his famous meatballs, lest she forget to cook for herself.
But the center of the Cahill family is that mother, who dresses only in the crispest linen, the most perfectly draped shawl, the exactly French knotted scarf, her hair always smoothly pulled into a bun. She still prepares that Sunday dinner every week for children, spouses, and grandchildren, about 18, give or take a few (Chicken Marbella was on the menu last Sunday), and only recently passed on the responsibility for the Christmas Eve cassoulet, prepared from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," for 30 to 35 lucky Yule-tide guests, on to her daughters. It took Abby and her sister an entire week to prepare the dish their mother had made solo for years. But this is the message of the Cahlll family, and one which translates to the blog:
Sometimes good taste is laborious and costly, but there are moments when no short-cuts will do, and sometimes you just find it on the beach.
OK, here are the last numbers on Abby Cahill O'Brien and her blog: of the nine Cahill children there are five girls, and each of their middle names is "Joy." Yup, you guessed it, Abby is Joy No. 5.
Food for Thought runs weekly in the Times' Taste of the Times section and is written by Heather Atwood, an author and mother from Rockport. Questions and comments can be sent to Heather at email@example.com.
Pesto di Parma Prosciutto
This is the recipe Abby Cahill O'Brein adapted after tasting it in that bar, Il Gottino, in the West Village. Mixing prosciutto, sage, pine nuts and Parmesan into a spread, nothing could be simpler, not much more sublime; it's a study from the "driftwood" category of great style: free and found.
1. Put the following in your food processor: a half pound of prosciutto, scant quarter cup of crumbled Parmesan, eight sage leaves, a drizzle of olive oil, and a small handful of toasted pine nuts.
2. Pulse a few times until blended.
3. Spread on crostini and drizzle with more olive oil and your best balsamic vinegar. Alternately, use the spread to stuff hulled cherry tomatoes or top fresh figs or melon chunks.
4. If you have any left over, which is highly unlikely, toss it with whole wheat pasta, fresh tomatoes and roasted asparagus.