Posted on April 23, 2016
To say that my skin has endured a Brooklyn-style beat-down would be an understatement. I don’t know whether it’s Los Angeles, growing older, or the fact that my skin is becoming sensitive to everything (cue visuals of Julianne Moore in Safe prattling on about her totally toxic couch), but the past few months have taken a toll on me. During my Great Depression, a time when I ate a whole baguette slathered with butter, frozen “organic” enchiladas and halloumi cheese by the pound, I started to feel sick and then I noticed whiteheads setting up shop all over my forehead. One night I woke to burning raised hives, which covered 80% of my body, and I thought, fuck, not again. I went to a dermatologist who gave me a cortisone shot and prescriptions for steroid creams. The steroid cream triggered my second folliculitis outbreak, and I’ve been on antibiotics for weeks. Finally, the bumps have finally started to recede. And let’s not even discuss allergies so severe it sometimes became difficult for me to breathe.
All because my body reacted to what I was putting in it. Lately, I’ve become hyper-aware of the air I breathe, the food I eat, and the products I put on my skin and use in my home.
I loathe drugs. I only like taking medication if it serves to progress, rather than impede, function. And yes I know that the Felicia of 2001 would find that hilarious, and that’s okay because that Felicia used to subsist on Lean Cuisine and Starbucks and we’ve come a long way, baby. Now I take antidepressants because they’re necessary for me to focus and function. I take birth control pills because I’d rather not lock myself in a bathroom for three days every month. I used to take anti-anxiety medication because I have a crippling fear of flying (I’ve screamed during turbulence more times than I’d like to admit). Only recently did I stop taking Xanax because pills really don’t work when the plane starts shaking mid-flight. Nothing works, really, other than me curling in a ball, doing my deep breathing, and telling myself that turbulence is normal. Even when it feels like it’s anything but. Now I only take medication if it’s completely necessary.
Monsanto, aka Satan, does exist and it’s ubiquitous. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed not to find food tainted by Roundup or any of the litany of chemicals plaguing our soil in the name of greed and profit (here’s looking at you Koch brothers and shady politicians on both sides of the aisle). I work in marketing and I often joke that my profession boils down to throwing glitter over shit, and that statement couldn’t be more accurate when we’re talking about Big Food. Everyone lies. We know that the term “natural” is obtuse and meaningless, but it makes us feel good much like the cool sensation from toothpaste or the suds from shampoo–both giving the impression of cleanliness when they’re actually just marketing ploys satisfying human behavior. Years ago, I sat in on a case study on Fabreeze, a product that, when launched, was initially a complete failure. Only when marketers conducted at-home focus groups did they learn that people gained a certain level of satisfaction from using the product after they’ve cleaned their space–the product functioning as a kind of digestif. We’re learning that Big Organic is just as shady as conventional, and every day we’re greeted with the news that some food may or may not kill us. Fear drives traffic and lies sell products, so it’s no doubt that we sometimes walk into a supermarket, restaurant or farmer’s market either completely ignorant or violently skeptical.
I don’t even trust Whole Foods anymore, but what can I do? Move to my own private Walden and grow my own food? Drink water from my own well? Sure, if I had Angelina Jolie money, but I live in reality and in this world, I have a budget and a life that is filled with little compromises. Even then I’m acutely aware of my privilege–the fact that I’m now able to afford vegetables and farmer’s market meat, which are often considered frivolous expenditures in homes where people are barely making ends meet, and this financial fragility isn’t getting better anytime soon. And I don’t foresee the lies and big business surrounding food, GMOs, and farmer equities getting better in my lifetime. Until then, I try to buy as much locally-produced food as I could. I try to educate myself on what’s going on with labels and faulty manufacturers.
I would talk about how cutting out gluten and dairy again from my diet have eliminated my allergies and the hives on my skin, but that topic is polarizing. People levy this discussion with that of dieting or food restrictions and let me be the first to tell you that if I could return to a life of eating Sidecar huckleberry donuts, you damn well know I would. If I could put cheese on my fucking bean pasta you know I would. This isn’t about dieting, it’s about my body having an adverse reaction to certain foods. And even that argument is countered with “food sensitivity doesn’t exist” to which I respond, ten years ago doctors were prescribing women antidepressants when they described symptoms that eventually surfaced as celiac disease. In short, I don’t believe long-term scientific studies have caught up with the pace in which our diet, the environment, and our food supply have changed. But let’s not talk about gluten and dairy and say we did.
Living a healthy life is expensive and exhausting.
For the past six months, a few of my friends who are beauty writers were kind enough to supply me with everything from deodorant to toothpaste to facial cleanser because that stuff adds up. You walk into any target and CVS and you could easily spend $50 on items that keep you clean. The irony in this is that these products don’t really serve you regardless of the luxury packaging, the celebrity endorsements or the commercials with English or French voice-overs. Many of these prestige products (ah, the promise of increased efficacy) are manufactured using similar formulas and factories as the “cheap” products. And when I start reading the multi-syllabic list of ingredients, each product listing water as the first and most concentrated ingredient, it reminded me of the time I read an ice cream label and asked, what is guar gum?
What is this shite I’m putting in and on my body? But then again, we live in an age where people are comfortable injecting their faces with botulism. So there’s that.
With each paycheck, I’m slowly making product swap-outs. I’m buying products whose ingredients resemble words in the English language and they’re working. Some of them are shown in the snap above, although some of the products (Caudalie) are mass manufactured–they’re holders from my friends’ extreme generosity, for which I’m grateful. I’m stocking up on more vinegar because that will get out cat vomit in carpet far quicker than some newfangled $10.99 bleach cleaner.
This post started one way and ended differently. I don’t have the answers to the long, meandering post I’m sharing with you, but I’m doing the work of being more thoughtful about what I put on and in my body, what I use in my home, and the environment in which I surround myself. It’s expensive and exhausting to live a healthy life, to cut through the confusing and conflicting news articles. It’s hard finding out what’s true and what’s marketing copy. It’s hard not having the food you crave and want and having to deal with people who sometimes respond to health issues with swallowed laughter and sarcasm. It’s hard knowing things and not having the ability (or the knowledge) of what to do. What do you do when you can afford farmer’s market pork and then you read an article about people who know McDonald’s is unhealthy but what are their options? What do you do when politicians don’t really talk about food or climate change because there’s a host of other ills in our country, but all the way Big Food does little to benefit the economically disadvantaged. What are the small things you can do that allow you to use your privilege to benefit others?
I welcome your insight.
Posted on March 26, 2016
When it comes to my inbox, I feel like I’m waiting for Godot. I’ve three proposals out in the world, three exciting projects, and I’m hoping one of them lands before April. After seven months of anguish and anxiety, I’m ready for a little light. So I’m hopeful. I try to be productive during the day while I periodically hit “refresh”. I think about ways in which I can reframe my portfolio to account for storytelling that is both creative and data-driven. I’m considering launching a series of writing workshop or marketing classes via Coach (is this something that piques your interest? I’d love your feedback!) to supplement my project work. I’m reading, writing essays, and making healthy food I can afford.
It’s hard not to be a clock-watcher, to not stare at a date that looms and hope for that one yes. That one email in my inbox. Until then I press on. I keep going. I keep having hope.
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt + 1/2 tsp black pepper
3 lbs fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 carrots, washed and roughly chopped (don’t peel them!)
3 tbsp tomato paste
3/4 of 1 qt. low-sodium vegetable (or chicken) stock
1 cup basil
1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese
Note: I make my soup with buckwheat groats (terrible name, for sure, but I love that the groats thicken the soup and are gluten-free and super healthy). See how I cook them in this post.
In a large pot, on medium heat, saute the shallots in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and cook for an additional minute until the mixture is fragrant. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, carrots, and stir to coat. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes. Add in the basil. You can either use a food mill, blender, or immersion blender, but blitz until smooth. Pour the blended soup back to the pot, add the cheese (and cooked groats if you’re rolling with them), and simmer covered for an additional 10 minutes. Give it a taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot!
Note: if you like a little cream in your soup but don’t want to deal with dairy, you can use cashew cream! Four hours before you make the soup, rinse a cup of raw cashews and then soak them in a bowl. After four hours, add them to the soup when you’re about to blitz and voila, cream!
Posted on September 28, 2015
People ask me why I moved to Los Angeles. Why I tossed nearly all of my belongings and moved me and the cat out west. Everyone I love lived in a ten mile radius. All of my professional contacts were in the tri-state area, and I had a steady stream of projects. I spent most of my time in a huge rent-controlled apartment in a brownstone in Park Slope. Everything appeared good on paper. Everything was going according to plan.
The only way I can make sense of the past year is to say that I’d become allergic to my home. Space didn’t exist other than in the confines of my apartment. Everyone was loud and suffocating. Days would pass and I’d become exhausted with the idea of going into Manhattan. I was forever tired, depressed and anxious. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t write.
In Nicaragua I met a couple from Santa Barbara, and we bonded over our obsessive affection for our cats. At the time I planned a four-state adventure (remember?) My project was an expensive, logistical nightmare and I spent most of my time over thinking how I’d do it all. The couple listened politely, and as I was telling them of my plan I started to feel that it was kind of ridiculous. I’m someone who needs roots; I’m far from itinerant. At the end of my story, the husband said, I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to tell me the first word that comes to mind. Don’t think about it. Just speak. I nodded; I’d play along. If you could live anywhere in the states, where would you live? he asked. Don’t think.
I’ve been here for over a month and my only regret is that I haven’t moved sooner. I don’t yet have the privilege of perspective–that aerial view–however, the only thing I can say is that California feels right. Everything about being here feels right. Is it an adjustment? Absolutely. Do I miss my friends? So much it hurts. Am I nervous about paying the rent for my expensive apartment? EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. But I don’t regret it. And while I’m not yet at the place where I can give you a narrative, I’ll share my impressions. These aren’t truths; this is me acting like a tourist sketching the shape of things without understanding its true form. Think of it was an outline before it gets fat from fleshing.
1. FOOD: The best thing about childhood is the wonder. How you always have a first. How all the things that adults take for granted and invariably ruin, are beautiful and complete. While I knew the produce in California was superior, never did I anticipate that I would love eating more than I already do. I’d spend mornings at the farmer’s market in awe. Four variations of avocados, ripe peaches, mountain-reared apples, local chorizo, figs, guava, watermelon, plums, and a dizzying amount of herbs. And when I’m not at the farmer’s market, I’ve eaten lunches in places that make you excited about ordering a salad.
Because salad is an EVENT in Los Angeles.
This isn’t about a pile of sloppy greens on your plate. Oh, no. People take salad to a whole other place. I’ve had peaches, grilled chicken and local goat cheese dressed in a spicy cashew dressing. I’ve had things done to pork one wouldn’t think possible. Being here actually inspires you to eat healthy. And that’s not to say that I haven’t had my fair share of pizzas, tacos, and blueberry crumble bars–but there’s a real pride about the ingredients and everything tastes better. Eating gluten-free is easy here because restaurant menus are abundant with healthy and gluten-free options.
2. WATER: All conversations converge to water, the lack of it, how to conserve it, and how it tastes like wet coins shoveled into your mouth. Each tenant in my building has to pay for their individual water usage, so while I have a dishwasher and washer/dryer, know that I’m not just tossing in dirty items, willy-nilly. I have a shower filter and a water filter, because there’s no way I’m drinking out of the tap. And I’ve booked an appointment with a dermatologist next week because the water and my skin are in an acrimonious relationship. While the breakouts on my face have improved somewhat, I’ve scattered bumps on my chest, back and shoulders that aren’t going away.
Also, it never rains. The one night it did pour, my building’s fire alarms blared at 3:30AM, and people were more fascinated by the fact that it was raining than the idea that we’d be engulfed in flames. My neighbors’ reactions were much like this. In Los Angeles, you know the date it rains because it never does. Rain is also an event.
3. NEIGHBORS: THEY EXIST. AND THEY SPEAK TO YOU. Actually, everyone speaks to you here. Let me give you context. In all the years I lived in New York I only knew my neighbors by calling the cops on them or complaining about them. No, it’s not okay to have a threesome while blasting Britney’s “One More Time” on a Tuesday night when I have to be at work the next day. No, it’s not cool to have your dealer pound on my door when he mistakes my apartment for yours. No, it’s not normal to beat your front door with a snow shovel in the middle of July because you’re wasted and your husband’s frightened of you when you go off your meds. The last time I felt any semblance of community was when I was small, living in Brooklyn. Back then it was everyone’s business to know everyone else’s business. We traded stories on stoops and messed around with tire swings in the park or treaded water in the pool in Sunset Park.
Maybe I had the wrong neighbors or maybe I was a shut-in? Who knows. What I do know is that it’s normal in Los Angeles for people to ask about your day and genuinely care about it.
My next door neighbor just moved from Union Square, and sometimes we’ll catch one another on the stairwell and talk about Los Angeles as if we were gathering our findings and comparing notes. We actually lowered our voices and said, people talk to you here, and realized how asinine that sounded as soon as we said it.
4. THE CAR SITUATION: What it relief it was to toss my Metrocard. You can’t even understand how I don’t miss the MTA, LIRR, and NJT. I do not miss Showtime! Showtime! I do not miss being screamed at because my soul has yet to be saved. I do not miss stories about rats and pizzas and men telling me I’m beautiful. Smile, baby. I so much wanted to reply with Cry, baby. I do not miss the collective rage blackout that is the morning commute.
In Los Angeles, most people drive. I do not, which makes sidewalks blissful. I can walk around without having people book a one-way ticket to my sternum. My friends are awed by the fact that I walk four miles to Brentwood or two miles to Venice. For me, anything under five miles is walkable. The buses are pretty amazing and reliable, and I can take cabs for long-distance rides. While I’m still adjusting to life here, I can’t bear the thought of taking driving lessons, and I’m in no financial shape to buy a car, deal with insurance, gas, parking, and the inevitable accidents that will ensue. Most of my friends live in, or near, the Westside, so I’ve been managing well. It’s also amazing that I’m able to supermarkets, fitness classes, and the beach are in walking distance.
When I can afford it, I will invest in a car because there’s so much to see. California offers the desert, mountains, and beaches, and I want to explore them all. I love the idea of being alone in a car and driving to Joshua Tree. I love the idea of being alone, in a car.
5. MY TRIBE: I’ve read countless articles on the dangers of technology. You’ll be distracted; technology kills conversation and empathy, however, I’m finding a need to rely on technology to connect with those whom I miss and love. I use Facetime, Skype, email, social media and the good old phone to keep up with the relationships one can easily take for granted if geography isn’t an issue. Geography, and the distance between myself, and everyone I love is real, constant.
I miss my friends, and the ease in which I get to see them.
I knew that moving here would be tough. I would have to rebuild my life, establish professional contacts, and make new friends. Logically, I knew all of this and I expected to feel as I do now, but knowing doesn’t make discomfort any easier to bear. It’s hard for me to reach out to strangers and arrange friend dates (fear of rejection), and meeting them (!!!) presents a whole new set of anxieties. I tend to talk too much when I’m nervous. After meeting up with a new friend (I met this lovely women by way of introduction from a mutual friend) and her two sweet dogs for coffee, I text’d the friend who’d introduced us, writing: I really liked her. I hope she doesn’t think I’m…crazy. I’m reconnecting with old friends who I haven’t seen in years and it’s almost as if I’m forging new ground. Yes, we know one another, but we knew previous versions of ourselves so the getting-to-know-you phases is as pronounced in these scenarios because I don’t have the privilege of a clean slate.
And for the first time in nearly a decade, I missed have an artistic tribe. I used to be deep in the book publishing scene in New York and I…hated it. Nearly every minute of it. For a number of reasons I won’t go into. Suffice it to say it’s taken me a while to even consider the possibility of surrounding myself with fellow artists, attend readings and be part of something. After posting questions on a few closed forums on Facebook, I found what I wanted didn’t exist. I was blue for a couple of weeks and then I decided to create that which didn’t exist.
I posted a long call on several local Facebook groups populated by women creatives and artists. Similar to a salon I once co-hosted in New York (which gave me more stress than joy), I offered up my home as a meeting place for a small group of like-minded women who wanted to talk shop, collaborate, or just make new friends. What binds us is our art, our verve, and our drive to build. I was shocked about the overwhelming response, and a friend emailed me and said that Los Angeles is aching for more meet-ups that I’m trying to cultivate–we’re all so spread out!
I’ve been visiting Los Angeles since I was 17 and only now did I realize the geography. When it took me two hours to get home from Silverlake by bus did I understand that L.A. is MASSIVE. No wonder people crave connections–we’re all so far away!
I’m also flying to Seattle ($150 airfare!) for LitCrawl in late October–something, candidly, I would never have done had I still lived in New York. However, I’m staying with a fellow writer friend who has pets and lives far away from where the action is, and I see this as a good thing. I’m excited to see Sarah Hepola talk and a host of other writers read.
Luckily, I enjoy my company and don’t need many friends in my life, but I’m reminding myself that this work, these friend dates, this crippling anxiety–all of this is necessary.
Professional contacts….working on that.
6. THE LANDSCAPE: It’s incredible how a shift in geography will change everything. I’ve a whole new vocabulary to learn, a landscape to navigate. Plants that don’t grow in the East, tectonic plates that keep shifting, land that constantly rearranges itself. Even though I’ve traveled to Los Angeles on and off for twenty years, there’s nothing like setting roots here. My novel takes place in New York, Nevada and California, and much of the book relied on my impressions of the West coupled with research. Last week an idea crystallized for the third book, and I’m excited because it’ll take place in California during the 1920s and present day. This means more land to navigate, more to learn, more to feel.
My friend Pedro once told me that in order to learn a new language you have to think in the language. He’s fluent in five languages so you know I paid him the strictest attention. You can’t translate from the English, he said. You have to think, yo quiero ir… instead of I want to go… in the Spanish. Thinking in another language makes it intuitive; you feel the words as you’re saying them instead of relying on your brain to decode and translate. I feel that way about being in California. Until now I’ve been translating (and I’m still looking at this place through the lens of New York), and it’ll take me time to naturally interpret and speak the landscape so it feels visceral, real.
As you know I’ve a taste for the macabre, and the fact that my new novel centers around the appraising and selling of “touched” property (think cults, gruesome murders, suicides, the occult), I’m oddly excited to learn the language of construction, to see these houses and understand their architecture. There is so much history here, and I’m hungry to learn it.
7. FELIX UPDATE: In Los Angeles, there is no cowering from the light. In New York, buildings shielded me from the sun, but the light here is clean and abundant. So much so that it’s made my special guy content. I was worried how he’d adjust, and although he initially had a hard time without furniture (translation: boredom), he’s now content. Most days he stares out my many windows, battles with the washing machine and garbage disposal and longs to go out on my deck (not happening, mister). Much of his time is spent lazing in various columns of light that stream into my apartment. He’s so comfortable I wonder if I can send him out on my friend dates in my stead. He’d make for better company, clearly.
There’s so much more and I know I’m missing it, but these broad strokes are all I’m able to share at the moment. I can only imagine what it will feel like in a year’s time looking at this post with the advantage of perspective.
Posted on September 9, 2015
I’ll never again take lying in a bed for granted. We slept the sleep of children last night–me curled up next to Felix. I love Santa Monica because the skies are perennially pink come nightfall, and the air is cool and crisp. I’m near the ocean and I sleep with my windows open, which is a luxury, really, because not too long ago I was enduring relentless heat and humidity. I lived in a home where false cold air blew in.
My furniture finally arrived yesterday (it’s been a month in the making), and I spent five hours cutting up boxes and unpacking. 39 of the 49 boxes contained books, and I’m still sore from moving them around my apartment, trying to make room for all that I’ve collected over the years. A friend sent me a note last night, asked if I’d seen the sky. She was driving home from Marina Del Rey and caught sight of it. I paused and walked downstairs and saw the sun settle into the horizon, and there was a kind of purple haze to it, a cool fire, and I felt the word home.
I fell into bed around 8:30pm, aching, exhausted–hands all cut up and bleeding–but happy that everything I love occupies this space. I don’t have my couch yet, but you can sort of tell from the mess below it’s coming together. Slowly, but surely.
I’ve been on work calls since seven this morning, and I finally had some time this afternoon to bake. I bought three pints of fresh strawberries for $7 and couldn’t wait to make a crisp.
Odd thing is, I wasn’t excited about photographing this. I brought the plates, napkins, and marble slab out onto the deck and it felt…false. I can’t explain it. I brought everything back in and set the dishes on the counter and took photos with my phone. I guess it felt more real to me–a first home-cooked meal in a new house. It felt like, okay, this is it.
I live in California.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, with modifications
1 pound hulled strawberries, cut into halves and quarters
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic cane sugar sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup almond flour
1 cup gluten-free steel-cut oats
5 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut into cubes (I found goat butter in my local market and it is INSANELY good)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Put the strawberries into an ovenproof dish (a pie pan is a good size) with the 2 tablespoons of sugar, orange zest and almond extract.
Mix the almond flour, oats, and the rest of the sugar in a bowl.
Break the butter into little chunks and add it to the bowl or pour in the coconut oil and then use your fingers to rub the mixture together, lifting them out of the bowl to get some air into the crisp topping. Once the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs and there are no big lumps of butter, you’re golden. I used an old fashioned pastry cutter.
Pile the mixture on top of the strawberries and bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes, until the top is golden and the strawberries have shrunk and started to caramelize around the edges.
Posted on October 6, 2012
Posted on September 28, 2012
Believe me when I say that Thursday is the time to be in Aix en Provence. I woke early to the waft of fresh baguettes from the local boulangerie and men unstacking crates of legumes, and within moments found myself dressed and in the town center. The grand markets (grands marches) take place on Thursdays, and have a way of adding color and conversation to this small town. First, I passed the busy vintage/antiques section (not my scene) on Place de Prêcheurs, and then made my way to the town square to fawn over the food and flora.
You will never witness produce so fresh and their position in their crates so planned, so articulated. There are no errant fruit or tomatoes rolling on the ground, rather you’ll find cartons of arranged pregnant figs, haricot verts, and the dark leafy greens of mesclun and arugula. Fruits and vegetables are arranged in a tableaux of sorts, and one can appreciate the care and dedication it takes to “style” their wares so people want to pause, peruse and purchase. Rows of soaps, lavender sachets, and sacks of spices will leave you decorating your home and planning your menu, immediately.
I’m spoiled in the sense that I live in New York — home to so many green markets — that one would think I would be non-plussed in France. Not the case. From the fresh herbs and charcuterie to the rotisserie chicken and roast potatoes, I wanted to toss my croissant in the bin and start over!
Then I headed toward Hôtel de ville, where, for a few hours each Thursday, the square is transformed into a veritable Impressionistic painting. Although it is technically autumn, you won’t find the abundance and varieties one would encounter in more temperate months, but the market doesn’t disappoint. Who wouldn’t want to decorate their home with burnt hydrangeas, a spray of roses and towering sunflowers?
For a full market itinerary in Aix en Provence, click here.
Posted on July 24, 2012
I almost feel dirty posting this since I’m presently at O’Hare airport chowing down on a bacon hamburger (sans cheese!) and fries. However, this delicious, seasonal salad reminds me of my commitment to local food and enjoying in-season produce. Last weekend I visited the Farmer’s Market and nearly fell over at the abundance of purple basil, Tuscan kale and heaps and heaps of pea shoots. For $20 I scored loads of fresh veggies — so much so that I’m hauling in seven pounds of kale to share with my office mates. Talk about PAYING IT FORWARD.
Anyway, this salad was what was necessary on a hot day. Cool sweet fruits juxtaposed with bitter greens and tender pea shoots. You’ll love the tastes and textures of this complex salad that literally takes minutes to make!
2 cups mixed kale (Tuscan/curly)
1/4 cup pea shoots
1/4 cup packed basil
1 nectarine, sliced in chunks
1/2 cup strawberries, sliced
2 tsp fresh lime juice (don’t you even think about buying that lime in a bottle nonsense!)
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp pistachio oil
Salt/pepper to taste
DIRECTIONS: Whisk the lime juice, honey, oil, salt/pepper and coat the salad generously.