life lately: pups, smoothies, and lots of work

puppies!

I was once part of a turtle rescue in Prospect Park. It was a Friday and I walked the length of the park when I encountered a large turtle crossing the bike pathway, making its way to the street. Right before the encounter, I saw a man shove another turtle in a bag and I shouted at him as he walked out of the park. All of this was odd–the man in a cloth hat, a random turtle in Brooklyn–and I paused, unsure of what to do. As luck would have it, a woman riding her bike stopped and told me that she’d just a job at an animal reserve, and we stood as she tried calling her boss to find out what we should do with said turtle. For an hour, we guarded the creature amidst catcalls from boys on bikes and strange looks from passersby. Finally, the woman got through to her boss and promised she would foster the turtle for the night until proper arrangements could be made. The woman and I exchanged numbers and she walked, turtle in tow, back to her Coney Island apartment.

I followed up with the woman on the bike and she sent me photos of the turtle at the reserve. Safe. Seemingly happy.

I love animals, irrationally so. My pop and I used to joke that we preferred animals over people because animals don’t know artifice–they’re primal in their wants and honest about their affection. I’ve always had a pet, cats mostly, and I regarded every one of them as part of my family. Long-time readers know how devasted I was when I lost my Sophie in 2013. Even though she paw-swatted, hissed and had her way with my carbs, I adored her. At the time, I couldn’t fathom having another pet, and then I met Felix, my sweet boy, and I often joke that he’s a dog in a catsuit. Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting him a companion. The shelter, from where I adopted Felix, warned me not to get another cat because Felix experienced early trauma in a multi-cat household and became an alpha feline. I couldn’t imagine Felix hurting anyone (he doesn’t even hiss!) until a dog entered our home (long story), frantic, and Felix made sounds I never conceived he could make. Recently, I’ve been talking to local shelters and animal behaviorists, and it is possible to introduce a new pet, but the integration would have to be mindful, slow and it’ll require a great deal of my time. I’m saving $ for a money to a small home where I could have a little yard so that Felix would roll around in the grass (#goals, etc), and I’ve been thinking about adopting a young dog.

So when my friend Alexis text’d me with a photo of a puppy pile and a message that she was fostering 7 pups and one mom until Sunday, I replied back, inviting myself over. Alexis is this incredible human, and she’s been working with Social Tees NYC, an animal rescue, to foster dogs–even from Los Angeles! If you’re one of my unlucky followers on Instagram or Snapchat (I’m @felsull!), I spammed you with an endless stream of puppy videos, because when you’re with cuteness for three hours you tend to cuddle with one hand and snap photos with the other.  I actually fell for the mother, a pup with fox ears and a mean little strut, and I told Alexis that I would be interested in adopting her when she’s ready to be weened from her pups in three months time. And even if I don’t get this pup, at least I’ll have time to research how to acclimate Felix with a new friend without him going on rein of terror. (Any thoughts/advice are welcome)

I’m still baffled that these pups were in a kill shelter. They’re so sweet and beautiful and if you don’t fall in love after feeling their small hearts beat in your hand, you’re the worst kind of animal.

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I arrived in California, fit and healthy, and over the course of seven months, all of my hard work from the past year went asunder. I ate baguettes slathered in butter. I ordered personal pizzas on the regular. Cheese became my primary food group. A bottle of wine a day was par for the course. And then I went into therapy, got on meds, regained my sanity, got off the sauce, re-entered the world, scored two amazing projects, and decided to get my health back on track. After enduring a skin blitzkrieg (raised burning hives, anyone?) and a skin reaction that followed as a result of the medication to alleviate the hives, I made some rapid changes in my diet and life. I nixed gluten and dairy from my life (although I do have small amounts of cheese a week), I resumed blitzing my morning protein smoothie, replaced all my household cleaning products and skin products with ingredients I could read. Greens resumed their role as the headliner rather than the backup dancer on my plate, and I’ve returned to my meditation and exercise practices. Again, this is not about being skinny or depriving myself of food, this is about making it to 90 (isn’t this woman INCREDIBLE?) and still be spunky and aware, and have the ability to punch people in the face if I needed to. So I’m returning to healthy eats and I’ll be sharing recipes on this space.

Want this yum recipe? Get it here.

blueberry smoothie
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cookbooks worth coveting: a roundup

cookbooks

I own a lot of cookbooks–so much so that before I moved to Los Angeles I had a massive purge because books are HEAVY and expensive to cart across the country. Many of my books were acquired in 2002 when I started making things as a means to occupy my hands. At the time, I was recovering from one of many addictions and I needed to create something from nothing instead of pillaging everything in my wake. My first cookbook was Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, where I learned how to make simple cakes and loaves. My experiences boiled down to a lot of trials, but mostly error, and let’s not talk about the time I used confectioner’s sugar instead of granulated in a cheesecake and say we did. Ina, Martha, Tyler, Giada–as my prowess grew so did my library. For nearly a decade, I identified myself as a baker of towering cakes and flaky pastries until a few years ago when a sickness ravaged my body and I had to gut renovate my diet.

That’s when the exploration really began.

My diet was paleo with grains, gluten-free vegan with meat–essentially, there was a hodgepodge of foods I could eat and a lot I couldn’t. My mainstays–pasta, paninis, muffins, and croissants had to be replaced with almond milk, nut creams, cauliflower and copious amounts of legumes and vegetables. The adjustment was a difficult one, and I purchased many cookbooks that inevitably gathered dust. I had to replace sugar and carbs with good fats and flavor, and it took me a while to regard my new batch of books without skepticism.

After last week’s burning hive assault (and my closing on a new project), I found myself returning to the cookbooks I’d briefly abandoned because over the past six months I’d slowly become addicted to cheese and yogurt and now those foods are verboten. Back to the drawing board, as it were.

Cookbooks these days are REALLY hit or miss. Many are published without the rigor of recipe testing or basic copyediting. Faulty measurements, obscure ingredients, and a bland finale often had me wanting to hurl my books out of the closest open window. Believe me when I say that these books are the BUSINESS.

The Paleo Kitchen: The only reason this fine book wasn’t included in the photo above is because I took the picture at 6:30am and I didn’t realize it wasn’t included until I started writing this post. Let me tell you, Juli Bauer’s book had me changed on the uber-trendy paleo lifestyle simply because the recipes are GOOD. The recipes are pretty easy to make (except for a cinnamon bun recipe that was lackluster), and most of the ingredients are probably in your pantry or easily accessible at your local market. Some of my favorites are the: sundried tomato sweet potato hash, sweet plantain guacamole, sage & shallot soup, pumpkin tomato soup, rosemary sundried tomato meatballs (WHOA), spaghetti squash chicken fritters (my top pick of the lot). I’ve made 70% of the recipes in The Paleo Kitchen and I was so pleased I purchased Bauer’s follow-up book, Paleo Cookbook.

The Oh She Glows Cookbook: After the purge of 2015, I now have about 50 cookbooks, and this one is in the top five. I LOVE THIS BOOK. As a proud carnivore, I’ve given a lot of vegan books the side-eye because I’m not a fan of faux meats or the idea that meat can be recreated, however, Liddon developed the most imaginative, tasty recipes. From her, I learned about using tofu and avocado in smoothies, desserts, and as a substitute for cream. I still think about my creamy avocado basil pesto pasta and faux vodka sauce made with cashew cream (so surprisingly good!). I made crave-worthy veggie burgers and a slew of soups, salads and main courses that won over the most discerning palates.

A Modern Way to Eat // At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Perhaps it’s the design of the books or the photography, but I use these two clean-eating tomes interchangeably and often. A Modern Way delivers wholesome, flavorful vegetarian recipes including green fritters (LOVED these), the perfect chili, squash tarts, pizza, hummus a million ways, chickpea and veg stews and some of the tastier desserts I’ve encountered. Judging by the markings in At Home in the Whole Food, I use this book a bit more. This is the book on which I relied to build and outfit a whole food pantry. Grains and legumes are discussed in excruciating detail, and I came away with a great deal of knowledge about the food I was about to consume (as well as the corresponding health benefits). From the simple red lentil soup and blackberry cornmeal muffins to the best cherry coconut granola you’ll ever make–the recipes are filling, complex and delightful. I’m loath to use the word marvelous, but you’ll feel a sense of wonder paging through the book. I’ve made over 50% of the recipes in this book and I’ve yet to encounter a flop.

Cravings: FML with this book. Of course, this book came into my life the very week I had to stop consuming dairy. Many of the recipes contain cheese and you will weep salty dairy tears. I wouldn’t dare say that this book is healthy by any stretch of the imagination, but the recipes are drool-worthy. You will want to make all the food and lick all the plates. I’ve made four dishes out of the book pretty successfully, and I’m trying to devise ways to manipulate the recipes for my palate. I’ve found that nuts + nutritional yeast + seasonings evoke the flavor of spicier cheeses even if I know in my heart that the alternative pales in comparison to the original. I’m having a dinner party this week and I’m making the brussels sprout + kale salads as well as the eggplant baked ziti with mozzarella bombs. I plan on staring at my friends while they feast on fried eggplant and cheese while I toss around dairy-free pesto pasta on my plate. SOB.

Kitchen Stories: My friend Denise Hung, culinary pro and astute coffee connoisseur, is one-half of the genius duo who authored this great book. I met Denise while I was in Singapore last year and it was heart-at-first-sight. The book centers recipes around certain moods and emotional states, and although you’ll have to master the metric system (there exists no U.S. version of this book), the simple and delectable recipes are worth the stretch.

recipe: pasta with chicken + chive/parsley pesto

gluten-free pasta with chicken and chive/parsley pesto

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a recipe around these parts. In all candor, keeping up a food blog is pretty expensive and my meals as of late have been about what can be repurposed or stretched and what I can afford. I love this dish because it gives me four filling meals (especially with the lentil pasta), there’s an ocean of green on the plate and it’s delicious. Luckily, I live by a farmer’s market where the produce is inexpensive (the herbs were $1.50 each for a huge bunch!) and fresh.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups parsley, chopped
1 cup chives, chopped
1/2 cup pistachios
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 lb chicken breasts chopped into 1/2 inch cubes/strips
1 lb gluten-free pasta (or you can use this delicious lentil pasta)
Optional: 1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese

DIRECTIONS
In a blender (or food processor), blitz the first seven ingredients until smooth and creamy. Set aside.

Cook the pasta per the directions on your box, removing a minute early so the noodles are al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water–you’ll need this to make the sauce super creamy.

In a large non-stick skillet, add 1/2-1 tbsp olive oil, the chicken, salt, and pepper and saute until brown, 5-6 minutes.

Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the skillet along with the pesto. Mix until the chicken and noodles are complete combined. Add the reserved pasta water. Finish off with cheese, if that’s your bag. Enjoy!

chorizo-spiced squash soup

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The first movie I remember seeing as a child was The Shining, on a weekend when the rain came down persistent and in sheets. I didn’t understand what I was seeing, only that it was arresting, and that there was so much red all over the screen. I didn’t cover my eyes through the scary parts (or so I was told), rather I sat mute, transfixed, curious. Often I joke about how good I turned out, considering. But it occurs to me that I’m rarely able to stomach movies that people find popular. I slept through E.T., refused to see Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and anything that remotely resembled action, comedy or romance sent me fleeing in the opposite direction. I made exceptions for John Hughes movies, and anything involving Corey Haim, Robert Downey Jr., or Andrew McCarthy because who could refuse stories of teenaged angst, alienation, and rejection, or the current guys sprawled across the glossy covers of Teen Machine and The Big Bopper? I grew up without cable TV (too expensive, too frivolous), and by the time I got to college, there was so much vocabulary from contemporary entertainment I’d been missing.

Instead of quoting lines from Beavis & Butthead and Bill & Ted, I read books and watched movies that had been edited for television. I used whatever money I had to rent horror movies from video stores and when I wasn’t watching somebody getting mauled, I read from one of the many books I borrowed from the library. As I grew older I became interested in art (painting, illustrations, comics, sculpture), history, languages, and philosophy, and less interested in pop culture. Admittedly, this can make dinner conversations awkward because I haven’t seen the latest movie or streamed the latest “IT” show. So while everyone this weekend was prattling on about Star Wars (I’m sure it’s good, I’m just not interested), that Tina Fey/Amy Poehler movie (I don’t always find them funny), and another movie about white bros in finance, explaining finance (why bother, as I can just reply the three years I worked in banking?)–I discovered Queen of Earth.

I’ve already watched the film three times (it’s on Netflix streaming). At the foreground, we’re witnessing, to a claustrophobic degree, the psychological unraveling of Catherine (played brilliantly by Elisabeth Moss) after the loss of her two greatest co-dependent relationships: her artist father to suicide and her boyfriend to his freedom. Catherine spends the week in “exile” at her best friend Virginia’s summer home (Katherine Waterston’s quiet, chilling performance is a terrific foil for Moss’s downright feral unwinding), and we learn that only the ones we love truly have the capacity to damage us. While we observe Catherine’s fragile emotional state, we’re reminded, via flashback, to the previous summer, where the tables were turned and Catherine was a lesser friend to the suffering Ginny.

Everything about Queen of Earth awed me–from the smart writing to the performances and the haunting score, to its depiction of mental illness (the unbearable silences and suffocation of depression), and the terror one feels when friends are no longer a refuge. The feelings of confinement and loss struck me, and I’m finally, slowly, writing something new again. Though part of me wonders when I’ll feel “normal” again.

So this is me, making soup, writing stories, watching dark movies. Just like childhood only with a few more years tacked on for good measure.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Year of Cozy, with modifications.
1 acorn squash (2 1/2 pounds), halved, seeds scooped out*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15oz canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon salt + additional, to taste
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
Teeny pinch of ground cloves
3½ cups chicken stock
Juice from ½ lemon

*I opted to use 2 lbs of cubed butternut squash + 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper and I roasted the squash for 40 minutes. It made for less mess and easy cleanup, and the soup was delicious.

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SOUP TOPPING (optional, modified based on what I had on hand)
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon ancho chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of ground coriander
Salt
3 tablespoons crème fraîche (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the squash, cut sides down, on the baking sheet and roast for about 30-40 minutes, or until mostly tender. Scoop the flesh into a small bowl if you’re working with the acorn squash. If you went the pre-cut butternut squash route, set the baking sheet aside. There might be some bits of the squash that aren’t completely cooked–not to worry, the rest will cook in the pot with the broth.

In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, cooked squash, pumpkin, chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt, oregano, cumin, coriander, and cloves. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the spices are fragrant.

Add the stock and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the squash is completely softened. Using an immersion blender, pulse until smooth, about 30 seconds. (If you don’t own one, just transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender. Add salt/pepper to taste.

To make the soup topping: In a small skillet over medium heat, add the seeds, oil, chile powder, cumin, coriander, and a pinch of salt. Toss to combine and toast for about 2 minutes.

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kale, brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad

kale brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad

You can’t imagine how wonderful it feels to make healthy food after The Epic Sadness Q4 2015 (sometimes I need a little humor to shine a light in the darkest of situations). For weeks, I stared into an anemic refrigerator, unable to cook or bake with very rare exceptions. Instead, I ordered out and made recipes that required me only boil water. And for those who’ve been following my journey to eat mindfully, know that what you put in your body directly contributes to your emotional and physical well-being. So in an effort to turn the beat around, I made (and reserved the leftovers) a pound of chicken cutlets to accompany all sorts of recipes. My favorite dish is chicken cutlets breaded in almond meal and fried in a butter/oil mixture, topped with fresh cheese. I usually pair this with an arugula salad because I love the buttery chicken juxtaposed with the sharpness from the bitter greens. In a former life, I’d dump the chicken over pasta or macaroni and cheese (!!!) but I want to feel energized after every meal instead of falling into a catatonic state. A heaping serving spoon (or three) of pasta will do this to you.

This morning I woke early and decided to make a simple salad. If you would’ve asked me a year ago if brussels sprouts would be part of my salad repertoire, I would’ve accused you of smoking crack. I used to LOATHE the brussels sprouts, however, I think the taste is predicated on how you cook (or don’t cook) the vegetable. Now I love sprouts charred and roasted, topped with a little maple syrup, or served raw when it’s shredded and dressed in oil.

Know that I’m typing this forking salad into my mouth. Enjoy!

 

INGREDIENTS
For the salad
1lb brussels sprouts
3/4lb Lacinato kale
1/2 pomegranate seeds removed
Optional: 1 avocado, skin removed and roughly chopped

For the lemon mustard dressing
1 large shallot, roughly chopped
1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey (or you can use 1/2 tbsp maple syrup)
Zest + juice of 2 small lemons
1/2 cup macadamia nut oil or olive oil
Salt/pepper to season

DIRECTIONS
First, make the dressing. Place the shallot, garlic, mustard, honey (or syrup), zest and juice into a small bowl. Mix until combined. [Here’s a captain obvious method for not getting seeds into your dressing: squeeze your lemon over a strainer.] Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify the mixture. Essentially, your dressing should be creamy and pale blonde in color. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Honestly, the hardest part of making this salad is shredding the sprouts. Don’t use a box grater–I tried that and made a mess all over my counter. Instead, remove the outer skin layer and chop off the stems. Using a sharp knife, slice the sprouts thinly. Pull them apart and the look will resemble confetti. Add the shredded sprouts to a large bowl. Once you’re done, chiffon the kale and add them to the bowl of sprouts. Slice a pomegranate and remove the seeds. Mix in the pomegranate seeds, add the dressing and stir until all of the leaves are coated. I like to set this aside for 20 minutes so the flavors really come out. Chow down immediately after.

I had this salad with some leftover chicken.

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kale brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad
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orange + olive oil cake

cake

 

Note to self: don’t drink fancy local trade coffee at 8pm and binge-watch Jessica Jones. You’ll stay up until four in the morning, flipping through episodes on Netflix while reading through Pank, comforted there are others who write strange, miraculous fiction.

I’ve just finished a draft of an exciting new project. I’ve got the words down but the visual and multimedia aspects aren’t quite there–essentially this is text with customized/commissioned illustrations and images, not the full spectrum I’m trying to achieve. I’ve published a few pieces here, which you can read at your leisure. Part of me wrestles with the joy this project has brought me and the desire for people to read my work–it’s not a new struggle by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to prioritize lasting and fleeting joys. The deep joy is in the creation, collaboration and assembly. The fleeting is in the work’s reception. I have to remind myself, daily, that the success of what I do is not predicated on the velocity of its online movement or perception. If I tether myself to the applause I also have to accept the jeers. I also have to remind myself that I’m playing in a space where inbalance still exists, where women are perceived as good if they’re writing toward white men. I have to wonder if my work will be harder to push into the world because I’m not popular, I don’t have a writerly tribe, I’m not part of the elite, I’m not purely white, and male. But on I go, you know?

The story of my life is wanting what I cannot have or, perhaps, wanting what I dare not allow myself to have. —Roxane Gay

I started seeing a psychiatrist this week (I don’t plan to go into any detail here other than to say I’m focusing on getting well), and he asked me what I wanted from our work. I said two things: not to feel this way, and, more importantly, not to use the words love and loss interchangeably. To return to the things that bring my joy (baking, cooking, photography). Last night, I spent hours on Stocksy (check out my friend Lauren’s work–isn’t she marvelous?!) and I marveled over the talent of teenagers in Slovenia and women in Nebraska. How they have the ability to make you see by the photos they take with a lens. That’s what an artist does–makes you see how they interpret the world, and I wish I had the ability to move through image and type seamlessly. Perhaps because it’ll make this project I’m working on easier. If I could just do it on my own.

I suppose that’s my view on most things–why can’t I just do it by myself, alone?

This morning I baked a bundt cake, trying slowly to return. I curled up next to my cat, existing between the space between sleeping and waking, the space between loving to bake and making myself do it to feel. So that I could see.

 

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s Baked Explorations
3 cups gluten-free flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups organic cane sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
freshly grated zest of 2 oranges
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted for dusting

 

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter and flour a 1o-inch bundt pan

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks until they are pale and light; slowly pour in the sugar until it is completely incorporated. Add the yogurt and olive oil and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the orange zest and vanilla, and mix until just incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in two parts, beating after each addition or until just combined (this will take about 10 seconds). Scrape down the bowl and beat again for 5 seconds.

In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Scoop 1 cup of the egg whites into the batter. use a rubber spatula to gently fold them in. After about 30 seconds of folding, add the remaining egg whites and gently fold until they are almost completely combined. Do not rush the folding process.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, or until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan (I sometimes use and offset spatula for this) and turn it onto the rack. Just before Serving, dust the cake with the confestions sugar. The cake can be stored at room temperature, covered tightly for about 3 days.

the simplest + sweetest strawberry crisp

Strawberry crisp

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.

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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)

Strawberry crisp

DIRECTIONS
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.

Strawberry crisp

blueberry mango coconut smoothie

Blueberry mango coconut smoothie

What a weekend. Actually, I’m glad it’s over, and I never thought I’d say those words aloud. On Sunday, I discovered this print via an online friend and I bought it, immediately. If I could mark these words along my body, I would, because sometimes I need to be reminded of the obvious. Ignore the expletives, which only serve as shock value (although in this day and age fuck seems less profane and more commonplace), for the advice is spare and honest.

This weekend, I learned that an old friend ushered in a new life, and while I’m happy for her this happiness is imbued with a certain kind of sadness. The kind of sadness where you’re nostalgic about the friendship you used to have, the people you used to be, even if you realize both have no a place in the life you’re living now. Sometimes you think of this friendship as if it were a postcard and it hurts to remember all the strained, uncomfortable silences that punctuated between the lines. You know the friendship ran its course, was good for what it was while you had it, but still.

It also occurred to me that I’m leaving, really leaving. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on joining the legions of long-term tourists and their cringeworthy odes to Joan Didion’s seminal essay because there’s no romance in my leaving, it’s just something I need to do. I’ll spare you the diatribe, but I will say this: one day I woke up and my home became a stranger. One day I was a sophomore in college and everyone I knew had the same points of reference–most of us grew up here, lived our lives here, but time took it all, whitewashed our references, and while others strayed, I remained and struggled to preserve what it was like to be a city kid. And then came a moment when I thought it would be nice to stop struggling. It would be nice to have a new point of entry, frame of reference, and the decision to leave came as swiftly as the sorrow that preceded it.

But I’m rotten at goodbyes–I prefer hellos. So there’s that, and all the logistics (financial and otherwise) that I’ve got to manage within two months. It’s…a lot.

When I read the aforementioned print, a line lingered: The problem contains the fucking solution. Pacing my home, I kept saying that line, over and over. I wrote down each worry, every consideration and dissected it to find the solution. With regard to my former friend, I was sad that I’ll only have the kind of closure I’ve created for myself, and I have to let it all go. And on it goes. On to the next. Committing to paper all the problems and ferreting out the solutions.

Is it no longer that I couldn’t make anything other than what can be tossed into a blender?

Thank pony it’s Monday.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup of almond (or coconut) milk
1/2 cup fresh mango, diced
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
2 tbsp of your favorite protein powder
1 tbsp coconut flakes
1 cup spinach
ice

DIRECTIONS
For smoothies, I tend to start with the base of liquid, fruit, powder, and then I’ll add my vegetables. I’ll blitz this in my Vitamix (you could use a high-powered blender) and then I’ll add the ice so the smoothies doesn’t get watery and all the ingredients cohere. Drink immediately!

blueberry mango coconut smoothie

fig + millet muffins (protein-packed + gluten-free)

fig and millet muffins (gluten-free)

Last night I watched a woman pick up a shovel and hurl it at her door. On the other side of the door her husband stood mute. The woman’s voice was the loudest sound, and in the corner I could hear her small dog whimpering. My friend Alex urged me to call 911, call the fucking police and there was a moment between hearing my friend’s voice and me looking down at my phone and dialing three numbers. I can’t explain the moment other to say that it was a quiet ache, something old ghosted, lingered, and the whole of my building smelled feral, old. Something I desperately needed to leave behind.

Let me back up a few paces.

my sweet friend and my special guy.

my sweet friend and my special guy.

Let me tell you about my friend Alex. I was a partner in an agency and she was lead on a few key accounts. And while we always sat a few feet away from one another, our interactions were minimal, at best, and part of me is glad she never reported to me. We never had to endure the awkwardness that occurs when you leave a company and then start defining and re-defining your relationships. You look at people who inhabited your life for so long and wonder where they fit. Do they fit? Is there a place in your life for a person who used to go in on your Seamless orders (who’s getting Thai from that place with the good spring rolls?), a person who occupied the same space at the holiday parties you had to mime your way through to endure (you’d exchanged perfunctory pleasantries in passing and made your way to opposite sides of the room to be with your respective tribes), a person who would wait patiently for the conference room you occupied (we have this room. how long are you going to be?), and you’d deliver a look that was meant to convey apologies for a call that had gone over. Because you had become a person who would always be late. You were forever occupying rooms. You were wreckage, spillage.

Fast forward to a summer where Alex and I met for pancakes and coffee while everyone crammed themselves into subway cars. We didn’t know many freelancers so we cleaved to one another, scared, exhilarated. We were excited for what lie ahead even if we didn’t know what it was. I was no longer a partner, she no longer a lead on accounts–we were just two women eating pancakes. One morning I remember telling her that something was wrong with my cat. I’d been up all night with my Sophie, who wretched like I’d never seen. I remember telling Alex that something didn’t feel right. I think she’s really sick, I said in a voice that barely registered above a whisper.

Over the course of that summer my Sophie became sick, really sick, and Alex was no longer the woman who was the lead on accounts, she became my friend who asked the tough questions when I cried into Sophie’s whittled frame. Alex was the one who followed me home and showed me how to give Sophie her meds. Alex was the one who never judged when I relapsed and got drunk, really drunk, all the time. After Sophie died, after my puffer felt small and airless in my hands, after she was wrapped in a blanket and carted out of my home and down three flights of stairs, I text’d Alex. Words were impossible to harness and I think Alex respected that–how I couldn’t possibly talk. How the idea of a new sound that would eclipse Sophie’s final breath was unfathomable.

Alex became the friend with whom I could feel vulnerable, unafraid. I could be my most unmasked self.

Fast forward to last night. We sat on my floor, eating chips and guacamole, feasting on kale salad with pomegranates, and thick, creamy soup. We spoke of the cruel winter and I shared that these past few months have almost been more than I could bear. I wonder aloud about moving to Santa Monica instead of Santa Cruz because the former is a city I know well, could navigate, could be the bridge between the familiar and the foreign, and I was so relieved that she didn’t interrupt with what she thought I should do–like everyone who hears about my move is prone to do–and instead asked me what I wanted. While so many want to solve, make broken whole, Alex is content to breathe amongst the pieces. I don’t have to have everything figured out; I just had to be thinking, feeling.

And then I make an off-handed comment about how it’s never loud in my building. I’m responded to a thumping, a murmur of voices that ascends to a shout. Alex suggests that it’s probably the kids in my building, and then we pause because what we hear are not the voices or words of children. All we know is that my downstairs neighbor is screaming and trying to break down her door. We rush downstairs and we exchange a few words with my other neighbor who I’m sure had to tell her children to stay inside, don’t open the door, everything’s okay.

It occurs to me now that amidst the violence and the screaming, the three of us–Alex, myself and the other neighbor–are extremely calm. Alex manages the woman’s dog, who’s terrified and bounds up the stairs and flees into my apartment frightening Felix. I manage the woman who sits on my floor, obsessively apologizing (you don’t have to apologize). I tell her to breathe. I tell her I’ve called the police (this does not please her) because I don’t know what’s going on but couples don’t fight like that. She tells me, I’ll manage it, and takes her dog and leaves. She tells me I have a nice apartment, that it’s larger than hers. Beautiful, she says. And this unnerves me. Out of everything that’s transpired over the course of an hour, her comparing my apartment to hers feels…unsettling. I don’t know what to say other than to say thank you. Although now, thinking about it, those words feel misplaced too.

I think about all of this. I think about the woman and wonder if looking in on her would be a disruption. I know her mother came by. At one point the police and ambulance came and went. I know all of this information but wonder if I should do anything with it. And then I realize I’m a stranger. I also realize this: I, once the calmest of children amidst violence in Brooklyn, grew up to become a woman who calmly manages a domestic disturbance in Brooklyn, and I’m tired. I’m tired of familiar.

Bring me the foreign. All of it. I tell Alex that I’m moving to Santa Cruz because it’s time.

It’s time to wake up to my life. It’s time I let Brooklyn go.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good
2 cups gluten-free flour (I used Cup4Cup so I don’t have to deal with xanthan gum)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your flour already includes it)
1/2 cup raw millet
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
Big pinch fine sea salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/3 cup ground flaxseed
2/3 cup maple syrup (I used Grade B)
2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped dried figs (I used dried calimyrna figs)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, millet, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, and ground flaxseed. In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, almond milk, and olive oil. In a small bowl, toss the chopped dried figs with a spoonful of the dry ingredients (this keep the figs from sinking down to the bottom of the muffins, and keeps the figs from sticking together). Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, then fold in the figs.

Divide the batter into the muffin cups and bake until browned and a toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Mine got this brown at 22 minutes, so I’d suggest you start checking at 18 minutes.

fig and millet muffins
fig and millet muffins

kale, chickpea, cherry + wild rice salad with spicy yoghurt dressing

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Maybe it’s the weather or possibly I’m bananas, but I bolted out of bed this morning with the feeling of so much possibility. Over the weekend I sent out notes to contacts in my network, alerting them about my pending move out west and I was so thrilled that so many folks responded with well wishes and offers to help once I get settled in. I also mailed out little gifts to my closest friends, people who continue to be home to me–friends who shouldered some of my difficult moments this year. And finally, I mailed out my tax payment checks, relieved that I don’t have to deal with the IRS until next year.

Lots of mailing!

And so much goodness happened over the weekend! I finally secured a project that will allow me to work closer to home so I can resume a normal feeding schedule and not be bound to a daily four-hour commute. Also, I caught up with some close friends and brainstormed new side hustles, and I made so much good food.

I know I sound a bit scattered and far from poetic, but I guess sometimes you have to express your joy plainly. Sometimes you have to post a delicious kale salad and be happy that you’re starting off the week, exhilarated!

INGREDIENTS
For the salad
1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed from the can*
¾ cup wild rice
2 cups baby kale leaves, de-veined, coarsely chopped (you could also use spinach for this)
¾ cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
½ cup pomegranate seeds

For the yoghurt dressing
⅓ cup coconut yoghurt (I used a dairy-free version, but I quite like Sigis’ line of yoghurts)
2 tbsp macadamia oil
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Sea salt, to taste

*If you’re using dried beans, soak 1/2 cup dried chickpeas overnight, rinse, drain and cook for 1/2-1 hour until tender. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

DIRECTIONS
Soak the rice in a medium bowl filled with cold water for 30 minutes. Drain, rinse and add 2 1/4 cups of water to a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes until the rice is tender. Drain and set aside to cool slightly. Now you’ve got a bowl of your chickpeas, chilling, and rice, resting.

Now on to the dressing! Whisk all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Season with salt and set aside.

Combine the rice, chickpeas, kale and cherries in a large bowl. Coat the salad with the dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and then add the pomegranate seeds.

Serve at room temperature or cold. This will keep in a airtight container for 3 days.

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on feedback: there’s a difference between constructive feedback + vitriol

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Believe me when I say that I had a plan for today. After having finished Toni Cade Bambara’s astonishing story collection, Gorilla, My Love, I’d plan to share parts of it here, weaving her words throughout the post and allowing them to settle. I’m privileged to be able to be home on Thursdays, so I typically spend the day decompressing from the office, doing all of the errands that were once relegated to the weekend, and working on a freelance project for a financial giant located in the Midwest. Thursdays are my quiet time. I cook and photograph food to share on this space; I watch old films, read books, magazines and blogs.

And all was well with the world until a few clicks landed me on a fashion/lifestyle blog, and then the rage blackout ensued.

I hadn’t intended on reading the comments of this particular post–one that featured a series of pretty dresses from an affordable clothing brand–however, I found myself scrolling through notes left by many disappointed readers. While I read scores of blogs and know that sometimes what one writes won’t always appeal to the common denominator, I was startled to see just how many people were heartbroken over how the author, who was once effusive, creative and relatable, had quickly devolved into someone who peddled sponsored posts like cheap trinkets. Long-time readers of this particular blog expressed frustration over the forced shill after shill (after reading through some of the most recent posts I’m inclined to agree), and instead of accepting this constructive feedback with grace, the blogger TORE INTO her readers in the comments section.

Awkward.

Lately, I’ve been reading posts that espouse the notion of playing nice; bloggers parade out the old adage if you can’t see something nice, don’t say anything at all, and talk about uniting to create a kinder, gentler community. I’ve seen comment wars where people who leave heartfelt constructive comments are immediately devoured, called bullies and haters. Many toss around the term, mean girls, without realizing the weight of the words they’re using.

Let me make something crystal clear. There’s a difference between someone who routinely stalks another person’s site and social channels in an effort to terrorize them versus someone who leaves a snarky comment. There’s a difference between someone who ridicules someone else’s appearance, gender, age, or sexual orientation versus someone who expresses despair over the fact that the business of blogging has changed the blog they used to love. There’s a difference between being cruel and constructive. There’s a difference between vitriol and the tough words you may not want to hear.

Over the course of my nearly twenty-year career, I’ve had to shoulder some tough conversations about my attitude (I had a problem with authority early on in my career, among other things). I had to sit through annual performance reviews where my weak points were spelled out in excruciating detail. I’ve had direct reports who’ve told me that how I managed a situation was not okay. For four years my mentor (now, dear friend) routinely called me into his office to give me feedback on how I could have managed a meeting, call, staff member, or crisis, better. A friend once told me I was impenetrable. A great love told me, point blank, that I was a nasty drunk. My yoga teacher once told me that my ego was getting in the way of progress in my practice. Must you hold on to your anger so hard, my dad once said. Another time, he shook his head and regarded me with sorrow. Always with the hangovers, the damn wine lips.

Over the years I’d cry in bathrooms or sit in front of the television, catatonic, clutching a box of pizza. Words are like barnacles–they have the propensity to bind and sting. More than once I’d complained to my friends. Fuck them. They don’t know the whole of me. Not really.

Actually, they did.

If I’d only perceived feedback coming from a place of hate versus help, how would I have been able to grow personally and professionally? If I’d ignored the advice from people who wanted my success, yet felt it important to show me that sometimes I put myself in my own way, how would I be where I am now? People who care take the time to deliver constructive criticism because they want you to be the very best you. You will never move forward if you’re constantly tending to your ego. You will never progress if shut your eyes to words you don’t want to read simply because you find it hard to read them. Criticism isn’t meant to be painless–it’s a bandaid you need to keep ripping instead of inching it off ever so slowly. The sting eventually goes away. Once it does, be honest with yourself, really honest. Why is it that you felt the need to respond so defensively instead of with calm, compassion and presence? Is it because there there’s a kernel of truth to what people are saying, and you don’t want to admit it because admitting to it will require a shift or change for which you’re not quite ready? Or maybe you don’t know how?

I remember snapping at my mentor once to which he responded, laughing, I don’t have to invest in you. I can use my time on someone who’s willing to work on becoming a better manager, an effective leader. His words remained with me and I’m grateful for his feedback because it is an investment. In me. Another time, I received anonymous feedback from my team that my early morning emails made them anxious. They felt compelled to respond to my 7AM requests lest they be penalized. I was shocked, actually, because I simply sent emails in the morning because that’s when I do my best thinking. I never considered the effect of my actions, and instead of snapping at my staff I thanked them. I told them while I won’t be able to change overnight, I am listening and I will make changes.

If your blog is your business, you have to treat it like one. You have to be prepared to accept feedback in order to be successful. Not every comment is going to be filled with glitter and orange kittens. This is the real world and in the real world people will criticize your work. If it’s constructive, comes from a good place, and is meant so that you can get better at what you do, take it seriously. Suck it up. Have humility. Set your ego aside. After the dust clears and the emotions pass, allow yourself to digest what is useful and make small, measured changes in response.

Don’t be defensive. Don’t act like a petulant jackass in the comments section.

In other news, while I was chatting about this post to a host of friends this morning, I managed to make some incredible almond flour-crusted chicken cutlets and this extraordinary saffron herbed rice.

INGREDIENTS: Saffron rice with barberries, pistachio + mixed herbs from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter (I used Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
2 cups white basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained well
2 1/3 cups boiling water
1 tsp saffron threads, soaked in 3 tablespoons boiling water for 30 minutes
1/4 cup dried barberries, soaked for a few minutes in boiling water with a pinch of sugar (I used currants)
1 ounce dill, coarsely chopped
2/3 ounce chervil, coarsely chopped
1/3 ounce tarragon, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup slivered or crushed pistachios, lightly toasted
salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice, making sure the grains are well coated in butter. Add the boiling water, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Mix well, cover with a tightly fitting lid, and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to uncover the pan, the rice needs to steam properly.

Remove the rice pan from the heat. All the water will have even absorbed by the rice. Pour saffron water over one side of the rice, covering about one-quarter of the surface and leaving the majority of it white. Cover the pan immediately with a tea towel and reseal tightly with the lid. Set aside for 5 – 10 minutes.

Use a large spoon to remove the white part of the rice into a large mixing bowl and fluff it up with a fork. Drain the barberries and stir them in, followed by the herbs and most of the pistachios, leaving a few to garnish. Mix well. Fluff the saffron rice with a fork and gently fold it into the white rice. Don’t over mix, you don’t want the white grains to be stained by the yellow. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer the rice to a shallow serving bowl and scatter the remaining pistachios on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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banana cocoa muffins

Banana cocoa muffins.

We came from zero, and on a long enough timeline we’ll return to that from which we’ve come. Zero. I think about this a lot–life, death–perhaps maybe more than I should, more than what’s deemed healthy, but I can’t help it. I think about planes sometimes, how my greatest fear is being on a plane that dives into an ocean. Sometimes I imagine closing my eyes and humbly crawling back to the cool dark, because although this is the one thing I don’t remember (that one head pushing out, those eyes that opened wide to the first light, and the mouth that screamed so valiantly, even through the terror of being born), it brings me an unexplainable comfort. It’s as if by living through the cycle of life and death I’ve conquered it, and for a time I’m okay until the moment I think about it all over again.

I also think about time. How I’ll never have enough of it, how it’s always running out. I used to wear a watch and have a clock in every room–the old fashioned kind, the sort that ticked. And then time passed as it’s wont to do, and I move through rooms with my phone, checking it every now and again, just to see how much time has passed. How much I’ve spent (or squandered, depending upon the day) from the last moment I checked to the next.

Aren’t you afraid of it? I asked my pop last week. Of what, he said? Death. Dying. Not really, he said and paused. Maybe a little but not a lot. I don’t think about it as much as you do. How is it possible that he’s not frightened? Like me, he’s not swathed in faith–he doesn’t believe in a white kingdom and a god who will carry you all the way home. Like me, he’s spiritual, sees the world as this magical, miraculous place, but we’re not tethered to a faith. Nor do I suspect we ever will be. We don’t have that warm comfort, and while I sometimes agonize over the certainty that these two feet on this floor will no longer be, my father goes about his days undisturbed. He tells me that death is inevitable so why get worked up over something that you can’t control?

The thing is, I like control. A lot. But I’m learning to let go of it, piece by piece.

Illustration Credit: Taro Yashima

Illustration Credit: Taro Yashima

Time is slippery, and since I’ve made the decision to forgo having children, of not establishing a legacy, I look at my work as one of the tangible things I’ll leave behind. I ache to produce and find that this space brings me so much joy because I can write the smaller things here while I consider the bigger things on a blank canvas. I use books (and life) as a bridge between the minute and known (blog) and the great unknown (novel). Lately, I’ve been ordering children’s books at a ferocious clip. Maybe it’s the fact that as a child I never appreciated the complex simplicity in books where a few words and illustrations are forced to convey SO MUCH, or perhaps I see the extraordinary juxtaposition between the size of a book and the length of its words versus the magnitude of its meaning. Children’s books are magnanimous in the sense that they don’t patronize or take a pedagogical approach, rather they allow you to dive in and find your own beauty, at your own time, on your own terms.

After poring over these illustrations (don’t the colors just DO YOU IN?!), I decided to order Umbrella because it’s such an magnificent expression of the tension of time. Of feeling anxious to move from one space to the next. But it’s also a meditation on time and being present, of savoring these moment of being alive. I need a little more of that in my life.

Today, I turned off the television, silenced my phone and kneeled down to play with Felix. For fifteen minutes, I heard the sounds of his purr and breath and all the noise in my head fell to quiet. All that existed was a woman and her cat. I don’t know what that means in terms of legacy, of pragmatism, of leaving something you can hold in your two hands, behind. But what I do know is that holding his small neck in my hands felt wonderful.

Drawing lines, drawing outlines. Unfurling maps.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts
2 large eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup ground almonds (almond flour)
1/2 cup ground gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whisk the eggs, maple syrup, and olive oil until completely combined. Add the bananas and beat until combined. In a large bowl, whisk together the ground nuts, oats, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make sure you have all lumps pressed out (almond flour tends to clump up) before you add to the wet ingredients. The last thing you want is a bit chunk of nut flour in your mouth. I’m saving you, people.

On low speed, add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold until combined. Using an ice-cream scoop, add the batter to the tins and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool for ten minutes on rack before turning out to cool completely.

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