homemade fennel apple sausage…on a pizza

gluten free pizza with homemade apple sausage, ground beef and bacon

I’ve been holed up in my home the entire weekend working, and  trust me, I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m the happiest I’ve been in months. Last week, I had a wonderful dinner party where my friends and I toasted our successes on my balcony. I onboarded a new client, sent out a contract for a second client and met a woman who’s the epitome of extraordinary. Come Friday I took a long nap and woke Saturday ready to get to work. When you’ve spent months without work as I have, you become grateful for employment. You stop complaining about the work because you realize, in the absence of it, you’re privileged to have it. So I read through 35 files, analyzed data reports, and compiled findings that will lay the groundwork for my client’s marketing strategy.

But a woman’s gotta eat.

Since I now have to return to a life free of dairy and gluten, I’m returning to reinvention–I stocked up on cauliflower, blitzed my morning smoothies, and pored through my cookbooks to discover recipes that are filling and wholesome. Over the past five months, I slipped into purchasing convenience foods and frozen Amy’s enchiladas because I’m making food for one and convenience doesn’t equate to costly. Now that my life is a little more stable, I’m able to control what comes into my home and what goes into my body, and I’m the better for it.

This pizza was SO GOOD that I didn’t even miss the cheese. And quite frankly, you don’t need to put cheese in your pesto if the herbs are fresh and fragrant. After a few slices, I feel confident to crawl back into round two of work.

No complaints. Always grateful.

P.S. You might have noticed that my posts lately have been a little shorter. Bear with me as I get accustomed to my new work schedule.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook
For the sausage
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 pound ground pork
½ red apple, diced
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp ground sage
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp dried rosemary
¼ tsp black pepper
3 tbsp butter, ghee, or coconut oil

For the crust
I love making pizza crust and you can make an amazing gluten free one using this recipe. Since I’m crazy busy today, I purchased a gluten-free crust from the market.

For the parsley chive pesto
You can find the recipe here.

For the additional toppings
1/2 cup bacon, roughly chopped
1/4 lb ground beef

DIRECTIONS
In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the fennel seeds for no more than 5 minutes, until fragrant. Place all the ingredients except the coconut oil in a large bowl and mix until well combined.

Divide the sausage mixture into 8 patties and flatten them between your hands. In a large cast-iron skillet (I don’t have one so I used a large non-stick skillet) over low heat, melt the butter. Add 3 or 4 patties to the pan and cook for 5 to 6 minutes per side, until golden brown and cooked through. Keeping the heat on low will help cook the inside of the patties without burning the outside. Patience is key here.

While this is going on, preheat the oven to 425F. Pre-bake your crust (regardless if you’re getting a store-bought crust or making the gluten-free one I made last week) for 10 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven, briefly, and set aside.

Once you’re done with the sausage, use the fat from that pan to brown the bacon and sausage. Drain and set aside with the patties.

Make the pesto per the instructions. Add the pesto to the pre-baked crust. Crumble up 4-5 of the sausage patties, and add the bacon and ground beef to the crust. Bake the pizza for another 10-12 minutes until the crust is lightly browned and the meat is glossy and sizzling.

Add some fresh parsley to the top and chow down!

homemade apple fennel sausage

homemade apple fennel sausage
homemade apple fennel sausage

gluten free pizza with homemade apple sausage, ground beef and bacon

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meat lover’s pesto arugula pizza (gluten-free)

meat lover's pesto arugula pizza

For those of you who haven’t followed my lamentations on twitter, the burning raised hives have made their comeback. Last Monday morning, at around 3am, I woke to my body covered in hives. Thankfully, I still had leftover steroid cream or I wouldn’t have made it until morning. Imagine how thrilled I was that my doctor’s office opened at 7am.

We’re not going to talk about where the cortisone shot went but let’s say we did.

Admittedly, because of stress and depression I haven’t made the wisest food choices. Although I’m good about keeping my gluten in check (I honestly don’t miss it anymore) and I no longer crave sweets (my palate changed the year I went gluten + dairy free so now I crave salt), I can’t resist cheese. Cheese, glorious CHEESE. Melted mozzarella on my chicken, charred halloumi on my salad–you name the dish and I’ll find a way to throw cheese on it.

There I was slowly regaining half the weight I’d spent a year losing, and my skin suffered from my dairy fixation (read: addiction). And then the hives–a cruel reminder that mindful eating is a life-long commitment. While the burning itch has abated, fat spots cover most of my legs and I know they won’t be gone for another couple of weeks.

Back to basics.

Now that my life is back in some semblance of order, I can resume making healthy meals and focusing on a plant-based diet. After hitting the farmer’s market this morning, I popped into B&N to find a new cookbook and I LOVED Juli Bauer’s The Paleo Kitchen (so many good recipes!) that I was thrilled to snap up Paleo Cookbook. These are recipes you’re going to want to make, and I had most of the ingredients for this pizza.

Let’s talk about this crust. I’ve tried dozens of crust recipes–cauliflower, grain-free, gluten-free, and all of them were HORRIBLE. Granted, a cauliflower crust does have its place, but when I want something chewy and bread-like, I want something that will resemble the real thing. And while nothing compares to the elastic dough that only gluten AP flour can yield, this crust was pretty stellar. You won’t get much of the charred crunch here, but the flavor profile is unique (I actually didn’t mind the hint of coconut juxtaposed with the salty sausage) and I helped myself to TWO slices (hence the cut-out in the photo above).

As projects come in (cross fingers), I’ll be able to share more recipes on this space. For now, make this pizza and make it your own. I had these ingredients on hand but you can make the pesto as a base and throw onions, peppers and ton of veg on top. Or, if you’re a cruel human and have the ability to consume cheese, I would crumble goat and smoked mozzarella all over this bad boy.

INGREDIENTS: Crust recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook
For the pizza crust
3 large eggs
1 cup full-fat coconut milk (basically one 15oz can, but make sure you wish the cream and the coconut water until it’s smooth)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cups tapioca flour/starch
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt

For the toppings
1 cup basil walnut pesto*
1/4-1/3 lb ground mixture of pork, beef and bacon
1 pre-cooked chicken sausage link, sliced thin
1 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, roughly chopped
2 cups arugula

*2 1/2 cups basil
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup-1/2 cup olive oil (depends on your preferred consistency)
Salt/pepper

DIRECTIONS

For the pizza crust
Preheat the oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, coconut milk, and olive oil. In a large bowl, mix the tapioca flour, coconut flour, baking powder and salt until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and whisk until completely smooth. The dough will be wetter than normal pizza dough–it’s okay, don’t freak out.

Pour the dough onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and spread it out flat. Bake for 10-12 minutes and it feels like soft bread in the middle when touched. Cool for five minutes. Raise the heat to 425F. Add the toppings, pop back into the oven and cook for 7-8 minutes.

For the toppings
While the pizza is baking in the oven, saute the pork, beef and bacon mixture until browned. Blitz the pesto ingredients until smooth. With a spatula, spread the pesto all over the warm crust. Add the meat toppings, sliced sausage, sundried tomatoes and cook for 7-8 minutes.

After the pizza has been cooked, add the arugula to the top and DEVOUR.

pizza

pecan stuffed chicken breast

pecan stuffed chicken breast

 

Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Daphne Brogdon, modified 
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus for drizzling
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (6 to 7 ounces each), butterflied*
1 tablespoon molasses, mixed with 2 teaspoons hot water
1 teaspoon ground fennel
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 medium shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup pecans, toasted, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
3 tablespoons safflower or grape seed oil
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
Half 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

*I asked my butcher (or the person at the meat counter at your market) to butterfly and even out the meat. It was way easier than doing this at home.

pecan stuffed chicken breast

DIRECTIONS
Lay out a 15-inch-long piece of plastic wrap on a cutting board and drizzle it with a little olive oil. Lay a butterflied chicken breast, cut side up, on the plastic wrap. Fold the plastic wrap over to cover. Using a meat pounder, pound out the thicker parts of the breast so that it’s uniformly thick. Fold the plastic wrap open and brush the chicken breast with the molasses; season with generous pinches of fennel, salt and pepper. (This will be the inside part of the breast that gets stuffed.) Fold the plastic wrap back over and flip the breast over. Fold plastic wrap open and season the other side of the breast with salt and pepper. (This is the outside that will later get seared in the pan.) Re-cover with the plastic wrap and place on a plate. Repeat this process with the remaining chicken breasts. Refrigerate for 1 hour or up to overnight.

pecan stuffed chicken breast

Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and pecans, and cook another 2 minutes. Add the tarragon and cook another minute. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

pecan stuffed chicken breast

Remove a butterflied breast from the plastic wrap. Place it on a cutting board, molasses-side up. Place 1/4 cup of the filling on half of the chicken breast. Fold over the other half to enclose the filling. Using a bamboo skewer, close up the opening by threading the skewer through one end of the opening to the other to secure. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts and filling.

pecan stuffed chicken breast
pecan stuffed chicken breast

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the stuffed chicken breasts and cook for about 3 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Add the wine, chicken broth and crushed tomatoes. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and poach until the chicken is cooked through, another 8 minutes.

Pecan stuffed chicken breast.

Transfer the chicken to a plate, remove the skewers, cover the chicken with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. While chicken is resting, turn up the heat on the poaching liquid to medium, add the crushed red pepper, and let simmer until thickened and reduced by a third, about 5 minutes (I did it for 15 because I wanted it really thick). Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Strain the sauce into a small pot and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. Instead of the liquid, I used the tomato mixture as my dressing and it was glorious.

To serve: Slice the chicken, if desired, and arrange on a serving platter. Pour some sauce over the top. Serve immediately, with extra sauce on the side.

pecan stuffed chicken breast
pecan stuffed chicken breast

smoky black bean soup + the art of being beholden to people

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We’re in the business of transaction. Every day we do the maths, scheme, calculate, negotiate until the object of our desire is bought and paid for. We covet what we see and we scrimp and save until it’s mine, all mine, and then we want something else. The ocean of want is seemingly bottomless, endless, and after a while we come to believe that everything has an assigned value. Everything can be bought or sold. Money suddenly becomes the end game. We’ll save this much until we have that glinting object on the shelf. We work 10, 12, 15 hour days because we pay our dues, because one day we will make more than we make now. And if we make more we can buy more, and shouldn’t that entitle us to our happiness? Shouldn’t the sheer accumulation of our objects equate to the amount of abundance in our hearts?

When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I said happy. Everyone had a good chuckle and they proceeded to tell me that what I wanted to be implied a vocation. What was it that I was going to do to make money? Somehow this felt false to me, equating what one is to what one does, and even when I was small I knew that just because you waited tables or delivered mail or plunged your hand and fixed a slow-beating heart–all of that couldn’t encompass the whole of a person. What you did could barely make a dent in all that was you, your innards, how you thought and loved.

When I was in banking, someone asked me what I wanted to do. Did I want to trade derivatives? Did I want to try to break into the old boys’ club and go into investment banking I said, quietly, that I wanted to write, and this person laughed (the timbre of which put me thinking to my childhood) and said, didn’t I know that writers don’t make any money?

“She could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was infinitely bad! She could have done it differently of course; the colour could have been thinned and faded; the shapes etherealised; that was how Paunceforte would have seen it. But then she did not see it like that. She saw the colour burning on a framework of steel; the light of a butterfly’s wing lying upon the arches of a cathedral. Of all that only a few random marks scrawled upon the canvas remained. And it would never be seen; never be hung even, and there was Mr Tansley whispering in her ear, “Women can’t paint, women can’t write …” –Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse

A month later I was accepted in the Columbia writing program and when I explained to my Managing Director at the time that MFA meant Master’s in Fine Arts, and there was the expectant pause and look of sheer terror and confusion–pity, maybe?–and I immediately followed with, I know I’ll probably always be in debt; I don’t care for money. I only want to write.

For a time I was guilty of falling in love with money and the things it could buy. I thought I could define my worth by what I had amassed. I thought the whole of me was composed of the contents of my closet. Money meant: I have this and you don’t. Money was a mask I was intent on wearing. And then I woke, as if roused from a deep sleep–the sleep of children–and I took inventory of my closet and drawers, all the petty finery, and I wanted of it. Slowly, over time, I gave it all away. It’s no coincidence that during that period of my life I read less, I wrote little.

But really I wrote nothing at all.

If you ask me what gives me joy it’s creating. Writing. And I need a way to balance creation and commerce, whimsy and pragmatism. Because while it’s nice to board a plane, see the world and write about it, there’s the here and the now of student loan payments, credit card bills and this small consideration of food and shelter. So, I compromise. Part of my life I write for work. Companies large and small invite me to think of compelling ways to tell their story. I work on branding projects, consumer marketing projects, digital strategy. I do a lot of writing.

And then there’s the writing, the longer, literary stuff (for lack of a better term) that’s personal. It affords me to explore the world through character and story. That doesn’t really pay. The kind of stories that interest me barely pay for a cup of coffee. And then there’s this space–my virtual scrapbook. A home for ideas, food, photographs. A place that wholly mine. A place that doesn’t require me to clock in at a certain time or adhere to a set of contracted deliverables.

Over the past year, I’ve seen a lot more people come to this space, which pleases me. People may feel I inspire them with the words I write or they may get hungry based on what I’m cooking on a particular day–but, for some reason, more people are here. And when there are people there is this question of money. People inquire whether I’ll monetize this space (no). People ask if I’ll do “sponsored posts” (please stop asking me this). People ask if I’ll ask for donations or find some sort of way to make money off of the fact that more people come by every day (affiliate links?), to which I respond, emphatically, immediately, FUCK NO.

Most of my life is about making money to live, travel and support my cat in the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. Why would I make this space about work? That would mean I would take the thing that I love to do–create, simply for the sake of creating, simply for the joy in doing it and the inspiration it brings–and somehow reduce it. And then I’m accountable to strangers. It’s as if my blog is suddenly a stock and all the shareholders are clamouring for their say. When money enters the picture it has a way of clouding things, and slowly, over time, what is mine becomes less mine. It becomes yours, and said with love, I don’t want that. I want to be beholden to no one.

Creating something without the goal of transacting isn’t a failure. It isn’t a missed opportunity or wasted time. Not everyone or thing can be placed for bidding on the open market. Sometimes one becomes rich when creating something from nothing, expecting nothing.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Extra Virgin Kitchen
2-3 cups chopped leaks
1 garlic clove, sliced (not crushed)
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 (400g/15oz) tins black beans, drained and rinsed
1 400g tin cherry red tomatoes
5 cups of vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
1-2 tsp honey
splash of tamari
Salt to taste
Chopped parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS
In a large saucepan over low heat, add the olive oil, leeks and garlic and saute for 8 minutes until everything is soft. Add in the paprika and cumin and stir for 1 minute. Toss in the rest of the ingredients and turn up the heat until the soup begins to boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. While the recipe calls for serving the soup as is, I prefer a puree. So I blitzed this in the Vitamix (a blender will do) and added salt and chopped parsley as a finish.

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fluffy blueberry pancakes + some thoughts on losing your best friend

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Time takes it all whether you want it to or not, time takes it all. Time bares it away, and in the end there is only darkness. Sometimes we find others in that darkness, and sometimes we lose them there again. –Stephen King

For seven years there was only S. I met her in a writing program in Russia. She wore strappy sandals that scraped along the sidewalk as she walked, the buckles had come undone, and the way she chewed gum unnerved me. It was if she knew she chewed loudly, brazenly, but asked her if she cared because she didn’t. I remember her being volcanic; she moved swiftly from one train of thought to another, speaking in tourettic spurts about nerve endings, poetry, white nights, and synapses firing. Her voice made me think of jazz with all the disjointed rhythms and erupting syncopations, and in the brief walk from our class to our dorm she exhausted me. I remember sitting in my room, in silence, thinking, what just happened?

For the rest of our time in Russia I’d hear stories about the strange girl who lived in an apartment off-campus. The girl who got arrested in The Summer Gardens for scaling the gates after hours and being invited out for vodka after she and her friends bribed the officers with 300 rubles. I saw her at parties and we exchanged pleasantries, but mostly I watched her weave in and out of rooms. Watching S was akin to live wires unwinding. She was in a constant state of unraveling. I was in awe of her. Compared to my shackled life, she seemed…free. This was a time when I thought I had a great love, and before I left for Russia he had convinced me to try to stop drinking. It would be my first of many failed attempts, but I wanted him (or the thought of him) and the promise of a life he offered. So I lived in a perpetual state of fear and burial–I could practically crack the gravel with my teeth–and seeing S move was thrilling. While I roamed the Nevsky Prospekt in a virtual straightjacket, S was ready for flight.

When we came home, we casually met up over drinks with the other New Yorkers who were in the program. We exchanged stories about our teachers, our work, and memories of the Museum of Oddities–an experience that brought on a collective silence and shudder. Over time, S and I would couple off (I guess there’s no other way to put it) and we spoke obsessively about our history of broken people and our mutual drug addictions, which had us continue the cycle of breaking our parents had started. We talked a lot about our parents (she wrestled with a cruel father and I a sociopathic, narcissistic mother). How do I explain now that we were strong, educated, outspoken women, yet we were frightened, fragile, undone? Looking back at our friendship, it occurs to me that we desperately clung to each other to make ourselves whole, and it’s only after our fissure that I suspect we both realized the unhealthy nature of our mutually agreed-upon attachment.

For years, the world was only us. We spent every day together. We obsessed over the food we ate, the workouts we did, the books we read. The men in our lives were periphery, noise, because who could understand Felicia and S other than Felicia and S? I remember my friend Angie, years ago, approaching me with trepidation. She wondered aloud if perhaps S and I were too close, because it was possible to be close to the point of suffocation, where one suffers at the expense of another. I shook my head, impossible, and Angie receded, folded into quiet. But I remember the concern that washed across her face, and when we talk about it now, Angie reminds me that it’s a good thing S and I broke up.

Broke up.

Over seven years, we endured love, breakups, trips to Los Angeles and Taiwan. I finally got sober and stayed sober. We wrote books, ascended, and obsessively maintained our lean frame to an increasingly disturbing degree. But there was so much love! I never had a sister, and we loved as viciously as we fought. Our rows were violent storms that resembled undertow. Screaming matches in the street followed by long periods of uncomfortable silence. Maybe she was the first to notice cracks in the fault? Because when I took a fancy job at a then-cool agency, our friendship became two wires detangling. I became consumed with work and she with a new boyfriend, who would eventually become her husband. Our once excited conversations became a string of rehashed memories of the friendship we used to have. We had very little in common except for our history and I think we both knew it but didn’t dare say it out loud.

It’s easy to end a friendship over an action or a series of betrayals, but it’s heartbreaking to end because of a drift. One day I was supposed to be S’s maid of honor in her wedding and the next she stopped returning my calls. It was is if we never existed, and I was devastated that she excised me so neatly. I saw photographs of her nuptials on Facebook and I wept for days. I then unfriended her. Just like that. Seven years ended with a click of a mouse. A shift from friend to unfriend.

Our history had been wiped clean.

It took me two years to recover from her loss and we haven’t spoken a word in six. I’ll never know why we broke up, although I suspect it was for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above. How do you tell someone that you don’t want to be their friend anymore because you just don’t? Because you weren’t the people you used to be? That needing another half to make you whole isn’t how you get complete–the numbers just don’t foot. Truth be told I probably wouldn’t have understood it back then the way I do now. I’ve reconciled my hurt and have found closure in losing her.

I often think that our breaking was the best thing for both of us because I lived a stunted version of myself, and I was forced to live a life independent of her, regardless of how dysfunctional that life might have been. I don’t want a reconciliation with S; I have my closure and people in my life who have grown in step with me.

Do you know I made these pancakes for breakfast for this morning and thought of her? I remember a day trip we took to Woodbury Commons and she was in my apartment and I made her this grand breakfast. Freshly-squeezed orange juice, strips of bacon coated in maple syrup and pancakes. I don’t recall if she was the pancake type, but she loved mine and she devoured the contents of her plate. I remember feeling satisfied, happy.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen Cookbook
3 large eggs
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons almond or full-fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon organic honey
1/2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of fine-grain sea salt
coconut oil, for greasing the skillet
1/2 cup fresh blueberries

DIRECTIONS
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the almond milk, honey, lemon juice, and vanilla and whisk until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix together the coconut flour and tapioca flour, then add to the wet ingredients 1/4 cup at a time, while continuously whisking. Then mix in the baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Grease a large skillet and place over medium heat. Once the skillet is warm use a ladle to pour 3-inch pancakes into the skillet. Once bubbles begin to appear in the surface of a pancake, drop a small handful of blueberries into it and flip. The pancake should cook on each side 3-4 minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter.

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gluten-free blueberry cheesecake + a meditation on forgiveness

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Her father had killed her cat and buried it in the carrot patch, then laughed gleefully when the horrified child uncovered her dead pet…We live on a planet where harm happens all the time; to think that you should escape that is a mammoth overstatement of your own importance.Amy Westervelt’s “Letting Go”

When I got sober, I had to accept the possibility that people no longer wanted me in their life. Many of my friends had grown tired of playing parent, of shuttling me from bar to bed because they couldn’t bear the idea that I’d wouldn’t make it home or wouldn’t make it at all. In college, I would collapse into bed and feel the whole of the room orbit around me and I’d cry out to anyone who was listening, Stay with me a while, just until I fall asleep. Sometimes I’d yell that they didn’t know what it was like to be a child woken from sleep, to have to reach for the phone and call the taxi to the hospital and complete all the forms because my mother couldn’t breathe. Because maybe, this time, the coke would do her in. Do you know what it’s like to bear the weight of your mother in your arms, and realize, at ten, that your only hope was you? Sometimes I think my mother taught me how to read and write at such a young age because she needed an admin, someone who would tacitly accept her lies as fact and commit those lies to paper. My friends used to whinge about their parents because it was fashionable, and I’d snap, Did you ever have to mother them? Father them? No, so please shut the fuck up. Because you had a childhood. You had the privilege of having someone tuck the covers under your cold feet come nightfall.

This is a luxury, I think. Bare toes tucked under blankets.

All the years I swore I’d never become her, I became exactly her, thinking myself entitled to constant care. Unbeknownst to my friends, they were to assume the role of The Care and Feeding of Felicia Sullivan. I was the friend they loved so much but were desperate to let go. They were always checking in, always concerned, tip-lipped and tired. I was forever breaking someone’s heart. But when your body is an abbatoir, you don’t think of the carnage right in front of you; you never consider the damage you’ve done was greater than your own. It was only when I got sober was I able to see, and I can’t tell you how hard it was to sit across from so many friends, who clutched their coffee close to their chest, and beg for their forgiveness.

You’ve been saying you’re done for as long as I’ve known you, many said. Even though I was a year off the drink, few believed. Few thought I was biding time until the next great fall or loss, and then I’d find myself breathing underwater. A lone bottle of wine, my driftwood. Others believed but I had gone too far, done too much, and there was no going back. There were many well wishes, but please don’t call me again.

I had to accept that they may have forgiven me, they may have had closure with all the grief I’d cause them, but forgiveness and friendship were mutually exclusive. It’s an I love you, but I can’t know you. I can’t bear this again; I’m not physically built to endure it. It’s an I have children now. And then I think we’ve never been children, until I realize that was my weight. That’s my forgiveness.

There are only a handful of people in my life who have done damage past repair. There is no friendship, no love in my heart, but whether they know it or not, I’ve chosen to forgive them. While we may rage, storm, trick, and deceive, our forgiveness is always quiet, private. It may exist as words exchanged between two people, or mouthed alone in the confines of an apartment. I forgive you for all that you’ve done. But I have to believe that the mere existence of forgiveness relieves one of the burden of it, and we’re now able to replace that anger with equal measures of love and joy. Time takes it all, rubs it out, and brings you somewhere new. I’ve hope that the ones whom I’ve hurt, deeply hurt, have said those words aloud and that I can somehow feel it.

Just as I re-read my first book, painful as it was, and thought of my mother. Lover of cheesecakes (my god, she can eat cheesecake for days, and I made this thinking of her), cooker of chicken cutlets pounded paper thin, collector of soul records, wearer of coral, Noxzema and Chanel 5–a woman who had precise penmanship but rarely wrote outside the confines of a green waitress pad–and I felt a kind of forgiveness. While it forever breaks my heart that she’ll never be the woman or mother I want her to be, that I’ll never have a relationship with her while she’s alive, I do forgive her trespass, her thievery, her undying devotion of herself at the expense of myself. But still. I forgive. I don’t forget. I will not love or behold, but I forgive. And I have to believe that this is good. I have to believe that letting this anger go will make room for new love in my heart.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen Cookbook
For the crust
⅔ cup raw pecans
1 cup almond butter
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ cup softened Coconut Butter (see below)
2 tablespoons organic honey
pinch fine-grain sea salt

For the filling
2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water for 2+ hours and drained
½ cup melted coconut oil
½ cup organic honey
¼ cup full-fat coconut milk
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon joice
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping (optional)
2 cups fresh blueberries plus ¼ cup for garnish
⅓ cup maple syrup

DIRECTIONS
Make the crust: Place the pecans in a food processor and mix until they begin to form pecan butter. Add the almond butter, shredded coconut, coconut butter, honey, and salt and pulse until well combined.

Place the crust mixture in a springform pan, then press down and smooth it out so that the surface is even all around the pan/ Put in the freezer to harden for 2 to 3 hours.

When the crust is hard, make the filling: Add the soaked cashews to a food processor and process until they fully break down into a chunky paste. Add the rest of the filling ingredients to the food processor and process until smooth (it should resemble a thin nut butter).

Pour the filling onto the hardened crust and smooth out the top. Place in the freezer and let settle and firm up for another 2 hours.

When the filling has firmed up, make the topping (optional): In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 cups of blueberries and the maple syrup and cook for 15 minutes, or until most of the blueberries have burst. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes.

To serve, pour the warm blueberry topping on the top of the cheesecake and garnish individual slices with fresh blueberries. Serve immediately. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

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roasted fig, kale + chickpea salad and cauliflower coconut curry + a silent call to leave home

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Truth be told, I rarely re-read what I write here. I write for the rush of it, the joy of it–the words come from a compulsion to make sense of a situation, find clarity, and once that clarity has been found I move on. However, amidst all this food, amidst a stove that resembled a bonfire, I kept re-reading this post. And one of the questions I keep asking myself is this: Why am I still here? This isn’t a Montaigne why-do-we-exist ontological argument, rather, it’s why am I still in New York? Before you talk about a hoard of writers who never grew up in New York yet pen dreamy essays about leaving old New York, my story is less about a place and more about a desperate need to sit in discomfort. A need to lay down my head somewhere else in the world for an extended period of time–beyond travel.

This place is my home. I went to Fordham when I could have gone to Boston University or Brown. I went to Columbia when I could have applied to Iowa. I watched so many people I love move away, start new lives in different states and countries and it’s only now that I have a sense of longing. A realization that my home has become my barnacle, a place to which I’ve been unhealthily attached. My mother still lives here. My pop lives here. All my memories are tethered to this place, and I want new memories, new places. I posted something on Facebook and one of my very sage friends wrote this, which put my heart on pause:

Come up with an eccentric plan and give yourself to it. For example, resolve to live on every continent for 3 months to a year (okay, not Antarctica). Or live in a different country for a year for 5 years in a row. Or live on an island for a year. I’ve found that it’s very, very hard to will a change out of the swirling lights of one’s soul, but it’s easy to react to a change you believe has already been made for you. We move in a week if our employer makes us, but if it’s up to us, we’ll linger for five years making excuses and riding the wave of inertia. So find some way to externalize the impetus for the change, and then don’t question it. Just get it done. Pretend an employer is forcing you to move. Pretend anything. Oh, you could live in four states, each of which abuts a corner or edge of the US: say, Traverse City, Michigan; Bangor, Maine; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Oregon. You get the idea. You could also plan a book and live along some route that you would create art/photos/writing about. I am not thinking about money here, of course, so the daydreaming is easy. But I’d say daydream hard first, and you’ll figure out the money.

Last night I vacillated between this comment and my post, and I realized I keep asking questions that go unanswered because I’m afraid. It’s easy to talk about New York and how much I hate it, how much it’s gone to blight, overflowing with long-term tourists who call themselves New Yorkers. I lament that so much of the danger, art and energy I loved as a child has been whitewashed, excised. Everything feels pedestrian, done by rote, and the discomfort I feel is more akin to waking up to someone whom you thought you knew for the whole of your life to realize they’re actually a stranger. The discomfort I want is the feel of the new, the unsettling that comes from uprooting yourself and planting yourself somewhere else. I want quiet. I want land. I want solitude. I want slow. I want simple.

My god, I’ve lived a complicated, often difficult, life in a place that’s frenetic. I want to slow down and breathe.

So I’m following my friend’s advice and using the next 12 months to put my exit strategy into action. More details to come.

Now, my questions are when and how?

INGREDIENTS + DIRECTIONS FOR THE CHICKPEA SALAD: Pre-heat an oven to 400F. To a large roasting pan, add figs, quartered; handfuls of curly kale; 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained; salt/pepper/olive oil. Toss the figs, kale and chickpeas so they’re evenly coated in olive oil. Roast for 30-40 minutes until the kale is crispy and the chickpeas are browned.

INGREDIENTS + DIRECTIONS FOR THE CAULIFLOWER CURRY*: 2 tbsp coconut oil; 2 cloves of garlic, minced; 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced; 1 large cauliflower head (1 lb) cut into florets; 2 tbsp curry powder; 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes; 1/4 tsp cinnamon; 1/8 tsp ground coriander; pinch of sea salt and coarse black pepper; 1 14oz can of full-fat coconut milk; 2 tbsp almond butter.

Place a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the coconut oil and garlic. Once the garlic is fragrant, add the bell pepper and cauliflower. Stir the vegetables to evenly coat them in garlic + oil.

Add all of the spices and toss to coat. Add the coconut milk and almond butter. Mix to incorporate.

Cover the pan and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the cauliflower is softened. Taste for seasoning + add more salt if needed.

*Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen.

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my nutritionist answers your food-related questions!

Dana James, Food Coach NYC

Dana James, Food Coach NYC

This year I made a decision to change my life. Tired of feeling sluggish, exhausted, fogged, confused, angry, and sick, I sought out Dana James to help me embark on a mindful health journey, one that required a commitment and presence. I had to confront some challenging aspects of my character (read: a carb addiction, using food as an anesthetic instead of fuel, etc.) in order to get to a place where I FEEL SO DAMN GOOD. Now, I’m present at every meal and I choose foods that nourish instead of deplete me. And I couldn’t be more grateful for Dana for her compassion, honesty and perspective. I’ve written a great deal about my health journey, and I wanted to share some of Dana’s wisdom with you guys. I’ve gathered a bunch of your questions, and she was kind enough to field responses, below. -FS

What are the best snacks that are portable and available on Amazon? Preferably on Prime? Snacks are there to keep the blood sugar levels from dropping too low. Most snacks on amazon (i.e package goods) are too carbohydrate-heavy and thus I don’t recommend them. Instead, eat fresh fruit, drink green juices and snack on raw nuts and seeds. One company on amazon that I like is Go Raw. They have inventive creations like flax crackers and watermelon seeds. Most of their products have less than five ingredients.

I’ve got a question re: pre or post workout snack not involving nuts. I’m a clean eater, but my husband is super allergic to nuts which means I can’t really eat them or have them in the house. Would love nut free suggestions. Unless you’re training for 90 minutes or more, I don’t encourage pre-workout snacks. You’ll burn more fat in a fasted state. For post workout snacks, time your exercise so that it immediately precedes a meal like breakfast, lunch or dinner.

What are her thoughts on the “I Quit Sugar” phenomenon? IQS is a Paleo diet with no fruit. Sarah Wilson has done an amazing job at creating an IQS community and this is extremely helpful when removing sugar from the diet.

How can you “retrain” the body not to crave starch and sugar but still eat them occasionally without throwing progress out the window? This is a big question and I covered it in a video course I created called “How to Ditch Sugar”. The principals apply to sugar or starch. It’s changing what you eat, why you eat, and rebalancing your biochemistry. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s worth the liberation that emanates from mastering this. This link is HERE.

I’d love to learn more about the impact of calories vs. how full you feel. Calories are an archaic measurement of food. They were valid when we believed that our fat cells were simply fat. Now we know that our fat cells are active organs which store not only fat but also produce hormones and inflammatory mediators. This means we want to eat foods that balance cellular inflammation and regulate our hormone levels as well as keep us actively burning fat. Protein paired with plant based foods (think steak with sautéed spinach) will turn on the body’s appetite suppressing hormones as well as decrease inflammation and stimulate fat loss.

How do I figure out false positives on my Alcat? I am working with a naturopathic doctor for my food sensitivities but do to cost of visits I have to spread them out. From my experience false positive include black pepper, vanilla and garlic. The mild can be completely ignored unless you know you are a sensitive to a food on that list. If you have lots of sensitivities it’s more likely you have “leaky gut” and the key is to repair the lining of the GI tract and not stress about taking out all of the foods that presented themselves. I suggest removing anything in blue and red and pick and choose from the orange column.

What are some easy changes I can make to my diet? Also what are done food dinner options? I don’t like to cook and dinner is the meal I eat too much or nothing. Think about assembling your dinner not cooking it. That means tossing together an arugula salad with cucumber, tomatoes, avocado and poached eggs or making a spinach salad with grated carrots, beets, sunflower seeds and Rotisserie chicken. Very quick options. All you need to do is commit to nourishing your body and having the foods available.

coconut pancakes + falling out of love with new york

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This is the New York I know: wrenching johnny pumps in the summer because who could afford air conditioning? (white people) We felt cool and slicked as our denim shorts and dollar-store t-shirts clung to our skin. We feasted on hot dogs and icy in Sunset Park, and swam from one side of the 16-foot pool to the other. In the pool, the boys were in the business of acquisition with their cat-calls of shorty, sexy, and dame lengue. What am I, a lizard? My tongue isn’t something I’d willingly give. New York was about flashing old bus passes when you cut class and forgot to pick up the new ones, and getting kicked off the bus because this month’s color was blue and you were still rolling with yellow. We hopped and crawled under the turnstiles because who was stupid enough to buy tokens for the subway? (white people) Come nightfall, we’d inch home and settle on the stoop while mothers braided hair, boys sipped on Colt45 out of brown paper bags and everyone was in the business of dealing. Everyone was working their after-school, after-second-job hustle. Back then, everyone had a plan. Back then, you were prosperous if you owned a color TV with a remote control. Because who could afford cable? (white people) Back then, you made friends with their girls whose mothers made the best rice. You hoped you’d be invited for dinner. You hoped you’d have to bring one of the chairs from the living room and plant it on the linoleum floor. Back then, everyone made room. Everyone ate with their elbows on the table.

The city? WHAT???!!! When you lived in Brooklyn, Manhattan was a whole other country. Uncharted territory, you’d need a compass and map to navigate it. We rode the elevated trains into the city and gawked at the people uptown (white people) and found our home downtown. Back then, you didn’t venture below Avenue A unless you rolled right (translation: didn’t roll white), and we trolled Broadway and hit Unique, Antique Boutique and pawed the spray-painted and sequined denim jackets we couldn’t afford. Boys dressed like girls, yellow cabs, hot pretzel carts and shopping bags–what an unreal city! I had not thought death had undone so many, wrote Eliot. The city glinted–someone in the neighborhood once told us that the sidewalks were paved with glass so we winced and closed our eyes so we wouldn’t be blinded by the glare. The city was clean even with the peepshows and pimps in Times Square, before Dinkins, before Giuliani, before the postage stamp of land in the 40s would transform into Disneyland for the peanut-crunching lot. The city was cleaner from where we’d come. Everyone knew whether you were from Brooklyn, the Bronx or Queens (I can’t tell you how we knew, we just did. I do remember someone asking me if I was Puerto Rican from Brooklyn because I wore red lipstick, but right now it’s been too long to remember how we knew), and we’d observe the hierarchy as our tribes wove the streets amidst the “city kids” — a mixture of LES Puerto Ricans and the rich kids who wanted to pass, who scored for tricks, and tried to roll with the poor kids for fun.

Quite frankly, the city was exhausting, and we were glad to come home although we’d never admit it.

When someone moved, we talked about it for months because no one was supposed to leave. Your whole world was reduced to a mile surrounding the block in which you lived. You had your church for those who wanted so desperately to believe; you had your Carvel, Gino’s Pizza and the Italian bakeries on 13th Avenue and in Bensonhurst; you had the boardwalk in Coney Island and the hot sun in Brighton Beach (although, if given the choice, we’d always choose Coney Island and Nathan’s Famous–a treat!); you had your C-Town supermarkets, your bodegas. You had your cemeteries, funeral parlors, parks, and drug dealers–and know that I’ve included all of these places, in this order, deliberately. Because back then what more did you need? (white people’s flights of fancy)

What I loved about growing up in New York was the smallness of it. Contrary to what the tourists and the people who’ve lived here for ten years (Who made up that rule that if you lived here for ten years you were automatically a New Yorker? Someone who didn’t grow up in New York, obviously) would have it, your whole world was in your neighborhood, and unless work or school took you somewhere else, the notion of leaving was unimaginable. I lived in Brooklyn for the first twelve years of my life and I never once set foot in Williamsburg. You had your tribe, and although I moved a great deal and attended a fancy college, everyone I knew until the age of 19 mostly hailed from New York.

Back then, no one thought of New York as a cupcake, an oft-quoted episode of Sex and the City, home to SoulCycle and drunks who brunch. Back then, no one personified New York (Oh, New York. You’re killing me!–Are you fucking kidding me with this syrupy stuff from romance novels?)–New York was the place in which we lived. We described it based on the people we knew and the places we loved, but not as a real person to whom we would speak or invite to shoulder our sorrow and grief. We were snobby, true, but not about those things. Mostly we complained about the subways, and the anger we felt when we discovered the places we loved shuttered, replaced by new places. Glinting places. Expensive places.

What I’ve grown to hate about New York is the largeness of it. What I’ve grown to hate about New York is memory. Things have moved around like pieces on a chessboard, and I’ll find myself in neighborhoods feeling lost. This used to be here. That used to be there. I suppose everyone who has come before me feels that too, although these mounting losses feel palpable. Everyone’s moved away and meeting someone who has grown up in New York is now a novelty when it used to be the norm. The rampant materialism, which I’m sure existed when I was small but wasn’t as exposed to it, is subsuming. Everything’s loud, everyone’s busy and the subway ride back to Brooklyn feels less comforting than it used to.

Maybe this is what happens when you grow older. You start complaining about everything. I acknowledge that.

Or maybe I’m just tired of living here. But this is home. This is all I’ve ever known. I went to college and graduate school here. I know most neighborhoods. I can make my way. I don’t have to drive. And although this place feels less familiar, it’s more familiar than any other place, I suppose. But do I stay because of the familiar? Do I leave because of the unheimlich? I find myself wondering why I work so hard each quarter to save up enough money to flee the country. I wonder about lots of things.

My return from Thailand this week was difficult. Returning from the glaring sun to the unwelcomed dark was almost too much to bear. I’ve only just recovered from jetlag, but I miss the the space in Thailand (ironic when there’s 12 million people in Bangkok compared to New York’s 8), the warmth, the quiet I was able to cultivate. And while you say, can’t you cultivate that same sort of quiet here, much like these pancakes you’ve recreated from your Thai holiday, I’ll say that I’ve tried and tried and the constant trying is what exhausts me.

I don’t know what this all means, which is to say that I don’t know if I’ll move away anytime soon or if I’ll be able to find my quiet and light in a place that feels like strange, unfamiliar, with the passing of each day. I miss my tribe. I miss how my home used to make me feel.

For now, I’ll have my coconut pancakes and warm home and keep writing my way out, to what’s next.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Foodie Fiasco
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp coconut flour
1 1/2 tbsp coconut sugar
1 tbsp coconut manna (purified coconut)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut milk (I use Thai Kitchen’s Coconut Milk)–make sure you stir the milk (as the ingredients will separate in the can) before you add to the batter)
pinch of salt

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DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, manna, baking powder/salt until completely combined. Coconut palm sugar tends to be gritty and the manna has a thick consistency, so you want to completely pulverize them. Add the beaten eggs, vanilla extract, almond and coconut milks and beat for a good minute on medium. To activate the coconut flour, you need to beat the mixture for longer than you think (don’t worry, you’re not rolling with gluten, so you won’t get hardened discs for pancakes). The mixture should be incredibly thick.

In a large greased pan (I melted some coconut oil), add a 1/4 cup mixture (to make large-ish silver dollar pancakes), making sure you have an inch between the cakes. Cook on one side for a minute or until the top starts to bubble a bit and the edges crisp and flip (gently!) to cook on the other side.

Serve with maple syrup, fruit and nuts!

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my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: what I ate and how I got wack

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This week-long series isn’t about how I lost nearly 30 pounds in three months, rather this is about a lifetime battle with my body and how I’m finally traveled to a place where I’m settled in my skin and love it, from the inside out. This week, I’ll be sharing highly personal aspects of my life as well as practical tips I’ve learned–all in an effort to inspire you and remind myself that every day requires self-work and self-love. I was going to introduce this series when I hit my goal weight, but that felt pointless, because this is a journey that has no end until the end, and that’s actually really comforting. Shocking for a Type-A control freak like me. In today’s post I talk about the eating habits that got me sick, how eating the wrong foods can damage your body while the right foods have the propensity to nourish it.

I loved carbs. I worshipped at its altar, revered no other gods. In carbs, we trust, was my mantra. For years I baked cookies, loaves, pies, cakes, crumbles, crisps, crusts, and more variations on pasta pesto than I’d thought conceivable. Pasta was my creature comfort for those long nights in the office when the glare of the overhead fluorescents, married with my computer screen, became blinding. Delicate pastries were my salve on the weekends when I spent half of my time thinking about work and the other half, working. When I decided to catalog all the recipes I posted on this space over the years, I was shocked to see that nearly 90% of the recipes contained gluten.

In gluten, I trusted.

For years I was diagnosed as a binge drinker, which is tricky because on the scale from occasional drinker to full-blown alcoholic, I was somewhere in the middle. Binge drinkers are harder to treat because our behavior is sporadic, doesn’t follow a pattern or a defined reward mechanism, but when something happens or nothing happens, there’s a trigger and we drink until black. I was aware of what I was doing the whole time but I couldn’t stop; I just had to have that glass of wine even though I knew it was my ruin. Bad things always happened after the glass of wine I knew I shouldn’t have. I say this because last year something shifted and when I relapsed, after almost seven years of sobriety, I fell into full-blown alcoholic behavior. Drinkers, you know the drill. You’ve got a rotating list of shops from which you purchase because you don’t want the watchful eye seeing how often you come in, how many bottles of wine you buy. The house rules you once had as a binge drinker? Gone. They’re replaced with getting wasted during the day while binge-watching episodes of Homeland. No longer did I care about drinking during the day–I just drank. A LOT. After two months of this, I stopped and haven’t taken a drink in over a year. There was relief in that, though, the certainty that I can longer manage my drink.

When I think about food and addiction, the way I treated wine is not too dissimilar from how I treat carbs. Because, quite bluntly, I will find a way to self-medicate. The discipline now is in the awareness, in the knowledge of all that history, of the do you really want to return to that dark country? Do you remember it? How the pain swallowed you whole?

When I first met my nutritionist, I breezed in with a titanic ego. Waving my food diary, I’d show her just how healthy I’d been eating! Prideful, I wrote down when I had quinoa and kale and a list of other organic foods, and may I spotlight my morning protein smoothie, filled with banana, hemp seeds, peanut butter, rice milk and the like?

The ego makes you blind, my friends, because I was eating as if it were the end of days, rather than nourishing a human being.

On any given day, I consumed copious amounts of gluten at every meal. Barely awake, I tore into a cereal bar and ate another come mid-morning. I overdosed on nuts. Downed sugary rice milk. And that kale? It was more back-up dancer than Beyonce on the plate. And that quinoa? Mixed with cheesy beef that made me violently ill for hours. My food was “organic” but not whole. Consider a typical day: for breakfast I had oatmeal or cereal (gluten, not a ton of protein); snacks were cereal bars or nuts; for lunch I had a cheesy sandwich, pasta or cheesy beef; for dinner: rinse, lather, repeat. My nutritional intake was low and, in retrospect, I can’t imagine eating that much food ever again. Ask anyone who knows me. I used to eat lunch at ELEVEN IN THE MORNING because I was so protein-deficient. All that bread. All that white flour. All that sugar. All of it, converting to sugar.

Since I was always tired, always crashing, I drank an obscene amount of coffee (now, I have one almond milk cappuccino a week, and I’ve gone weeks without coffee at all). And those “nutritional protein and cereal bars”? Read the label. Take the total carbs, minus the dietary fiber and divide that number by four. That’s how many TEASPOONS of sugar you’re digesting in a single serving. All that low-fat food you pride yourself on eating? What do you think they’re adding when they’re deleted the fat? Sugar, fillers, carbs, gluten.

Over a lifetime of eating this way–where my plate was composed of 80% carbs (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes) and the remainder protein and vegetables (I rarely ate anything beyond carrots, spinach and kale)–I developed a host of food sensitivities, saw my insulin levels skyrocket, and my GI tract was in disrepair. At this rate, I was on my way to celiac and diabetes, my doctor said. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my poor diet was responsible for the following symptons: exhaustion, fatigue, mood swings, unfit sleep (I slept an average of 5-6 hours a night, now I’m at a minimum of 7), bloat, gas, stomach cramping and adominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, foggy brain–many of which are also symptons of gluten intolerance.

A few things, first. There’s a lot of talk vilifying gluten, as it’s become fashionable in some circles to eschew it. Scientists don’t quite understand how a post 1950s consumer can’t seem to tolerate gluten like they used to, and with all the modifications to our food supply and all the chemicals that are so abundant in our food, I’m not entirely shocked that our bodies (and the science of them) haven’t quite caught up to the chemistry. But I’m telling you that this thing with gluten and me (and dairy, too) isn’t some fad or some diet, it was making me sick. Really sick.

Secondly, know there is a definitive difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. While both exhibit similar symptoms, allergies can be life threatening whereas intolerances can lead to a host of other health-related illness and severe digestive problems over time. My primary care physician tested me for celiac as well as conducted genetic tests to see whether I had a disposition to an allergy or a specific disease. The first level of testing relies on simple blood work, but extensive testing, especially for celiac, may require a visit to a gastroenterologist. I also saw an allergist (more on that in another post) who performed skin testing to see if I had any food allergies. I don’t. Separately, my nutritionist had my bloodwork sent to ALCAT for sensitivity testing. The test usually takes two weeks to complete, and it was further delayed because New York State no longer allows for sensitivity testing so my blood had to be courried to New Jersey. Seriously. All of this back and forth took a month, and during that time I had one small bowl of cacio e pepe.

And that SHIT CHANGED MY GAME.

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The easiest way to detect a food sensitivity is to either get a blood test (recommended) or eliminate specific foods from your diet for a period of time (at least two weeks to as long as six–some call this an “exclusion” or “elimination” diet) and then slowly reintroduce them, one by one, to see if and how your body reacts. While I was waiting for my blood work, I thought, how much harm can one bowl of pasta do? PEOPLE. YOU WOULDN’T EVEN BELIEVE.

Within 48 hours, I developed massive burning, prickly hives on 90% of my body. The scars of which are STILL HEALING. I felt feverish and weak, and when I text’d pictures to my doctor he told me to come in immediately. The reaction was so severe that he put me on a week-long cycle of steroids and antihistamines and I can’t tell you how painful it was and how horribly I reacted to the steroids (I experienced aggression, vomiting, and I almost fainted in my apartment after throwing up in a trashcan at 1:30 in the morning). My nutritionist immediately put me on additional supplements and L-Glutamine to repair my GI tract and leaky gut.

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I was incredulous. That little bowl of pasta, that motherfucker, did all that? No, my doctor said. It was an inflammatory response to years of my GI tract serving as a punching bag for the bully otherwise known as gluten. Your GI tract is like the bouncer in a club keeping all the undesirables from entering your bloodstream, and gluten is like a bunch of drunken kids who just want to play Rage Against the Machine and punch people, willy-nilly. So in response, my body went all war metaphor on gluten and dairy–because WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT, ANYMORE!–in an effort to expel the invaders from my system.

Do you know it took two months for the hives to completely disappear, and for the itch to go away? I was the most extreme case my doctor and nutritionist had ever seen, and every time I unknowingly consume any of the litany of foods of which I’m sensitive, I start to itch. For the next seven months, I can’t have gluten, dairy and yeast, and for another 4-5 months I can’t have many of the foods you see below under the columns “Severe” and “Moderate.” I pick my battles and live my life and I’ll have lemons and a vinaigrette (garlic is a false-positive), but even when this time passes and I’m given the green light I can never, ever, eat how I used to again.

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Gluten and dairy will be relegated to the “occasion” meal. So instead of having the bagels, croissants, cereal bars, oats, pasta, any kind of dessert that isn’t vegan on the regular, I will have an occasion meal once a week. Pasta becomes a twice a month treat.

At first I had the reaction most addicts have. WHAT? YOU’RE TELLING ME THAT I HAVE TO ABSTAIN FROM/MODERATE/NOT BINGE ON/OR ABUSE X FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE? SURELY, YOU JEST. However, after living without these foods and enjoying a diverse diet rich in nutrients, textures, tastes and flavors, I actually don’t mind it. I kind of like the idea of enjoying a great bowl of homemade pasta with pesto in a restaurant instead of hoovering a third of a box in my home. Because right now I feel so good, so healthy, that I don’t want that itch, that ache, that sickness.

I don’t mind a life that doesn’t depend on gluten or dairy to exist. It feels good to lay down my armor for I no longer fear food. This isn’t a diet, a juice cleanse (STOP WITH THE BULLSHIT CLEANSES ALREADY; THEY’RE CLEANING NOTHING!!!)–it’s the way I have to live my life and once I accepted that, I was golden.

Since I’m a Type A control freak, I needed books, films, websites that educated me about my body and food production in the U.S. These resources kept me sane, even on the days when I wanted to scream into pillows.

RESOURCES

  • Nadya Andreeva’s Happy Belly: A Woman’s guide to feeling vibrant, light, and balanced
  • April Peveteaux’s breezy, hilarious, yet informative, memoir, Gluten is my Bitch
  • Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen: The Girlfriend’s Cookbook and Guide to Using Real Food to Fight Cancer by Annette Ramke + Kendall Scott. While my condition is nowhere nearly as serious as cancer, I found a lot of their mindful healthy eating tips smart, and their vegetarian recipes (most of which are gluten-free!) inspiring.
  • Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar: Your Complete 8-Week Detox Program and Cookbook
  • Alejandro Junger’s Clean Gut: The Breakthrough Plan for Eliminating the Root Cause of Disease and Revolutionizing Your Health
  • Favorite food documentaries: Food, Inc., Food Matters, Forks Over Knives and GMO OMG
  • Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. (I also re-read all of Pollan’s books I own)
  • Tracie McMillan’s The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table
  • John Yudkin’s Pure, White, and Deadly: How Sugar Is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It
  • David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers
  • The four cookbooks (and trust me, I bought over a dozen and a lot of them were MEH) that have become kitchen mainstays are: Angela Liddon’s The Oh She Glows Cookbook (if you buy any cookbook, let it be this one. The recipes are BANANAS.EDU), Juli Bauer’s The Paleo Kitchen (THOSE MEATBALLS), Hemsley’s & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well and Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food
  • Websites/IG Feeds that made me happy and gave me hope when I wanted to cry: Whole30Recipes, Mind Body Green, Oh She Glows, The Balanced Blonde, Dolly + Oatmeal, Naturally Ella, Elena Brower, Celiac.org, No Thyme to Waste, Chelsea Beasley, 86 Lemons, A Couple of Cooks, Clean Food Dirty City, Heartbeet Kitchen, Theodora Blanchfield, The TV Dinner, The Feed Feed, Alpha Prep, Gluten-Free Forever, and I’m sure there are so many more sites I’m forgetting!
  • Next Up: How I eat now. You’ll see my food diaries, sample recipes, and tips on eating out without tearing your hair out. I’ll also talk a little bit about my workouts and how I stay fit + balanced.

    Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. This post is meant as a means to inspire, not directly emulate. I’m sharing my specific food journey and interaction with experienced medical professionals who know my medical history. Don’t self-diagnose or play doctor with WebMD. If you think you may have allergies or intolerances, please consult with your doctor.

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    grain-free granola (and dear god, this is GOOD)

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    Sometimes I miss gluten, I do. I’ll see an Instagram photo of a thin crust pizza topped with pancetta and figs and I’ll mourn. When I was in Spain, I took an apartment next to a bakery and the waft of baked morning loaves was sometimes unbearable. I don’t miss pasta as much as I thought I would, or the laundry list of foods that contain gluten in one form or another, but I miss bread. I miss oats. I miss granola. Now you may wave your pro-oat flag and tell me that there are gluten-free versions of oats, to which I’ll solemnly shake my head and respond, no, you are mistaken. All oats have gluten, and the gf versions simple don’t have the form of gluten intolerable to celiacs. Thus, it’s safe! Let the gluten-free label mania commence!

    And then there are people like me, who are sensitive to gluten of all molecular shapes and forms, who break out into hives that one day I indulged in some gluten-free oats in my pancakes. I’ll spare you the visuals.

    I thought I’d have to wait 7 more months to have granola until I came upon this paleo-friendly recipe. AND DEAR GOD, ORANGE KITTENS AND CHARRED-CRUST PIZZA WITH CRUMBLED SAUSAGE, THIS IS GOOD. Better than the oat version, my grain and gluten-free friends. Believe me when I say that I didn’t even purchase my requisite coconut or almond yoghurt (don’t believe what people tell you–these versions simply aren’t as good as the dairy-ridden kind)–I ate this granola by the spoonful. I love how it’s at turns salty and sweet, and the softened figs and dates give the granola a lovely texture.

    I could eat this for days. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones, one of the bread-eating, pizza-crust-nibbling folk, living a gluten, fanciful life, this granola will kick your crap oats any day of the week.

    INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen, modified
    1 cup blanched, sliced almonds
    1 cup chopped pecans
    1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped
    3 dried figs, chopped
    1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
    1/4 cup almond flour/meal
    1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled
    2 tbsp maple syrup
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    seeds from 1 vanilla bean (if you don’t have this, add another tsp of vanilla extract)
    pinch of cinnamon + sea salt

    DIRECTIONS
    Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

    In a medium bowl, mix all of the ingredients. Turn the mixture out onto the baking sheet and spread into a thin, even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring the mixture halfway through the baking process. Let cool completely before serving to ensure that the granola will harden into clusters.

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    leaning tower of lemon poppyseed cookies (gluten-free)

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    Truth be told, I can’t really think of anything else but Spain. Tapas, Dali museums, cathedrals, bike rides and gothic architecture and seaside towns, I’m looking forward to two weeks of unadulterated quiet. I plan to finish the last revisions of my novel, relax, cook up some delicious food in my AirBNBs in Barcelona and Granada, and possibly take a one-day sojourn to who knows where. Part of me wans to return to San Sebastian, another part wants to fly to Toledo–we’ll see what transpires and where the day takes me.

    To that end, I’m packing for my trip tonight and since I never, ever eat airline food, I’ve already made delicious chicken and savory meatballs for the ride, and have packed copious amounts of sweets + treats, including these delicious cookies.

    I made some modifications to the original recipe because the dry and wet ingredients felt incredibly imbalanced, rendering a too-wet cookie dough. My cookies came out feather-light, slightly sweet and tangy with lemon. Since lemons are on my verboten list, I naturally got a few hives on my arm after chowing on one of these jams. Whatever. These cookies are worth the itch.

    INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Paleo Kitchen
    1 1/2 cups ground almond meal/flour
    2 tbsp sifted coconut flour
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    pinch of sea salt
    2 large eggs, whisked
    1/4 cup organic honey
    2 tbsp coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled
    1 tsp almond extract
    juice of 2 lemons
    zest of 1 lemon
    1 tsp poppy seeds

    DIRECTIONS
    Pre-heat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

    Combine the almond and coconut flours, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, honey, coconut oil and sugar, almond extract, lemon juice and zest.

    Using a spatula, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well. Fold in the poppyseeds. Using an ice-cream scoop (filling it 1/2 way), drop 9 cookies onto the baking sheet.

    Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cookies have slghtly browned. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes before chowing down.

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