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
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.
When I was small my friends told me not to worry, that I could pass. Their assurances were accompanied by a dramatic fingering of my hair, which was a mess of coarse curls, the kind of hair my mother labored over in the bathroom, tried to tame it with baby oil and Vaseline. It made no difference that I grew up in Borough Park, steps away from the elevated train on New Utrecht. It didn’t matter that we purchased the same chicken legs wrapped in brown paper from the bodega or swam in the same pool in Sunset Park or pinched loosies (single cigarettes) when we could–what mattered was my hair. Because where I came from being white was a liability. Being white got you jumped. Being white made you an outsider. You were lesser than because if you had the privilege of that skin, and you lived where you lived, you were considered a joke. It was as if you had a lottery ticket you were too dumb to cash in. But my mother wore Pumas, was ferocious, waitressed at a diner, played her soul records and knew all the right people. So mostly, they left us alone.
Years later I would walk into a junior high school and be ridiculed for my hair, the very thing that had saved me in my childhood, because it betrayed an otherness. White people didn’t have this hair. White people didn’t speak with a Spanish lilt to their voice. White people didn’t grow up on soul when there was rock and roll (which, by the way, my mother listened to, too). And I remember a group of Spanish girls in my junior high school who took me in, asked where I was from, and the next day no one made comments about my hair. The cheerleaders in their green pleated skirts, the girls named Lea, Ryan and Michelle, didn’t say anything at all. They were frightened and in that fear came the silences. I shook my head, and wanted to say that my last name was Sullivan! That I was Italian and Irish! But while I thought all of these things were truths, I knew they were also somehow untrue. Because I didn’t see anything wrong with being black or Spanish, but that wasn’t the point. The point was I didn’t feel white but I didn’t feel black, either. How do you explain to thirteen-year-olds who live on binary terms that you are possibly grey? When you’re small you don’t understand the gradations of color, the in-betweens. When you are that young, you still believe you have to color in the lines. To the Leas and Ryans of my small world, black men were ball-players, rappers, men who robbed your house. Wait, what? I couldn’t see any of that. Sure, men in my old neighborhood tossed rhymes on stoops, drank 40s out of brown paper bags, but they were also kind, always had your back, and worked from dark to dark. Rhyming, drinking and dreaming were some of the things they did to pass the time, to make their lives easier to bear.
I have a memory, but it comes and goes in fragments, like swallows, and I just remember the glare of a television in a dark bedroom and I’m lying on the floor watching it. I am small and my mother is in bed with a man named Keith. He is black, striking in his beauty, his man-ness, and they are talking in the way that couples do after they’ve just been intimate. They exist in the space of the after, when conversations are easy, slow, and you talk about the things you wouldn’t normally discuss in the morning. That’s all I’m able to remember, and now I think: was that him? Was that man my biological father?
Another memory: Another man, another state. We are in Pennsylvania and my mother (a mistress now) travels with her abusive boyfriend to visit his ex-wife and children. I never understood why we traveled to a place where we were not welcome, but we made the trip and the children, sisters, made snide comments about from where we’d come, about how I wasn’t one of them, white. The mother’s name was Virginia and I never saw my mother so afraid when she was in that house.
Years later I receive a long message on Facebook. It’s from one of the sisters in Pennsylvania. She’d read my memoir, found god, and couldn’t I possibly forgive Father for all that he had done as she had? Reading the note I paled down to bone, and I remember being in an office and someone coming over to my desk and asking me about a plan we were supposed to write. And I glanced at the message on Facebook and nodded at my direct report, and felt paralyzed in the space between the two. Although I will do everything possible in my adult life to not be my mother’s daughter, some of her will always remain. Why I have a hard time letting people in, crying in front of others, or being vulnerable–these are aspects of her that have left their indelible mark on me, parts of me I’m desperate to lose.
I think back to those girls in junior high school, and my nearly all-white high school, and how everyone believed that black men were to be feared. But no. I shook my head no, because in my experience white men weren’t to be trusted. They hid behind the privilege of their skin. And then I got all confused because had I become one of those people coloring in the lines? Not understanding that the content of one’s character isn’t married to the pigment of their skin?
The summer before college, I worked at Pizza Hut and I started dating one of my coworkers who drove a nice car and lived in Queens. We bonded over our affection for A Tribe Called Quest, and I remember over the course of our date how he kept playing “The Low End Theory” in this car. He came to my door and met my family, and I remember how my father, Gus, shook his hand and smiled because Gus is the kind of man who will shake your hand and mean it, but my mother, my mother, cowered in the background and scowled. She took me aside and told me she hadn’t known that my date was black, and didn’t I know that his color would cause trouble? Because we were no longer in Brooklyn. And I shook away from her because I knew that I was going to college and college meant freedom, and who was she to talk to me about blackness when there was Keith and all the men who had come before? And, oh by the way, I didn’t choose my date because he was black, I chose to go out with him because he was cool. I said as much and walked out of the house. In the car my date made a comment about my mother being something and I said, she sure is. Something.
That was our only date. While we spent the rest of the summer making personal pan pizzas, something was off, wasn’t the same. We were still friends. We still joked but we were changed, and I can’t help but think it had to do with the fact that I was white (but not really) and he wasn’t, and I was angry because it didn’t matter when someone loves “The Low End Theory” just as much as you do. When someone can turn the task of dumping frozen pepperoni on a pizza into a game, into something fun.
I set out today to write something different, to make something and share it with you, but then I read this. At 6:30 in the morning I cried in my apartment. I’m 30% black and have I been hiding behind the privilege of my skin, technology that has the ability to make my hair smooth?
A few weeks ago I’m on the phone with my best friend of nearly 20 years, and she’s the only person with whom I’ve spoken about my DNA results. She asks me how I feel and I tell her I don’t know what I feel. No, that’s not true. I feel relief to have knowledge, facts, the maths, even if it is 38 years too late. I tell her that I’ve felt that all this time I’ve been passing…for white. I tell her that I don’t feel white or black but something in the middle, and I blurt out all the appropriate and inappropriate questions. Do I have the right to say I’m part black at 38 (yes, I do, logically, but…)? Can I own blackness? Do I have the right to? Do I keep on as I’ve been living? What changes? Does anything change? Do I owe a debt? To whom?
I don’t yet have answers to any of these questions, and I imagine it will take some time and introspection, but my friend told me that it’s okay to be in the in-betweens. That I should be proud of whatever I am, that I’m not defined by my chemistry.
Ever have one of those weeks when nothing feels right? When getting out of bed is a Herculean effort? That, coupled with some frustrating emails in my inbox, made for a meh start to my week. And while I have some ideas for my new creative project, I’m feeling stuck. Perhaps it’s the Monday blues because I’m hoping that things will turn around as the week progresses. Luckily, I have leftovers of yesterday’s yummy meatball + cauliflower tabbouleh to come home to tonight.
Send love and orange kittens.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Hemsley & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well For the meatballs
1 pound of ground lamb or beef (I opted for beef sirloin, 85% lean)
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
1 and a ¼ tsp of sea salt
½ tsp of pepper
¼ tsp of ground cumin
¼ tsp of ground cinnamon
1-2 tsp of ghee or olive oil for frying Optional: 1 pinch of ground chilli or a little fresh chilli
For the tabbouleh
2 medium heads of cauliflower, roughly grated by hand or use a food processor (choose the medium teeth on your grater)
1 tbsp. of ghee, olive oil or butter
1 medium red onion or 1 bunch of spring onions finely chopped (I decided to nix this)
4 large tomatoes, diced (I nixed this)
3 large handfuls of parsley, finely chopped
1 large handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon (I used lime instead)
4-5 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste Toppings: Scatter over chopped radishes, nuts or seeds (such as almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)
Steam your grated cauliflower in a saucepan (lid on) with a couple of tablespoons of water and your ghee or butter. On a medium heat, it should take roughly 3 minutes for the cauliflower to cook (not too soft!), but check there is enough water at the bottom of the pan so that the cauliflower doesn’t burn.
Drain any excess water and tip your steamed cauliflower into a large serving bowl
While your cauliflower is cooling, chop all your tabbouleh ingredients and then combine everything together. Taste for seasoning.
In a big bowl, combine all your meatball ingredients and mix well. Be careful not to overmix, you just want all the seasonings to come together.
In a wide saucepan, add a little ghee, olive oil or butter and fry a small piece of the mixture to check for seasoning. Adjust the remaining mixture as necessary.
Wet your hands and shape the mixture into balls. We used roughly 1.5 teaspoons of mixture per meatball but make them any size you like – the larger they are, the longer they’ll take to cook.
Heat up a little more ghee, olive oil or butter, and, over a medium-high heat, fry the meatballs in a few batches until lightly browned on all sides and cooked through – this should take about 6-7 minutes. (You can always brown the meatballs in advance and finish them off in the oven later if you’re having people round).
Serve your hot meatballs with the tabbouleh. If there are any leftovers, eat cold the next day with some homemade hummus.
You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’ve been having a hard time eating sweets lately because they have so. much. sugar. Since my diet is relatively low in sugar (this is what happens when you’re eating vegetables ALL DAY LONG), baking holds less of an interest for me these days. When I first gave up gluten, dairy and yeast, I was devastated. I felt as if my identity as a baker of sweets was in jeopardy, until a good friend told me that being a baker–a creator of things–is not simply about butter, sugar and flour. I’ve been giving her words a considerable amount of thought over the past few months, and as you’ve likely noticed I’m baking less and cooking more. But I don’t mind it. I’ve been listening to my body; I bake when I have the urge for something sweet, which has been less and less these days. Sweet for me is a small bar of dark chocolate, fruit, rather than cinnamon rolls and pies.
But make no mistake. Come the holidays, I will WANT A PIE. I’ll just know that I’ll have to make it in order to maintain its nutritional integrity.
Yesterday, I was craving chocolate, specifically a brownie. I scanned the growing stack of vegan, paleo, and gluten-free cookbooks, and when I came upon this gluten + grain-free recipe, I was skeptical. I had APPLESAUCE SUBSTITUTION FLASHBACKS. Philosophically, I’ve been a believer that baked goods should been enjoyed in all their full-fat glory, and to mar that would be criminal. Yet, this recipe is certainly not devoid of fat (eh-hem butter/coconut oil) and has oceans of sweet flavor (maple syrup), so I gave it a go.
Know that I hesitated before I a sampled a brownie. I shoved the cooled bars in the fridge, considered dumping them altogether, but I HATE food waste, so I gave these a go, fully expecting burrito flavor in the guise of a brownie.
NOT SO! The brownies were fudgy, not too sweet, and delicious. They’re quite filling so you’ll likely stop at one, but color me shocked, surprised, that black beans can make a worthy grain substitute. WHO KNEW?!
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Hemsley & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well, modified slightly
1 15oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
8oz Earth Balance vegan butter or coconut oil
4 large eggs
1 cup of unsweetened cacao powder
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
2 tbsp vegan chocolate chips (dark chocolate is fine here, too)
Pre-heat the oven to 325F. Grease a 9 1/2 x 8 baking dish with coconut oil, vegan butter or coconut oil spray (I like Spectrum Organic). Set it aside. Melt the butter/oil in a pan over low/medium heat. Set aside to cool slightly.
Place the beans, eggs, cacao, salt, maple syrup, and vanilla extract into the food processor. Pulse a few times and then blend until smooth. Slowly add the cooled butter down the shoot and mix until completely combined. Stir in 1/2 of the pecans, coconut flakes, and vegan chips, reserving the rest for the top of the brownies.
Pour the mixture into the prepared dish, making sure the batter is evenly distributed. Add the reserve pecans, flakes and chips, and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the brownie feels firm but springy and its surface is cracked.
Leave to cool completely, 30-45 minutes before slicing. I actually put this in the fridge after 30 minutes so it can be slightly. The brownies had such a fudgy texture as a result!
After reviewing my food diary with my nutritionist this week (actually, it was more like open-heart surgery without anesthesia, but I digress), we started to talk about food combinations, fats, carb-loading and the importance of diversity in one’s diet. Over the past few weeks, I’ve made myself try one new fruit or vegetable in the grocery store–so whether it’s raw beets, purple cauliflower, snap peas, sunchokes, or bean sprouts, I’m making point to widen my color, flavor and texture repertoire. Back in the day I didn’t bother with strange-looking rutabaga because why bother when pesto pasta takes under 30 minutes to make? A taste that might make you shudder becomes something you crave and love over a period of time. And the nutritional benefits of eating among the five taste sensations (sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and savory) are profound in terms of aiding digestion, and maintaining an overall balanced diet. I think the hardest part of my journey for is the realization that not having gluten, dairy, yeast, bananas, sweet potatoes, turkey, and the other dozen or so foods I have to avoid for the next seven months is, in fact, NOT a limitation. It’s not because there are hundreds of other things I could be eating but have simply chosen not to. Because again, why bother?
Now I have to bother.
I’ve also been cognizant of food combinations in order to absorb all the nutrients in my system so I can feel good. I tend to not mix complex grains and proteins because they’re brutal on our digestive system. If you’re interested in checking out the WORST combinations (believe me, I’ve done them all), check out this article on MBG. Grains work best with veg, same with protein. Before I received my food sensitivity results, I was confused why I kept getting appendicitis-level pain every time I had a dish that had quinoa and a protein. Here I was in self-diagnosis land before my slew of test results returned, and Dana told me that since I had damaged my insides from years of gluten + dairy abuse, I was a walking wound. Most people can handle poor combinations, but for me, it’s like getting punched in the face after I’ve received a proper BK beat-down.
One of the biggest lessons learned? FAT IS YOUR FRIEND. You need fat to absorb nutrients. You need fat to LIVE. I grew up in the age of Snackwell’s + low fat, and what do you think replaces the fat that has been eliminated from your favorite foods? Starches, sugar and salt. Sugar is cute, isn’t it? Especially when it throws a frat party in your liver and you start to become susceptible to all sorts of health-related conditions. If you’re eating fats free of hydrogenated oils (think nuts/seeds, avocados, coconut oil, and nut butters), you’re golden. They’re healthy, they’ll fill you up, and they’ll add that proverbial glow to your skin.
Every so often I need reminders. I need the nutrition version of getting punched in the stomach because my descent back into eating crap is so easy. Bacon and candied pecans, popcorn, carb-loading (even of the complex carb kind), and suddenly it’s not about moderation or balance, it’s about me with a huge bowl of popcorn in my lap after I’ve eaten a salad. And there I go rationalizing it, but I ate a huge salad, etc, etc. I have to remind myself why I’m eating the foods I’m eating and am I present when I eat them?
Dana has me switching up my diary format to take stock of all the times I misstep (to drive awareness) and some thoughts on how I feel after a particular meal. I dutifully rolled my eyes when I saw the spreadsheet, however, today I was annoyed that I’d eaten this buckwheat burrito because, while it was OKAY, it wasn’t a potato-with-olive-oil-sea-salt-and-pepper delicious. It was simply a vehicle for the beans and guacamole, which were divine on their own. Similarly, when I return to eating gluten and dairy, I want to eat the BEST PASTA or HOMEMADE BREAD, not just crap out of a box. I want my every meal to be a small celebration, a victory, a minor event.
I leave for Thailand in two weeks and I’m watching (as I type this) a 1.5 hour seminar on eating to achieve your best body. This isn’t a diet or about being skinny, this is about feeling good inside and out. This is about fueling your body. This is about changing your mindset from I work out to eat to I eat to work out. So far, I’m loving the sessions–videos that range from 2-7 minutes in length–brought to you by the founders of Sakara Life. And you guys KNOW how I feel about Sakara Life, so much so that I’ve ordered the lunch boxes for a two-week reboot.
From how to eat the rainbow (and why it’s important to have color on the plate), and why fat is your friend (please stop eating low-fat), to the importance of eating organic and the need to quit it with the calorie counting, the sessions are smart, digestible, and the founders manage to make heady science intuitive and simple. I also love their 54-page downloadable booklet, which is filled with so much health information and a seven-day meal plan, complete with recipes. While a lot of the information isn’t new to me, it’s that lovely punch I need right now.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Art of Eating Well For the tortilla
9oz (2 cups) buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups of water
coconut oil for frying
For the fried beans
1 tsp coconut oil
1 garlic clove, finely grated
1 pinch of cumin
1 pinch of chili or a little cayenne pepper
1 15 oz can of black beans drained and rinsed
sea salt + black pepper
For the guacamole
2 large avocados
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lime
1/4 scallion of fresh chives snipped
1 garlic clove, finely grated
sea salt + black pepper
4 large tomatoes, sliced
3 handfuls of crunchy lettuce or red/white cabbage, shredded
a handful of chopped cilantro
1/4 cup red onions, minced
To make the tortillas, whisk together the flour, egg and salt in a large bowl with 3 cups of water. Leave the batter to stand for 1/2 hour. A note on the flour: the burritos in the cookbook look NOTHING like buckwheat. Perhaps buckwheat looks completely different in the U.K., however, the kind I find in the local grocery store is dark grey. So don’t freak out when your tortillas don’t resemble the white floured-looking ones in the book.
Bring a lightly greased, well-seasoned cast iron skillet (or ceramic pan) about 8-inch in diameter. Brush the bottom of the pan with the oil. Whisk the batter and using a ladle, add enough batter to cover the bottom of the pan when swirled. After 1-2 minutes, when the underside is brown, flip and cook lightly (1 minute) on the other side.
To make the beans, gently heat the oil in a pan and fry the garlic. Add the cumin and chili and cook for a few minutes. Add the black beans, a splash of water, and cook for 5 minutes until the beans are sticky. Season to taste.
To make the guacamole, mash the avocado + all ingredients in a bowl.
To serve, pile your fillings (I almost typed feelings, so there’s that) onto each tortilla, as well as any of the optional toppings and chow down.
Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. – Samuel Beckett
Yesterday, I fell. On the way to the train station I was fixated on reading an article on my phone and then suddenly I could see it–the trip, tumble and collapse–but I could do nothing to stop it. I tumbled a few feet and landed on the ground in the rain. I skinned my palms, my knee ached from the impact and a man helped me up and asked me if I was okay. I laughed and said, that hurt more than I thought it would.
Later on that day I read an article calling food sensitivities a myth, a product of our own psychosomatic invention, and I was angry not because the opinion was blatantly wrong, it was the fact that pretty, popular girls can publish un-researched, un-informed fiction under the guise of journalism and the masses will swarm at their manicured feet. I was angry, still, when a comment I’d posted–something I rarely do, comment on websites–calling into question the lack of research from both sides of the argument, the lack of interviews with trained medical professionals and those who actually struggle with food issues (because should we assume that since our food has been chemically and genetically modified more so in the past 40 years than the past 400 that our bodies would have a reaction of which science has yet to understand, much less concretely diagnose?), was deleted. I was angered over the ignorance and then the silencing. But the world presses on and they sell more branded gloss.
That night during my yoga class, in the dark, I kept thinking about night driving in California. How I hated being in cars at night because you couldn’t see the road ahead of you. But in California I didn’t mind not knowing, instead allowing the road to unravel ahead of me in degrees. I thought about a trip I took to Tacoma, Washington and being in car with a man who’d been drinking, and then drinking wine coolers in Manhasset, and I’m mixing it all up. All the memories are shards I can’t piece together and I’m angry that I can’t remember everything. That part of my life is gone and I won’t again feel what it’s like to be 24 in a car, sleeping while someone drives.
We tell stories in order to live, Joan Didion writes. What if the stories are all mixed up, silenced, deleted, not read, not told?
I met with my nutritionist yesterday and the weight loss slowed because I’d been, knowingly, adding more fat back into my diet. Bacon and candied pecans on salads, extra slices of sausage. I was worried, I said. About time. And I knew Dana wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, I didn’t, because I was acting like every meal was my last when another was three hours away. We tell stories in order to live, but what if time runs out? How could I explain that I worried about the time between now and then? How do I tell that story?
I met with an old friend and we talk about the business of books and I tell him I’m done with all of those people, all of that, and he shakes his head. Those people don’t matter. That history doesn’t matter. This thing about your introversion, he starts, and I talk over him, a thing I now rarely do, about how I was telling real stories on this space, on all the spaces I occupy, and he alluded to the fact that my letting people in isn’t a singular event. I have to to continue to leave the door open, even if it’s a crack. I have to keep telling stories, honest ones. I added my email to my About page, and you may think it’s not much but it’s huge, HUGE, for me. That’s the door opening, a little.
There are a lot of stories and I want to tell them but I don’t know. About how I don’t know what’s next and that’s okay but not okay. About how I have this book that I love this much but what if no one buys it, and I know I’m not supposed to wrap up my worth in the business of books but knowing something and feeling something are two different things. About how hard it is to be present because when you’re not present you fall on the ground. About letting my anger go when I see silly articles written or just how many men hate women in this world for no reason. About being young and not loving it then when I was in it and making it all pretty and romantic now when I’ve traveled oceans away from it. About hearing people who are 30 complain about being old when all I want to do is stop the clocks and go back and get a do-over because maybe I would have done things differently.
We tell stories in order to live, and I realize I write and eat and sometimes live like time is running out.
I take this picture of me in yoga class and I immediately dissect everything that is wrong anatomically with the pose. I think about the ten pounds I’ve left to lose. I show this photograph to my yoga teacher and he smiles and doesn’t see everything I do. He says, you look strong.
I think about being awake in the car. I think about driving it.
Over the past two years I’ve managed to whittle down my life to that which is essential. I have what I need and nothing more. I no longer care about investing in exceedingly overpriced designer clothing, rather I buy sensible clothes for work, home and working out. It took some time, and frequent trips to other countries, particularly Southeast Asia, to make me aware of my excessive materialism. Now, my home is relatively sparse with the exception of books.
I have a problem with books. I like them. A LOT. So much so that I bring home books I’ve found on the street. Every week I’m greeted by a cardboard box from Amazon. When friends move, I stand aside patiently waiting for the moment when I’m allowed trespass to their leftover book collection. At my height, I stored over 3,000 books in my apartment–now I think I have 1,000. No matter how hard I try to refine my collection, there’s always a new book, always something to learn, always a need to discover what I don’t know.
Don’t you dare talk to me about e-readers or books that don’t have paper (Pft!). You are likely speaking a language I do not understand. I spend most of my days in front of a computer screen. I equate computers with work or getting things done, and no, no, I don’t want to relegate books to that lot. Books are pleasure. Books must be accompanied by popcorn and feet tucked under blankets. Books are better than work.
But truth be told, I’m getting a little anxious when I see the towers looming, and I’ve decided to do a mini clean-out this weekend of books I haven’t read in over a year. Pray for my strength amidst all the hardcovers.
This month’s lot is an exciting one, a combination of street finds, recommendations from friends, and books I’ve discovered through my Twitter feed. Right now I’m thick in Marilynne Robinson’s prequel to Gilead, Lila, and it’s nothing short of remarkable. I only dream that my writing will one day have Robinson’s quiet strength, that steadfast precision.
Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me might be the first true crime book I’ve owned and I’m SO EXCITED to read it. My hairstylist, Sarah, and I always talk about books; we’re always trading recommendations. Sarah’s one of the few who agree with my belief that Zadie Smith is a far better essayist than novelist (I did order NW, as that’s the only Smith novel I haven’t read), so there’s trust there. Last week I was telling her about my novel, how I’ve become fixated with the dual nature of sociopaths, and she immediately recommended Rule’s book. Rule spent two years working with Ted Bundy at a suicide crisis hotline, and she would correspond with him until his execution for having murdered 40 women. I’d no idea that Bundy, a man who was described by Rule as “sensitive,” counseled people into not taking their own life (the irony!). This striking dichotomy of self got me excited so I ordered the book immediately. I’m actually making myself move through Lila so I can get to this.
The Rule book promises to be a swift read, so I’ll tackle NW next. The same day I got the Rule recommendation, I scanned Twitter to discover that Sheila Heti (!!!) and Heidi Julavits collaborated on an edited collection of essays, Women in Clothes. Candidly, I was trepidatious, especially after having read Worn Stories, short essays that stood beautifully on their own but grew tiresome in a collection that could have used a heavier editorial hand (as well as a narrative arc). However, I have much admiration for Heti (an extraordinary writer) and Julavits (author + Believer editor), so I’m excited to dive in.
Finally, I found two books on the street and immediately I scooped them up: Sherman Alexi’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (so hilarious, witty and well-written) and Teresa Carpenter’s New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009. Part of me wishes I could keep a diary (I guess this blog is one of sorts, albeit edited for television), so I was intrigued by this exhaustively-researched tome filled with diary entries from Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and other literary heavyweights on being in, or traveling through, New York.
Suffice it to say, I’ve got a BUSY month ahead of me. What are you reading?
This weekend was exhausting. Although I love consulting, and enjoy the fact that I live a creative life without being chained to a desk five days a week, sometimes my flexible schedule means I have to work nights and long weekends. I wrote a lot this weekend, so much so that all I want to do is lie supine and not write. From finalizing the final draft of my novel for submission to creating recipes for a fun work project to writing positioning and marketing copy for an appliance and a new type of agency, I’m a little spent. Exhilarated for what’s to come, but spent. So apologies for the super short post. I did want to pop in and humbling thank everyone who sent me kind notes regarding the first chapter of my new book. I’ve been tethered to these characters for so long it feels as if I’ve been writing in a black box, a box so dark no light gets in. Imagine me putting on blinders after sharing 14 pages and getting such a warm reception, suggestions from friends on editors to whom my agent should submit my manuscript, and virtual fist pumps.
Thank you! Your fist pumps mean the world and back, and then some.
So don’t mind me as I lie on the floor, spooning this guacamole into my mouth.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook
2 medium avocados, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion (I nixed this as I don’t dig onions in my guacamole)
1 fresh mango, pitted, peeled, and finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped hulled strawberries
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
1 to 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice, to taste
Fine-grain sea salt
Corn/gluten-free chips, for serving
In a medium bowl, gently mash the avocado, leaving some chunks for texture. Rinse and drain the chopped onion (if using) in a strainer to wash off the sulfurous compounds. This makes the taste of the raw onion more pleasant. Fold the mango, strawberries, onion and cilantro (if using) into the avocado. Season with the lime juice and salt to taste.
Serve immediately with your favorite corn or pita chips. Avocado tends to spoil quickly, so leftovers won’t keep for longer than 12 hours or so. Makes 3 cups.
I was going to talk about this soup, and I am, but I’m distracted. I’ll get to the soup, I promise. But first, this:
Have you ever met someone whose voice grated? Or maybe you don’t meet them at all. Maybe it’s someone who stands in front of you while you’re ordering coffee, or perhaps it might be the best friend of a woman you admire, and you end up asking yourself: how could she be friends with her? Have you ever spent time with someone who isn’t your vibe? And have you then rendered a verdict of this person (rights read, quick jury trial, sentencing)? As if to say that you know the whole of them based on a singular encounter?
We judge. Recklessly so. And we do it all the time. We roll our eyes; we smile and nod while plotting escape plans; we become ardent clockwatchers; we shift our seats; we leave altogether. I’ve done this, more times than I’d like to admit, and it’s a flaw of mine that requires constant work. I use to judge people who didn’t read “the right books” (I no longer do, or identify a book in terms of right and wrong). I used to judge people who referred to sunglasses as “sunnies.” I used to judge people who were sloppy drunk and then I reminded myself that I’ve no place to judge since I’ve probably done everything you can imagine to humiliate myself when I used to drink.
We’re often cruel–even in miniature–but we’re cruelest to ourselves. And when you can longer bear the weight of the pain that you inflict on yourself (all this pain, where do I put it?) you easily snap, snip, snarl at others.
There’s a fitness studio I like, I go there often. I have my favorite teachers and I make sure to scan the schedule to ensure there are no substitutes. Over the course of my time visiting the space, I took three classes with this one particular instructor, whose energy was grating. She was too perky, too glib, said the word ass, and when I brought another friend to class with me, we decided, after, that the teacher just wasn’t our scene.
Recently, I found myself early for a class at the wrong location (chalk it up to absentmindedness), and as I was placing my towels on the machine, the teacher who wasn’t my scene came over and told me that I was in the wrong studio but did I want a private class? Because she’d be willing to teach it.
She’d been up since 4AM traveling to work and teaching classes and she could’ve simply refunded my class or shrugged her shoulders, but instead she was kind. There’s no poetic way to say how I felt, which was shitty. For nearly an hour, she adjusted my posture, gave me modifications for poses I couldn’t do, and worked along side me, cheering me along. After, we spent time talking and I found myself really liking her. The teacher was funny, smart, and she talked about how it hurt to see negative reviews of her classes online. How a woman once barked at her, you’re not motivating me!, and how that bruised her, so much so that she was shaken for the rest of class. I was standing in front of a woman who loves what she does, takes it seriously, who practiced grace and I felt…SMALL.
I walked away realizing that maybe I’d thought she wasn’t my scene because she she was exactly my scene. I’ve been told that my personality can be polarizing, that I’m sometimes impenetrable, and often my shyness around “new” people is mistaken for bitchiness. But I know that I’m a good person who is flawed, much like how I imagine everyone else sees themselves. Perhaps I was reacting to this teacher because I had a hard time accepting that I don’t always give a great first impression.
My friends, those for whom I would lay down, tell me that I’m the sort of friend who would go into the dark and pull them out into the light. I go above and beyond; I’ll do everything for the people I love, but when you first meet me you don’t know all of this. How could you? Exactly like how I didn’t expect this teacher’s extraordinary act of generosity. We don’t really know one another until we make the effort to, until we get past our initial discomfort or constructs of how a person should act or be. At the end of class I thanked the teacher profusely, and she shrugged her shoulders and said, We’ve all been there. I know how it feels. In that grace, I saw the lack of grace I’d been practicing, and I was grateful for the awareness. How the act of her kindness made me want to be kinder.
I’m thinking about our exchange, still. There are people who are unkind (and trust me, I’ve excised them), people who don’t deserve a setting at our table, but I have to believe the vast majority of people are good. Most of us mean well, but maybe we’re awkward, maybe we had a bad day or ten or 365. And it’s all made me think that if I can see something good in someone, even a spark or flare, I’m going to try to make the effort to push past snap judgments.
I was going to talk about this soup, I WAS, but I got caught up in all of the above. But know I’m spending the day indoors, working, writing, editing, sipping on soup and watching scary movies.
1 tbsp of avocado oil
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 1/2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
6 sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil, roughly chopped
4 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup basil, packed
Salt/pepper to taste
In a large pot on medium heat, add the olive oil. After a minute, add the chopped onion + minced garlic along with a bit of salt so the onion sweats but doesn’t char and burn. Let the mixture cook until the onions are semi-translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sundried tomatoes, stirring the mixture so that the garlic and onions coat the vegetables. Add the stock and turn the heat up to high until the soup boils. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 25 minutes.
I prefer my soup with buckwheat groats (2 cups of stock for 1 cup of groats, cook per the package directions), but you can absolutely rock this without the groats if you’re nixing grains.
After 25 minutes, add the basil, stir, and the mixture to a high-powered blender and blitz until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot and cook for an additional ten minutes. If you’re rocking groats, I add the groats when I’ve returned the mixture to the pot, so the grains can thicken the soup.
Serve hot, with basil and a little avocado oil, salt and pepper.
This is how I write. I write in my home on my couch with feet up on this table, with the doors locked and a single song on repeat. The song is deliberately chosen–it gets me in a headspace to move (right now, I’m listening to this as I type this post). I read dialogue out loud as I write because I need to hear the words to see if they’re right. The cadence of the prose needs to follow the rhythm and logic I’ve defined for it. I need to know my characters, bury myself all the way in. If I’m skipping paragraphs that means I need to delete them. Every line has to work on multiple levels.
Someone asked me the other day about the kind of man I’m looking for, to which I responded, I want someone who’s been through war, still has some of the bruises, but isn’t still changing the bandages. Dressing the wound. And then I thought about my work, and this logic fits there, too. I write about broken people dressing their own wounds and people who pretend the wounds that are blistering and raw, pain the rest of us can so easily see, don’t exist. I’m best in the dark.
After I published my first book, I was exhausted. Writers tend to write out their obsessions, the things that seize them when they wake, and for years my mother was my singular subject. So after the book was published I knew I couldn’t go back to that dark country. I’d made sense of our history (or so I thought), and I needed something new in which to fixate.
I started stories that I deleted. I read 23 books about Jim Jones and typed one chapter I hated. I took a job that would occupy me for nearly four years. And soon I stopped writing. However, my friend Sarah will tell me that just because you’re not typing doesn’t mean you’re not writing. Who knew that after those four years I will sit in a hotel room in Biarritz and write. The story felt like it had come from nowhere, but it came like a torrent. The story swiftly took shape with a command of language and structure that frankly surprised me. I’d always had the problem of filling a white page with type, now the issue was: what do I do with 80 pages of insanity? It was good madness, the stuff one keeps, but it was madness nonetheless.
I mean, my first chapter is about a woman who sets her father’s mistress’s hair on fire. That should tell you everything.
A year and a half later, multiple drafts, early and late readers, and my novel, FOLLOW ME INTO THE DARK, is finally ready for submission to publishers. In retrospect, I didn’t love my memoir. I wish I would have waited until I was older. While some of the chapters are quite good, I cringe at others. It’s weird being in the present tense and reading what you’ve written when you were another version of yourself. I guess it’s like re-reading your childhood diaries as an adult. CRINGE! MAKE IT STOP!
But I love this book. Every page of it. And I’ve also learned to love the version of myself (an extremely flawed woman waging her own private war against addiction) who wrote that first book.
My agent asked me to write a paragraph on what my book is about, and naturally, I’m struggling. I could say that the story is about two adults, step-siblings, who are bearing the weight of their families’ mental illness and cruelty, and how broken children keep breaking even when they desperately try to dress their wounds and stitch themselves up again. It’s about trying to understand the pathology of sociopaths, and finding the humanness in a person even after they’ve committed inhuman acts. I’ve three main characters: Kate, an obsessive-compulsive baker, who we think has a psychotic break after her mother dies and she seeks revenge against her step-father’s mistress by setting her hair on fire, although we’ll learn that her pathology is infinitely more savage. There’s Gillian, the oversexed, hyperintellectual woman who’s engaging in an affair with Kate’s father. Finally, there’s Jonah, Gillian’s sociopathic, yet loving, brother who is actually ‘The Doll Collector’, a hunted serial killer who’s committed gruesome acts against women across the country. Jonah is the key link between the two characters and how the story unfolds. We learn about these three characters by understanding their familial history–2 generations of emotional and sexual abuse–and how the weight of their history bears on the choices they make now.
In all candor, it was initially challenging to show that one’s actions don’t define one’s character. We have a tendency to ascribe mistakes people make, or, in this case, the horrific acts that one does, to one’s person. We’re binary in our reactions: The person who commits murder is pure evil! The person who attacks someone else is crazy! And I’m trying to detangle act from person, and somehow show the complexity of mental illness. There’s this wall we put up when we hear that someone is ill, an “otherness” is created, and do we ever make a true attempt to understand those who are ill. Do we see the complexity in them, their ability to love amidst their propensity to hate?
So, we’re ready for prime-time, I guess. And I’m glad that this time around I don’t have the same ego and ambition as I did with my first book. My novel need not be hardcover. I don’t need the fanfare and confetti and bananas advance, I just want to be able to share this story with people–regardless of form.
If you’re interested in checking out my first chapter, click here.
When I was in junior high school I befriended a girl with red hair. Let’s call her K. Her father was fiery too, prone to fits of alcoholic rage, and often we’d come to her house after school to find him cutting into a deer he’d hunted or hunched over a canoe he owned, scrubbing. Theirs was the sort of home that never got clean no matter how much you scrubbed, but I didn’t mind it because K was witty, funny, an outcast like me, and furthermore the idea of coming home to a cold, quiet house was unimaginable. We’d just moved from Brooklyn, rented a basement apartment underneath a group of men in a band who played music late and often took baths and let the water run–so much so that we had floods in our home. My mother must have threatened, done something, because after a while the place got mouse-quiet, the torrential downpours in our apartment grew sparse. She worked a lot and when she’d come home, late, she was always angry. There was never enough money, the man she married (not my father) disappeared to Atlantic City with his coke and his station wagon for days at a time and she was left with the silences. I imagine she thought to herself, This is my life? All of it?
I realize I’m being generous with her today. I don’t know why, considering our history. But I digress.
With K, I traded in one unclean house for another, and I remember one day coming over to find a MUSHROOM growing out of her wall. I’d never consume said vegetable because it looked feral, mossy, something grown out of dirt in an age where we preferred our food manufactured; our cereal boxes were gleaming, rolling off of steel assembly lines. In the late 80s, we wanted pristine over dirt, and although much of my food came out of a can or from industrial boxes, seeing a MUSHROOM in someone’s home, growing alongside a wall, was TOO MUCH. I’d ignored her father’s drunken rages and her sometimes odd sexual comments, but apparently my food moral relativism couldn’t handle a MUSHROOM. Don’t ask about the thought process of a thirteen-year-old. It’s mystery, at best.
Since then I couldn’t escape the mushroom. My mother brought home a package of button mushrooms. I even remember the package: blue styrofoam base with the waxy white buttons covered in plastic. She brought home dark mushrooms in a can, their oil congealing at the surface, making jaundiced streaks on my untouched dinner plate. I remember eating one of those mushrooms once, because in my house you ate what you were fed, and immediately rushing to the bathroom to spit out the contents of my mouth into the sink. I didn’t even make it to the toilet. My mother assumed a physical reaction was at play and never did she bring home the VILE MUSHROOM again.
This morning, I read an article describing the contents of children’s breakfast plates around the globe. From our cereal culture to the imaginative, salty, and sour, the writer relayed that childhood is the critical moment when you can introduce what some would consider unpalatable foods. This is the time to put a bowl of sour cabbage in front of a child and do it consistently because the child will eventually adapt and grow to love said food. My diet was so limiting and so American 80s with its Kingdom of White, that it took a decade of my adult life to eat vegetables toddlers in other countries would consume for breakfast; I didn’t have my first dark green until I was in my 20s. And while I’m starting to enjoy cauliflower, bean sprouts, snow peas, sugar peas (don’t be deceived, they are NOT SWEET), pickled radish, and all the foods that my food coach is encouraging me to consume, I hate the WRETCHED MUSHROOM, still. Maybe I’ve made a connection between it and my mother? Don’t ask about the thought process of a thirty-eight-year-old woman. It’s mystery, at best.
This week’s menu has been a challenge. It’s taken nearly three months to whittle out the starchy carbs from my diet to focus on superfoods, vegetables, proteins, and legumes, but it’s been hard to give up certain starches (potatoes and rice), albeit briefly. The idea behind all of this is to expand my repertoire, to not depend on, or fuel my addiction to, carbs. This isn’t some Atkins nonsense, rather it’s about learning to eat more. Eat different. Eat better. And that’s been hard. I had way too much popcorn, had rice with my Korean BBQ dinner, got really irritable and irrational, and the scale hasn’t budged. I’m still getting used to the taste of sour, spicy foods (I had a lot of pickled food and Korean food this week), with the thinking that I’ll slowly evolve my diet to host a wide variety of tastes and flavors. I will no longer subsist on homogeneity.
Part of the experiment is swapping out my morning smoothie. Previous versions were pretty fruit heavy, and now my food coach has got me on a blend (pictured above) she’s created + vegetables + almond milk. More protein, more vitamins and minerals. I love the stuff, actually. It tastes like vanilla and I feel full for HOURS. I don’t claw the desk at 9:30 when I’ve had my breakfast shake at 7, and I oddly look forward to having it.
I’VE BEEN EATING A GODDAMN MUSHROOM EVERY DAY. I give my friend a shake and tell her how mushroomy it is, to which she responds that I’m bonkers. This doesn’t taste like mushrooms, well, maybe a little bit. But it’s really good.
And no, this does not mean I plan on eating a plate of HORRIFIC PORTOBELLOS or VILE WHATEVER OTHER VARIETIES OF MUSHROOMS EXIST.
What this week has taught me is respect for vegetarians and vegans who have imaginative diets. It’s taken me a host of cookbooks and advice from my food coach in order to mix up my salads and proteins. We’ll see how this goes…
Sometimes I reminisce over the fancy-free days that included carbs and pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A time when I piled my plate high with mashed potatoes and lapped up the buttery bits with a charred piece of steak. I loved the streaks potatoes make, and how the butter eddies in pockets around your plate.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS.
Whenever I wax nostalgic to this degree, I remind myself of how GOOD I feel now. How I’m no longer plagued with itch. How I can eat food without fearing it. How I bolt out of bed instead of needing a forklift to carry my drowsy body into the shower. Last night I had dinner with a new friend, and I couldn’t help but say that the way I eat now, the journey that I’m on, affects everything in my life.
That being said, my food coach has tasked me with more food diversity because maybe I love chickpeas a little too much. This week I’m feasting on sprouts, snap peas, sugar peas, superfoods, and scores of vegetables I rarely eat, and I’m also making dishes with beans I’ve previously ignored. Case in point: the cannellini bean.
You have to know that I waited a good minute before I took a bite of this because I was worried that it would be a BAD FACIMILE OF THE BRILLIANT MASHED POTATO ORIGINAL. And while there are elements of my old beloved, the flavor here is clearly on its own. The bean mash is filling so you need less of it (my tower reduced to a minor moat), and somehow paired perfectly with this delicious salad (below), rendering my lunch strange, nourishing and filling.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from the Hemsley & Hemsley Coobook: The Art of Eating Well
2 tsp olive oil or ghee
1 garlic clove, diced
1 tsp fresh rosemary or thyme
1 15oz can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp lemon juice
Sea salt + black pepper
Heat the oil or ghee on low heat and gently fry the garlic and herbs for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the beans and 6 tbsp. of water to the pan, and stir to combine for 2 minutes over high heat. At this point, much of the water should be thickened. Add the salt, pepper and lemon juice, and turn off the heat.
Using a vegetable masher (I prefer my Vitamix or food processor), mash until creamy.