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

fig and millet muffins (gluten-free)

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

Let me back up a few paces.

my sweet friend and my special guy.

my sweet friend and my special guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fig and millet muffins
fig and millet muffins

feeling the freelance life but you have all the questions? we’ve got the answers: a roundtable

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Can I tell you that I wish I had a SWAT team of consultants with whom I could confide when I left 18 years of office life behind? People who understood the abject terror that was email radio silence and project drought. Peers who expertly navigated clients who thought they’d come cheap because they were no longer backed by a company. People who were the architects of their own days since they’d abandoned all semblance of office structure.

Two years ago I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to price projects and I didn’t even know what sort of projects I wanted to pursue. And while I’m a creature of habit and had no issues with cultivating routine and structure, I still cringe at the notion that I could go months without a project or that I have to deal with college graduates with cell phones trying to compete with me on price. I learned a lot about myself, my worth and my work over the two years, and I don’t hesitate when I send my rates because I calmly remind prospects that they’re buying experience, agility, speed and creativity instead of a hungry kid who can navigate the latest newfangled technology. Comparing the two is akin to comparing apples to oranges and I’ve often had to turn down projects because they weren’t in line with my worth or my vision.

This week a friend and fellow freelancer called me with contract questions. Another friend inquired about how she should price herself–what should be my rate? And as the questions accumulated, I thought it fitting to round up some of the smartest people I know–across industry, experience and perspective–to tackle the questions we’re sometimes frightened to ask publicly.

So here we are. A roundtable of pros who are so generous with their time because I suspect someone was once generous with them. You’ve got an incredible FREE resource at your fingertips so ask the questions. About money, family, balance, clients, competition, work–ask it all. Be shameless, be inquisitive, be bold. And I realize that some people may be contemplating career changes and are frightened to comment publicly–no sweat, look to the right of your screen and you’ll see my email. Shoot me a note, preface that you want your question published confidentially and we’ll answer accordingly. Or, tweet me your questions using the hashtag, #feelingfreelance

All of us made a choice to go out on our own. I’m sure we’ve made the BIG mistakes and the BIG leaps, so we’re here to impart some of our wisdom (and failures) so you have the tools you need to make smart decisions.

And now…meet your team of EIGHT!!!:

Kim Brittingham Kim Brittingham is the principal of Kim Brittingham & Co. Content Developers. She’s been working as a full-time freelancer since 2014, and started part-time in the late ‘90s. She’s the author of the memoir Read My Hips (Random House, 2011) and Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGO, 2013). She also teaches How to Blog for Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

FS note: Kim is a bucket of awesome. Not only is she such a witty writer, she’s adept in: ghostwriting books, ghostblogging/business blogging; writing web copy, white papers/special reports, newsletter articles, video scripts, podcast scripts; social media management.

Cariwyl HebertCariwyl Hebert is a freelance web marketing consultant specializing in SEM and SEO. She is also the founder of Salon97, a non-profit that makes classical music accessible to all via live events, a podcast, online articles, and more. Cariwyl resides in San Francisco with her author husband and an orange cat.

FS note: I had the pleasure of meeting Cariwyl through her husband and my dear friend, Kevin. I remember a day in particular when I attended a salon she hosted, and how I was so nervous amongst so many new people but fell to quiet when she played selections of classical music. I’ve so much respect for Cariwyl, for her passion for the arts as well as her adeptness in marketing.

Amber Katz Amber Katz is a freelance writer, consultant, copy writer/editor and founder of rouge18.com, a pop culture-infused beauty blog featuring everything from skin smoothers to hair spray to body scrubs. A former financial copy writer, Amber started her blog in 2006 as an outlet from which to rave about her favorite lotions and potions to fellow beautyphiles–instead of her non-target audience of middle-aged (straight) male auditors at the office. Amber writes frequently for Allure.com, LuckyShops.com, Refinery29.com, TeenVogue.com and Yahoo Beauty. Find her on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram

FS note: Amber is not only one of my dearest friends but she’s an incredible writer–an artisan with a pen. She’s a pro copywriter, copyeditor and I’ve never met anyone who knows the innards of the beauty industry quite like Amber.

Alexandra OstrowAlexandra Ostrow is a strategist and marketer for social impact and innovation. She is the founder of WhyWhisper Collective, a network of independent consultants serving nonprofits, social enterprises, and impact-focused brands.

Prior to venturing out on her own, Alexandra worked for two social media marketing agencies, where she managed the global and local accounts for a wide variety of brands, including Mattel, JP Morgan Chase, Medtronic Diabetes, The Michelin Guide, and Pepperidge Farm. She also spent two years working in the Communications Department at Cardozo Law School.

Alexandra’s passion for the impact sector first began while volunteering for a local animal rescue. After visiting an AIDS orphanage in India and establishing a nonprofit consultancy in Jamaica while still employed full-time, her path became clearer. Today, her clients address issues within the areas of health, human rights, education, and conscious consumption.

FS note: Alex is one of the good ones. I’ve worked with her, and she’s one of the most passionate and smartest women I know. Alex is a force of nature, and everytime I see her I’m reminded of the fact that she’s changing the world.

Matthew Sharpe Matthew Sharpe is a novelist, professor, and freelance editor. In his capacity as editor, he works one-on-one with authors of fiction and nonfiction who are writing books or shorter pieces. His own novels include You Were Wrong, Jamestown, and The Sleeping Father. He has been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Fiction and The Sleeping Father was featured on The Today Show Book Club. He teaches part time in the graduate writing program at Columbia University.

FS note: Matthew is one of the most extraordinary writers I know. In another life I had the pleasure of reviewing one of his books and I remember comparing him to Don Delillo. Not only is Matt an exceptional writer, I’ve heard rave reviews from some of his clients whose books have been transformed as a result of Matt’s editing.

Leah SingerLeah Singer helps businesses and entrepreneurs tell their story and connect with their ideal audience and clients. She specialize in writing and marketing strategy, and works extensively in higher education, and with attorneys and businesses within the law field. Leah is a perfect fit for businesses without marketing departments.

She writes regularly for The Huffington Post; Red Tricycle (where she serves as San Diego editor); Edible San Diego; Millionaire Girls’ Movement; and many other national blogs and websites.

Leah left a lucrative career in higher education to become a full-time freelancer three years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She was a speechwriter and communications manager for two college presidents at San Diego’s largest public university, and oversaw communications for San Diego State University’s Enrollment Services Department. Before that, Leah worked in marketing and public relations at KPBS public broadcasting station.

When she’s not working, she can be found reading books and blogs; cooking and baking; taking photos; drinking coffee; browsing bookstores; and walking her dogs. She also blogs at Leah’s Thoughts where she writes about motherhood, books and writing, and the everyday nuances of life. She lives in San Diego, CA with her husband, very extroverted daughter, two dogs, and a cat.

FS note: Can I tell you how excited I am to finally meet Leah when I move out west later this year? Not only does she love food and animals as much as I do, we both have an affection for books and marketing.

Lindsey TramutaLindsey Tramuta is a Paris-based food and travel writer (New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Afar) and social media consultant. After over three and a half years working in-house for Proximity BBDO in Paris, she works with brands big and small to master their tone of voice, to develop their social media strategy and presence and create content to enrich their identities. Find her on TwitterInstagram.

FS note: I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Lindsey, albeit virtually, for the past two years. Oddly enough, I discovered her site whilst looking for places to eat in Paris. I’m delighted to not only know her as a writer, but also as a pal in the industry. She specializes in content creation, social media strategy and copy, digital copywriting, food & travel writing.

And me, naturally! You know my story, but here’s my LinkedIn profile if you want to learn a little more about my professional background.

tomato chickpea curry with rice

tomato curry chickpea and rice

You guys know that I’ll find any excuse to make the CHICKPEA. Note that at one point this year I had to issue a temporary fatwa on the beloved legume because every time I fall in love with something I tend to become addicted to it, so I had to lay off chickpeas for a while to get my life back on track. Because in no way, shape or form was I going to return to the avocado sensitivity I had for over 10 years–simply because I believed in eating avocado 14 times a day.

Now I enjoy a casual relationship with the avocado, hoovering only one every week.

For those of you who are wondering, I’m still off gluten. It’s been nine months and while I’m technically able to return to the land of bread, for some reason I’m hesitant. Maybe because I have flashbacks of a limited diet that once was, a body that was sluggish, run down, depleted. Maybe I’m still scarred by the literal plague of hives that covered my body this past summer. Or perhaps I’ve discovered new tastes, flavors and textures, that gluten has lost its sheen. I still can’t believe I no longer crave pasta. Sometimes I need to sit in a dark room, alone with this fact.

Over the past few months I took on a fun project, however, the stress from the commute and the long hours in an office had me returning to some bad habits. I was forever snacking on gluten-free garbage. I slathered almond butter on KIND bars (even though I knew KIND bars are the spawn of Satan) and I started to notice vegetables inching out of my diet.

So I made some changes.

Starting next week I’m giving myself a reboot by going on a week’s worth of meals from Sakara Life (yes, the million dollar meal delivery program), but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. (FYI: If you’re keen on ordering from Sakara, click here to get $50 off–and no, I don’t make any money from this–their referral program will basically pay the shipping for my million-dollar meals of which my friends are telling me I’ve no place ordering since I don’t lead a million-dollar lifestyle, so there’s that). I’m also returning to a more consistent workout schedule now that I have a project based in the city, and I’m slowly stepping away from all the baked goods I’ve been making as of late.

After scrolling through some recent posts I thought: WOW, FELICIA. YOU’RE BAKING A LOT. Tough times call for the third person.

That’s the thing about being healthy–it requires vigilance, constant care. I can’t be complacent in thinking that my healthy habits will survive the challenges that come my way, rather I need to be aggressive in course-correcting detours off the road. (Lots of driving metaphors lately…hmm….) When I see the sweet things subsume the savory I have to reign it in a little bit–not all the way, mind you, because one needs balance–and come back to eating the rainbow.

So this is me, sitting on my floor, surrounded by cookbooks and magazines, trying to find delicious meals that go the distance (I tend to have a cook once, eat twice mentality in an effort to save $ and time), and I couldn’t be more pleased to find this insanely tasty (and filling) chickpea curry recipe. The original recipe calls for including steamed kale, however, I had a smaller portion of this coupled with a large spinach and pomegranate salad. Balance.

All about balance. And awareness.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table, modified slightly
2 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 14.5oz can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 tsp honey
3 tbsp chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup basmati rice
1 cup vegetable stock

DIRECTIONS
In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Dust with a little salt so the onions sweat instead of burn. Saute until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for another minute. Add all of the spices, stirring constantly for another 1-2 minutes. Add the drained chickpeas and stir until the spice mixture completely coats the beans. And yes, there’s a lot of stirring involved in this recipe. At least you’re not chopping.

Add the tomatoes to the pan, along with the honey, and let the mixture come to a quick boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. While the curry is cooking, make the rice. Bring the rice and stock to a boil and simmer on low, covered, for 10-15 minutes.

After 10 minutes, add the cilantro to the curry. When the rice is cooked, add spoonfuls as a base in a small bowl. Cover completely with the delicious curry and you have permission to commence with the weeping. BECAUSE THIS IS SO GOOD. Bless Anna Watson Carl, creator of said recipe.

tomato curry chickpea and rice

Lunch

on defining your dream: the couch vs. the cubicle…or something other?

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

There are two paths in life: Should and Must. We arrive at this crossroads over and over again. And each time, we get to choose.Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small. Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us. Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. –Elle Luna’s “When You’re at the Crossroads of Should and Must”

Rarely will you hear me talk about the usefulness of Facebook. I have a presence on the platform simply as a means to keep in touch with friends who don’t understand social media or have an inclination to use it. These are friends with whom I went to college or people in my world who don’t “get” blogs, and they rarely have the time to read mine. Strangely, I like this sort of disconnected connection; I enjoy being a voyeur in lives demonstrably different than my own. On any given day, I’ll scroll through engagement photos, pet pictures (brief parenthetical: my friends have excellent taste in furry, and not so furry, creatures), literary, social and political diatribes, where a battle of wits and words are common–but it’s a passive connection, and I walk away from the platform much as I entered it, undisturbed.

However, something recently put my heart on pause. I was reminded by Facebook’s fancy algorithm of a post I shared a year ago, and it put me to thinking about the way in which the meaning of words have the capacity to change based on when you encounter them. The word is the word, really, but its meaning changes form at varying points in our lives.

Well, let’s see. After you decide that I’m depressed, or whatever, you’ll put me on meds, right? Well I know hundreds of people on them and they’re all doing just fine. Really. I’ll go back to work on my new anti-depressants, have dinner with my parents and persuade them I’m back to being the normal one who never gives them any trouble. And one day some guy will ask me to marry him. He’ll be nice enough. That’ll make my parents very happy. The first year we’ll make love all the time, and in the second and third less and less. But just as we’re getting sick of each other, I’ll get pregnant. Taking care of kids, holding onto jobs, paying mortgages, It’ll keep us on an even keel for a while. Then about ten years into it he’ll have an affair because I’m too busy and I’m too tired. And I’ll find out. I’ll threaten to kill him, his mistress… myself. We’ll get past it. A few years later he’ll have another one. This time I’m just going to pretend that I don’t know because somehow kicking up a fuss just doesn’t seem worth the trouble this time. And I’ll live out the rest of my days sometimes wishing my kids could have the life that I never had. Other times secretly pleased they’re turning into repeats of me. I’m fine. Really.–Veronika Decides to Die (film adaptation of Paulo Coehlo’s novel)

Ours was a generation taught to draw an outline and spend the rest of our lives coloring in the lines. Our dream was a photocopy of a bland original with little variation, and we lived under the illusion that we had choice. Choice was really a series of selections within the confined space of how we would define our lives. College. Career. Marriage. House. Children. After a time, we realize we’ve boxed ourselves in, and the dreams we once fastidiously pursued have become internal prisons. Because what happens when you’re 40 and you haven’t found the great love? What happens when your womb doesn’t ache to be filled? What happens when you’ve been sitting in this one chair in front of another chair for the whole of your life, and you wake up one morning and decide instead that you want a view. You think maybe you want to hurl the chair out the window. What then?

Have you failed because you didn’t follow the plan and achieve your dream? Or maybe you had the wrong dream all along and you didn’t know it. Or perhaps you wanted something different but felt pressure to conform to what you should do, what is logical, what makes sense.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

I’ll tell you the dream I had when I was 19. I was going to graduate college with honors (I did); work in an investment bank (I did); marry by the time I was 30 (oops); buy a house, but not in Long Island (still renting); have a child, possibly two, please not a girl (oops, again); press play, repeat and watch my children do the same (not likely). Never once in the narrative did I ask myself what kind of person I wanted to be. Never once had I considered there was nobility in living a life of your own design and making. Never once did I allow for a deviation, a margin of error. What I’d written down were facts and my job was to architect a roadmap to get me to varying points on a map, to the facts.

And then something happened. I hated banking. Like, really hated it. Like brawling with my manager during a performance review, hated it. I was good at it, found it easy, but I’d come home from work and feel…empty. At 24, I did the equivalent of pulling off the road and nearly crashed into a guardrail. I told myself, I’ll make a tiny adjustment to the plan. Different career but the rest will stay the same. This is okay, I thought. I’m fine.

And then I met a man before I was thirty (so close). We fell in love, looked at rings and spoke of our life together. For a time we were awash in sepia, we were our best photographs. And I think we fell in love with the idea of love, and as quickly as we’d come together, we unraveled at the seams. I loved him but I never let him in, all the way. Not the way he wanted me to. Our break was a photograph worth shredding and I haven’t loved anyone in that way since. I’ve met people but no one who challenges me, takes the breath right out of my mouth and holds it in his hands. My once great love is married now, has two beautiful children, and I’m happy for him. That he found the love he was looking for. I’m still searching, and that’s as far as I’ll go with it here.

So I returned to the career narrative with a ferocity which, in retrospect, was frightening. I published a successful literary magazine, a well-received memoir, and, within four years helped build an agency from the ground up. I was made a managing partner in this company, given a fancy title, a credit card, and equity. I made a lot of money and bought fancy things, but how was it that I felt, at 37, the same way I’d felt at 24? Empty.

I looked at my outline and thought, what the fuck happened?

I resigned from a job that had been slowly killing me and felt like a failure. After, I was offered more jobs like the one I had and I kept turning them down. The idea of sitting in a confined space for five days a week, the reality of being shackled to a desk and forced to endure an endless parade of meetings, conference calls and emails where no one believed in removing everyone from copy, was unbearable. I got sick just thinking about it.

What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we can’t parse the product from the person? What if our jobs are our careers and our callings? –Elle Luna

Last year, when I read Elle Luna’s piece it occurred to me just how much I was compartmentalizing my life and how it wasn’t working. I thought, well I’ll have this writing thing over here that doesn’t make money and I’ll have this food thing here because I enjoy it and it keeps me sane, and then I’ll have this marketing thing over there because that’s the ticket. That’s the stuff that’ll make me money and keep my cat in the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. Obligatory photo of said cat:

felix the cat

I realized I was pursuing the wrong dream. And not only that but the strategy I’d employed to pursue this new dream was also wrong.

I realized that all I wanted to do was WRITE. All I wanted to do was work with people who were insatiably curious and cool. All I wanted was to be itinerant. I started to realize that creativity can’t be found in the confines of an office or holed up on a couch. I had ideas while walking in the park or having brunch with my best girlfriends or alone at home or sometimes in an office surrounded by smart people. Good ideas percolate everywhere and I’m finding it’s my job to move where the good energy moves. And I’m still trying to sort out this writing business as it pertains to the pragmatic I have real bills that need to be paid but I want to create ALL. THE. TIME.

Do you know that I actually get EXCITED to write posts for this space even though I don’t get paid for it? Even though I don’t have sponsors or a donation bucket or anything that will bring me money even though I know it costs A LOT of money to publish stuff here. But I don’t care because I enjoy it and it allows me to exercise another kind of writing apart from my fiction, apart from my brand work.

Right now I’m trying to piece it together. Trying to draw a new map. From scratch.

I’m 39 and I don’t want to own a house. I don’t want (or need) a lot of money. I don’t want to have children but I want to fawn over my friends’ children. The great love? Working on it. Offline. The great life? I suppose I’m still working on that too.

After I torch the outline.

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

IMG_1106IMG1231A

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

Lots of mailing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the cult of awesome: we! must! always! be! happy!

always! be! happy!

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


I wish I were happy all the time – I just don’t think it’s a very realistic possibility. The daily parade of disaster on the news is sobering enough. The fact of my own mortality is a downer. Old age and sickness frighten me. The difficulties of human communication produce as much isolation as connection. The corruption and venality of the powerful are daily reminders of the ubiquitous nature of injustice. The lot of most people in this country who simply work and work harder and harder in order to spend, or simply survive, strikes me as profoundly un-jolly. –From Tim Lott’s “The secret of happiness? Stop feeling bad about being unhappy”

Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light. Even in the beginning, there is a moment we’re hurtled out of the dark and into the light. That first cry uttered, our bodies–a miniature version of ourselves, the smallest we’ll ever be–cave inward; we’re frightened because for so long we had enjoyed being swathed in the cool, calm dark and here we are, our eyes pressed shut because we’re being assaulted by the very thing which we’ll be taught the rest of our lives to cleave: the light. A tower of matches set aflame. In that small slice of time we’ll be blinded, frightened, and we’ll want to crawl our way back into the tomb from which we’ve come. Yet from those flames. No light, but rather darkness visible. This might be the only time when we invite the darkness in, welcome it with fragile arms.

“All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.” ― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (my absolute favorite of her novels!)

Everyone’s always telling me to look on the bright side. They say, don’t be sad! They speak in sing-song or emoji; they send me “cheery” photographs: a kitten hanging from a tree (hang in there!), a baby owl being groomed by its mother, a woman on a beach in sepia. Friends rhapsodize over the perception of liquid in a glass and how its meaning oscillates between optimism or pessimism, depending on how you view a situation. Often, they remind me of an auctioneer who hocks joy to the highest bidder. The auctioneer’s voice is a torrent and you’re drowning in the velocity of words, how quickly they flood out of his or her mouth; we never never consider the meaning of what is being said, we only know more, more. Joy, joy. Happy, happy. Every day I read articles lobbying for a happy life. Daily, I’m reminded of all the health benefits of a joyful life. My social media feeds and readers are cluttered with images of joy–toes scrunched under sand, a pristine glossy workspace complete with a monogrammed mug–you can even see the plume of heat from the coffee rising up. Everything rising, rising.

Everything that rises must converge, Flannery O’Connor wrote. I would also add, combust.

aren't you happy yet?

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

I knew a woman once. She was prideful, perhaps too much, of the fact that she’d never seen a “dark” movie, that she resolved to not absorb anything “gruesome” depicted on the news. Instead, she erected a prison of her own making, and in this prison there existed only glitter, hot pink, saccharine sweet pop music, and movies with happy endings. Can I tell you her life frightened me more than any horror movie? That I realize I sometimes live amongst people for whom their waking lives are consumed (consciously or unconsciously) with the relentless pursuit of the scorching light (from which our initial human instinct was to recoil) at the expense of the annihilation of any sort of sadness. Never did we consider the extremes of light–bodies burst aflame, and the fear and greed solely reserved for those who live in a perpetual fear of sadness.

People crave the pleasure of your happiness, not the burden of your sadness.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not advocating for a life shrouded in darkness, rather I’m desperate for balance. At this moment, as I type this, I’ve so much happiness and joy in my life, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to feel all of this if I didn’t, for a time, settle into my own sadness. And settling, my friends, is different than a full-on immersion, a gasping for air underwater. All too often people I know want to instantly jolt me out of any dark moment. I say jolt because that’s what it feels like: a shock. I tell them that dumping happy emojis on my status update or sending me “happy” missives isn’t helping. That this sadness is temporary, a storm that will pass swiftly, and can’t you just chill the fuck out and ride it through? Your words aren’t a salve, they’re wounds. Wounds that remind me we’re desperate to cleave to only one emotion, joy, and to forsake anything that would grant even a modicum of discomfort.

But discomfort is part of life!

I think about the factors that sometimes contribute to my sadness: loss, failure, heartbreak, fear. For me, sadness is a quiet meditation, it’s the in-between place between two moments, and I’ve come through stronger, resilient, smarter, on the other side. Some periods of sadness last longer than others, and the only thing I’ve to worry about these moments is to not dwell on them for too long. To not become a martyr to my own heartbreak or failure. In these moments I don’t need people to erase a very necessary and base emotion. I don’t need people to rub it away, make me feel better–I need people to say, how can I help? How can I love? What do you need?

Because if you only entomb yourself in one extreme (light conversation, happy music, joyful books, happy endings, sweet songs), your inevitable fall will feel bottomless, infinite. Nothing is visible in this kind of darkness because you’d spent your whole life artfully dodging it. It’s shape and form are so unfamiliar, the first taste of it makes you wretch–all of it is worse than you ever imagined. Had you allow for it, even in minor degrees, you’d allow yourself to settle in this place, breathe through it because you always know there’s another side.

There’s magic in the oscillation, in movement from light to dark and back again. A body pulsing between the two. A heart surviving the two. A life enduring and having real joy because of the two.

almond cake with coconut cream and fresh berries

almond cake with coconut cream and fresh berries
We need to talk about this cake and the fact that you should have already baked it. Over the past few weeks I’ve been slowly adding dairy back into my diet (small pieces of cheese), but gluten is still verboten. Quite honestly, I will probably continue to live gluten-free with the exception of an extraordinary piece of crusty bread or homemade pasta. I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would, and I’ve discovered so many new tastes and flavors that I never want to fall back into a rut of food complacency.

As I’ve mentioned, ad nauseum, gluten/dairy-free baking has been a challenge for the past eight months. I’ve purchased dozens of cookbooks to only discard them (purchasing your special blend of gluten-free flour is a prerequisite for baking any of your recipes? No thanks, I’ll pass) because either the recipes rivaled a science experiment or the results were gritty and tasteless. I’ve discovered few cookbooks that truly deliver on flavor and texture, and Flourless is one of them.

So far I’ve made half a dozen recipes and the cakes and muffins do not disappoint. In particular, this almond cake is the sort of dessert that has drawn me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning, eyes filled with sleep. Somnabulent-style, I’ve stumbled into the kitchen to pry a piece out of a plastic tub in the fridge. This cake is THAT GOOD. I love the light cream and soft berries juxtaposed with the crumbly almonds. Perfection.

And to think I randomly picked up this book at Anthropologie!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Nicole Spiridakis’s Flourless (a hodge-podged a few of her recipes together to bring this cake to life), modified to eliminate dairy
For the almond cake
3/4 cup coconut oil, softened but not melted
3/4 cup cane sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
2 1/3 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

For the coconut cream
1 13.5oz can of full-fat coconut milk
3 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Chill the can of coconut in the fridge, up-side down. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper and grease the bottom and sides with coconut oil. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the coconut oil and sugar until fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until completely combined. Add the coconut milk, extracts, and blend until all ingredients are combined.

In a medium bowl, mix the almond flour, salt, baking powder. On low speed, mix in the dry ingredients into the sugar batter until combined.

Pour the batter evenly into the pan and cook until the top of the cake is browned and a tester inserted in the cake turns out clean, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the springform pan for 20 minutes. Carefully turn out the cake and allow it to cool completely, approximately 1 hour. The cake will be delicate since you’re not working with gluten flour and its magical binding properties so be gentle with the cake, k?

While the cake is cooling, drain the cooled can of coconut milk through a sieve. Discard the liquid and add the solid coconut to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the sugar and extracts and beat for 3 minutes.

Dollop the cream on the cooled cake and add a pile of berries. I had strawberries, raspberries and blueberries on hand, but I can imagine that this would be INCREDIBLE with figs and blackberries, as well.

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this is 39: the year you no longer give a fuck

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


My life, which exists mostly in the memories of the people I’ve known, is deteriorating at the rate of physiological decay. A color, a sensation, the way someone said a single world–soon it will all be gone. In a hundred and fifty years no one alive will ever have known me. –From Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

Over dinner I remind my friend Liz that we’ve known one another for half our lives. We were young, wide-eyed, scrubbed clean. We once hatched plans to live in the city after college, and I saw those plans wither as she returned to Connecticut for law school and I made my way around Manhattan, alone, filling myself with drink and stories. But here we are, older, scrubbed honest–we are our most compassionate selves, and it feels like a privilege to carry the weight and potency of the years on our backs. It occurs to me that Liz knows me longer than anyone, save my father. We’ve grown into adults, apart and sometimes together, and it’s been awe-inspiring to watch our respective bloom.

Much of our conversation over the weekend centered around time–how we have so little of it, how it’s imperative that we don’t squander it, and the knowledge that all roads inevitably lead to zeo predicates how we live. We shape our lives around time because there was a moment when we felt infinite, and as the days pressed on the finite revealed itself in degrees. I like to think Liz understood the weight of her mortality when she had children (although I can’t be certain since I never asked but can only assume). While mortality is vivid, omnipresent because I fear the moment when I’ll lay dying.

This knowledge (or fear, as honesty will have it) makes life clear in the way it hadn’t previously. When you’re at the midpoint of your life you tend to focus on bringing presence and meaning to the hours. You don’t consider what you’ve lost, rather you focus on minimizing the bloodletting; you think about the joy, love and wisdom that’s left. You wonder how you can imbue your days with meaning. You care less about noise, the superfluous.

You start to give fewer fucks.

I suppose it’s fashionable to pen lists of things you’ve learned by a certain defined age (30 seems popular), however, I think learning is continuous–we’re always students, sometimes guides or teachers, but mostly we’re here to learn. For me, age is about letting some of the noise dissipate. Age is about shedding that which is unnecessary. For me, 39, right now, is about giving fewer fucks. For example:

You don’t like me; I don’t need my phone list to resemble The Yellow Pages: When I was in my 20s I wanted the whole of the world to like, no, love me. I vivisected conversations, scenarios, and encounters much like how a doctor would attend to life-saving cardiac surgery. When I was younger I believed in the power of quantity over quantity, and the more people who attended my parties, the more people who attended the readings I hosted, the more people I could program in my phone, the better. Never did I equate the fact that the amount of alcohol I consumed was in direct correlation to the amount of people who orbited my life. Never did I consider that being surrounded by people–making sure I always had a drinks plan, a movie plan, a book party plan, a stay-at-home-and-faux-relax-with-ten-friends plan–exhausted me.

I didn’t realize that I was an introvert until I was 37. I stopped caring what people thought about me around the same time. I have a specific sense of humor (dark, sarcastic, and biting at times) and management style (I’ve a low threshold for bullshit, entitlement, laziness, complacency and stupidity; I don’t do office/friend politicking, etc), and I know I’m not for everyone. I realize that some people might think me intense, others might consider me aloof. Do I care? Yes, to a certain extent–especially if I know I’m making a bad first impression on someone whom I care about. However, in the grand scheme of things I’m not changing the core of who I am, so if people can’t roll with my style I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I’m more interested in finding my tribe–people who challenge me–rather than surround myself with people who are intent on changing me. Big difference.

At the end of the day, my people love me–flaws and all. When you get older you winnow down the phone book to those who are necessary, those whom you need and love.

“Eventually I confess to a friend some details about my weeping—its intensity, its frequency. She says (kindly) that she thinks we sometimes weep in front of a mirror not to inflame self-pity, but because we want to feel witnessed in our despair. (Can a reflection be a witness? Can one pass oneself the sponge wet with vinegar from a reed?)” ― Maggie Nelson, Bluets

Want to know a secret? This is the moment when you break down the doors and all the mothballs flutter out. This is the time when you finally, finally, let the right ones in. All the way. This is the time when you no longer wince when someone draws you closer. You allow yourself to cry the tears you’ve been holding back–you are a river and you are fine. You lay your greatest hand on the table, your heart. You feel safe; you tell your friends this: you’re home to me.

Sometimes you stumble backward. Sometimes you revert to old habits. But this is life, and at 39 you acknowledge this too.

You’re, like, really important or something: Why is it that people think I care about how important they are? Do I care that you’ve made it on a list defined by accomplishments by a certain arbitrary age? Do I care that your book was published in 23 countries and an A-list actress X will play you in the film adaptation of your life? Do I care that you’re a blogger who gets paid six figures to sell pieces of yourself to the highest bidder? Consider me a headliner at The Fresh out of Fucks Tour 2015 because I don’t care about your verbal CV or all the finery you wear on your sleeve.

I care that you’re a person with integrity. You’re not some cretin who disposes of your friends when they no longer suit you. But mainly I care about the fact that I’m not occupying space with an asshole.

The people who inhabit my life are the kind of people I want to invite in my home and with whom I want to share a meal. They’re the kind of people who would lay down their heart for you. They’re the kind of people who will carry you through the dark instead of affixing bandaids over your mouth and skin. I’m impressed by the content and quality of your character, not the length of your CV.

I’m no longer a size 0: Being an integer was fun for a total of five minutes, and then I became that annoying girl in the dressing room who whined about the tragedy of clothing stories failing to stock sizes less than zero (these were the halcyon days before the 00). I was also a functioning alcoholic recovering from a cocaine addiction so I was clearly not living my best life although the media would have you believe I was based on my dress size.

After waging an outright war on my body for nearly two decades, I finally have become comfortable in my own skin. I no longer talk about “earning” the right to eat. I no longer fixate on working out as a means to eat, rather I focus on filling my body with good food so I can live, perform my best when I hit the gym.

I look at photographs of myself in my 20s and it takes everything in me not to cry. You should know that it takes a lot for me to waver, break, but I wish I could hurtle through time, sky and space, and hold my younger self close, bury my face in her hair and tell her that she is so fucking beautiful. You know that, right? You’re beautiful as you are, as the world meant for you to be. You know that beauty isn’t just about whittling down to a bone, right? You know it’s about how you write, love, and breathe.

Lately I care more about running up flights of stairs, breathless. I care about being strong. I care about nourishing my body with the good stuff and some of the not-so-good stuff because I have this one life and am I going to spend it grabbing at flesh and punishing it?

Where does a number get you? Does it inch you further along your journey to fine? Or is it really a shackle, a self-imposed prison where the wardens are endless rides on a spin bike and grating your teeth through green juices and undressed salads?

Stupid people, drama, stupid dramas: There was a time that I reveled in the telenovela–I lived for the drama, drinks thrown, and intrigue because it all made for a good story. However, I’m now at the point in my life where I’ve been through war and dressed the wounds; I’ve a great deal of stories, and now I care about living a good life.

“Before I took to the road, a friend tried to get me to go to a department store with him. He said it was to improve the place where I lived. He said,” I want to know you are reading beneath this lamp. ” This fellow was dying. He knew it and I did not. I think he was tucking me in. He was making sure all of his friends had the right lamps, the comfiest pillows, the softest sheets. He was tucking us all in for the night.” ― Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories

It occurs to me that the older I get the more I see people die. A good friend of mine, who was the first person to really be a friend through my alcoholism, died of cancer a few years ago. Two friends of mine died in their early 20s. An acquaintance I knew, a glinting literary light, committed suicide. Time takes it all, washes it away, and what you have left are the hours. So when you think about the fact that every day forward is a march closer to the grave, you start to think about the quality of your days and who occupies them.

I used to be friends with really shitty people. Catty women who clawed and conspired. People who were covered, head-to-toe, in issues. I used to love men who were incapable of loving me in the way I deserved. And while this is life and there are times when my dearest friends will experience periods of darkness and heartbreaks, I no longer have time or energy for people who are less than extraordinary. I no longer have patience for people who refuse to tend to their hearts like a well-desired harvest. What I don’t have time for? People who put themselves on the road to ruin and like it. People who act as if these are the last days of disco. People who connive and scheme.

I have a cat. I sometimes fall asleep at 9:30PM. I don’t have the time.

banana coconut cookies + some thoughts on food and friendship

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I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention. Experience in itself was never enough. The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it. –From Sarah Manguso‘s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

Remember when we got together in 2005 and you made that baked brie and the beef with the arugula salad? I tell my friend of twenty years that I remember every meal she’s ever made me; I’ve saved her mother’s recipes for fettuccine alfredo and Thanksgiving stuffing–recipes my friend wrote on index cards when we were in college–even though I haven’t made either meal in years. But I like to think that I could if I wanted to because I have the cards. And even though the years spanning from college through my late 20s are sometimes opaque from all the drink, even though my friend, one day over casual conversation, reminds me of the time I couldn’t attend a Pearl Jam concert in college because I’d a finance exam to study for–this is one of many memories with which I struggle to fit in the frame–I’ve always been able to recall, in detail, the food.

Food has the propensity to connect people in a way that’s visceral because we’re sharing our most primal desire with someone else. We’re our most awkward, unkempt selves when we steady a spoonful of liquid or twirl slippery noodles around a fork. As women, we are at our most vulnerable when we eat because we shoulder the weight of propagating bloodlines; we bear the burden of a society that dictates what we can and cannot eat. We live in a world where the amount of food we consume and the measure of our self worth are inexplicably, tragically, bound to one another. Food is the soft, nubby blanket in which we swathe ourselves. We hatch plans, weep, rage, talk our way through our darkness over a plate of hot pasta or a bowl of comforting soup. Food has an arcane ability to transform, bind, heal.

Liz and I, circa 1994. Mid-day drinking at its finest.

Liz and I, circa 1994. Mid-day drinking in college at its finest.

Liz and I, circa 2010. I still find it odd that I'm an adult.

Liz and I, circa 2010. I still find it odd that I’m an adult.

It’s hard to explain all of this to Liz–that I remember all of the moments that are visceral, intimate. That first meal we took in a diner in Easton after four years of silent estrangement, how she tactfully inquired if I was done with blow, if I was no longer the ticking that was the bomb. Across from me, I noticed how she examined me with her eyes. Was I really clean or white-knuckling it? Would I retreat back to the woman in 2001 who frightened her? While we waited for our food to arrive, until we had a means with which to busy our hands, we shifted uncomfortably in our seats. We spoke of our children–her son and my book–and also of memories and friends past. After the lunch, Liz invited me to her home because I suspected she knew how hard I was trying to regain her trust, everyone’s trust. So how could I explain two days ago that I remember that midpoint in our friendship–the shift from college roommates who were midnight marauders to adult women with children and burgeoning careers–through the brie?

This weekend, I spend time with my best friend’s husband, a man whom I’ve come to love in a way that you would love a brother, and he talks about the hot sauce recipe that took him fifteen years to get right. We dissect the word balance, and rhapsodize over his sauce as if it were a symphony–one false note, one errant cymbal crash, and the whole lot of it would fall asunder. The greatest gift you can give someone is compliment the food they’ve prepared for you. My only regret, I confide to Tim, apart from starting a game of Scrabble with the word “foe,” is the fact that I didn’t slather your sauce all over my chicken. I acknowledge the willful abandoning of the sauce as a rookie move, and I’ve since doused half the bottle on my roasted vegetables and on my eggs the following morning. He laughs and proceeds to give me a jar of his sauce to take home, and how could I explain that this is the second greatest gift one could give?

Would they think me foolish? Sentimental? Getting all weepy over a jar of sauce, a strip of uncured bacon, a plate of herbed roasted vegetables?

Cause next thing you know Miss Anna May Wong got this sweet record on the Victrola and wearing this long shiny white gown and she hands you a champagne glass, and, honey, it’s all over. Not that she’d poison you. Worse. She gonna speak on your life and drop the truth in your lap. So real quiet and super-patient, the record playin out and the camera crowdin in on her face, she reveals how disappointed she is with you and your dumb self. And you realize you blew, but too late. Lloyd Nolan kickin in the door. But there she is, gorgeous for the occasion, so your life at its end will have good taste, though it has for a long time lacked good sense. —From Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love

But the real reason why I’m here, in Connecticut, is Liz. I’m here because of time. I’m here because I’m moving and it hurts and I’ll miss that while I don’t see my best friend as often as I’d like, I know that she’s only a train ride away. I’m here because I’ve built a fortress around my heart because I’ve so much to protect but here’s a key, one of a few, because I want you to come in, all the way. I’m moving but will I still have you? Can you believe I’m moving? New York’s the only home I’ve ever known. I’m here because I’m frightened of leaving but I know being here is an exercise in maths, that you’ll somehow make all the numbers foot. I’m here because, my god, your children have gotten so big. Remember that night with the brie and the wine (a time when I still drank) and we spent the night laughing because we had time, because your son had only just been born, and we had the hours? I’m here because now there are fewer hours. I’m here because remember that homemade ice cream and the pie you baked? I’m here because I want to commit to memory the chicken with the rub and the hot sauce and the peanut butter cookie in a cafe in Avon, and all the minor meals and bites we’ll share because there will come a time when we will share fewer of these moments.

I’m here because I’ve finally made a decision that is based on wanting to live a good life, needing to have good sense in which to live it, and I want to share all of this with you, my dear friend. I want to hold the hours close. I want to log the meals. I want this time with you before it’s squandered, before it’s too late.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts
3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup almond flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (I used almonds)
2/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the bananas and coconut oil. In another bowl, whisk together the oats, ground almonds, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix to combine. Mix in the walnuts and coconut.

Using a teaspoon measure, add the cookies to the baking sheets. You don’t need to worry about spacing them close apart since the cookies won’t spread all that much. Bake the cookies until they’re lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool n a wrack.

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

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

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

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

Awkward.

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

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

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

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

Actually, they did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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five tips for freelancers: because some of you are doing it wrong

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Over the past two years of being a consultant*, I’ve seen it all. I’ve cringed during uncomfortable conference calls when counterparts waged a financial war over 30 minutes of billable work, and I shook my head when another freelancer told my client, in no uncertain terms, that they weren’t big enough to be a priority. I’ve had to bear witness to freelancers loading a gun and shooting off every limb until there’s nothing left. Freelancing isn’t for everyone–some prefer the structure and rhythms of a traditional office environment, and that’s totally fine–but for those who have made the leap it’s important to know that there are nuances in handling client relationships and managing yourself. I’ve read through Copyblogger’s exhaustive list of all the mistakes one could possibly make as a freelancer (all 53 of them), but I keep seeing the same excruciating five over and over again.

TIP ONE: GET RIGHT WITH YOUR LOVE. Nothing says you’re not my priority than telling a client you can’t manage their request because you have other deliverables…for other clients. I’ve seen scenarios where a freelancer would tell a client they couldn’t answer their question (which was actually a simple one) until the following week. I’ve seen countless instances where people would be too transparent with their workload (I’m so slammed with other client work, can I get back to you on this? is a constant refrain). Let me let you in on a little secret: your client doesn’t care about your other clients, obligations, or workload–they only care about what’s in front of them. Clients care about their own problems, and they hired you for solutions.

And I get it. You need to juggle multiple clients because of the uncertainty of deal flow. You need to save for the drought. Sometimes your clients ask stupid questions (and they do, often) and you just don’t have time to answer them. Sometimes you read through your emails think, are you kidding me with this? However, let me be clear about something:

The fact that you can’t manage your workflow is your fault, your problem. Right now, I’ve three very active clients and they barely know that one another exists. And that’s how it should be. Want to know how I got to this place? Simple:

a. Be clear about your work arrangement, hours allocation and response time for “fires” in your contract. I go through the pain and bloodletting during the contract process. Contracts are critical because you’re not only negotiating the deliverable, IP, warrants, and all that other nonsense, but you’re also stipulating how you will work with the client and their expectations on your time. You’ll go through so many rounds on the contract that your client will have your availability committed to memory. In all my agreements, I define the hours or days allocated to a project, how we’ll mutually manage overages, and I even have clauses about how I’ll manage fires and normal response times on off-hours, and how I can be reached in an emergency. I hired a lawyer to manage my vendor agreement, and usually use a lawyer for 1-2 hours if I’m working off a client’s standard MSA/vendor template so I can ensure my language is covered, however, there are amazing affordable resources like Upcounsel, where lawyers can help you in one-off agreement negotiations.

b. Maintain your agreement (because there is the reality of the slippery slope) but be open to flexibility: Be thoughtful and strategic about managing client requests during off-hours. Is this an urgent request and can it be completed quickly? Is this just a one-off question that won’t take more than five minutes of your time? Then manage it. Your client will be grateful. If the request is substantial, be open with your client and remind them of your terms but suggest a midway point if the request is urgent, i.e. I’m sensitive to the request, and although I’m not available at the moment (I never say why because they know and don’t want to be reminded!!!), how about I come back to a solution at [insert later point in time]? Or, offer an alternative resource internally, or someone you trust who can supplement the work. Notice how I’ve address urgent inquiries. Use your best judgment in determining what’s truly urgent. If the situation is not urgent, kindly remind your client of your terms.

c. Manage your time: The hardest part of being a freelancer is establishing your own structure amidst a day without guardrails and routine. Establish a routine. Use productivity tools that are best for you–click here and here and here and yes, here, for some excellent resources. And, more importantly, be honest about what you can manage, because while I understand the need to squirrel away cash, at one point you will face diminishing returns and your performance will suffer, which will affect your performance and future referrals. Personally, I can only take on one “big client” in a 3-6 month time frame, and then I can take on other clients where the workload is no more than 10-15 hours a week. I usually have 1 big client and 2 smaller projects cooking at once and that tends to work for me. Yesterday, I read this interesting post where a freelance web designer takes on projects sequentially. Not right for me, but figure out what works for you and the services you’re offering.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

TIP TWO: RIGHT-SIZE YOUR APPROACH. Because consulting is not a one-size-fits-all approach. A few years ago I bemoaned a client to a dear friend and peer. I prattled on about how my start-up client wasn’t doing things the right way, they skimped on the essentials of branding and marketing, to which my friend responded that I was doing the equivalent of fitting a square peg in a round hole. She continued and said that startups don’t have the time, luxury or money to do everything according to plan, that I had to rethink my approach and focus on the essentials for the client. I had to deliver what my client truly needed at that point in time, as opposed to what they should have.

That advice has lingered with me since, and now I’m able to shape my services to all sorts of client sizes and budgets. What I would deliver to a billion dollar electronics giant would be markedly different than my deliverable to a start-up clothing brand. Usually, the latter is leaner, tighter and execution-heavy. Yes, there’s strategy in both but the strategy for an established brand or business is demonstrably different than the needs of a burgeoning brand, whose positioning and value proposition may change over the course of refining their product or service.

What you think your client should do might not really sync with what they need, and you have to be prepared to be a consulting chameleon. Assess your client’s objectives, evaluate their resources and budget, and deliver what works best for them now, even if it’s a phased approach. I LOVE a phased approach because it gives me the flexibility to add and refine over time while offering the client a more risk-averse approach (and they can see your BIG THINKING!). All too often I see startup founders shake their head when reviewing a proposal, with a that’s nice, but that’s not really feasible when I’m still trying to get my product in shape.

In short, be flexible, be malleable. Realize when you’re fitting square pegs into round holes.

TIP THREE: DON’T GET SURGICAL ABOUT EVERY BILLABLE HOUR. No one believes in getting paid on time more than I do. If you expect me to deliver at a specified time, I expect to be compensated for my work at a specified time. However, we live in the real world not an imaginary one, and sometimes in this world people in accounts payable go on vacation, people forget to submit your invoice for processing or the direct deposit might take forever and a day to set up properly. Give your client the benefit of the doubt and don’t roll in acting like a collection agency if your check is under 5 days late. Client service was invented for a reason, people.

While I establish late fees in my contract (usually when payment is over 30 days), I also specify and negotiate payment terms in my agreements. Few companies pay N30 and even fewer pay on receipt. Most companies pay N45 and I’ve even seen N60. Luckily, most of my clients pay N30, and I have a few different gigs happening at once so the cash flow feels continuous (although I admittedly have to get better at budgeting–WIP!!!).

I usually wait five days after the payment due date before I send notes of inquiry because I try to exercise the belief that most people have good intentions and want to pay for the work you’ve delivered. And while I’ll send out the troops for clients who are clearly being egregious with late payments, don’t issue the brigade if the payment is a few days late and exercise compassion for when clients have good reasons for delays.

Also, while it’s important to track your project hours, don’t get crazy over every billable hour. I’ve actually seen emails where freelancers nickel and dime over a 1/2 hour. I’ve read emails where a consultant underdelivered on a project because they didn’t have enough time in the hour allocation. Umm…that’s your fault. As a consultant, it’s critical that you price right, profile right, and allow for flexibility in the contract when the deliverable changes or you encounter scope creep. Delivering subpar work and telling your client you’re doing so will ensure that you will never work for them, or anyone they know, again.

In general, you’ve noticed the constant, quiet refrain of flexibility. While I have iron-clad agreements and I’m pretty direct when it comes to how, when, where I work, I allow for a degree of flexibility for the times when I know being flexibility is an investment in the relationship and future business. Be smart. Don’t think in the billable moment.

TIP FOUR: DON’T ALWAYS BE PITCHING. There’s a time and a place for a sale and it’s not every waking moment. This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross–know when and how to sell. Education is always an implicit, soft sell. Balance that with upsells once you’ve identified a real need, have established a relationship, and have problem yourself a valuable, trusted resource. Overt sells can be grating and show just how focused you are on money. Yes, we all want to make money and secure successive deals and cash flow, but exercise grace. Be subtle about how you sell.

I’ve created education guides (e.g. social media best practices, worksheets for branding exercises, etc) that I use as investment products and soft-sells. Once I’ve established my value with a client, I’ll often send guides that are relevant for their needs/business, with no explicit sell. I’ve done mini education sessions (or the clients have used these guides for internal education), and I’ve almost always secured MORE business because of it.

Be strategic about the sale and offer additional services when you’ve established trust and value, and have some back-pocket tools that you can offer than can bring you closer to a sale.

TIP FIVE: HAVE A PLAN FOR RECIPROCATING/COMPENSATING FOR LEADS. Can I tell you how many people have received project leads or jobs because of my network? Can I tell you how many people have thanked me or issued a % compensation for their completed project as a result of my introduction or lead. Believe me when I say the former is greater than the latter. I continue to be shocked by the fact that people feel entitled to connections or leads. Every single time I get a lead, I thank the person who made the introduction, because although the project might not come to fruition I have someone new and valuable in my network. If the project comes to fruition, I offer a % referral fee on final payment. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do even if people refuse it.

At the very least be humble and thankful for any lead, even if it’s beneath you, not appropriate, not in budget, etc. I’ve experienced ingratitude that’s prevented me from sharing leads or referrals, moving forward. Every referral speaks to my brand and my integrity and I won’t risk either over an ungrateful/entitled referral.

*Bit of Advice: I accept LinkedIn invitations from people with whom I’ve worked previously and prospective clients. If we don’t know one another, please make an effort to pen an introduction to your connection request. Otherwise, it feels like the equivalent of you walking into my home, uninvited.

workplace tip: learn how to assess your manager’s personality

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

A few years ago, I stormed into my boss’s office and launched into a 45-minute tirade about how one of our clients should be institutionalized. Bellevue, rubber sheets, straightjackets–the whole nine. My story was one for the ages, replete with fireworks, an excruciatingly detailed play-by-play of all the conversations that lead to my deduction, and word confetti. I hardly noticed that my boss fixated on his inbox for the whole of my rage blackout, not once glancing up to offer insight or advice. In the end I was depleted, exhausted, and frustrated when he said, quite bluntly, So what’s your solution? As the weeks pressed on I noticed that I wasn’t able to get as much face-time with my boss and his manner was clipped, brusque and cold. Since I felt he wasn’t giving my concerns the weight that it deserved, and he felt that I was sucking the breath right out of his mouth, our relationship deteriorated to the point where we were barely on speaking terms. Not necessarily a smart play when your boss is the CEO of the company.

On the flipside, I’ve a real inability to write or read long emails. Direct reports would fill my inbox with artfully composed epic poems, followed by thirty attachments, and I’d scroll the length of the email (endless scroll, my friends), and I’d call them over and ask, What’s the problem and how do you recommend we resolve it? Because I didn’t have time for the telenovela–give me the Cliff’s Notes version paired with your thinking. You may not have the right answer but show me you’re bringing me something more to the table beyond another complex problem I have to review and solve in addition to be responsible for an agency of 160 and millions in revenue. Make me realize that I’m not doing all the thinking in the room. Give me options. For the love, meet me in the middle.

It wasn’t until my mentor conducted a personality assessment training did I realize that I wasn’t matching my boss’s work style and, in turn, my team wasn’t managing mine (and vice versa). Over the course of a few short months I was able to repair my relationship with my boss and be more compassionate with my direct reports, who, in turn, adjusted their style to be more in rhythm with mine.

I know the term “profiling” carries the weight of the pejorative. It’s often construed as reductivist and fallible, and while I agree with this to a certain extent, having some parameters of how people work, present, negotiate and manage conflict is extremely helpful to minimize miscommunication, stress, and frustration.

My mentor riffed off a Myers Briggs training where he assigned personality traits based on a quadrant method. Using terms from the advertising world, he composed four archetypes: Headline, Logo, Body Copy and Illustrator, along with two simple questions: Are you task or people oriented? Do you ask or tell?

Image Credit: Simple Talk

Image Credit: Simple Talk

We completed a lengthy questionnaire and I discovered that I’m a “Headline” in the workplace and a “Logo” in my personal life. I sometimes bring the personal into the professional so me ranting to my boss was me in Logo mode (I was trying to establish a relationship and trust), but my interaction with my direct reports was in Headline mode (solutions not problems, be brief, be brilliant, be gone, etc).

A Headline is interested in results, tasks risks, believes in brevity, and makes quick decisions. We like options and the fact that you came to us with a brief assessment of the problem and a few alternatives for a solution. We’re entrepreneurs, division leaders, sales leaders, turnaround specialists. My reports used to make fun of how often I said, send me bullets in an email. A Logo puts relationships first in business; they are people-oriented, consensus-builders, the ultimate team player. They’re cautious and very sensitive to office politics. Think politicians, HR managers, and CEOs. A Body Copy believes in the power of process–they’re cautious, methodical, detail-oriented, extremely professional, and may endure analysis paralysis since they spend so much time weighing all of their options. Accountants, project managers and lawyers are excellent body copies. An Illustrator cleaves to the Bright Shiny Thing–they love the latest, trendiest, coolest. They’re impetuous and want to inspire and be inspired. They’re creative directors, in PR, or they might be in sales. They do what they can to get the job done but they may not necessarily think through implications (it bores them to tears) like a Body Copy would.

To that vein, inspired by my mentor’s training, I created two quick charts on how to present and negotiate based on archetype.

HOW TO PRESENT (BASED ON PERSONALITY TYPE)
Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 11.09.53 AM

HOW TO NEGOTIATE (BASED ON PERSONALITY TYPE)
Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 11.10.01 AM

Granted, these are basic archetypes and people may move through the quadrants based on situations, stress levels, mood, etc, however, this helpful guide empowered me to not only manage up more effectively, but it allowed me to recognize how my team managed themselves and their communication and I made a point to meet them halfway. Example: I was demonstrably less impatient with stories and lead-ins (especially for my more junior team members) and I could see how they were trying to devise solutions for problems. Remember, communication and connection are not unilateral. We’re not here to change who we are and how we work based on who we work for, rather, we’re all trying to find our way to a comfortable middle.