spaghetti with tomato and walnut pesto

Untitled

I made this dish for a friend who came over for brunch one Saturday. I greeted her, and a guy I’d hired off Task Rabbit to assemble a file cabinet (naturally they arrived at the same time), with a deafening smoke alarm from the tomatoes I’d been roasting in the oven. The three of us held up towels and magazines, trying to air out my apartment from all the smoke that had accumulated, and we ended up laughing because my cat nearly went airborne trying to flee the alarm. Good times. 

I just finished Heather Havrilesky’s excellent column collection, How to Be a Person in the World (buy it, read it, effective yesterday), and one of the Ask Polly columns resonated so deeply with me–a woman moved to a new city and struggled to make new friends. While I prefer to spend much of my time alone (I actually take solace in the quiet of my own company), I do miss the ease of my east coast friendships. The feeling that I could hop on a subway and see a friend in the middle of the day. Since I’m a consultant much of my time is spent at home, in seclusion, and while I have a set of good friends, I wouldn’t mind a slow and deliberate expansion of my circle. A loosening of a belt, if you will. And I loved how Heather talked about opening your heart in the sense that you’d be surprised how the people who remain and thrive are those whom you least suspect. It’s okay to connect with people who are not your vision of an ideal friend because we need people, and companionship, in any form, is a comfort. 

So I’m joining a few groups, took up membership at a really cool gym where the members actually socialize (who knew?) and talk to one another, and I can’t wait to have new friends over for dinner. 

DIRECTIONS: Recipe from Bon Appetit
⅔ cup walnuts
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons plus ⅓ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher salt
6 oil-packed anchovies, coarsely chopped (I nixed this because fish)
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about ½ cup), plus more for serving
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces spaghetti (I used gluten-free fettucini)
½ cup (packed) basil leaves

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until slightly darkened, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.
Heat broiler. Toss tomatoes with 2 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt. Broil, tossing once, until tomatoes are blistered and have released some of their liquid, 5–7 minutes. Let cool.

Pulse anchovies, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and ½ oz. Parmesan in a food processor until finely ground. Add walnuts and half of tomatoes, then, with motor running, stream in ⅓ cup oil; process just until combined. Season with salt. Transfer pesto to a large bowl and stir in black pepper.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid.

Transfer pasta to bowl with pesto and add a splash of pasta cooking liquid. Toss, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Add basil and remaining tomatoes.

Divide among bowls; top with more Parmesan and black pepper and drizzle with oil.
.

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Uncategorized

you are what you go after

launching a new company

Three years ago I wrote a story about a job that was slowly killing me. There were weeks during the summer when I’d rarely see daylight and I’d fork food into my mouth I couldn’t remember having eaten. Did I eat lunch ?— I can’t remember, but I must have eaten because my garbage was overflowing with take-out cartons and Seamless Web plastic bags. I’d scroll through pictures of myself taken with my phone and I had to turn away because all of them looked like proof of life photos. I was walking through my sleeping life and I became a version of myself that to this day I still apologize for. My generation was reared to believe that if you worked hard, paid your dues, climbed slowly up an invisible ladder, you’d be handsomely rewarded with a matching 401K, and you’d no longer fear the first of the month when rent was due. You didn’t quit; you kept moving even when you knew that as a woman your work would be harder. You kept working because you hadn’t yet come to the realization that the things you own end up owning you. But that comes later, much later, when you’re so tired you stop rubbing the sleep out of your eyes. You kept waking up in the middle of the night to scan your emails because no one ever slept. Sleep was for amateurs, people who weren’t thirsty. People who didn’t want to make partner.

I worked for a man who peddled his snake oil wrapped in Powerpoint presentations. He was the sort who believed that if you said all the right multisyllabic words, people would hand over their checkbook with a dazed look that resembled idolatry. A man so consumed by his greed that it ended up being his ruin. I’m reminded of what someone told me once — you are what you go after.

When I was made a partner of this company, all of the women stood and applauded and I was happy. It occurs to me now that I should’ve been angry over the fact that all of these brilliant ambitious women reported to a company run by men, men who reported to a holding company and a board filled with white men. And I was the lone woman who stood amongst the gleaming white.

When I was a freshman in college, I switched majors from psychology to finance. There were a lot of reasons for the move but none of them really matter now save for the fact that I grew up poor in Brooklyn and I watchedWall Street one too many times. I was eighteen and I believed that money corrected everything. Money gave you comfort. Money was your shelter. So I took all the required classes, interned at Merrill Lynch and other fancy banks at $15-$20/hour. I remember attending a party a few days before graduation where the man who would be valedictorian, a man who was a fixture in my study group, told me that competing with me made him work harder. He was drunk and so was I, and I couldn’t help but think he was congratulating me on my loss. It didn’t occur to me until years later that I would allow snake oil salesmen to use me to get ahead.

Two years out of college and sick of wearing skirt suits (this was 1999), I started a side business where I re-sold clothing and accessories I purchased from sample sales and outlet stores on eBay. This was a time of dial-up internet service and AOL buddy lists. Few business set up shop online, and women across the country were excited about this eBay business and how it allowed them trespass to the false feeling that you’re important, that you mean something, simply because you have a pair of $300 sandals strapped to your feet. I was 23 and filing LLC paperwork and doing my own accounting at night because I was tired of being told by recruiters, who scanned my paper resume printed on bond paper, that I could only get a job in banking because I’d only worked in banking.

I don’t like being told no.

This side business got big, big for me, and it attracted the attention of the wife of a man who would eventually be my boss, a man who worked for a $10 million dollar venture-back dot.com that aimed to sell Italian designer accessories over the internet. I resigned from my job, trashed my suits, and worked full-time at this company while I attended Columbia University’s MFA program in between work hours. Never did I conceive that owning my own business was something that one did, much less one that was built using the internet. We were taught to crave the creature comforts of big companies. Big companies meant stability.

That sound you hear? It’s the sound of one hand clapping.

There are many things in the span of a two-decade career for which I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the time I spent working for a man who gave me a much needed attitude adjustment and taught me most of what I know about marketing. He also taught me, by example, how to be kind and compassionate to the people who work for you. I’m grateful for another man, years later, who was my sponsor and champion when the snake oil salesman was content on wreaking havoc on my self-esteem if it meant keeping me in line while he continued to add zeros to his paycheck. If it meant cleaning up his mess after he’d lie to client after client, and set expectations he knew we couldn’t achieve. No matter. As long as the contracts were signed and the cash flowed in. No matter when people caught on to his game, and he hid in his office while I had to fire people who had mortgages and families. It’s a business decision. I’d choke out these words and cry in the bathroom later. Anyone who tells you firing someone gets easier the more you do it isn’t human. But I was deemed “emotional” because I cared about the wellbeing of people. Even if many of them will never know it.

For the three years after I resigned from this job, I thought I would be happier flying solo. No office to go into, no lives to turnover, and fewer hearts to break. I even left New York, my home of 39 years because I grew tired of the velocity, of watching my home devolve into a whitewashed H&M, of no longer wanting the things I thought were important. So I moved to Los Angeles, and for the first time in my life I had unmitigated quiet. So much so that I nearly drowned in it, and I spent the greater part of this year in a very dark and severe depression. A darkness I believed I couldn’t come back from until I did. And that’s another thing I’m grateful for — people online and off who bring you shelter when you least expect it. A kind of shelter that makes money laughable in contrast. A kind of compassion that makes you only want to work harder, be a better person.

I spent the bulk of my career hiding my gender and swallowing my voice. My decks couldn’t be too pretty lest they be deemed feminine. Perhaps we’ve conveniently forgotten study after study that tells us that having diversity and inclusion on boards and in companies is the very definition of a company’s success. I couldn’t be vulnerable when that could be construed as a sign of weakness when countless studies prove otherwise. That vulnerability means you’re human and people will admire you for that. Your humanity.

This month I returned to 1999, albeit changed and demonstrably older. (Hopefully wiser). I filed paperwork for an LLC; I opened a business banking account and created the credentials I wanted to read. I contracted nearly a dozen women who wanted to collaborate on projects that challenged and excited them. I sent emails, scheduled meetings and made plans. However, there was a moment — a full day of them — when I wondered if I would fail. If there weren’t a place for people who wanted to speak English, not jargon, for people who demanded mutual respect from their partners and people who understood that our best work could be achieved if weren’t tethered to our desks and chained to our chairs. I thought back to a younger version of myself who didn’t question failure because this change, regardless of the outcome, was what I needed to move forward.

So here I am, 40, moving toward what’s next. And I couldn’t be more excited. If you’re interested, here’s what I’m up to. I hope you’ll fist-pump me along. Drop me a follow on Instagram or Twitter if you’re feeling my vibe.


For those who are curious, I plan on taking this space in a markedly different direction. I’m keeping a great deal of my personal life offline, so this space will be filled with books, food, the ins & outs of running my own small business, travel and the like. I hope you’ll stick around. -f

freelance life + careers

yeah, another hiatus

bali

I hate these posts. I hate writing them and reading them, but here we go. In the back of my head, I hear my pragmatic voice telling me to keep this space going–I just migrated platforms, I had a dear friend spruce this place up–but I want to focus on what I want to do instead of what I should be doing because I have a novel coming out next year and I want the world to know about it.

This week I met up with a business acquaintance. This week I had an idea about a new venture, one that doesn’t merely exist in my head but is pragmatic, creative and actionable. This idea + four hours with this woman left me inspired in a way that I haven’t felt in years.

Right now all I can think about is the work that affords me security and shelter. I think about the third book left unfinished and the pile of work that needs to be done to get this business off the ground. I’m also not in a place where I want to share any part of my personal life online. For the first time in over a decade, I want to live my personal life offline. Online is for keeping up with friends and work projects.

You can probably tell from a few of my recent posts that my heart hasn’t been in it. If you have to force it, you shouldn’t be doing it. And I don’t want a platform to determine how many people read my book because I was never in this to play the volume and fame game.

So I’m off for now. You can still keep up with me on Twitter + Instagram, where I’ll be sharing more about my new venture, snaps of my cat, and all the food I’m eating.

 

 

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mini cinnamon pancakes

mini cinnamon pancakes

I need to stop reading this is forty posts. It’s a saccharine, pensive version of the turning 30 post, as if what we know can be compartmentalized so neatly into the kind of age range boxes we check off on forms. As if our unique journeys can be collapsed on a timeline that reminds us that we’re inching toward flat-line. As if the learnings are so revelatory. From the moment we’re born, we’re inching our way back to that from which we’ve come, and our life serves as an oscillation between and within those two states. There exists no linear trajectory, save for physical time because we’re constantly going back and refining for the now and what’s to come. 

At the end of the day, whether you’re 30 or 32 or 43–the number doesn’t matter, what matters is the continuation (and hopefully, evolution) of one’s experience. 

I turned 40 at the end of last year and I’ve endured what felt like insurmountable losses–some of which I’ve written about here, some I’ll never write about. When I moved to Los Angeles, all healthy-eating, fresh-faced and hopeful, never would I have anticipated the dark months that followed. Never would I have imagined that the losses would go on. I used to tell friends that I wanted to meet a man who’d been through war, but wasn’t still dressing the wounds, and now when I look at those words, which read so well on paper, I know that there’s no nobility in bloodshed. There’s no romance in taking up residence in the dark places. This was the year that I learned that I struggled with lifelong depression. This was the year when I realized I’m closer to where I want to be in life, but I’m not there just yet. This was the year where I keep telling myself that this time wasn’t wasted simply because my first ten months here weren’t what I expected.

The last time I saw my therapist he asked me if this was how I always lived my life, to which I responded what do you mean by this? He said, fast. He suggested that I’d been living in a kind of accelerated permanent velocity and the one time I was forced to be present without diversions was the moment when I had to confront the avalanche of all that I’d bypassed. Moving here, away from the creature comforts of New York, forced me to be present in a way that I’d never been, and this was the time when I thought about what I was, what I’d been doing and how I’d been living (or not living) my life. Maybe that’s why I wrote a book in two months–I was desperate for emotional diversion. I’d do anything not to remain still. 

I tell myself the realization that comes from this stillness isn’t a regression, rather it’s a long-overdue, necessary pause. 

Right now I’m in the contract phase of two projects that will help alleviate the cost my depression incurred. And that put me to thinking that I invest so much of my money on organic and locally-sourced food, on removing chemicals from my home–all to prevent future physical illness. I wonder why I hadn’t made the same level of investment in my mental health so I could avoid these “out-of-pocket” costs if you will. Investments in therapy, wellness, a calm home life, travel, quiet, reflection, proper medication. 

This is what I learned this year. Not what I learned at 40.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Cookbook, with slight modifications
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of fine sea salt
3 large eggs, room temperature (you can use 3 flax eggs if you’re living that life)
3/4 cup almond milk (or any nut milk, really)
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 to 2 tbsp ghee, butter or coconut oil, for greasing the pan (I found that I had to use a little more. I’m ALWAYS using more oil. What is wrong with me? With them? If you’re trying to get a pile of hotcakes out of one measly tablespoon of oil, HAHAHAHAHAHA with that nonsense. But I digress.)
Maple syrup, for serving

These pancakes are the truth. I’ve made a lot of gluten-free pancakes in my day, and most of them are good but not great, and I’m happy to have eaten them because at least I’m not eating broccoli. You make this kind of concession after you’ve issued a permanent fatwa on gluten and dairy, and you wonder if all the joy has been removed from your life. These mini cakes remind me that there is JOY in life. The cakes are doughy, fluffy, and delicious. Know that I had to shove nearly all these fuckers in a Ziploc bag in the freezer because when I like something I go at like a Dyson vacuum attacking cat hair. 

DIRECTIONS
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, almond milk, honey and vanilla extract. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix until smooth.

Grease a large saute pan or griddle pan with your fattening agent and place it over medium heat. Using a 1 1/2 tablespoon cookie scoop (or you can just use 1/4 cup measure, but fill it 1/2 way), pour the batter onto the pan, cooking three or four 2-inch pancakes at a time. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until bubbles begin to form in the batter, then flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the pancakes are fluffy and cooked through in the center. Remove from the pan and set aside, then repeat with the remaining batter.

Serve the pancakes topped with maple syrup. I had mine with blueberries! Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to two days or in the freezer for one week and thaw them before reheating in the pan.

mini cinnamon pancakes

dairy-free recipes gluten-free pancake + breakfast recipes

gwyneth paltrow’s carrot + ginger soup

gwyneth paltrow's carrot + ginger soup

I was supposed to work this weekend because I’m still in debt and would love to live a life without having to spend an hour of meditation as preparation for dealing with my credit card statements. But then the third season of Bloodline dropped on Netflix, and I found myself seven pages into a new story. Part of me wishes I had the waistline and creative velocity of October, before the deepest of my depression pancaked me, Mack-truck style. So when a story rolled up, I closed Powerpoint and remained in a word document coma for the remainder of yesterday. I even cancelled my beach plans for today because it’s been open-heart surgery to get words on the page. So when the words finally do come, I’ve learned that I need to down the volume down to low on everything else. I’m even having a hard time writing this post because all I keep thinking about is you have to finish the one story that doesn’t end in someone singing out their sorrow like a sermon. Writing about hope is unchartered territory but it’s one I can’t wait to navigate.

 

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from It’s All Easy, modified
2 tbsp olive oil oil
2 shallots, minced
Salt
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 pound carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces (2 1/2 to 3 cups)
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock
Freshly ground black pepper

gwyneth paltrow's carrot + ginger soup

DIRECTIONS
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook for a few minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the cumin, coriander, and garam masala and continue to cook, stirring, for another minute.

Toss in the carrots, stock, and another big pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Turn down the heat and simmer gently until the carrots are very tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Blend the soup in the pot with an immersion blender or, if using a blender, let the soup cool for at least 10 minutes and then carefully pour it into the blender and purée until smooth, working in batches if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls.

gwyneth paltrow's carrot + ginger soup

dairy-free recipes gluten-free soup recipes

how do I monetize what’s left of my soul?

 

the shady blogging game

On a long enough timeline everyone has a strike price, or so it seems.  Few talk about the cruel irony of the online space–the anti-establishment becoming the establishment, and when they become the thing that they once sought refuge against, they try to convince you that this establishment is different. We’re creatures of order with selective memory, and what was once an idealistic rebellion becomes corporatized, systemized, anything-ized. After the dot.com crash of 2000 (I remember it well because I was one of many who lost their job when my dot.com blew through their VC money), we temporarily returned to the perceived safety of brick and mortar companies until a new generation cropped up, the crash being a distant memory, launching companies that were just as insane and overvalued as the ones that came before. But we’re different, they emphatically insisted. Not really. Maybe they have better haircuts? Fancier footwear? Hoodies?

In 2002, I launched an online literary journal because I was tired of seeing good writing routinely rejected by print publications because the writer wasn’t connected or had the means to attend an exclusive MFA program. Or perhaps the writer didn’t know X famous writer, attend Y reading series. The writer couldn’t work the room because they were denied access to the room’s address. I was tired of a limited few benefitting from privilege and access. Perhaps I was also rallying against my own disappointing experience at the Columbia MFA program, where I felt like a complete outsider.

Back then, no one took online lit mags seriously. Paper lent you legitimacy because who would go to AWP with a laptop? Aesthetically, few could compete with the grandeur of the print establishment with their glossy covers and bold-face contributors, and don’t even think that your work would be considered in any of Best American series let alone win prizes. But I kept on trucking. I invested my own money in a site redesign and ultimately succumbed to the paper peer pressure. I spent thousands of dollars because I loved what I did. Even on the days when I had to haul heavy boxes (slim books are surprisingly heavy when you’re moving a few hundred of them from a taxi up two flights of stairs) or I encountered a snobby writer (or forty) who thought my “little” publication was “adorable”, and sure they’ll deign to submit the story they torched in the trash bin because they’re charitable too. Never did I consider making money off my literary journal because I felt, perhaps too idealistically, that money would taint it as money tends to do. Money would drive editorial decisions. Money would force me to sit in a room with people I didn’t respect much less like because one has to work a room and be part of the scene in order to be taken seriously. Not relying on profitability allowed me to say fuck you, I’ll do my own thing over here whether you like me or it, or not. And then I stopped publishing the magazine because I didn’t love it like I used to, and I walked away and watched as a succession of others took its place. I watched online magazines gain the respect, credibility and authority they deserved. I saw online editors blurbing books and hosting conferences. Part of me was really happy, but a small, growing part of me was sad and it wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered why.

I left three years of working in marketing at a major publishing company because I couldn’t stomach the business of writing. Editorial meetings would make me violently ill with talk of platform and reach trumping the quality of a writer’s work. As long as a book could sell, who cared about the contents of the pages? I witnessed talented friends tirelessly sending out manuscripts that would invariably get rejected while I sat in an editorial meeting pontificating our ceiling bid on the media darling of the moment. I’m not naive. I know publishing isn’t a non-profit, but as someone who writes for the sheer joy of it, it was hard for me to detangle the bitter taste from the business with the sweetness of the art. Some can and do it brilliantly; I couldn’t.

I then spent the best and worst four years of my career building a company that specialized in social media marketing. This was a time when social was relatively free. There existed no algorithms to game or pay-for-plays to consider. Social media was unchartered, messy, and I loved it. I loved experimenting in an era when people didn’t take what we did all that seriously. This was a time when sending someone product was good enough to secure a review.

Then something happened. So quickly I was nearly bowled over by it. Overnight, the people who were once content with receiving free product were commanding fees equivalent to a month of my income. Fees for a single photo or appearance. Fees for a return (qualitative or otherwise) of which we were uncertain. It was as if the industry moved from 0 to 90, bypassing a cruising speed. The industry shifted from slightly advantageous to grand larceny. Suddenly, I was dealing with agents who acted as if their clients were the modern day Linda Evangelista–refusing to wake up for less than $10,000 a day. And while I believe that people should be compensated well for their work, some of these fees were a laugh riot. I’d pass on proposals to my clients, to which they’d respond: you must be joking.

This was the new era when everyone was an expert and everyone was in the business of brand ME. This was the era when kids became props and sales vehicles, and some bloggers were duplicitous when it came to disclosure or even their true feelings about a product or brand. If I hear one more time: I’ve been using X product for Y months when they signed for the Fedex package yesterday, I’m going to scream. This was the era when several friends were shocked that I didn’t add affiliate links to the cookbooks I posted or for the books I read. Why would I do that? Just because there’s money to be made doesn’t mean I need to make it.

Lately, a lot of my friends who are trained and established in their fields are losing out to the flavors of the moment. They’re losing out to outfit bloggers who have 500K Instagram followers and LikeIttoKnowIt affiliate links that serve as permanent wallpaper on their sites. They’re losing out to bloggers who have little design experience, training, or point-of-view claiming they designed collections that we know they didn’t design. They’re losing out to “social media experts” who undercharge and overdeliver. “Marketers”, who don’t fundamentally understand basic marketing principles or the complexities of a business, are creating challenges and friction for everyone else in the field. Beware of anyone who calls themselves a “growth hacker”.

The establishment had a dam for a reason. No one wanted to drown in the event of a flood.

And while there are incredible writers and artists who’ve found audience and livelihood as a result of social media, most bloggers are pale photocopies of extraordinary originals. New bloggers immediately ask: How can I make money? When can I get free stuff? When can I get a book deal? Since publishing a book these days is as meaningful and disposable as a business card.

How do you explain that nothing is truly free and that making money comes at a cost and the result of hard work? I don’t dismiss the hard work of so many talented people online, but I question and challenge the sea-of-same which has become increasingly ubiquitous. The flood of beige drowning color. I worry when one blogger is completely indistinguishable from another, down to their peony bouquet and Old Navy comped clothing. And the business side of me, the one who has to pay rent and student loans, has to play into this to some degree (hence, why I can never give specifics or name names because I would actually like to pay off my debt while I am still alive) while the other side of me is washing the taste of all of it out of my mouth. Recently, I attempted to negotiate a deal on behalf of one of my clients for a cause campaign and the person on the other end of the correspondence wrote that the influencer could only write about a cause in the context of an outfit post. I paused and re-read the email several times, wondering if the person on the other end didn’t see this as incredibly inappropriate. Can no one take a day off from affiliate links to use their influence for something good? Must every post and moment somehow contribute to brand ME? Must everything bear a price tag? Are people lauded for weekly “coffee talk” posts because our bar for storytelling is set that low? Does that one slightly revelatory, yet highly edited, post elevate one’s perception of authenticity? Is faux-real the new real?

Behind the scenes, in texts and chats, many of us wonder when this bubble will burst. When the next wave of anti-establishment shakes down this Beige New Order, possibly normalizing it or at least alleviating the insanity of it. A time when my friends will actually get work again and not have to side-step those who have unfathomable fan counts. A time when people stop monetizing life’s real moments. A time when people will create for the sake of creating without thinking about ways in which it can be transactional. I don’t want to be sold to, indirectly or directly, every single day. I get enough of that from the world around me. Blogs used to be my refuge, but now most of them are walking advertisements. Maybe the voice is more conversational (although not really because brands are basically in the mimicry game of what’s working with influencers), but the message is still the same. Buy this because I’m obsessed with this thing this week until I become obsessed with that new thing next week. 

Tell me stories. Don’t sell me things.

 

freelance life + careers the gathering kind

grain-free sweet potato waffles

sweet potato waffles

Yesterday, I hit the pause button. I woke to see many of my friends arguing in a private online group about an article that had circulated overnight. I’m pretty desensitized (I mean, the first film I ever saw was The Shining at age 5), but when I clicked over to xojane to see what the kerfuffle was all about, I felt ill. I felt as if someone kicked me in the stomach and kept on kicking. A woman penned an essay (which has since been taken down, but I’ve heard a cached version still exists) essentially calling her “friend’s” (and I use that term loosely since they were clearly not friends) suicide a blessing. The woman continued to kick dirt over her friend’s face by slut-shaming her, airing unnecessary dirty laundry, and in the end, the woman is better off as a result of taking her own life. 

You let that sink a little. 

I messaged one of my friends with, this is a joke, right? Because what kind of heinous sociopath would so callously capitalize on a woman’s suicide? Imagine if the victim’s mother read this. Imagine if her friends read this. Imagine if people, who already believed their life would be better if it were snuffed out, read this as an affirmation of what they already believed. That their loved ones would be better off if they were no longer here even though decent human beings know that this is a cruel fiction. 

I read horrible things every day. Yesterday morning I read a man’s response to Oklahoma’s desire to make doctors who practice abortions illegal. Rape ’em, I say. Send them to Mexico and rape ’em because they deserve it for killing a baby. I read posts from people who eviscerate strangers. I read Adam Gopnik’s Trump piece and I close my eyes. I scroll through hundreds of Facebook posts where women practice a form of feminism that disturbs me–applaud women regardless of their actions. Ignore culpability and basic human decency because our role is one we must always assume. Smile and play nice. I thought: are you fucking kidding me? Feminism and sociopathy are mutually exclusive conversations.

The ugliness is ubiquitous and pungent, and it’s easy to feel as if you could so easily suffocate from it. 

But this essay put me on pause. It altered my day. I talked about it with a friend during lunch. I talked it about with a friend from NY on Facetime. I chatted with friends on Facebook messenger. I cried. A lot. And then I read this and this and thought thank goodness the world isn’t a complete and utter ruin. 

There were many times in my life when I contemplated taking my own life. I was very well near it months ago until the compassion of those whom I love was enough to make me get my life back on track. And I’m grateful every day for that. I’m grateful for being here. I’m grateful for psychiatry and Wellbutrin and people who don’t carry a stigma against mental illness.

The cruelest thing you could say to someone is: You’re not necessary. You don’t need to exist. You take up too much space.  

I could go about is this Trump’s America rising up and waving their bleached-white flag, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell everyone I know and love, regardless if they have a form of mental illness, that they deserve to exist. That it’s a gift that they’re here. I’ll remind myself that every single day is a gift, and that might sound trite or fatuous, but it is. 

I had plans this weekend but I cancelled them to stay in, read, work, lay low and quiet, and make food that gives me pleasure. Do the things that give me joy, and cooking is one of them. 

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook, with slight modifications for my taste
1 small white sweet potato or 1 cup mashed sweet potato
3 large eggs, room temperature, whisked
4 tbsp maple syrup, plus more for drizzling
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 cup almond flour
1/3 tapioca flour/starch
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

sweet potato waffles

DIRECTIONS
You can be crazy and roast your sweet potato for 30-40 minutes at 425F. I mean, it’s your life, you can be all laissez-faire, however, if you crave sanity, put this bad boy in a bowl in a microwave for four minutes. Let the sweet potato cool to the touch. Peel off the skin, put it in a small bowl and with a fork, mash until smooth.

In a large bowl, mix in the eggs, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and coconut oil, and whisk until smooth.

Add the flours, baking soda/powder, and cinnamon and mix well. You might have lumps. It’s not that serious.

Heat up a waffle iron and add about 1/3 cup of the batter (I did not because I like big waffles and I cannot lie…) into the iron. Cook until crispy and golden brown on the outside. Set aside and repeat with the remaining batter. You’re supposed to get 6 waffles out of this recipe, but I got 3 and I have no regrets.

Serve with maple syrup. If you have leftovers, these waffles freeze really well.

sweet potato waffles

dairy-free recipes gluten-free pancake + breakfast recipes

the gift that distance (and life) brings

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When I first moved to Los Angeles, I sat in a coffee shop and wrote a story collection in two months. I remember arranging printed pages on my floor, growing increasingly disturbed by how swiftly the stories came. Writing for me always felt a bit like surgery–although ultimately rewarding, the creation process existed as a series of stops and starts, and the editing process always proved far more unrelenting. There were days when I’d read through a manuscript and press delete on whole chunks of it. First readers of my new novel were shocked to see hundreds of pages excised in subsequent drafts. I was merciless on what needed to be cut for the sake of telling a good story.

But these new stories were different–they were dark, acerbic, and they excited me in ways I couldn’t understand at first.The voices were clear and puncturing, bordering on a violent tone I hadn’t explored previously or perhaps felt too frightened to. The story collection, Women in Salt, was a loose re-telling of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, a group of friends meditating on their friend’s suicide. I felt Salt was better than my second book, a novel that took me years to write and re-write. A novel that will be published nearly a decade after my first book–that’s how long it took me to find new characters on which to fixate.

When I write, I think about the characters for a long time before I even sit down in front of a computer. I originally conceived of the principle characters in my new novel, James and Gillian, when I attended Columbia’s graduate writing program. Fifteen years ago. I’m methodic when it comes to my characters and they’re nearly realized when I set out to write a story.

Not this time. Half the time I wrote these stories without thinking. The characters arrived, fully-formed, and they were filled with rage. And when I first sent this book to my agent his response was measured–I think perhaps he was surprised that I managed to write a story darker than what I had just written.

I set the book aside for months and yesterday I spent the day re-reading the stories. To say I was disturbed would be an understatement. Although I loved what I composed on the page, I had to put the book down at times because it was just so fucking bleak. And it occurred to me that what I had written was a mirror of my depression, a lifetime coping with a condition that had only recently been diagnosed and treated. For years, I never understood when people told me what I write is sometimes difficult to read. My characters, while interesting to read, were helpless, hopeless. I’d laugh, confused, because it wasn’t as dark as it could be. Actually, the fact that my main character in my novel could be described as Ted Bundy with a whisk was kind of funny.

What started as a 230-page manuscript is now down to 120 pages. And I sat on my couch, I sit in this cafe, wondering where to take this. I have a 120 good pages but what do I do with this? How do I dig them out from the graves I’d dug with corners pristine and neat?

When I started taking anti-depressents I had the worry that most people have–would I change? When people ask me how now is different than before, the only way I can explain it is that there’s this door that never opens. I can feel sad, I can cry, I can hurt, but I don’t spiral. I’m not able to return to that dark country I’d once considered home. It’s like standing in front of a door while you’re crying, knocking, and someone on the other side telling you there’s no vacancy. There’s no room for you here. Go back to where you’ve come. And without drink, with therapy, I’m able to deal with all the things that I’d spent a lifetime avoiding. I uncovered aspects of my character that made me wince. There’s a reason for me being difficult but I can’t go on using it as an excuse. That’s the work I do, every day, and it’s hard.

And it’s hard to explain that while I’m in a much better place that I sometimes miss access to that place. I can write those 120 pages over but it would be different. I would be writing from beyond the place not in it. It would be seeing the dark from a distance rather than having it rise up all around you.

I don’t know how to write about the space I occupy–a place that temporarily exists between before and later on. It’s unfamiliar and requires a whole new vocabulary. Being here feels like a new language I have to learn and here’s me stuttering, messing up the verb tenses and conjunctions. Here’s me feeling my way around new words and being surrounded by kind people who help me with its pronounciation. That’s what three months back on track feels like.

So I wait, I guess. I wait until I can stop staring at a blank page, not knowing what to say and how to say it. I focus on getting better.

book buff depression

the grain-free granola you need in your life

Grain-free granola

This post was a series of starts and stops. It was a stutter that got silenced, a long note that ended up being deleted, and I’m finding it challenging to translate my offline life to my online one. Yesterday, I bumped into a friend and she told me I had this glow. I shrugged it off, made a flippant joke about being on anti-depressants, and she said that what she’s seeing is so much more than a pill at work. It’s more like a life well-lived, and I’m inclined to agree.

I’m really good at settling into dark spaces and sitting uncomfortably in them. The dark is familiar territory to me, a terrain I’ve devoted my life to navigating. Fancy publishers have remarked on my talent and skill as a writer, but her work is so relentlessly dark. For a time, this baffled me because when your life is reduced to night vision you can’t fathom people who complain about not being able to see their hand in front of their face. I can see just fine, you think, and you never consider that the dark has its own capacity to be blinding.

I spent most of my days at work. Working on client projects and working on myself. On paper, my days are seemingly unremarkable but they are because I don’t feel the way I did three months ago. I don’t sleepwalk through my days. There exist a calm and a centeredness I hadn’t felt previously, and I’m finding it hard to write about this in a way that doesn’t seem trite or fatuous. Maybe it’s best to simply live through it and write as plainly and simply as I can. Forget about advancing the plot or language.

When you’re writing a book, it’s a given that the first draft will be garbage. It’s the kind of work you don’t show anyone, and you spend what might seem like forever cleaning up the mess you’ve made. And in that cleaning, in that work, the story will invariably emerge. Just keep at it. Keep doing the work.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Nourish
1/4 cup (50g) raw coconut oil
1/3 cup (80m) honey
1/3 cup (85ml) maple syrup
2 cups (200g) coconut flakes
1 cup (115g) almonds, very roughly chopped (I used cashews, as that was what I had on hand)
3/4 cup (80g) sunflower seeds
1/2 cup (80g) pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon rosewater (I didn’t have this on hand)
1 1/2 cups (200g) dried apricots, roughly chopped (I used mixed dried berries instead)
2 tbsp hemp seeds
2-3 tbsp dried rose petals (who has this?)

grain-free granola

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 325F (170°C/gas mark 3) and line 1 deep-sided baking trays with baking parchment. Melt the coconut oil, honey and maple syrup in a small saucepan until it starts to bubble and simmer, then turn off the heat.

Combine the coconut chips, pistachio nuts, dried fruit, hemp seeds, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds in a largish bowl. Add the honey mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. There should be enough of the honey mixture to lightly coat all the dry mix, but if you feel there is not enough just add more honey mix using equal amounts of melted honey and coconut oil.

Spread the mixture onto the lined baking tray, making a layer that isn’t too deep, otherwise, it won’t all crisp up. Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes so that all the mix turns a lovely golden color and doesn’t burn, which it can do easily due to the coconut. I actually cranked up the heat to 350F five minutes before I took it out of the oven. Remove from the oven, allow it to cool for ten minutes then sprinkle over the rosewater if you’re using it. Lastly, stir through the petals if that’s your life.

grain-free granola

gluten-free

herbivore botanicals

Herbivore botanicals

Let me preface this review by saying you can probably get these products at Whole Foods (minus the wallet cleanse) or you can make them if DIY is your bag. Got sugar, oil, and fragrance? Boom–there’s your scrub. I’ve no patience for making anything other than a meal, and I admittedly get seduced by the tranquility beautifully packaged and fragrant bath products bring (a marketer duped by other marketers), so here I am with body polishes and jasmine oils.

I need to also share that the number of blogs I read for personal pleasure can be counted on one hand. For work? Different story, different post. However, I’ve gotten burned so many times by people who promoted products without actually trying them. Roundups baffle me–have you actually felt the fabric/tried the fit of that dress or were you more fixated on the affiliate income that Shopbop link yields? Have you used a skincare product for six weeks or are you telling people that this product is one which you’ve used forever, forever being a few months from the last time you talked about your forever mainstay products? And so on. My bounty would arrive in the mail at the behest of a “trusted” blogger’s recommend and invariably I’d do that twitchy thing I do with my face, roll my eyes, say, this is shit, and bicker with a retailer over their return policy. I’m STILL angry about my Chicwish purchase and how I had to PAY to return a garbage product.

Now, I text a few of my friends who are bloggers (or just normal, non-incentivized people) and ask them what they think of a certain product. Do they love it? Does it work? Is it worth spending their hard-earned $? And if they’ve received the product for free, would this be something they would buy in the future? I text’d my friend Amber who’s a beauty writer and blogger about Vintner’s Daughter. Is this serum worth $180? To which she responded, hell no. It’s an oil marketed as a serum. That’s it. You can get the same product somewhere else for a fraction of the cost. Yet every magazine editor nearly labeled this “serum” the second coming. It was life-changing and insert more bullshit adjectives. There I go again, getting deceived by the promise of seemingly poreless skin at 40.

There I go again, getting deceived by the promise of seemingly poreless skin at 40.

Paranthetical: Granted, I know a lot of bloggers are legit–I’ve just gotten burned by too many shilling to make the effort to place my trust (and income) in the hands of another set of bloggers all over again.

I heard about Herbivore Botanicals from magazines, bloggers I sort of trusted, and Instagram. Everyone prattled on about its austere and luxe packaging (glass with a white label–maybe I’m missing the revolutionary part?), yet NO ONE had actually tried these products possibly because they served their purpose as a “like-worthy” Instagram photo. I queried my usual suspects via text and everyone had “heard good things” but no one I loved actually bought the products. I read an interview with the founders and I’m reminded of Kinfolk. Consumer Affairs calls the formulation legit. And this review felt the most honest. I also found this YouTuber and loved her vibe. Check out her natural skin-care routine (she made her own toner, people).

So I closed my eyes, bought it, and hoped for the best.

I purchased the Jasmine Body Oil and the Coco Rose Body Polish + received the products the other day and while I was annoyed with the wasteful packaging (see above photo), I was delighted my products arrived in-tact.

Although the scrub smells nothing like roses (more like coconut mixed with something that doesn’t smell like a rose), I loved the feel, the granules that exfoliated my skin in the shower (it wasn’t harsh or abrasive) and the oils that kept it soft after. The product works but I’m not that keen on the smell so I don’t think I’d buy it again. But that jasmine oil. Oh, dear god this is a keeper. How do I explain this? The oil smells and feels pure. I don’t get a synthetic floral/alcohol smell, rather, I get unadulterated fragrance and oils that set in my skin pretty quickly and my skin immediately felt soft, not greasy. I love!!! this product. This is definitely a keeper. A lot of people have proclaimed that a little goes a long way. Hmm… I’m not so sure of that unless you use this right out of the shower while your skin is still damp. The jasmine scent doesn’t last the day, but my skin is still soft–a plus. Would I purchase this again? YES. Do I know that I can probably get this product somewhere else for a fraction of the cost? ABSOLUTELY. However, if you want an oil that’s potent and efficacious and you crave the feel of luxury/indulgence (e.g. Friday night bath routine, etc.), then I’d recommend this product.

If you’re into the natural beauty game, drop me a line in the comments re: products that you’re using that work.

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