anjou pear + apple crisp (gluten-free/vegan)

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I hope you’ve sufficiently recovered from yesterday’s food debauchery. Although every year I make the trip to Connecticut to visit my best friend and her family, this year I decided to stay home and feast on carbs and Korean revenge films. I started off the day valiantly with homemade buckwheat pancakes and maple-brushed applewood smoked bacon, however, by the time I shoveled down my gluten-free pasta with sage sausage for lunch, I was STUFFED and missing all the greenery.

This is what happens when you eat virtuously–you can no longer rock the carb casbah like you used to.

It was also serendipitous that I’d open an email from Lucie and read her incredible, inspiring blog post while eating this homemade apple and pear crisp. To be honest, I write on this space mostly for me, and while I do have you in the periphery I never assume that my words have an impact. Unless I’m physically present in your life, I never conceive of the possibility of virtual influence, and I’m always humbled (deeply so) when I hear that I’ve made an impact in your life, albeit in the smallest of ways. I love Lucie’s blog because you can tell how much care she puts into her words. Every post reads deliberate and thoughtful, and as she writes about her journey to cut sugar out of her life, I found myself nodding along.

Here’s the thing about taking trips–you may have booked the airfare and hotel, but you’ll never know where you’ll end up until you get there. A journey never is what you want it to be. Sometimes the trip changes you, takes you to places you hadn’t imagined visiting and other times you simply travel back to where you’ve come, and you book more tickets, more itineraries in hopes that you’ll not simply arrive at your destination, but rather you experience the space between where you are now and where you want to be.

If you asked me a year ago if I’d live a life without gluten or dairy, my laughter would have been louder than bombs. SURELY, YOU JEST. SURELY, YOU DON’T EXPECT ME TO GIVE UP MY DAILY BUTTERED BROOKLYN BAGEL AND MY PASTA ON THE REGULAR? Blasphemy, I’d say, among other things. Yet the distance between then and now has been remarkable. I had to make the commitment. I had to decide to change my life. I had to have the discipline. I had to sit in months of discomfort and pain. I had to feel those burning hives on my skin to know that the house I so assiduously built was burning down from the inside out.

Along the way, I dealt with a lot of people. People who had OPINIONS and had no problem sharing them. People who read magazines at length and thought that empowered them enough to play doctor and therapist. At first, I was confused, disoriented, and then I told everyone to please STFU. I have a real doctor, a real nutritionist, and I’m paying both handsomely to guide me safely through my journey. Because would I rather travel with someone who has a map, compass and the knowledge of having travelled through a seemingly unnavigable country, or do I take a trip with someone who has simply read an article about this country and is content to feel their way through the dark? I got myopic, focused, and now I’m at a place that feels normal.

What’s ironic about reading Lucie’s post yesterday is that I was feeling the negative effects of eating sugar while reading about her journey to sugar-free. Since my diet is composed of mostly vegetables, lean proteins, good carbs and wholesome snacks, save for my daily piece of fruit (I’m okay with the fructose because eating an apple that also has fiber is markedly different than downing a soft drink), I rarely have sugar. So while this crisp was BANANAS DELICIOUS, I winced after a few bites and had a bit of a headache. I had to take a nap and I only felt better when I made myself leave the house for a four-mile walk. I noticed later that when I ate more of the crisp, my taste buds had adjusted and I found myself going in for more bites, and then a little more–addict behavior–until I woke up and told myself to STOP. I put the crisp away and chowed on some cashews instead.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying thank you for letting me know that my words here matter. That they have an impact. That you’re making mindful changes in your life based on reading the words of a stranger. You can’t know how wonderful that makes me feel.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Minimalist Baker
For the crisp
4 medium-large apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I used pink lady, honeycrisp and gala for this recipe)
2 anjou pears, peeled, cored and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar + 1 tbsp organic cane sugar
1 tbsp. arrowroot
heaping 1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

For the topping
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp gluten free flour (I prefer Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp gluten-free old fashioned oats*
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/8 tsp of nutmeg
pinch salt
1/3 cup or 5 tbsp. vegan shortening (I use Earth Balance), melted over low heat. Alternatively, you can use coconut oil, but I love how the shortening makes the crisp, well, crispier

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 9×9 baking dish.

In a large bowl, add the apples and pears. Add the lemon juice, sugar, arrowroot, cinnamon and salt. Toss to completely coat the fruit. Add the fruit mixture to the prepared dish and set aside. Also, don’t fret over the apples/pears being too dry, or feel you have to add more lemon. The fruit will emit juices as it bakes, so trust me, this will be delicious.

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt. Add the melted shortening and mix with a fork until you get the texture of coarse sand. Don’t worry if the mixture is a little too wet, it’ll crisp up in the oven.

Add the crisp topping over the apples and bake for 45-50 minutes. Let the crisp cool on a rack before serving with your favorite dairy-free ice cream.

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what happened to the years, all of them?

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What happened to the years? All of them? You go to sleep one evening at 29 and wake, restless, a decade later. You wonder about time, how you managed to lose it as if it were some loose change that escaped through a hole in your pocket. When you were 29 you prayed to a god you now no longer believe in. You drank red wine until the curtain call, until the room, and everyone in it, faded to black. You never noticed the barnacles but now they’re everywhere. You had a great love once. You remember that one trip to Utah and the red wool hat you wore–a hat, a piece of fabric that you now find difficult to throw away–and how the two of you were this terrific photograph until the film got developed and you drank to drown out the sound of the other’s voice. Right now, as I type this, I can’t recall where I’ve kept the red hat or whether I still have it. Did I throw it out last year when I was thick in the business of minimalism?

I’ll look later.

Now you wonder about that kind of love, whether it’s possible. A love so great it threatens to complete. And we read our love stories and wonder what came first: the real or the fiction. Talk instead of a love that sustains. But first let me tell you story, about a man who held a woman’s quaking hands and promised her that there would be no ocean he would not swim through. He traced the lines of her palms with his fingers, which put her heart on pause, and told her he would follow her into the dark because he knew she had built a home, a life, there. He promised her new homes, new lives, and she was 29 and believed this. She wanted to believe in the maths not the history. In a few months time, they would abandon their love because they were selfish people (they admitted this truth, albeit in voices that crept above a whisper). He chose a false sun and she chose the real dark, and they stood in their respective corners, safe.

At 38, I wrote a whole book about love. Through a cast of characters I tried to find the ones who would climb into the heart of someone else’s darkness, and it turns out that I couldn’t reconcile the maths and I was writing textbook history. That’s not really true, though. I made the mentally ill the brave. A baker, who hears voices and plays the role of marionette with her play puppets, is ultimately the one who bears sacrifice. She is the one who loves but it’s not the love the peanut-crunching masses like. I used to read those fairy tales and love stories when I was small and I didn’t believe them then. And if I couldn’t believe when I was one of the innocent, how can you expect me to believe now?

Last year, a friend drove me around in her car. I was broken, exhausted, hungover. Rarely, if ever, do I ask anyone for help, but that morning I called her and said I needed her. That I was breaking, broken, the pieces are all over the damn house–can you come over with a broom and sweep me up? She came and we got in her car and she drove around Brooklyn, and it reminded me of when I was a teenager and my pop would drive us around Long Island whenever my mother decided to go to the crazies. We didn’t have any specific location in mind, we just drove until the gas ran out. I told my friend this. And then we got to talking about love, and she heard me for a time, going on about how love was always a mopping down, a sweeping up, and in a small voice she told me that I was wrong. That love actually wasn’t hard. Everything after it was. Love isn’t the same thing as loss, she said, to which I was responded that I didn’t know of any other way. Because I always lost the people I loved. I could tell she wanted to be delicate with her words because I was fragile, in a state of disrepair (basement flooded, wood rotting, bulbs sizzling in the dark, and the like), so she spoke about the inevitability of loss, how people come in and out of our lives, and that’s simply life, rather than the byproduct of love. I’d gotten the equations all mixed up because I cleaved to the history.

I read sincere blog posts written by women on the verge of turning 30. They write about being “old,” “not feeling their age,” “how things change,” and I wonder if we ever really feel our years. Do we wake up one day and think, I feel 38 today! Why do we ascribe so much weight to two digits, because they’ll inevitably bend and fold from our summations, our constant leaning? When I was 29 I was an alcoholic who couldn’t bear the weight of that label. So I kept drinking. When I was 29 I was in love with someone who was incapable of love. When I was 29 I was writing a book about my mother that at 38 I wish I could have rewritten. When I was 29 I had no idea what I wanted from the rest of my life but I know it wasn’t this. Looking around, I said back then, let it not be this.

At 38, on the verge of 39 (!!!), all I can say is that I know more but I’m hopelessly nostalgic and somewhat romantic (where did this come from? The chart shows no history of the romantics), and when I read this bit from Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable, I found myself nodding along,

Now that I’m almost never the youngest person in any room I realize what I miss most about those times is the very thing that drove me so mad back when I was living in them. What I miss is the feeling that nothing has started yet, that the future towers over the past, that the present is merely a planning phase for the gleaming architecture that will make up the skyline of the rest of my life. But what I forget is the loneliness of all that. If everything is ahead nothing is behind. You have no ballast. You have no tailwinds either. You hardly know what to do because you’ve hardly done anything. I guess this is why wisdom is the consolation prize of aging. It’s supposed to give us better things to do than stand around and watch in disbelief as the past casts long shadows over the future.

She continues to write what I think–that knowing more isn’t the true prize for having endured the years. Often we’ll stand in between our former and present selves and watch as the chasm between the two widens. We can’t bear the loss of time, the years, all of it, because the very thought of it puts our hearts on pause just as the anticipation for what was to come quickens it. So our heart beats for what will and what was, but all the while I wonder am I beating for what is.

I try to think of this in simple terms. At 29, I was too frightened of the world alcoholic and couldn’t imagine a world without wine in it. At 38, I miss being 29 but no longer feel the weight of the sum of those fears because alcoholic is one of the hundreds of words that compose me. I am not defined by one noun. As you can see there’s a lot that occupies the space between those 9 years and 11 months, but what I think about, right now, at 38, is that I’ve quietly helped dozens of friends who struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. I’m able to be present for them and share not wisdom, but experience. I don’t give them knowledge, but rather compassion and empathy. At 29, I hated my mother. At 38 I wish I could go back and paint a canvas of a life that has the perspective that comes from deciphering the grey from all the black, however, right now I’m sometimes sad that I don’t have what others take for granted even if my life is richer, saner and healthier without her in it.

Next month I turn 39, and while I don’t feel 39, I don’t fears the years either. Instead, I want my heart to quicken again. I want it to suddenly pause and stop. Not just for love, but for life, for the here and the now. I want the what was, what will be to be what is. Imagine a heart beating so fast it threatens to complete.

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my nutritionist answers your food-related questions!

Dana James, Food Coach NYC
Dana James, Food Coach NYC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chocolate coconut crumb cake (vegan + gluten-free)

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It’s strange to fall out of love when you least expect it. When the object of your affection has lost its sheen, and you find yourself playing the part of a child again, sorting through your toys and falling madly in love with a shiny new doll to only abandon it when something new comes along. But you remember in those few halcyon moments how that doll consumed you, how you couldn’t imagine loving anything else with such ferocity, and you become surprised by just how quickly that love wanes, becomes dull around the edges, and one day you regard that doll with nostalgia. I once loved you, you might have said, and then you placed the doll on the shelf with the others, not even noticing the way its clothing fades. How the dust settles over its hair and face. Admittedly, you’ve become neglectful, careless, and one day the doll falls (you might have been running around, as you were prone to do) and its face shatters. For a moment your heart swells and breaks, but as quickly as that nostalgia comes it fades and what you remember is the bits of its face in the garbage bin.

Someone asked me about my love of food and how I write about it. I said that I loved how we have a propensity to be our truest selves when we settle down to a meal. I love the intimacy of eating, of sharing a primal need with someone else, and the kinds of stories that get told as a result of that connection. And while I love what the food is, I linger more on what the food can do, if that makes any sense. Food binds, creates, connects, and some of my most beloved memories have occurred while sharing a meal. I remembered sharing an early dinner with my friend Amber while we were in Bangkok. Evening fell, and we sat in the pool in the space between when parents and their children splashed their way around and when women in gossamer dresses and men in their cotton pants would order cocktails, light their smokes. Amber and I had two watermelon drinks and a meal off the pool menu, but I remembered feeling sick because we had laughed so hard. That we told each other private things about ourselves–the kind of stories you share when confined in a space for long periods of time. We left that trip better friends than when we arrived, and I can’t help but think that food was at the center of all that magic. As it continues to be.

So, this shiny doll of which I spoke–what of it? I never imagined that I wouldn’t love baking. That the alchemy of simple ingredients would cease to please me, but over the past few months this is precisely what’s happened. Perhaps it’s because I still haven’t truly accepted baking without gluten and dairy. Because while limitations have liberated me in terms of cooking, I feel shackled when I turn to baking. And while some recipes have surprised me by their taste and flavor profiles, I can’t help but think this:

Gluten- and dairy-free baking simply isn’t as good. I’m sorry, it just isn’t.

I’ve made extraordinary cookies and loaves with coconut oil (an oil I do love and used even before I was diagnosed with my food sensitivities); I’ve performed magic tricks with almond and coconut milk, but still. Not the same. Never the same. So I’ve been baking a little less, as you might have noticed. Cooking has been that new glinting object, and I only hope that when I can eat gluten and dairy again, I can return to the kitchen with a newfound affection, even more so because I’m forced to regulate how much gluten and dairy I eat for the rest of my life. So the pastry I make better be worth it because another one won’t come around for a couple of weeks. No more of the random cookie or the pumpkin loaf on the regular. The stakes are higher now, I suppose.

It’s true what they say that you crave what you consume. If you eat garbage, you crave garbage–it’s as simple as that. With very minor exceptions (read: accidents), my diet has been free of gluten and dairy since July, and I don’t crave pasta, bread, cheese or cookies the way I use to. I may pass a bakery and get a waft of fresh bread that will momentarily put my heart on pause, but as quickly as that need comes it dissipates. So it’s natural that when I broke down this week and savored a piece of crumb cake (the real stuff) the size of my thumb (literally) and dealt with the relentless four-hour itchfest as a result (true life), invariably I craved coffee cake.

So I made it and tried to dress it up in finery, and it was good, yes, but not the same. I felt mechanical in the kitchen, and when it was time to have my small piece of cake I had it and moved on. Perhaps it was because I didn’t savor it in the context of time spent with someone, but baking left me cold. And I’m not sure if this is something temporary or the definition of forever. I just know, right now, if given the choice, I’d rather be cooking.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Fork & Beans
For the cake
1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond (or coconut) milk
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 cups gluten-free flour (I recommend Cup4Cup so you don’t have to worry about xanthan gum)
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled

For the crumb topping
3 tbsp + 2 tsp gluten-free flour
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tbsp cane sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp. melted coconut oil
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the almond (or coconut) milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle. This should take seven minutes.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugars, baking powder and salt. Whisk the oil into the milk and vinegar mixture. Using a fork, add the combined wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing well. Warning: the mixture will be a bit thick and not as fluid as normal batter, it’s okay. Breathe it out. You’re just not in the fanciful world of gluten anywhere where every cake made sense. You’re in the world of vegan, a world of which I’m still trying to navigate.

Pour the mixture into a well-greased 8inch cake pan (I use coconut oil), and, using a spatula (or fork), smooth it out until the batter covers the pan and is even. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, sugars and salt. Add in the melted oil and mix until you form clumps. Add the mixture (you won’t think there’s enough, and it’s okay, really), chocolate chips and toasted coconut flakes to the cake.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until knife is clean when inserted in the middle. Rest on a rack until it is cooled completely, approximately 1 hour. Use a knife around the edges and turn the cake out onto a dish. Serve at room temperature.

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for the love of snacks

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Leaving a country where I feasted on sticky mangoes, seasoned tofu, charred chicken, and rice soaked in coconut milk was challenging in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Although parts of my recent holiday revealed stresses of which I hadn’t anticipated, it was still easy to make mindful choices when it came to food. Fresh fruit and vegetables were abundant, gluten and dairy were virtually non-existent, and when given the opportunity, choosing to indulge in coconut ice cream rather than a slice of sheetcake, seemed like the obvious thing to do. Every meal felt like a celebration (especially since our remote hotel was intent on not feeding us), and I didn’t have the triggers that would normally have me pining for crumb cake or slippery noodles drenched in pesto sauce.

And then I came home to a chill that settled into your skin and remained there. The days were mostly filled with rain and dark, and I vacillated between a hectic work schedule and checking in with my father on his upcoming surgery–all the while attempting to recover from jetlag. I’d envisioned that this Thai holiday would give me clarity, deliver me the kind of solitude that would allow me to make some important decisions about my life, what’s next, and the like, but my holiday wasn’t as peaceful as I would have it, and part of my recovery in New York was, ironically, recovering from my vacation. What I’d left still remained and the two weeks exhausted me. I had no desire to cook. I cancelled appointments. All I wanted to do was recede, sleep. As a result of this abbreviated hibernation, I became less present when it came to what I consumed and I found myself cleaving to potatoes and rice like it was the apocalypse. I started drinking soy coffees again, and yesterday, before a meeting, I had a bite of homemade crumb cake and proceeded to endure the inevitable itch for the rest of the afternoon. My beloved vibrant fruits and legumes had been replaced by root vegetables and I looked my plate and then looked at my photographs, and all I wanted to do was return to Thailand and start over.

It was only until this morning when I felt some semblance of normal. When I returned to macro bowls filled with cabbage, brown rice, kale, nori, beans, roasted carrots and squash. When I wandered the aisles of Whole Foods after a morning spent with a dear friend, and finding delight in having discovered herbed roasted cashews. When I finally tried kelp. When I finally ate something new (something once abhorred) to the point where I started to crave seaweed in salads. This is HUGE because I associate seaweed with FISH and I hate fish–not as much as the wretched MUSHROOM, but damn near close. Today I felt the need to replenish my snacks instead of eating sliced sausage and roasted chickpeas, and need I remind you that I had to issue a chickpea fatwa some time ago because I’d become addicted to the legume.

Snacks keep me sane, and I try to eat whole foods as much as I possible can. Snacks are my bridge between meals and I try to mix up my options so I’m never bored. I always carry apples and nuts in my bag (because you never know when you’ll be stuck underground for 45 minutes on your way home from work and hunger invariably strikes). I also stockpile on sugar-free dried fruit (read the labels. If something had multisyllabic ingredients, RUN), EVOlution or Go Raw bars, cut vegetables and hummus, and leftovers from meals (small portion of butternut squash soup with toasted pumpkin seeds). I’ve even purchased mini eco-friendly glass containers where I’ll store leftover, portioned eats for the following day.

In the midst of madness, I’m making my focal point, my place of calm, mindful eating–a source of strength and calm that will hopefully take me through the frenzy that are the holidays.

butternut squash + coconut soup with crumbled sweet sausage

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I live in a world where Charlie Manson gets married. I live in a world where a woman tries to “break the internet” by choosing to remove her clothes. Our clamour smothers the world’s collective sorrow, drowns out the massive achievements so many other women make. I live in a world where ISIS buys and sells girls as if it’s another day at the market. I live in a country where some people don’t own a passport, and have no wish to see beyond what they know. I live in a world where people prefer to live in a perpetual darkness but they resist the very thing they seek when it’s presented to them. I live in a world where people tell me I’m lucky when I’ve spent most of my childhood mothering my mother and my adult life working for every single thing I own. Luck? Huh. I live in a country where people tell me I should write a book and I laugh and say dark isn’t for sale, kids. What’s fresh in the market today? YouTube stars, people who can’t string a sentence together but they’ve got that blog, their audience and pockets flush with Reward Style affiliate money. Because everyone’s in the business of dealing. Who wants art when you can profit off your personal brand? This is the world.

And I choose to eat soup.

INGREDIENTS: Serves 4
2 lbs of butternut squash, chopped into cubes
Olive oil, salt and pepper
2 tbsp. coconut oil
3 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
3 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 lb sweet sausage, casings removed

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Add the squash, olive oil (just enough to coat the squash), salt and pepper to a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, turning the squash around midway through so all sides are browned and even. Remove the sheet and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large pot on medium heat, add the coconut oil, shallots, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the onions are slightly translucent. Add the squash and toss to coat. Add the vegetable stock and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk.

Using an immersion blender or Vitamix, blitz the soup until smooth. Allow to simmer on the stove on low while you cook the sausage.

Drizzle a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Allow to cook for 4-5 minutes and then stir the sausage in the pan until all sides are browned.

Add sausage to the soup + CHOW DOWN!

coconut pancakes + falling out of love with new york

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve with maple syrup, fruit and nuts!

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great friends, great life, but should I be busier?

my friends are kind of awesome.
my friends are kind of awesome.

Sometimes I think about my life and wonder if I’m doing it all wrong. I read articles about how people are so busy!, how their email is a specter that haunts their waking hours. Many wonder if they have can keep up and sustain this hamster wheel of a life. But still they lament over the frantic state that is their calendar (I’m so booked!), and they move through their days much like a somnambulant. Keep moving, keep going, live life in hour increments. Sometimes they check their pulse, look for signs of life, but mostly they’re programmed to say yes; they read articles about how they should network, how their circle should be as wide and deep as an ocean, and I wonder if they ever get lost in all of it, the lack of quiet they’ve been taught to cultivate.

Even though I once played the role of an extrovert in an introvert’s body, even though I used to wince whenever I opened my email at a job that took me four years to hate, sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me for not being so busy (Should I be? Am I not popular, wonders the thirty-eight-year-old), for not being one of the legions who pray for this mythical world where inbox zero exists. I know this world and even when you’re in it you wonder if you should be on the other side.

Years ago I practiced extrovertism as if it were a religion. I published a prestigious literary magazine, I had an enviable job, and my days were filled with get-togethers, where people introduced me to other people who were “good to know.” People who are good to know apparently have the ability to get you to that next place, even if you don’t know what that place is or have its address. But it was important to have those drinks, and all the meals were a blur–so much so that I wanted to bring a pre-recorded tape to dinner and press play for the first twenty minutes until the appetizers arrived. Dinners became LinkedIn excavations with cocktails, where both parties sniffed one another out in an effort to determine the usefulness of the connection. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would make a joke about walking down Sutphin Boulevard in Queens because everyone would scan every inch of you, dissect you with their eyes, in hopes that you had something they wanted, something they could steal. These meals were no different. Always I’d come home drained, yet I’d wake to paste another smile on my face, email more people, and hope that someone, anyone, would invariably get me to that next place. Is that next place on a map? I often wonder.

Back then, drinking was a terrific anaesthetic. It made living a full/empty life easier to bear. I was there, but not really, and you know how it is.

I remember being upset once, about what I can’t quite recall, and I scanned the hundreds of numbers in my phone–all the people whom I was told were good to know–but I couldn’t call any of them. In my darkest hours, I was the owner of a pregnant inbox, was known as a mayor, a connector, but I had no one whom I could call for a good cry. I had everyone but I had no one, and this realization hurt more than you know. I had designed a life focused on the accumulation of the right people, yet I neglected to examine what I had defined as right. Because in the end most of my “friends” couldn’t be bothered to shoulder my hurt–they had their own lives, their own hurt, and more than likely their own friends with whom they could share said hurt. I remember thinking that I had so much pain and I didn’t know where to put it. Where do you put it? In a box? In a container? What size? What happens when the pain spills over? Another box, another container, more tears, more scanning through hundreds of numbers you can’t imagine calling? What then?

It might have been that time, all those years ago, when I took off my mask (I’m not perfect! I have a drinking problem! I hurt too!) and winnowed down my life. I took a scalpel, excised the barnacles and got lean. I sought out the kind of people with whom I could share an uncomfortable silence. I stopped seeing people who made me feel as if I’d undergone surgery for a temporal lobotomy. I removed those who wheedled, were catty and cruel (nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, Felicia). No one would make me feel small. You are what you accept, I’d come to realize, and if I wanted a life that was honest and true, I’d have to make that objective my harvest.

I was reminded of this recently when my dear friend Amber shared this post with me while we were on holiday talking about friendship:

Remember, it’s your job to look for something cool in everyone you meet; it’s not their job to show you. This is life, not a fucking sales convention. Learning to appreciate people you meet is a skill you cultivate. So get on it. This doesn’t mean you have to fall in love with everyone who breathes in your direction. It just means you need to take responsibility for your ability to connect with the people you are meeting.

My world is small, deliberately so. For over a decade, I’ve made it my practice to cultivate a kula (“community” in Sanskrit) of people who nourish and challenge me. These are the people with whom I can be my most unkempt self. These are people who check in on me when I write about being blue. These are people who will sit on my living room floor and talk about everything or nothing. These are the people I’ve come to define as good to know because they’re good for me, my soul. And in that work and devotion, I started to have less time for the superfluous. I no longer tolerated people who reduced me to a link to someone else, who wanted mentoring without giving anything in return, who didn’t value my friendship as something they wished to nurture and cultivate. I was just another obligation, someone good to know, a coffee date ticked off their laundry list, and I began to bow out of anything that exhausted me. If I left a coffee or meal depleted rather than energized I never made plans with that particular person again. If I can’t pass a meal with you, I don’t want to know you. If we don’t walk away mutually inspired, I want no part of the deal. My threshold for bullshit emails is low.

So here I am. I have this rich life, these great group of friends that I’d worked so diligently to cultivate and why do I bemoan an inbox the size of a sonnet? Why do I feel that I should network even if I don’t want to? Part of it is a selfish, base need to be liked–I guess we all have this flaw even when we realize that being universally liked is an impossible, if not strange, pursuit–but part of me feels like an other–a space I’ve occupied for most of my life, someone who skirts the edges of things–but for some reason the quality of my life feels at odds with the velocity of quantity that subsumes me. And while I know it’s okay to not do anything, sometimes I wonder, should I be doing something? Should I schedule that lunch? Should I be out there more? Should I be busy? Should I have more email? Would having more make projects easier to acquire and a book everyone wants to buy? Logically, I know the answer to all of this is no, of course not, but then there’s this quietly beating heart, this small, sometimes insecure, voice, that wonders if what I have is enough?

Why is it that we insist on picking at a wound just as it’s about to heal?

to be back there again.
to be back there again.

one night in bangkok + the business of leaving

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I’m rotten at goodbyes. Years ago an old friend from the party days and I sat on a cold Miami beach, watching the sun settle into the waves that had turned black. I told her about a storm that promised to advance and she shook her head and said that the clouds were temporary, the darkness would inevitably pass. We took this trip–a weekend in a cheap motel and dinner in a fancier one–because the following week she would pack all her belongings and travel cross-country to California. While she loved New York, she ached for home–the cresting waves and fresh fish you could tear apart with your fingers. She missed being in a car, driving it, and while I tried to convince her that she was mad for leaving–who would volunteer to spend an hour in a car to inch forward half a mile?–she wouldn’t hear any of it. What I didn’t tell her was that I liked being in a car with her. You sleep while I drive. What I didn’t tell her was the thing I’d miss most about her was the drive between West Hollywood and Newport Beach. How the darkness fell and I allowed myself to settle, to sleep. But how could I explain that? How could I tell her that I allowed myself to be vulnerable with her? Always I’d hear my mother’s voice whispering in my hair, never be vulnerable, never cry, never hold a love so deep it threatens to complete.

I don’t think she knows it, how I loved her beyond the mansion parties and bathroom stall parties. Still. To this day. But that’s the thing about goodbyes–they never are what you want them to be.

In Bangkok, another friend and I sit poolside in a posh hotel and I tell her stories. We drink watermelon drinks and watch the lights paint the sky, and I tell her about the kind of woman I used to be. We laugh like children and I try to remain in that moment for as long as I possibly can. But there are always buts, interruptions, the things that lie ahead-the storm on the horizon–that threaten the space you now occupy. I keep telling myself to come back, to sit in this moment because it’s one of the good ones. It’s one I’ll remember–an image of two friends laughing, happy.

Truth be told, this trip wasn’t what I intended. The point was to rest, get focused, and come home prepared for another storm: the projects for which I’d have to pitch, the business of book publishing, the what’s next, what do I do, and all that, and I didn’t quite get there. Along the way I encountered a stress I hadn’t quite anticipated, another friend who decided to lay down her mask and reveal the darkness underneath, and everything within me seized. There were downpours. There were Skype calls and alterations to a journey en media res, and my other friend and I found ourselves back in Bangkok. We spent the night feasting and slipping back into our respective silences; we are women who crave solitude. During the day we visited coconut sugar and orchid gardens and floating markets outside of Bangkok, and burned our mouths eating coconut pancakes served from river boats and juicy mangos cut with the sharpest of knives. This was our final day and we would toast our return to New York and close our eyes to the storm that had departed as swiftly as it had advanced.

Now I sit in a hotel lobby caught in the-betweens. Anxious. Tense. I’m not quite where I was at the start of this journey, but I’m not really where I want to be. I fly back to so much uncertainty. Will I secure another project? Will my father get his surgery? Will I sell my novel? Will I figure out what it is that I’m meant to do? Will I? Will I?

I guess the only thing I know is this: I’m finally happy. And perhaps I should hold on to that? Hold it close to my chest like a suit of armor that could battle any storm that threatens to ruin.

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when you’re not eating rationed food at my hotel, food in phuket is GLORIOUS

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As I’ve mentioned previously, the chefs in my hotel are intent on reminding me of the eight pounds I need to lose. For lunch, I was greeted with two ounces of grilled chicken and six French fries in a thimble (you better believe I counted them). While I waited for the rest of my food to arrive–I might as well have been waiting for Godot–my friends and I grew flabbergasted over the fact that every meal, while delicious, is meant for residents of the Barbie Dream House.

Have I mentioned that I require copious amounts of protein and a rainbow of vegetables at every meal?

When you’re not eating at my hotel, food in Phuket is GLORIOUS. Since we’re close to sea fish is plentiful and my friends feasted on crab, shrimp and lobster while I inhaled grilled chicken, sticky rice and mango, noodles that texture of silk and my weight in watermelon. Fruit smoothies are the staple in Thailand, and in Phuket Town you’ll find no shortage of shops and carts that will serve up a blender mixture of fresh fruit, ice and simple syrup alongside grilled meats and fish. Here you’ll find fresh fruit and vegetables free of GMOs and egg yolks that are so rich and yellow they’re practically phosphorescent. And when you’re not feasting on rounds of fluffed rice and juicy crab, you’re clearly buying BAGS OF DRIED COCONUT, JACKFRUIT AND MANGO, because you are. And if you’ve never heard of jackfruit, please revisit my slew of S.E. Asia posts in 2012 which attest to its greatness.

Thailand is a gluten- and dairy-free paradise. Menus are filled with noodles made of rice flour, rice, vegetables and fresh fish and lean protein. The only danger is the soy sauce, however, soy isn’t a mainstay in most Thai dishes. With the exception of my hotel breakfast, which offers toast, muffins, croissants and all the things a woman can’t consume, Phuket is rife with insanely affordable, delicious eats.

I’m going to try to hit the markets and a few more restaurants before I leave so I can share my must-chow list.

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for someone who doesn’t love beauty products, I stockpiled like it was 1999

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My first experience using makeup was a disaster of epic proportions. During lunchtime in junior high school, a friend unveiled a magical kit of color and decided to play Picasso on my face. Using an applicator that resembled a q-tip, yet felt like sandpaper, she applied layers of green, purple and aqua blue and when I looked in the mirror I resembled someone who had been through a tussle, correction, full-on Brooklyn beatdown, in the street. And the color palette had won. I had a boyfriend at the time who regarded me with a look that was a combination of confusion, terror and amusement. He told me that I wasn’t someone who needed makeup–I was beautiful without it. I think about that now, a few decades later, realizing how rare it is to hear someone tell you that you are complete with less.

I don’t wear makeup because I don’t see the point in it. I mean, I do, I do, but it’s a lot of fuss, I don’t understand the alchemy of pigment, texture, and shade, and the idea of standing in the bathroom staring at my face for hours on end gives me vertigo. I’ve also never been the sort who covets the “latest products” or adheres to the gleam of advanced skincare technology, rather I buy what looks and feels good. And more importantly, what works for my wallet. Because I’d rather spend all of my money on food and travel than plot my acquisition of a newfangled eye cream.

I like to keep my world simple and small.

When I was in India, the days were a photocopy of one another with regard to the heat. The days were a weight we all had to bear, and the idea of me wearing anything other than cotton and sunscreen were unimaginable. I’d brought a small vial of perfume on the trip, and it was in India that I realized I HATED perfume. It was, like the sun, a burden, another layer adding to rather than revealing what was (I’m sure my beauty friends will respectfully disagree), and when I came home I gave away all the expensive scents I’d collected over the years. Yet, while perfume made me squirm, I fell in LOVE with oils, a single scent rubbed into my skin. In India, I procured vials of oils that had been derived from generations of men who pressed flowers. Wild orchids, jasmine, lavender, rose–the scents were fresh instead of cloying, and they weren’t the kind of perfume that sent the legions into coughing fits when they entered a room.

When I packed for my trip to Thailand, I managed to fit ten days worth of clothes and products in a single carry-on. The days here are sometimes unforgiving with temperatures climbing into the 90s, and did I mention that it’s WINTER? I’ve given up on the fact that I won’t look like a Chia Pet as soon as I leave my hotel room, and the only makeup I can bear is red lipstick. However, when you travel with passionate beauty editors, who have the same zeal for stepping into an herbalist than I do when I cruise the food markets, one can get temporarily sucked into the void of sheet masks, placenta-enriched creams and essences.

However, let me reassure you, I didn’t go BANANAS. You’re never going to see me stockpiling makeup and products that will take a month to comprehend, much less apply, however, I did go in for jasmine body scrubs, orchid, jasmine and mangosteen (not available in the U.S.) body oils, and yes, I did snag some of the Etude House sheet masks simply because it reminded me of Hannibal Lecter (thanks, Amber!) and it seemed easier than actually digging my hands through a miniature jar. Also, cheap.

Can I tell you that as soon as I used a dollop of said bizarre placenta cream, I bought the whole thing. My face resembled a newborn, and as Edith Piaf so sagely crooned, I’VE NO REGRETS.

Because this woman still loves her food, I hoarded dried coconut, mango and jackfruit after my purchases, which, in total, amounted to $30!! I MEAN.

And yes, I’ll be returning to normal scheduled programming shortly.

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when your hotel is a bucket and dish pail of fail, you go to koh phi phi

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Let’s discuss my hotel in Phuket for a moment, shall we? As I type, there are three different groups of people staging photo shoots at the pool. I’m not talking about the random selfie by the infinity pool overlooking the cliffs, oh no, I’m talking about prop placement, hair arrangement, varying facial expressions and body contortions. Basically, it’s as if Angelina + Brad rolled up with legions of paparazzi.

Believe me when I say that I’m bearing witness to the Cirque de Soleil of selfies. People who relentlessly document every moment of their holiday, giving the appearance that they’re being present while their most profound relationship is the one they have with their camera lens.

But let’s set that aside and discuss how nothing works, how everyone scowls at us when we deign to ask for an apple (WHERE THE FUCK IS MY APPLE?), salad, insert food here, and how we spent a pile of money for a hotel that’s delivering us a pile of nothing. Now that my first-world rant has come to a close, I’ll share how we fled the wackness for Koh Phi Phi (translation: my new place of residence)

When it comes to Koh Phi Phi, a group of islands surrounded by the Andaman Sea, the beauty is in the elements: the azure surf, moss-covered rocks and cool white sand. We fed bananas to wild monkeys on Monkey Island, sipped coconut water out of coconuts, feasted on grilled corn on the beach and crept under caves in a boat and swam in the ocean. Amidst all of the noise of New York–the relentless pitching for project work, the minor flood in my apartment, the novel that everyone says is utterly remarkable, beautiful and astounding yet is too dark, too experimental–it’s sometimes hard to believe I’m here and I’m happy. It’s hard to believe I held a monkey in my arms as he buried his hand in my hair (my hair is a forest).

I close my eyes and try to hold on to this moment for as long as I possibly can. I try to settle in it, remain it, until I have to board a plane for home and deal with everything.

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