my brooklyn bodyburn challenge, week one: good news, I’m not dead

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When I announced my month-long Brooklyn BodyBurn challenge, many of my friends wondered if I’d gone off the deep end. First the gluten, then the dairy, now the burn…Felicia’s really gone to the crazies this time, they probably thought. Because why would I choose to embark on a journey that typically begins after the new year, a time when everyone prattles on about resolutions that they’ll forget about, and lament the abandonment of, come February? Why would I eschew holiday cookies (oh, friends, I’m not) and endure a month of what others have affectionately termed “pilates on crack”? Why would the ratio of my workout gear to casual clothing exist dangerously on the side of space-dyed (don’t ask) leggings?

Because I want to feel strong.

Please know that I’ve made arrangements. I’ve already dropped the FELIX responsibility on several warm laps. You know, just in case a machine impales me (kidding). I’ve survived my first week of my Brooklyn BodyBurn challenge and the good news is this: I’m not dead. Perhaps I should dial down the dramatics because the challenge isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I’m sore, and sometimes the idea of another set of plank to pikes gives me vertigo after I’ve barely recovered from that other series of plank to pikes that had me lying supine on the megaformer, but I’m ALIVE, people, to quote Eddie Vedder for all you former flannel-wearing Gen-X’ers and yes, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic as of late.

But let’s get specific: I took four classes this week, two sessions back-to-back, and I feel exhilarated and sore. Did I mention that I’m kind of sore? The fascinating part of this whole challenge is the fact that I’ve been craving daily workouts. Not daily megaformer workouts because that’s just plain masochistic, but I’m feeling the desire to move every day. And while I have a strong fitness practice (4-5 sessions a week), I’ve been taking yoga classes on the days I haven’t been burning and have made myself take a rest day so my muscles can sufficiently repair.

You should know that I’ve never had to force myself to NOT workout. If given the choice between venturing out in the rain and cold or staying indoors fondling my cat, I mean, the choice is obvious. This need for daily movement is a rather odd development, but I’m rolling with it.

Another development considering I’m the shyest introvert living? I’ve made new acquaintances and have really gotten to spend time with my teachers. One of my teachers (love you, Abby!) announced my challenge during Class 1 of 16, and a few folks approached me after class to chat. I truly love BodyBurn and get genuinely excited talking about it, so while small talk would normally send me fleeing, I stayed and had the conversation most burners do: wow, we survived class when we didn’t think we could. (Or a variation on this theme) It’s also nice to find new workout buddies since most of my friends are too frightened, busy, or allergic to Brooklyn to make the trek.

Did I mention that I’m sore?

And the most exciting part of the whole week? I’m getting better at some of the poses. My arms and legs are the strongest parts of my body while my core is demonstrably weak. BodyBurn always starts with core and we’ll often practice an Odyssean oblique series between leg exercises, and I seriously HATE this part of the workout. In some ways I still do, but, after a week, it’s slightly tolerable. In what will appear to be the most unflattering photo of me ever, below I’m doing French twist, a cruel oblique exercise where I’m using my core to drag in a 70+ pound carriage. It’s Chinese torture but I’m giving myself a rep count goal (stay in it Felicia for four reps, then rest) so I can celebrate minor victories. I do this with legs (6-8 reps, if I can make another few, I’ll do it before I rest and shake my leg out) and it’s worked to a point where I rarely have to take a rest during a leg series.

Clearly I’ve got a ways to go with my core, but it’s a practice. It’s a journey.

Also, remember the Zella leggings I mentioned last week? They are INCREDIBLE. I wore them twice this week (with a washing in-between) and they are compact, comfortable and absorb sweat like I’ve never seen. Unlike other leggings, these stay in place and I have so much movement! I bought a few more pairs, acknowledging that I won’t be able to ever take on a full-time job unless I can wear workout gear in the office.

You may be wondering–is she doing this BBB nonsense next week? Indeed I am. My father’s getting surgery next week so that might put a nix on my plans (a long story of which I don’t plan to get into here), however, I plan to burn it out come Christmas eve. Pray for a woman.

And finally, you may be asking yourself, why does she look so constipated in these photos? Because the workout’s hard, people. HARD. These aren’t glamour shots.

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pumpkin, tomato + squash soup

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You have to know that I tossed all of my delicious cherry + raspberry bars in the bin because binge. Because sugar addiction–even when you hardly consume it, even when you do and it tastes acidic–is real. I met with my nutritionist yesterday (yes, on my birthday because masochist), and after reviewing my food diary and my BBB challenge, she delivered some news. The good news is that I’m the strongest I’ve ever been with a great deal of lean muscle (YAY!). I’m finally starting to make a dent in my midsection, and can I just tell you that is the WEAKEST part of my body, and I’ve never felt more endurance in cruel, sixty-minute workouts. So fist pumps and orange kittens for everyone. Until the bad news…

Not really bad, per se, but I’m 8 pounds from my goal weight and the scale is just sitting there, all tra la la, unmovable. After recovering from a holiday spent with someone who was unhinged, it took a while for me to reintroduce positive, warm energy back into my days and eat like a normal person. And while my meals have been fine, just fine, I’m on a maintenance diet (more fat) rather than one that induces weight loss.

So, for the next few weeks, I have to say farewell to coconut peanut butter (this particular loss is palpable, people), nuts (awesome since I JUST spent a pile of $ on herbed cashews), and macaroons (not the sugar, multi-hued gross cookies, rather the lovely chewy coconut delights). I’ve let me veggie game slip a little in favor of fat (fat isn’t bad, btw, we’re just talking about balance here), so for the next few weeks I’m getting vigilant, focused, and I need every ounce of good protein and veg to help me survive my month-long BBB challenge.

But can we talk about this soup and how I couldn’t stop eating it? This soup is on the OK list because it’s packed with nutrients and it completely fills you up. You feel as if you’re consuming a creamy, rich soup, while it’s just great veg and solid carbs. You can serve this solo or fry up some sausage–savoring this luscious dish for DAYS.

INGREDIENTS: From The Paleo Kitchen Cookbook, with slight alterations
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
diced coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (15-ounce/425-gram) can pumpkin puree
1 (15-ounce/425-gram) can squash puree (if you can’t rock squash, you can simply add more pumpkin or more tomato)
1 tsp dried sage
1 (14.5-ounce/411-gram) can diced tomatoes (or fresh, if in season)
2 cups (480 ml) chicken broth
1 tsp cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup (120 ml) full-fat coconut milk
½ cup (60 grams) toasted salted pumpkin seeds, for garnish
1/4 cup organic honey

DIRECTIONS
Heat the coconut oil in a medium stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin, squash, sage, tomatoes, chicken broth, nutmeg, and honey and bring to a simmer.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 30 minutes, then remove the cinnamon stick and add the coconut milk. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup, or transfer in small batches to a blender to puree. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and blend once more. Garnish with the toasted pumpkin seeds and serve.

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the obligatory holy shit, I’m almost 40 post (another long post)

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I haven’t been 39 for a day and already I’m realizing that next year I’ll turn 40. And before you lay into me about 40 being the new 30, you’re only as young as you feel, and all that jazz, I ask that you please slow your roll because 40 is a big fucking deal. Although I spent much of my childhood wearing the mask of an adult, I remember reacting to the thought of being thirty. That’s old, I said. When you’re small you can’t imagine counting an age beyond your ten fingers. And then something in you changes, the shift is nearly imperceptible, and you suddenly find yourself attaching fractions to your age. You pine for sixteen, eighteen and twenty-one. Perhaps you think the world will reveal itself to you in degrees, because why else would you be so desperate to shed being one of the innocent?

I spent the day alone with my best friend’s daughter once. There was an emergency one Christmas morning–my friend’s son woke vomiting blood, the walls were a massacre of red–and I played with a small girl who was baffled over the fact that I abhor pink (god, what a heinous color!). While I wasn’t a girly girl, I was creative, and I made for a suitable playmate when she wanted to build imaginary sets for the plays we’d co-written. I marveled over her curiosity, and while we watched episodes of Strawberry Shortcake in what felt like an endless loop, I remember smoothing her hair, wanting for her to be young for as long as she possibly could, because children architect these magical worlds that adults find ways to ruin.

Everything for children is a first, whereas adults know too much. We’ve seen things that make us want to press our eyes shut and rewind the tape. Take us back before 21, 18, 16. We want it all back. We want our world small, simple, with only our friends and family in it. I had to write a scene last night about a woman who’s taken up permanent residence in a dark country and she struggles to remember what pure, unadulterated happiness was like. That first spring. The rain of leaves. The light that broke through the trees. Bare feet swaying on a car dashboard. Witnessing a stranger kneel down and pray for the first time. I had a really hard time writing this scene because those moments felt too simplistic, ridiculous and I’ve tainted them with everything that comes after. I can’t only keep the beauty in the frame without ushering in the ugliness, the cruelty, hate, violence and fear that we’ve come to know, in degrees, as the years stumble over one another. Feeling like a sophist I let the page cool, and I hope I can return to the story with something different. Who knows. Maybe I’ll play Strawberry Shortcake episodes to get me in the mood.

From where I sit now, the world is different. I read an article about how little one can change after they’ve turned 30, and contrary to what the author posits, I can’t even conceive how much I’ve changed in a span of 10 years. Or perhaps I’ve shed layers of skin to reveal what was always there–I can’t decide which. In ten years, I got sober, fell out of faith with a god I once worshipped (I’m spiritual, but no longer believe in a god or the binary confines of heaven and hell), discarded the need for materialistic trappings and unguided ambition, fell in love with my body after struggling with it since childhood (and realizing, much like many women my age, that I was beautiful then–why couldn’t I have seen me then as I see me now?), focused on quality over quantity in all aspects of my life, took comfort in the fact that while I don’t want to be a mother in the traditional sense of the word, I find I can be maternal in other ways, softened my view of my mother, which went from a deep, voracious hate to a sorrow, a certain kind of sadness. A few other things I’ve learned (ack! I’m entering the list terrority, something I’ve long admonished, but whatever, I’m riding on a sugar high from eating copious amounts of homemade fruit bars):

1. You start to remember everything you’ve read: When I was at Columbia getting my Master’s, I took a class, “Poets on Poets,” and I can’t tell you how intimidating it was to hear professors and guest lecturers quote other writers and their works as if it were nothing, as if the knowledge were simply stored in this imaginary memory bank set loose onto the world when deemed necessary. My feelings of awe soon shifted to annoyance over what I thought to be pretension. Rolling my eyes I thought, if someone quotes Susan Sontag one more fucking time, until I became the person who reads and quotes from Susan Sontag and Joan Didion. I’ve read countless books, but as I grow older I realize that some of them have lingered, left their indelible mark, and I find myself quietly returning to them to ferret out new meaning. It’s sort of like going back to the familiar and taking comfort that this is a place you’ve navigated before. And I’ve got just the Susan Sontag quote for this, people!!!

In all of this, I am assuming a certain idea of literature, of a very exalted kind. I’m using the word “writer” to mean someone who creates, or tries to create, literature. And by “literature” I mean — again, very crude definition — books that will really last, books that will be read a hundred years from now.

2. Not everyone will love or like you, and this is okay: Years back, a slew of catty book bloggers wrote some very unkind words about me online and I was DEVASTATED. This was before the advent of GOMI and other forums where people talk smack about other people–this was 2006 and I remember my face getting hot and how I cried about people who were so fucking mean. I wanted so desperately to be popular, to be liked, and the fact that there were people in this world who think I’m shit was hard to deal with. Now I don’t care. Admittedly, I’m a hard person to know and I’m flawed, but what matters to me are how I, and those whom I respect and love, feel about me. Everything else is superfluous, peripheral noise that I tune out.

That’s not to say that I don’t listen to criticism or constructive feedback. One has to in order to grow as a person and artist, and if someone cares enough to give me feedback in a way that’s meant to take me to a better place, I think, why not listen? It’s always worth listening to, and identifying what part (s) of, feedback resonate. I had a mentor, whom I adore, who would always pull me into his office to give me feedback on how I was managing staff. He once told me that I wore my emotions on my sleeve entirely too much, and a good leader has to be like a parent–almost always calm, always in solutions mode–and this shit was hard to hear. I was defensive and kind of bitchy, but then I realized that this person didn’t have to take the time out of his day to make me a better leader. And when I refined certain aspects of my character did I find that he was right. Sometimes you need to hear hard truths in order to become better, smarter, stronger.

3. I don’t have FOMO because I’d almost always rather be at home: This coming from someone who was once known as the “mayor”! I threw grand parties, attended them, was always double-booked, and grew miserable as a result. I didn’t realize I was an introvert living an extrovert lifestyle, and I’d often get wasted just to get through making the rounds at a party or I existed in a perpetual state of exhaustion. As I grew older I realized I didn’t need to be everywhere and do everything. I needed to have quality moments with people I admire, respect and love. Which leads me to…

4. I have a circle of ten and that’s about it: Chalk it up to unpopularity all throughout high school, but I used to be consumed with having SO.MANY.FRIENDS. Now I don’t have the time or energy for volume. I have a solid crew of less than ten friends for whom I’d lay down my life. These are a mix of women I’ve known for the greater part of my adult life–friends who saw me through addiction and relapse and knew me when I was a lesser person but stuck around because they saw the potential for me to change–and women with whom I’ve gotten incredibly close in the past few years. And while I may not see most of them as often as I’d like (some are mothers, one lives in Connecticut), when I do see them it’s as if we’ve picked up the conversation exactly where we’d left off.

My friends are strong, brilliant, beautiful, remarkable, tough, and don’t necessarily hold my social, economic and political views. Over the years I’ve learned about the importance of being taught by others. I’ve a close friend who’s a staunch Republican, and while it’s challenging to know that we don’t share the same opinions on how we want this country run, I’ve learned a great deal from her: how it’s important to understand your opponent and not simply ignore them, how we have to find some common ground if we want change. That there is some truth to what we both believe in, and it’s about how we can meld those truths into the greater good.

What I’ve also learned? I’ve become suspicious of women who don’t have long-term close girlfriends. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to have quarterly friends–people whom I like and admire, but I don’t have to see them every day.

5. I’ve been more socially active than I’ve ever been in my life: In college, we were told that we were the apathetic generation. Gen X didn’t care about anything. We were a-political, fatalistic. And for many years I didn’t care about geopolitics and didn’t advocate as loudly as I could have for the things I believe in. Now, all of it matters more than it ever did. Now, I can’t shut up about feminism, gay rights, racism, the fact that the U.S. isn’t morally superior because we apparently have no qualms about raping and murdering our own citizens. Now, I can’t stop reading about the politics in other countries. I can’t stop finding new sources to read. After Ferguson, I realized how “white” my news was, and I made it a point to find different sources. I made a point to be uncomfortably comfortable, which leads me to…

6. Travel is a huge part of my life: There are people who have the means to travel but don’t even have a passport and I don’t understand it. It’s as if the U.S. is enough. And it’s not, at all. It was only through traveling the world did I begin to see it differently. I’d been exposed to cultures I read about through the veil of an Anglo-Saxon or Americanized point of view. I’ve traveled to countries that aren’t necessarily “safe.” I’ve stood in streets watching anti-American rallies. You learn through context, and I feel as if I have a more complex view of America from having traveled outside of it. This year I went to Korea, Thailand, India, Spain, Ireland, and I have so much to see, so many places to go.

7. I let shit go: This is hard for a type-A control freak, but there are just some people, situations and events I’ll never be able to change and I have to accept that. I have to make a certain kind of peace with so much that exists beyond my reach. But this has taken an extraordinary amount of time and self-reflection. It’s only until recently that I’ve let go of the fact that I spent nearly four years of my life working for a man I didn’t like much less respect. Now, I try to learn from the things I can’t control. That, I think, is the greatest change I’ve seen in my life–that it’s imperative that I not stop learning. That I not be complacent. That I not simply exist to be constantly comfortable. That I not be changeless. That I not be open to change. That I not be receptive to criticism.

It never is what you want it to be, and that’s okay. It can be something else entirely.

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This is the thing I hate about lists–they never fully encapsulate the whole of everything, or any one thing. However, if I look at the woman I was at 16, 18, 21, and now, I can say that I’m calmer, quieter, kinder, and less insecure. The threadline through all of the years, I realized yesterday, is my writing. I’ve spent the greater part of this year wondering what it is I plan on doing with my life, and then it occurred to me that I only want to write. The writing can take different shape and form, but it’s the only thing that gives me shelter. It’s the one thing to which I can return and it never fails to challenge or excite me.

So maybe that’s what I’ve learned at 39, the year before I turn 40? I want to write, always.

raspberry + cherry granola bars (vegan)

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Tomorrow is my birthday and I’ll probably get yelled at by my nutritionist for eating (read: overdosing on) coconut peanut butter. Thankfully, I can’t veer too far into the splurge zone because all my mainstay treats are in the gluten and dairy camp (ah, the glory days of almond croissants, buttered Brooklyn bagels, pumpkin pancetta pizza and pasta pesto!). Now my binges include the occasional plate of fries, popcorn, dark chocolate covered almonds and vegan/gluten-free treats. Since I firmly believe that most bakeries in New York are run by amateurs, and the gluten/dairy-free sweets are less abundant and often unsatisfying, I’ve decided to bake my own birthday sweets because if they blow, I only have myself to blame.

Friends, these bars do not blow.

I love, love, love fruit bars. Smearing preserves on a buttery dough gives me LIFE, and although these pale in comparison to their white flour and creamed butter counterpart, the vegan option is still pretty stellar. Enough to shove a pile of candles into these bars tomorrow, and toast myself after a grueling #4daysfor30days Brooklyn BodyBurn workout.

INGREDIENTS
8 tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter
4 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour (I love Cup4Cup)
1 1/4 cups gluten-free rolled oats (There is still gluten in GF oats, but if you’re celiac, you can rock this recipe; if you have a sensitivity I would back off)
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp organic cane sugar
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup raspberry preserves
1/2 cup cherry preserves
(Makes 12 bars)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with coconut oil and line the bottom with parchment.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and coconut oil on low/medium heat. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Cool the sheet completely on a wire rack.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, sugars, salt, baking soda, and nuts. Pour in the melted butter, and using a wooden spoon, mix together until well combined.

Transfer about two thirds of the dough to the prepared baking pan. Press the dough evenly into the pan, forming a firmly packed layer. Using an offset or rubber spatula, spread the preserves over the dough. Evenly sprinkle the remaining dough over the preserves. I love seeing a pop of blistering red poke through the topping, so don’t overdo it, as you’ll be shoveling bricks rather than bars.

Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until the top is golden brown and fragrant, about 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it cool completely. I actually put these in the fridge for an hour and then leave them out to come to room temperature because I’m that impatient. Then cut into squares. The bars can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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the price of being able to see

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On the side of a hill a sprinkling of leaves./Washes the grave with silvery tears./A soldier cleans and polishes a gun./Sleeps unaware of the clarion call. –Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair / Canticle”

When I was five my mother took me to the theater to see The Shining. All I could remember was the blood that was a river and a child screaming REDRUM. When I was eight I pumped on the swings with a girl called Tangerine, and later that night I asked my mother about something I’d seen. Earlier in the day the police cleared the park because of a woman on the ground. Men covered her body with a sheet and took her away. I wanted to know about the woman, about the cold body that lie on the ground. She was probably a junkie, my mother said through a faceful of smoke. When I was ten I crept at the foot of my mother’s door because I’d heard her wailing; I’d heard her head bang against a wall. I thought it was Danny all over again–another man beating a woman because he could–but when I opened the door to her bedroom a crack, a hair, I could see her and my stepfather curled up in a cocoon. Later I asked about what she’d done and she snapped, did I want to get pregnant like all the other degenerates up and down the block? Sex was a death sentence–it would ruin all that she had planned for me. And she had plans. I wasn’t like the others, she’d said. I wouldn’t grow into a woman drinking out of brown paper bags, a woman who said ain’t instead of aren’t.

For as long as I could remember I was able to write and read. I suppose I owe her that–her knowledge that books were a way in and writing was a way out. Even now, even after all this time, I need prose in order to see.

When I was small my mother would tell me stories about knives and black magic. She’d play her records, a mix of rock and roll and soul, and I’d lay down next to her, curl up close. I remember burying my face into the thicket that was her hair. My mother was a forest I wanted to get lost in. She told me she grew up in a home and she had to protect herself. However, as I grew older, I realized that my mother had an abusive relationship with the truth–you never knew which stories were true and which were of her own invention. A born revisionist, she recounted stories altered with each retelling, and all the stories came with some sort of truth. Never cry, never be vulnerable, always hurt before you are wounded–her axioms lingered, and I would spend much of my adult life unlearning what I had been taught. Even now I struggle with being vulnerable. When I relapsed last year, I didn’t call my closest friend–I sent her a g-chat because the thought of getting on the phone with her seemed like a line I couldn’t yet cross. The idea of breaking down into tears was unimaginable. I’m getting better at letting people all the way in, but it’s been a tough journey.

One of my mother’s favorite songs was “Scarborough Fair,” a song whose origins were rooted in the belief that love is impossible, that one had to go through extreme lengths to prove their devotion. She’d play the song, lifting the needle of the record player and setting it down again, and I’d close my eyes, drift into sleep as my mother told me that all of this was important. That it was imperative that I see the world for what it is. You can’t afford to be blind, she said once. I couldn’t afford to be a child.

By the time I was twelve I’d seen people die, overdose, fuck, pummel, beat, drink, smoke joints, shoot up. I saw countless films about the cruelty of men and bore witness to the cold revenge my mother inflicted when you crossed her. I stood guard while she stole money from a delicatessen safe, right after they let her go. I watched her jealousy of me. When I bought Lisa Frank stickers with my allowance money, she’d buy bigger books and stickers for her own collection. They were always perfectly arranged, and I’d spend weekends trying to mimic her precision. I watched her envy my youth, education (she never set foot on my college campus), and my writing. She told me that she was a writer too, but I never saw anything she’d written. But I saw her steal my journals and handwritten stories and read them. I saw her quietly watch me win awards and accolades for stories I wrote about the life we’d lived, stories that sometimes made her look like a monster.

Over a telephone line, a few years after my book had been published, I told my mother she’d stolen my childhood from me. She spent the better part of every conversation asking if she could see me, if I would meet her teenaged daughter. She spoke of our mutual drug addictions as if they were badges of honor instead of crosses to bear, and she didn’t understand why I didn’t love her because the past was past, and couldn’t I simply forgive her? You stole my childhood from me.

I have to tell you that I had hope. I did. I’d hope that all the years had changed her, that I could undo everything I’d felt about her in my first book, but she only became a barnacle from which I wanted to be excised. I spent so many years doing the work, repairing the damage I had done to myself and those whom I loved, and she remained changeless. She had a man and a new daughter and she sometimes worked in a local school. She will forever be my first and only true hurt.

Sometimes I wonder what all of this sight cost me. I read an article once that relayed that some of the finest writers (not all, but most) are broken people trying to knit themselves back together again. Childhood trauma, loss, pain occurs before they’re able to put words to it, logically process it, and this damage alters them somehow. This damage, which may have been resolved by faith, therapy, love or medication, imbues their work with a sight just beyond their reach. And the work is writing our way to, around, above, under and through that place.

I turn 39 this week and I have this gift and this loss, and they weigh on my hands. So I find myself staring from one to the other. One to the other. Always, one to the other.

The photo above is one of the last ones I took of my mother. It occurs to me now that I somehow predicted her leaving by photographing it, because some time after this photo was taken she would later leave my father and I in this car, wearing this jacket. Her face, always obscured. A figure just beyond my reach.

vegetarian chili (grain + gluten-free)

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Have you ever looked at your house and realized it was your home? I’ve spent the better part of my childhood and early adulthood as a nomad, moving from apartment to apartment, and home had become the place where my mail was forwarded. Until this year. Until I walked into another apartment in my building on a cold night in February and felt like I was finally home. My apartment is simple, spacious and although the kitchen is a bit smaller than I’d like, I’ve made some of the best meals in this space. I’ve toasted the success and comforted the pain of some of my closest friends.

On Thanksgiving, everyone prattled off a list of things for which they’re grateful. I felt odd doing this because I express gratitude, quietly, to myself, every day. I’m grateful for having changed perspective when it comes to my body–caring for it like a house I want to maintain instead of burn and ruin. I’m grateful for my health, my life and for the ability to write. And I’m most grateful for the fact that I’ve spent a decade cultivating a small group of close friends whom I consider a family.

One of those lights spent some time in my apartment last night, her visit was a needed respite as I’ve been editing like mad and going a little bonkers in my solitude. I made this chili for her and can I tell you she had three small bowls of it? It’s that good. THAT GOOD. This coming from two proud carnivores.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s My Father’s Daughter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 large red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3/4 tsp mild chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp chipotle in adobo
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
1/2 cup puy (French) lentils, rinsed and drained
1 14-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 14-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Big pinch coarse salt
3 tbsp tomato paste

DIRECTIONS
Heat the olive oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, & black pepper. Cook, stirring, for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Add the chipotle & stir to combine.


Turn the heat up to high, add the tomatoes and their juice, crushing them a bit with your wooden spoon, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low & simmer for 40 minutes.


Add the lentils and beans. Fill one 14-ounce can with water (or broth) & add it to the pot, along with the salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, & simmer for 40 minutes.


Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 20 more minutes, or until the lentils are soft and the flavors are melded.

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love.life.eat.: what I’m loving right this second

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If you’ve seen me within the past two weeks, you’ve seen me wearing this sweater. I’ve written much about my shift to a more minimalist, functional wardrobe on this space–so much so that I’ve recently given away all my designer handbags to friends because I don’t want to form attachments to things I truly don’t love or need. Since we’re in the midst of monsoon season in New York, this lovely wool sweater has kept me warm on treks to the gym and lunches with friends. I still can’t get over the fact that Banana Republic is killing it right now. Murder in the first.

For the past three days I’ve locked myself in my apartment in an effort to revise my manuscript. I’ve received some exceptional and promising feedback from editors, and I’ve taken a step backed, cooled off, and, with a clear head, have been at work at a revise. And even though I’m an introvert, I get a bit loopy if I don’t at least hear people speaking for a few days. So on a lark I viewed the first two seasons of Black Mirror and I might as well have fallen into a black hole because I binge-watched this show, catatonic, all day yesterday. The UK import bills itself as the modern-day Twilight Zone (a bold statement since Rod Serling is THE standard), however, a show, which observes the many ways in which technology has and will change society, is remarkable. In “White Bear,” a woman wakes with amnesia. As the day unfolds she finds that she’s being hunted by various people while hoards stand back, silent, filming her with their cell phones. We later learn that her punishment for filming the death of a child is for her to relive the incident every day. Every night her memory is wiped clean while she watches the video she made in a loop, and the next day she wakes to the nightmare all over again. The story is rich in how it navigates participatory justice, celebrity in a cell-phone culture, regret and memory. In “Fifteen Million Merits,” a futuristic, ultra-virtual society where every transaction is intangible and everyone pedals a bike to stay alive, a talented singer is forced to choose between being an adult performer or a slave to a bike. Her choice is chilling, but the man who fell in love with her is changed and unchanged in ways that will surprise even the most jaded of viewers.

Suffice it to say if you want to think, if you want to question your relationship with your devices, watch Black Mirror (it’s on Netflix/Amazon, although I’ve found the full-length versions of the episodes I’ve mentioned online).

For two weeks I’ve acted like THAT ASSHOLE WRITER. When a very famous editor wrote that my work is serious, brilliant, but too difficult for an American audience, I wrote my agent that I can’t help that America is stupid, and no way in hell was I going to dumb down my manuscript. I suspect my agent has an endless reserve of patience (or he’s used to dealing with writers like me), and he told, quite kindly, that the intention is not to dumb-down my manuscript, but rather look for ways to make it tighter, stronger. And then I happened upon this article (my dear friend Amber has been telling me about Mark Manson’s writing since our trip to Thailand) on all the reasons why we fail. In short, I was arguing against advice instead of taking it. Manson writes,

Guaranteed express ticket to sucking: trying to be right instead of good. I don’t care what it is, if you’re more invested in arguing your point of view against people who are trying to help you than you are in improving yourself, then you’ve effectively given up. And for all of your brainiac debating, you’re still too stupid to see it.

I’ve learned a lot about humility over the past few months, and once I sat down to revise my manuscript (I’m halfway through the book), I was surprised and humbled over how much there was to edit. There’s not a page untouched by track changes.

Normally, I can’t read books that are similar to what I’m working on, however, I found re-reading Andre Dubus’ We Don’t Live Here Anymore to be of tremendous comfort. Re-reading his novellas on love and adultery makes me realize what’s lacking in my work. Yesterday (in-between episodes of Black Mirror), I revised scenes, stayed longer in them. It’s hard for me to detangle love from loss, and at one point I had to take a break.

Save for a workout with a friend and a lunch, I’m continuing my imposed novel-editing solitude this weekend. Know I will be eating copious amounts of this Coconut Peanut Butter. Another recommendation from my friend Amber, this butter puts all nut butters to shame. I actually tossed my peanut and almond butters after I sampled a spoonful of this stuff. It’s hard to explain why coconut oil and peanut butter work, but they do. OH, GLORIOUSLY SO. The delivery costs are a million dollars since the butter is shipped from Hawaii, but trust me, it’s worth every penny.

Finally, remember my long diatribe (I know, which one?!) on my Brooklyn BodyBurn challenge? My old workout gear isn’t holding up so I invested in some pants from Gap Body as well as these Zella leggings. You know you’re in deep when your workout gear exceeds your casual wear, becomes casual wear. GULP.

mission fit or suicide mission?: a month-long brooklyn bodyburn challenge

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I have this habit of falling off of machines. I’ve never been graceful or coordinated (the only exception is yoga, and even that’s a consistent, devoted practice toward an inner calm, an outward quiet). I was once booted out of step class because I couldn’t keep pace with the moves and the rhythm. So you can imagine how I felt when I took my first Brooklyn BodyBurn class last year. I was apoplectic, on the verge of frenzy. I wore my beat-up yoga pants frayed at the edgings while everyone else sported fancy leggings. I heard the rumors that this workout was the hardest in New York (one of the hardest), and that there are no breaks (oh, friends, this woman takes breaks. this woman comes down on her knees if she has to)–perhaps curiosity (read: masochism) lured me in. After I signed in, I remembered that everyone had this sheen, the women were practically phosphorescent with their hair dipped in gold and skin that never seemed to sweat.

And wouldn’t you know, right on cue, as soon as the music swelled and the class started I fell off the side of the machine. The teacher rushed over to me, the newbie, concerned, and I assured her that I was alive and this sort of thing (me falling off machines) is fairly routine.

After, I bought a class pack because I was optimistic that over time the class would somehow get easier or I’d no longer fear impalement by megaformer. While the workout has yet to deliver my untimely demise, let me tell you this woeful piece of information: IT HAS NOT GOTTEN EASIER. I’ve been doing Brooklyn BodyBurn for a year now, and if anything, it’s gotten HARDER. Think of BBB as Pilates riding high on an 8-ball (my review here). You’re working your entire body on a machine that moves constantly. You’re juggling balance, endurance, muscle strength and cardio in a series of slow, isometric moves that will sometimes make you cry instead of sweat. Luckily, everyone’s sweating (that sheen, the women who never sweat? OBVIOUSLY they’d been crying the whole time during mega-plank to pike) and holding on for dear life so no one will notice your own minor tragedy on your moving carriage.

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You’re probably wondering why I continue to return to a workout that gets harder with the passage of each day. Why not just sit on a spin bike and rock out? I love it because there is no defined end–once you master a shape there’s always another place you can take it. Like yoga, no two practices are ever alike, and the work is about turning inward, feeling the depth and movement of our bodies. Because the way you get around pain and stress and sorrow is by breathing through it, and I often find that 55 minutes on the megaformer or 90 minutes in a yoga class take my body and mind places that no other workout can go. On a physical level I have muscles on my arms and back I never knew existed.

Honestly, I feel strong.

I also love the community. From newbies to people like me who’ve been going for a while, we all share the common refrain: let’s just survive the class. People actually smile and talk to one another in the studio. I’m SO INSANELY SHY AROUND NEW PEOPLE (hence I’m always in the corner against the wall) and I’ve managed to make a few friends and more importantly, really admire the strength and the kindness of the teachers. If I want tough love, I know I’ll go to Abby. If I want more of a yogic flow I’ll go to Andrea or Luke. If I want a teddy bear cheerleader I’ll hit up Marcus or Eileen. There’s a teacher for every vibe, and all of them are passionate, experienced and really, really kind.

So…for the folks who have been following my mindful health journey, which is really about eating food that nourishes me and focuses on getting fit and strong, I’m taking on some challenges in 2015 that will keep me stimulated, inspired and challenged. For the next month, I plan to do the unthinkable: I’m taking FOUR Brooklyn BodyBurn classes for a week for a month. I normally take 1-2, so this should end me or inspire me, whichever comes first. I’ll be balancing the intense training with 90 minutes of yoga 1-2 a week, and noting my progress each week with a wrap post and before/after snaps and #s to see how I’m doing when it comes to muscle and health.

Pray for me. Send orange kittens, etc. Actually, wait. I plan on staring at this snap of Felix while I’m doing MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS.

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on turning 39 next week, on loss, love and all of it

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What cracks had he left in their hearts? Did they love less now and settle for less in return, as they held onto parts of themselves they did not want to give and lose again? Or–and he wished this–did they love more fully because they had survived pain, so no longer feared it? ― Andre Dubus, Dancing After Hours

There was a moment last week when I looked away from my reflection in the mirror and wondered if I should get Botox. Me, an anti-botulism crusader, getting garbage injected into my face? Suffice it to say, it was a low moment and one that passed as swiftly as it arrived.

our last day I stroke a child’s hair. The blondness of it, the fineness of it, the mess of it, disturbs me, and I ask myself as I’ve asked myself countless times before, do I want this? Would it be possible to go at it alone? The child’s head is small, fragile in my hands, and I tacitly acknowledge that this isn’t what I want. I can’t imagine a life other than my own taking shelter inside this body. And I think about the time when I lost Sophie, when my grief was as large as an ocean, and everyone not understanding the depth of my loss and how I nearly drowned from the undertow. They said, I’m so sorry for your loss in the same breath as asking me for a favor. Can I connect them with someone in my network? Could they pick my brain with their scalpel and surgical tools? Imagine if you lost your seven-year-old child? Imagine if your child died in your hands? Their last breath lumbering out as you wondered whether you had been kind, whether you had done everything that there was to do. You think this is why you can’t have children because you’d find ways to kill them. You can’t remember a time when you were a child, when your job wasn’t to parent, to mother, to carry a woman down six flights of stairs to an awaiting taxi, to recite the address of Maimonides Hospital because you knew it by heart, because you made this trip countless times before. You completed the forms because your mother’s hands couldn’t stop shaking and watched The Late Show on the television that hung overhead while people bled, slept and moaned in the waiting room. You wondered if they’d ever get around to painting the walls. You wondered how long this time. Could she do this for you? Would she? You calculated the time from now until you’d have to carry her again, and as an adult you’d read about The Ouroboros and wondered if this myth was simply a retelling of your childhood with a serpent thrown in for good measure. Replace the snake with a child and you’ll see what happens when a child is forced to an extreme–to feed itself, care for itself, endure itself, waste itself, consume itself in order to inch through another day.

No, no children for me.

Let’s talk about a cat who was breathing and a cat who stopped breathing, and how you now exist in the silences after that loss? You now exist in the space after the body has been wrapped like a little package and delivered to an incinerator. Your father, not your real one, once tells you that when he dies he wants to be burned. None of this below the ground business with worms in his eyes. Spread me out in the water, he urges, and you nod and take note of a time when you’ll have to endure another burning. Let me ask you this: wouldn’t you take me by the neck–just so that I can feel what it’s like to watch a final rise and fall of a small chest–if I mapped out an appropriate timetable for your grief? I spend time and money on weddings and baby showers I’ve no interest in attending, and not one of these people helped shoulder my grief or sent a card or a gift when a new cat, my child, entered my home.

When you get older, you start to see people as they really are and this sometimes breaks your heart.

Parsnips, beets, zucchini, kale, greens, cabbage, carrots–I write these words down in the middle of a day that rains to remind myself of what I’ve eaten because I tend to forget things if they aren’t written down. But I never forget cat food, toys or vet visits. I tell myself that this time with Felix I’ll be good. I won’t slip. I’ll do everything I can to avoid a sky burial. I’ll do everything I can to not sit in another hospital where I have to deliberate my options, where I have to sign here, here and also, there.

Can I pause and tell you that having lost Sophie still breaks my fucking heart? Makes me cry on cue even now, even after all this time?

motherOccasionally someone will inquire, with a mixture of fear and curiosity, whether I want children. I’ve still got time, they think. I respond that I wasn’t built for bearing. I’ve already raised a child who gave birth to another child, a half-sister, and I never received a card or a word of thanks for sacrificing my childhood for her adulthood. Funny how time sorts things.

In December it rains constantly and I fear that I’ve become the kind of writer who’s good at blog posts and corporate narratives and little else. I worry that what I’ll leave behind is a book about The Ouroboros that was my life, a story I can’t even read without wincing. A story, I realize now, I wrote too young. Had I written that story now, it would have been a landscape painted grey, solemn and quiet. I would’ve been careful with my words; I would’ve laid down a blanket over my rage.

You had a friend once and she drank as much as you did and then some. She wrote beautiful, dark stories–the kind you always wish you could write, stories published in The New Yorker and then by Knopf. The stories are delicate and breakable, and this puts you to thinking that you’re only able to write about people who do the breaking, people who are broken. You can never write about that space between the two–not yet broken but not whole, complete–when the characters are simple, tragic and beautiful.

But when you were both drunk, going one for one until you both saw black, you don’t think about the stories you could or could not write. You’re the story and you’re tragic and simple and perhaps beautiful, but you’ll never know this. You’ll only realize it when someone else writes about it, and you read a story with a hint of nostalgia, the this person sounds familiar, until you realize that person is you and you’re a character in a story rather than a real person who didn’t have a beautiful life. This is your life. You’re some drunk girl in someone else’s story. They didn’t even get your lines right. And then it occurs to you that the someone who wrote this story was you and you wish that the story hadn’t been written in the first place. But that’s your book, your story, and you deal with it.

Years later, that friend who writes The New Yorker stories will accept your Facebook invitation for friendship even though you were once friends, but this relationship is different, safe, relegated to computer screens instead of bars and men flickering the lights shouting last call. You don’t dare see one another because you can’t bear to be with someone who reminds you that you were the kind of person you want to forget. Remember that time when we were supposed to go to that reading in that famous bar downtown? We met for a bite close to the bar and we ended up splitting two bottles of wine. We left our food cold. Remember when we walked into the bar and it was quiet and we giggled and guffawed and spoke in octaves? Remember when your best friend at the time practically pressed her hand over your mouth because that famous writer was reading, the room was attentive, silent, and couldn’t you see that? No, not really. We left and talked about how the famous writer’s stories weren’t as good as they used to be.

When she accepts your invitation for friendship you’re both sober. She’s on the verge of marriage. You’re not. She’s on the verge of publishing her collection of stories with Knopf. You’re not. Even though her work is good, really good, you wonder this: why didn’t this happen to me? The marriage, the stories, the Knopf, all of it.

When you get older, you sometimes wonder whether this is your life. All of it. You realize it’s nearly impossible to reconcile the woman you used to be and her wants with the person you are with her needs. You selfishly wonder if what you have, who you are, is ever enough.

I read a lot of lists. Apparently it’s the vogue thing to do to compile lists of things you’ve learned in your 20s once you turn 30. As if a number has the propensity to shift your life beyond measure. As if a number has that much power. I try not to be an asshole about it and realize that people need lists to sort out where they are in their lives–they need a demarcation of then and now and what’s happened in the space in between. Their lists are binary in nature, and I can’t argue this too much because I wrote a book that colored in the lines, a story that worshipped at the altar of black and white, and it’s not until I’ve had a few more years did I realize that there’s all this grey I’d been missing. That the delineations are no longer finite. There is no cutoff of what I’ve learned from 30 to 39, rather there’s what I’ve learned from being a kid until now. I need the kid to stay in the picture to understand the adult typing this now.

The lessons in these lists people write, share and nod along with, are no longer definitive and finite, instead they become somewhat obtuse: the loses are palpable; the relationships richer and smaller; the love is deeper and beautiful and dark and all of that; the hellos and goodbyes aren’t what they used to be; the work isn’t what we thought it would be, and sometimes we can’t define what it is that we want but we know exactly what it is that we don’t want; we’re urgent about the things we never considered and calmer about the things that used to make us rage; sometimes we listen to songs we used to love because they temporarily take us back to a place (remember that place!), and then we don’t listen to those songs for long stretches of time because they remind of us of that same place (remember that place…); we scan the updates and holiday cards from people we know or who we’ve come to know and realize that the people we once knew are so different they’re nearly unrecognizable while others continue to surprise us.

at the zoo barTwenty years ago I sat in a cold dorm room and played REM, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I wore flannels over tight black shirts, and baseball hats. I’d only just started drinking and I liked it. A lot. Maybe too much, but not yet, not yet, give it a decade in time. My mother waitressed in a diner and she was what I came home to for the holidays. I considered iceberg lettuce a vegetable. I ate a lot of pasta. I told everyone who would listen that I wanted to be an investment banker like Gordon Gekko without the prison record. I read American Psycho for the first time and said, I want to write books like that. My best friend and I wandered into the cafeteria drunk during the day while everyone was sober and watching and curious and we didn’t care. We wore flannels and baseball hats and talked about the guys who were in crew. We stirred white spaghetti around on our plates. We dumped the trays on the floor. We didn’t pick them up. I started to create a life that I found in a J.Crew catalog. I left Brooklyn behind. I came home drunk one night and scrawled in black marker on a metal door a note to a girl who left me in a bar in the city. I wrote over and over, how could you leave? I wrote a story that I secretly submitted to the college literary journal and the editor stopped me on the way to the cafeteria and asked me if I’d written this. He had my story folded in his hands. He said, I know you. You take finance classes. The story was about my mother. The magazine was called Ampersand, I think. I wrote it, every word, is it any good? It’s good. He held the paper tight in his hands and shook it, as if the words on the page could possibly explain to him the space between the girl who wanted to be a banker and drank five dollars worth of fifty-cent drafts and the girl who had no idea how to be a woman. He looked at me and then down at the paper trying to reconcile the two, and I remember saying, they’re both me. Back then I didn’t know what I was saying but I do now.

But what do I know? I know more about some things and less about others. I know what it’s like to live a life without anesthesia, without plotting from one drink to the next and I try to share that with others who privately struggle. I know what it’s like to fall in love with your body at 38 and wish you’d had that affection at 24. I know what it’s like to be risky in your life and your writing and how it sometimes hurts to see the words you put down on the page. Yet, there’s so much I don’t know. I don’t know what it’s like to love someone beyond measure. I don’t know if what I’m doing is good enough or just good for right now. I’m not as fluent in Spanish as I used to be. I still play oldsongs but stop them midway. I write blog posts like these that are complete in some ways and incomplete in others.

Maybe this is what I’ve learned: once I think I have the answers, I start asking new questions.

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creamy tomato basil pasta (vegan/gluten-free…I know, but it’s really good)

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You should know that I used to be addicted to pasta. As someone who used to drink men under the table, under the floorboards, I know a bit about compulsion, about the need to feel anesthetized. To be here, but not really, and you know how it is. It got to a point where I went through several boxes of pasta a week. I’d have a pesto pasta for lunch and gnocchi for dinner, and I’d only post a photo of a kale salad or green smoothie, but you know all about that faux Insta life–it’s proliferated all over the internet to a point where one could call it a disease.

When my doctor and nutritionist broke the news, that even after these nine months of living gluten-free I can never eat like I had before, I was practically catatonic. I kept asking how did this happen? How did I allow myself to get to this place? How had I substituted a glass of red wine for a seemingly demure plate of cacio e pepe? Had I been asleep for the bulk of my waking life to only wake to a smack in the face? When I learned that I could only have gluten OR dairy once a week, that pasta would soon be relegated to an occasion meal, it took a while to accept this. It took a good two weeks to overcome my withdrawal from gluten.

Even now, even when there are so many terrific gluten-free pasta options (I found Bioitalia while I was in Spain and I’m hooked), I have to be careful. Because I’m swapping out gluten for rice, potato and other starches, which are fine in moderation but don’t for a healthy, balanced diet make. And I’ve got this thing for developing unhealthy attachments to specific foods (Exhibits A, B, C: pasta, avocados, chickpeas–all of which required individually-deployed fatwas). So know that when I post a pasta recipe it better be a DAMN GOOD ONE because I can’t have it for another week or two.

You should know that cashew/almond cream is the best thing to have entered my life since Cup4Cup flour. The combination yields the creamy texture and taste of heavy cream without the bloat and the sickening full feeling that invariably happens when you feast on any dairy-rich dish.

Trust me on this.

Part of me wishes I’d never found this recipe because now I have leftovers in the fridge that I can’t touch until the end of the week. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE GLUTEN STRUGGLE? It’s real, friends. Real.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook, with modifications
1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews (soaked for 2 hours, or overnight)
1/2 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
9 ounces uncooked gluten-free pasta (basically 3/4 of a package)
1 tsp olive oil
1 small shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes, drained (I use San Marzano)
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
3 handfuls baby kale
1 cup packed fresh basil, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Start by soaking the cashews. Place the cashews in a bowl and add enough water to cover. Soak for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Drain and rinse. Blitz the nuts and almond milk in a high-speed blender until smooth and creamy (approximately 1 minute). Set aside.

Boil water and cook pasta according to instructions on package.

In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onions and garlic for 5-10 minutes, until translucent. Add tomatoes and kale and continue cooking for 7-10 minutes over medium-high heat, until the kale is wilted.

Stir in the cashew cream, basil, tomato paste, oregano, salt, and pepper, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until heated through.

Drain the pasta (reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water) and add it to the sauce. Add the reserve pasta water, and stir to combine well, cooking for a few minutes until heated through.

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gluten-free almond honey cake

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It always amazes me how the smallest of lights can shine so brightly. While I spent the week moping, lamenting for a life that could have been but isn’t, I came across this article in Publisher’s Weekly, a trade mag for those who geek out on publishing stories. I’m not entirely sure how I discovered Anna Watson Carl, but I remembered admiring her photography and being enamored by her food philosophy–food being the thing that binds people, and how meals have this arcane way of cultivating lasting, rich relationships. Food is primal, and the fact that we share our basest of needs with someone else means something. Or at least it does to me. And Anna.

I also admired Anna’s spirit, her desire to not be tethered to publishing schedules and editorial conformity. Rather, she would create the cookbook she wanted, on her own terms, on her own schedule. I supported her Kickstarter, and was jubilant to have received her book a month later.

Friends, this book is worth owning. These are the kind of meals you make for gatherings, for your beloveds. You toast minor victories and major celebrations with the dishes in Watson’s cookbook. From rosemary biscuits with fig jam and prosciutto (alas, there is gluten in this book, but there are plenty of gf options) to spicy black bean soup and roasted winter squash with kale and pomegranate seeds–you will want to cook everything in this book. The photography is simple, clean and austere, yet the food is welcoming and warm, and this juxtaposition–the beauty of food and the warmth of it–always confounds me in the best of ways.

Reading her journey to publication inspired me to think about my book (and subsequent projects) through a different lens. Why must a book be a piece of cardboard binding several hundred pages? A story can take on many forms–visual, audio, text, and the magic is how we make all of it cohere. The magic is in the ingredients, the assembly. Much like cooking, I guess.

The beat is turning around, my friends, and I toasted the end to a rather long week with a fat slice of almond cake.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table Cookbook
4 eggs (room temperature), separated
1/2 cup lavender honey (or wildflower/raw honey)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups almond meal

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with coconut oil cooking spray. I either use the kind from Spectrum, or I use softened coconut oil. Even when I return to dairy, I’ll continue to use coconut oil for the mild flavor it imbues and it’s silk texture is TO DIE.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks, honey, vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Whisk until smooth. Add the almond meal and whisk until smooth. At first, you’ll likely freak out (as I did) that you have too much meal and not enough liquid, but don’t fret, whisk for a good minute and the goods will come together beautifully.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high until they are foamy and white, with soft peaks (not stiff). This will take 1.5-2 minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the almond mixture with a spatula. This will take some time as you have a lot of whites and a thick cake batter. Make sure you fold gently, yet incorporating all of the almond meal.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out smooth. Let cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the edges of the cake and remove the outer ring. Let the cake cool completely before serving.

Gently remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan with a spatula. Serve with fresh berries, confectioner’s sugar, or pistachio ice cream. I had this on its own and it was DIVINE. Slightly sweet and crumbly.

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nine minutes of gratitude (a practice)

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The past month has been a trying one, to say the least. I coped with occupying a space with someone who had toxic energy, the kind of anger that leaves an indelible mark. The experience exhausted me, causing me to further retreat into solitude because I hadn’t the tools to deal with this kind of energy, which felt like an invasion. All the while, I’m in-between projects and feeling the sting of the constant refrain of you’re a brilliant and serious writer, but you’re too dark, too smart, too fill-in-the-blank-adjective-that-implies-your-reading-audience-will-be-small from publishers. As a result, I’ve been moody, introspective, quiet, and blue.

In yoga, there is a word in Sanskrit, spanda, which translates to vibration, heat, the sacred tremor of the heart. I’ve been practicing a form of Iyengar/Anusara yoga for well over a decade and have encountered this word repeatedly in my practice, but it’s only until this week that I feel as if I’ve finally understood its meaning. The notion of pulsation between two states of being (bear with me) between the shapes our bodies can take, whether it be expansion or contraction is something worthy of constant, studied observation. One cannot operate in the extremes. A yoga practice isn’t about rocking out in a handstand or lying supine in savasana, rather it’s about finding balance between feeling the need to retreat and to rock out.

It should be no shock to you that I sometimes operate in the extremes. Years ago I was more of my mother’s daughter and I would rage and scream at everyone in my wake. My words were a wielding knife that would cut and maim, and it took me years to realize that you find no peace by wounding others. However, I oscillated to the other extreme where someone’s hurtful words or actions would cause me to shut down, get cold, retreat. I would excise people as quickly as I’d warmly usher them in, and I’m finding that this extreme delivers little peace, as well.

So I’m looking for the middle. The space that exists between here and there, the space where you can feel both the light and the dark, but not be shuttered by the extreme nature of either state. I’m trying to find love in existing in the middle of the day, the distance between the blue morning and the actinic dark, both spaces which are heartbreakingly familiar. I’m trying to not live out the painting I’ve made for myself where I exist only under the glare of the sun or the cold of the darkness.

This shift is really hard. Like, really hard.

Today I saw my nutritionist for the first time in a month, and I told her about the events of the past month and how they wore me down, how I allowed some bad habits to creep in (popcorn binge, anyone?), and she encouraged me to embark on a daily spiritual practice. I spoke of spanda, but also of svāhā, the art of releasing, of letting go. In fire ceremonies, you shed the superfluous, the darkness, the skin that bears so much weight on your body. And if I’m to embark on a deeply spiritual practice in an effort to use this as a tool for living, then I have to take in the good but also have to learn how to let things go. You find no peace holding on to your anger so hard.

So today starts my daily nine-minute meditation. Every morning I’ll wake to three minutes of movement to a soothing playlist (of which I’ll share shortly) composed of Indian and African rhythms. The next three minutes I’ll say aloud all the small and grand things from which I’m thankful. The final three minutes are for expressing gratitude now for that which has not come to pass. I’ll talk about how humbled I am for all of the future readers of this space. I’ll talk about how I’m excited to have given my heart so freely to someone in my life. I’ll talk about being grateful for have created art that breaks ranks, even if my readership amounts to a number of people I can count on two hands.

Nine minutes, every day, of allowing the light in. At the same time, I have to remind myself to let go. To stop speaking ill of those who have wounded me. To not be as angry that a particular outcome wasn’t what I had anticipated. To learn to play the hand as it lays. To be okay with the fact that extended side crow might not happen on a particular evening, but be grateful that I have a body that can move.

Make no mistake, this practice is intricately bound to what I eat and how I nourish my body. If I start off my day mindfully, I’ll make smart choices and treat my body as it were a house I so assiduously want to make a home. Nine minutes of spanda, of feeling the space between taking in and letting go.

Let’s see how this goes.