Posted on January 3, 2016
I decided to take an leave from this space and most of social media (save posting articles of interest on Twitter) to live my life privately and off-line. This may be for a month, a year, or forever, but right now I need to focus on my life, my work, and friends/family.
Thank you for reading and I’ll be keeping up the recipes + archives. Perhaps one day I’ll return.
Posted on January 3, 2016
INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Daphne Brogdon, modified
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus for drizzling
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (6 to 7 ounces each), butterflied*
1 tablespoon molasses, mixed with 2 teaspoons hot water
1 teaspoon ground fennel
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 medium shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup pecans, toasted, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
3 tablespoons safflower or grape seed oil
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
Half 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
*I asked my butcher (or the person at the meat counter at your market) to butterfly and even out the meat. It was way easier than doing this at home.
Lay out a 15-inch-long piece of plastic wrap on a cutting board and drizzle it with a little olive oil. Lay a butterflied chicken breast, cut side up, on the plastic wrap. Fold the plastic wrap over to cover. Using a meat pounder, pound out the thicker parts of the breast so that it’s uniformly thick. Fold the plastic wrap open and brush the chicken breast with the molasses; season with generous pinches of fennel, salt and pepper. (This will be the inside part of the breast that gets stuffed.) Fold the plastic wrap back over and flip the breast over. Fold plastic wrap open and season the other side of the breast with salt and pepper. (This is the outside that will later get seared in the pan.) Re-cover with the plastic wrap and place on a plate. Repeat this process with the remaining chicken breasts. Refrigerate for 1 hour or up to overnight.
Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and pecans, and cook another 2 minutes. Add the tarragon and cook another minute. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Remove a butterflied breast from the plastic wrap. Place it on a cutting board, molasses-side up. Place 1/4 cup of the filling on half of the chicken breast. Fold over the other half to enclose the filling. Using a bamboo skewer, close up the opening by threading the skewer through one end of the opening to the other to secure. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts and filling.
Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the stuffed chicken breasts and cook for about 3 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Add the wine, chicken broth and crushed tomatoes. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and poach until the chicken is cooked through, another 8 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a plate, remove the skewers, cover the chicken with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. While chicken is resting, turn up the heat on the poaching liquid to medium, add the crushed red pepper, and let simmer until thickened and reduced by a third, about 5 minutes (I did it for 15 because I wanted it really thick). Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Strain the sauce into a small pot and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. Instead of the liquid, I used the tomato mixture as my dressing and it was glorious.
To serve: Slice the chicken, if desired, and arrange on a serving platter. Pour some sauce over the top. Serve immediately, with extra sauce on the side.
Posted on January 1, 2016
I have a friend coming over for brunch today and I’m pulling out all the stops: homemade blueberry waffles topped with fresh compote, maple bacon, fruit salad and brewed coffee. It’s been a while since I’ve had someone over–possibly because my home is my refuge, and I couldn’t imagine anyone in it because I viewed the slightest intrusion as a pillage on my sanctuary. Although I’ve been in California only a brief time (five months), it feels like home because it’s not yet blemished by all the history. Even though I moved apartments in the Brooklyn brownstone I once lived, I felt haunted by Sophie’s passing (among other things), and I could feel the weight of having grown up in Brooklyn and seeing it changed. And while the city has been remodeled to the point where it’s barely recognizable, I still have the memory of it. I still remember being a teenager, riding the subway, my feet on the seats.
In Los Angeles, there are no subways, and the streets are clean and expansive. People drive and I walk, and sometimes I’ll walk the eight miles from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica simply to feel space.
Last week, WordPress emailed my end-of-year report, which is kind of like an annual report for your blog, and I normally try not to look at these things, to concern myself with the business of numbers because numbers have a way of doing things to you, altering what and how your create. And it’s no surprise that this space had demonstrably more traffic when I was happy, and people seemed to fall out of the frame when I got sad. And then this put me to thinking about social media and how it can be brutally suffocating with everyone demanding that you be positive, happy and in a constant state of growth and repair. People want to read about your dark times only in the past tense, only when you’ve made it out to the other side and you are gleaming and dressing your wounds. There is so much talk, so much desire for that which is real and authentic, yet we see time and time again how people are rewarded for their artful representation of a coveted life. People want their darkness in manageable doses (that one book everyone reads/movie everyone sees) because possibly they have so much (or little) going on in their lives that they don’t want the burden of someone else’s grief. Rather, they reach out to light so religiously they don’t realize when they’ve been burned and blinded by it.
When I was a teenager, I kept losing PTA-sponsored writing contests because people always died in my stories. Parents can’t reward something that disturbing, a teacher once confided to me. Later, when I was at Columbia, a teacher asked me in my first year why people in my stories died and I was confused and said because that’s what happens. My father once told me that I hold on to darkness too hard. In response, I said no, it was more like I didn’t like letting it go. There’s a difference, even though at the time I didn’t know what that difference was.
I’m going to ignore what’s popular and inherently desired because I think that our work allows us to weed out that which does not serve us. I’m in this kind of purgatory where I’m not as low as I was a few months ago, but I’m not out of the woods yet and I feel this tension between the need to get better and the ache of giving up. Being in Los Angeles has given me so many things already–a new book, space, and the want of rebuilding a tribe when the old one didn’t serve me well. It’s hard, really fucking hard, to see the constant stream of posts that speak to how everyone’s life is so! fucking! awesome! when my life is anything but, but their life isn’t my life and there’s no joy in comparing myself to others and what they chose to edit and project out into the world, so all I can do is keep attempting, keep doing, keep working, and keep being my most honest self–even if it’s not as attractive as the world would want it to be.
I woke this morning and thought: well, at least it’s no longer 2015.
Posted on December 29, 2015
Photo Credit: Unsplash
People ask me how I am and say, oh, you know. Dying slowly. I wake and fall asleep to this tedium and the only thing that’s changed in the past twenty years is the fact that I’ve become accustomed to it. I no longer need to adjust my eyes to the dark because the night is persistent. I am here and I am dead, yet I’m walking. Look at me—a stoplight, a lamppost, an old chair in dire need of upholstery. Turn me on and off like that lamp on the table, and watch as the bulb flickers and fades until one day it flares out.
The night he left, he said cruel things, horrible things you can’t imagine, and he followed me into the shower, photographing me. He took pictures of me crying through the frosted glass, even as I begged him not to. He said you look alive when you’re in pain. When I slept he poured a jar of ants onto my bed and he filmed me when I woke, screaming. He sat on top of me and fanned the camera from left to right. Look at you, Ava. You’re practically ultraviolet. I love watching them crawl all over your face, scurrying in and out of your hair. It was only when I was suffering did I come into color. I was all gray and black light, but that night, with the ants covering me, I was suddenly vermillion, emerald, and actinic blue.
Sometimes I hate myself for missing him. Don’t say his name—don’t even think it. Other times I allow myself to remember how his jaw moved like tectonic plates when he chewed, and his sour breath in my hair. [It starts with a J. Full stutter out—James.] Now all I feel are the crackle of bones beneath my skin. When I close my mouth I taste ashes. My body is a grave.
A year after he left, a woman fell asleep with a cigarette in her hand and my building caught fire. I woke to the alarm blaring and when I reached for the broom to dismantle the thing [the hurt seized you], I smelled smoke. I felt heat rising up all around me, and light beside me. I grabbed my wallet, coat, and keys and made a run for it. Outside my feet curled in the snow. Socks. I’d forgotten them. A week later, a detective stood in the middle of my friend Millie’s apartment, picking up and putting down things as if claiming ownership of them. I was smoking a Newport and pulling at the edges of a skirt that no longer fit. The detective pointed to the smoke and said it was your bed, your cigarette. Your fire, Ava. Are you telling me you didn’t happen to notice that your bed was in flames? I shook my head. Shrugged. I knew there was a fire, I just didn’t know whom it belonged to. Besides, I was half-awake, drunk [black-out drunk, if you’re being honest], and thought maybe the super cranked up the heat for once. It felt nice to come home to a room where warmth cradled you.
No one pressed charges because the building owner took the insurance money and bought a house in the Keys [lady, you did me a favor; wolf-whistles all down the street], and the detectives had all been pulled in to work on a case of a serial killer who harvested his victims’ organs and left John Donne poems in place of what he had removed. Poor Donne. He never had a chance with that Cockney accent, and with Keats and Shelley fluffing their wigs and feasting on spiced lamb. Writing rich boy poems about how small they were. It reminded me of all my friends who would tell me about their sadness. They would talk about finding themselves lost in a place where cartographers failed to map, and I had to laugh because what they felt was a stopover in small town—a trembling pause in their overly illuminated life—while the dark spaces were my point of origin. They had their dark time while swathed by their money, husbands and families in waiting while I had nothing. So while I don’t understand the serial killer’s nocturnal habits, I understand the poet’s desperation. I understand a man who had to wade his way through an ocean with only a pen while others had ships, first mates, and clear skies.
A week later I flew to Los Angeles.
Will you always be your singular hurt? [Interruption—I am small, like sonnets and the architecture smothers.] Will there exist a time when you are no longer the weight you carry? Tell me, how is it that you’re able to excise so coldly? Was it because the wings you tore off flies made you sad? Observe their paraplegic limbs miming flight with a kind of disquiet—the depths of which only you know. [In contrast, my grief is epic poetry.] Or was it the way you arranged your hair—a fugue of roller-set curls covering a half-mask, your sadness filling the gaps. When it’s calm and the sun blows out, you can make a run for it. But before you go, ask yourself: why did he turn away from you? Was it because you shone too bright? Your eyes take on the quality of black matter and you press them shut in hopes that you can stop the flood, the inevitable tears. Like carp, you surface briefly for air only to plunge into the deep again. You’re wearing that lipstick again [I’ve got a taste for the manufacture and packaging of bruises]: a red slash on your lips against a landscape of bone-white and blue. You are forever covered in wounds.
You are worthless. You’re nothing, but how is that you still take up so much space? Don’t speak to me that way. In what way am I speaking? The way you always speak to me. I don’t want to do this now; my face hurts. How is it that I’m the only one who can feel my bones? Can you please not make me talk right now? I’d prefer to not talk. I’d prefer to pinch the skin on my body until the blood collects until it appears as if I’m bleeding beneath the surface because I am. Bleeding. These are the times when I hate you, immeasurably. Immeasurably? [Raucous laughter, rising to a cackle] Just stop. You’ve never been good at math and you’ve never liked me, James. Sometimes you make me feel like I don’t exist.
You don’t exist, Ava. Haven’t you been listening? I close my eyes and think about my mother—my first country, the only place I inhabited completely. I was a sliver of her continent, part of her main.
Back then, James and I lived in a basement apartment. We couldn’t tell when the sun rose or set. I liked that—the confusion. Sometimes he brought girls home and I’d have to sit and watch as he combed their hair, cut it, and shoved bits of it into my mouth. Swallow, pretty girl, he told me. Get every last bite. After he said, next time, can you wear that dress with the lace sleeves? I hate that dress, it makes me look like a doily. Ava, do you realize how fatuous you sound? A fucking doily? You used to be fun. You used to amuse me and now you’re a walking refugee camp. Can’t you do this one simple thing for me, after everything, everything, I’ve done for you? His voice was an avalanche I was desperate to tumble under. Ava, what’s the problem? If it makes you feel better, next time I’ll get one of those frail girls. Maybe an anorexic—they always have thinning hair and rings around their eyes.
Did you think I was pretty while I was choking on that girl’s hair when you didn’t even stop to get me a glass of water? I remember you. You wrote me a letter on the back of a Chinese take-out menu, and it was about how you spent months watching me. How you followed me to the ocean once. Watched me swim against the waves that were blue, green, salty and cool. You wrote about the pelicans that surrounded me as I sprawled out on the shoreline, my body a ticker tape of hurt desperate to be carried out by the wind and the undertow. And, all this time, I fell in love with a man who wrote me a letter, who delivered evidence of his devotion, and I never stopped to consider its contents. I never found it strange that a stranger was watching me because maybe I was happy just to have been watched. Now I watch what you do to younger versions of me. Take me back to that letter, James. Tell me one nice thing about me. James sighed, and with a scissor, he cut the ends off my hair. Your name is easy to spell, was all he could fathom after three years of being the light that blared over my bed.
What is it that you think you’ve done for me? I want to ask, but I don’t.
When I was ten, my mother took me for lunch in a small luncheonette on Long Island—far from the Jackson Heights apartment in which we lived. The luncheonette stood at the end of a long line of empty stores that flashed For Lease or Going Out of Business signs. We only had to walk a few feet from the train station to view the shack with its peeling green paint and faded Pepsi signs. A placard reminiscent of the 1950s read: Hot coffee and a buttered bagel for $.50! This was the sort of place where everything arrived frozen and left torched. I kept asking why this place, why here, and my mother shook her head and cried out: you’re killing me. Ava. Murder in the first.
Inside, a man sat in a booth tearing apart a blueberry muffin. What had the muffin done to deserve such aggression? I stood behind my mother and wrapped my arms around her small waist as she streaked across the room to the table where he sat. On a giant plate lie the remains of his breakfast—a massacre of berries and cake. The man didn’t eat his food, it was more like he attacked it and took pleasure in surveying the destruction. When I edged into the booth across from him, he pushed his plate toward me and said, have some. I didn’t want a muffin; I wanted a cheeseburger! I’m allergic, I said, to which he responded, the whole or parts of it? The man laughed and proceeded to flick blueberries at my mother who laughed while shielding her face and said, my daughter has a casual relationship with the truth. I’m allergic to all of it, I said.
This is Martin, my mother said by way of introduction. I know that voice, it was the same one she used when she introduced my father to people we didn’t know. It was the voice of intimacy, of possession; this is someone you need to know. This was the voice that would alter the days following this one. What kind of name is Martin? I said. The kind of name you’ll be hearing a lot more of, he replied, adjusting his Marlboro man cap to further obscure his gray eyes. Martin owned a fleet of trucks that ran food deliveries all over Long Island, which I imagined was a leap from my father who owned a grocery store that sold lottery tickets and malt liquor on Elmhurst Blvd. When we were flush, which was rare considering everyone in the neighborhood bought on credit, my father would take us to Chinese restaurants in Flushing or Indian restaurants in the East Village, where I’d stare at the carousel of blinking lights until I passed out. Money didn’t mean luncheonettes in beat-up villages. Money didn’t mean caps that shielded a man’s eyes.
That day I ordered French fries and snapped each one in half and imagined Martin’s bones. I held up a fry and said, with eyes black and cold like certain seas, look how easily you break.
On the ride home, my mother told me she was giving me the choice she never had. I could either come live with her and Martin or remain in Queens with my father because she was done with her primary life. It was as if she’d found Jesus in Martin and was desperate to be reborn. I pictured Martin twitching; I imagined him choking on a mountain of ruined muffins. I remember the way he kissed my mother and how he left her face slick like oil spills. I was ten but I remember feeling lethal. I remember feeling that it wouldn’t be safe for me to be alone with Martin. Safe for him, that is.
That day in the luncheonette I never had my cheeseburger, but I bought one the day my mother lugged two suitcases down five flights of stairs to a taxi that waited outside. I went to McDonald’s and ordered the two cheeseburger meal, and I unwrapped the burgers slowly, delicately, and after I was done, after I’d eaten the meat, drank the cola and devoured the salty fries, I tore off bits of paper and cardboard and tossed them out the window like confetti. When my mother left, my father cried every night in his room for six months straight. I’d hear the guttural wails, his anguish, and whenever I soft-knuckled the door and said, pop are you okay, pop what can I do, he swallowed his cries and said he was fine, just fine, and could I be a good girl and get him a beer out of the fridge? I tucked him into his bed when I was fourteen and made his dinner and combed his hair when I was nineteen, and still he never recovered. The problem with me is that I think people are good, he once said. No one is good, pop. When will you learn this? My father never resumed his former shape, and sometimes I’d ride the subway out to Brighton Beach because only the waves rivaled my anger.
My mother sent postcards from a town called Elmont. Why did she send postcards? Did she consider her abandonment a vacation for which she was long overdue? Whenever I thought my wounds were closing up, she’d find a way to jab her fingers back in. Over the years, I sent her newspaper clippings of murdered women—photographs of necks bruised, eyes gaped wide, and the requisite high school portraits that evoked the emotional refrain of: observe her purity and innocence—until there came a day when the postcards stopped coming. The morning of my high school graduation I mailed her my last clipping. It was the story of a young girl who hung herself from a tree. I remember the lamentation, the pieta practiced by the evening news and mourners. The cries of: she had so much to live for; she left us too soon. They spoke of the child’s suicide as a theft, and everyone—the Home Depot location from which she purchased the rope to her parents for giving her an allowance to purchase said rope—was accountable. I wept sad clown tears.
Underneath the girl’s class photo, I scrawled: After you left me. A decade later, long after I had moved out of my childhood home, my father handed me an envelope and inside were five words that had been written by my mother: I gave you a choice.
My friend Millie phones to warn me that the cannibalistic serial killer has expanded his footprint. Apparently, New York is too cold and dark in the winter, and he’s moved on to sunshine and bones bleached white from the sun. Already he’s gouging hearts and dropping sonnets along the 405. I tell Millie that I’ll take my chances. And besides, odds are James will get to me first. He phones to tell me he’s in L.A. for a thing and would I hook up with him after? James says he wants to make sure I haven’t brought my fire-starter proclivities out west. Would it be rude if he rolls up to my apartment with a fire extinguisher and a condom? I tell him I’m busy, and he says that I’ll come around in a few hours because Ava always comes around. Before I hang up I wonder aloud if he’s the man who’s going around putting innocent women on the menu, and he laughs and says he’s strictly a hair man. Have you kept your hair long, Ava? James asks. His voice is as smooth as mirrors. I can’t see you tonight, James. Even the slightest contact with you will break bones. [Start brewing your detachment; shrink down to fairy size.] You can’t call me anymore.
You’re the saddest little bird, he says. Leave your door unlocked—I’ll come by late.
He’s got cards missing from the deck is all I’m saying, said Millie when she first met James. Your man only just met me and already he’s running his fingers through my hair, and you know how I feel about people touching me, especially my hair. Back then I brushed her off, told her James didn’t know the rules, but she wasn’t buying it. Millie drew an imaginary circle around her body and said, this is my space and you don’t get an all-access pass unless you’re on the guest list. And there he was acting all VIP, practically drop-kicking the bouncers at the door. I told Millie she was being dramatic and she countered with I’m being honest. That man doesn’t know his limits—he doesn’t understand that there are places to which he’s not permitted to go. I don’t know, Ava. Haven’t you grown tired of loving the stampede?
By the way, I didn’t want to tell you this because I knew it might upset you. Mission accomplished, I snapped, cutting her off in mid-sentence. No, it’s not about James. It’s about your mother. I saw her the other day holding a little girl’s hand, and the girl looked just like you.
This isn’t news, Millie. You’re not telling me something I don’t already know. Later that night in James’s bed I said, tell me you love me. And he turned to me with eyes shuttering and black and said, tell me you love me. He pulled my hair and said, look at you shivering, my little haiku.
A month later I ran into the man who raped me. I don’t know if rape is the right word because his shouting yes was louder than my no, so maybe he never heard my refusal. After, he brought me a glass of cold water and rubbed the sides of my feet. On that day, I saw him I was with James and the man who raped me was bouncing an infant on his knee. The little girl wore a pink puffer jacket and white socks with lace sewn around the ankles, and James smirked when the man, seated across from us, asked of his daughter: so who’s my little girl? The child reached for the man with outstretched arms and all she could say was Daddy. There should be a law against this kind of male blubbering, James said. I opened a book, but didn’t read it, and when the man who raped me reached his spot, he carried his girl gently in his arms and I leaned my head on James’s shoulder and said, that man raped me. James nodded and said he wasn’t surprised.
Before I left for Los Angeles, I stopped cold in front of a photograph that flashed across my television screen. It was the man who raped me and his neck had been cut from ear to ear, and the only reason he was found so quickly was because his daughter was screaming in the back seat. When the police arrived at the scene, they took a photograph of the child and samples for forensics because someone had scrawled, using her father’s blood, the letters N and O on her cheeks. The killer slipped a CD into the car stereo—Nirvana’s Nevermind, which played on repeat until one of the officers on the scene pressed the Stop button.
Who’s the kid that answered the phone—a repeat of me?
I gave you a choice, Ava.
Is that what you gave me, you fucking animal?
I have to hang up now, Ava. I have to go.
Tell me, where does everyone go when they say they have to go?
I have to go, Ava.
Stop saying my name like that…
Like you’re trying hard to remember it.
I have to go.
So go, I said. You little world, that made me so cunningly.
In Los Angeles, there is no rain, only sun, and James slips into bed beside me and bites the back of my neck. I tell him I’m tired and he tells me he’s tired too, so we lay in a kind of half-sleep for hours until the darkness overcomes us and forces our eyes shut. When I wake, he’s gone, but he’s left a note, which reads: I loved you in my own way.
I stand in the shower for fifteen minutes before I turn off the water and sit on the floor with a towel specked with blood. I look at the towel. I look between my legs and I wonder whether this is my blood. Does this blood belong to me? Your fire, Ava. Are you telling me you didn’t happen to notice that your bed was in flames? I call James and tell him there’s blood on my towel. The line breeds static and James says, you and your convenient memory. You don’t know how much I miss you. Burn the towel in the tub and get some sleep. What happened to the guy who wrote me a love letter on a Chinese take-out menu? James’s pause was measured and pregnant, punctuated the blare of horns on the freeway. I never wrote you a letter, Ava. You wrote me. Don’t you remember?
I burn the towel. I get some sleep. I’m a good girl; I do as I’m told.
I think he’s in my head again, messing things up, I tell Millie over a telephone line. I tell her about the phone call, the bed, and the blood on the towel. After a familiar pregnant pause Millie says, that’s impossible. James wasn’t in L.A. last night. And how do you know this? Because he was with me, but before you freak out it’s not what you think. You don’t even want to know what I’m thinking. Ava, listen to me. I’m hanging up the phone, Millie.
I leave James 26 voicemails. He calls back and in a small voice he says, Ava, you gotta stop calling me. I hurl my phone across the room and shout, who’s the haiku now? I’ll see you in time.
I text Millie: I am two fools, I know.
This is the latest installment in Ava’s voice, which has been really fun to write. This is a pure first draft, so I’ll likely be making a pile of edits. Check out “Women in Salt” if you’re pining for more.
Posted on December 27, 2015
You should know that today was the first time I smiled in months. Like full, open-mouthed smile. This is also my first time making waffles, and although I’ve made fancy French pastry and croissants, I never went the waffle route simply because I never owned a machine. I thought waffle machines (in the grander scheme of acquiring the bones of one’s kitchen) to be frivolous. It’s not an essential for the home cook like a food processor, good pots and measuring cups. However, it wasn’t until this morning that I realized that while a waffle maker isn’t essential, it brings me immeasurable joy. Making these waffles reminds me of weekends spent in Connecticut with Liz, and how every Sunday morning I’d wake to her brewing coffee and making waffle batter. I’d sit between her two children, entertaining them while she cooked breakfast and macerated fruit. Always I asked for a second waffle, and Liz would smile and pull a hot one off the griddle. After, we’d drive to church, and although I believed in God less and less with the passage of each year, I admired her pastor and the way he used scripture to talk about the minor hurts and major cruelties we suffer. I admire Liz and the way her faith comforts her, and often I’d look over at her during service and feel a similar kind of comfort watching her steeped in her devotion.
I never told her how much I treasured this weekend ritual or the fact that her home felt like home even though we’re not related. I never told her how much she means to me, having known her for half of my life, but we don’t get sentimental that often. We’re sometimes impenetrable in our own ways. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we’ve remained close for this long–we love and respect one another despite our faults and differences.
I hadn’t thought of Liz until this morning. Until I plated these waffles and I was reminded of the sweep of her hair, the way she hugs, the way her friendship is a constant regardless of geography and age.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe via The Food Network, modified slightly.
1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup safflower oil, plus more for brushing waffle iron
2 large eggs, separated
1 cup fresh blueberries, use 1/2 cup for the batter and the remainder for the topping
Pure maple syrup, for topping
Special equipment: waffle iron
Preheat a waffle iron to medium-high. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F (to keep cooked waffles warm). Whisk together the rice flour, chickpea flour, tapioca flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the milk, oil and egg yolks in another bowl. Beat the egg whites in a third bowl until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes.
Pour the milk mixture into the rice flour mixture and gently stir until just incorporated (it’s ok if there are some lumps). Fold in the egg whites. Gently fold in the blueberries
Lightly brush the top and bottom of the waffle iron with oil. Fill the waffle iron about three-quarters of the way full (some waffle iron should still be showing). Close the lid gently and cook until the waffles are golden brown and crisp, 6 to 7 minutes (or per the directions of your specific machine). Keep the cooked waffles warm in the oven or covered with foil on a plate while you make the remaining waffles.
Serve with fresh blueberries and maple syrup.
Posted on December 26, 2015
The first movie I remember seeing as a child was The Shining, on a weekend when the rain came down persistent and in sheets. I didn’t understand what I was seeing, only that it was arresting, and that there was so much red all over the screen. I didn’t cover my eyes through the scary parts (or so I was told), rather I sat mute, transfixed, curious. Often I joke about how good I turned out, considering. But it occurs to me that I’m rarely able to stomach movies that people find popular. I slept through E.T., refused to see Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and anything that remotely resembled action, comedy or romance sent me fleeing in the opposite direction. I made exceptions for John Hughes movies, and anything involving Corey Haim, Robert Downey Jr., or Andrew McCarthy because who could refuse stories of teenaged angst, alienation, and rejection, or the current guys sprawled across the glossy covers of Teen Machine and The Big Bopper? I grew up without cable TV (too expensive, too frivolous), and by the time I got to college, there was so much vocabulary from contemporary entertainment I’d been missing.
Instead of quoting lines from Beavis & Butthead and Bill & Ted, I read books and watched movies that had been edited for television. I used whatever money I had to rent horror movies from video stores and when I wasn’t watching somebody getting mauled, I read from one of the many books I borrowed from the library. As I grew older I became interested in art (painting, illustrations, comics, sculpture), history, languages, and philosophy, and less interested in pop culture. Admittedly, this can make dinner conversations awkward because I haven’t seen the latest movie or streamed the latest “IT” show. So while everyone this weekend was prattling on about Star Wars (I’m sure it’s good, I’m just not interested), that Tina Fey/Amy Poehler movie (I don’t always find them funny), and another movie about white bros in finance, explaining finance (why bother, as I can just reply the three years I worked in banking?)–I discovered Queen of Earth.
I’ve already watched the film three times (it’s on Netflix streaming). At the foreground, we’re witnessing, to a claustrophobic degree, the psychological unraveling of Catherine (played brilliantly by Elisabeth Moss) after the loss of her two greatest co-dependent relationships: her artist father to suicide and her boyfriend to his freedom. Catherine spends the week in “exile” at her best friend Virginia’s summer home (Katherine Waterston’s quiet, chilling performance is a terrific foil for Moss’s downright feral unwinding), and we learn that only the ones we love truly have the capacity to damage us. While we observe Catherine’s fragile emotional state, we’re reminded, via flashback, to the previous summer, where the tables were turned and Catherine was a lesser friend to the suffering Ginny.
Everything about Queen of Earth awed me–from the smart writing to the performances and the haunting score, to its depiction of mental illness (the unbearable silences and suffocation of depression), and the terror one feels when friends are no longer a refuge. The feelings of confinement and loss struck me, and I’m finally, slowly, writing something new again. Though part of me wonders when I’ll feel “normal” again.
So this is me, making soup, writing stories, watching dark movies. Just like childhood only with a few more years tacked on for good measure.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Year of Cozy, with modifications.
1 acorn squash (2 1/2 pounds), halved, seeds scooped out*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15oz canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon salt + additional, to taste
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
Teeny pinch of ground cloves
3½ cups chicken stock
Juice from ½ lemon
*I opted to use 2 lbs of cubed butternut squash + 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper and I roasted the squash for 40 minutes. It made for less mess and easy cleanup, and the soup was delicious.
SOUP TOPPING (optional, modified based on what I had on hand)
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon ancho chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of ground coriander
3 tablespoons crème fraîche (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the squash, cut sides down, on the baking sheet and roast for about 30-40 minutes, or until mostly tender. Scoop the flesh into a small bowl if you’re working with the acorn squash. If you went the pre-cut butternut squash route, set the baking sheet aside. There might be some bits of the squash that aren’t completely cooked–not to worry, the rest will cook in the pot with the broth.
In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, cooked squash, pumpkin, chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt, oregano, cumin, coriander, and cloves. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the spices are fragrant.
Add the stock and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the squash is completely softened. Using an immersion blender, pulse until smooth, about 30 seconds. (If you don’t own one, just transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender. Add salt/pepper to taste.
To make the soup topping: In a small skillet over medium heat, add the seeds, oil, chile powder, cumin, coriander, and a pinch of salt. Toss to combine and toast for about 2 minutes.
Posted on December 23, 2015
Photo Credit: Annie Spratt
My favorite writing comes from a place of compulsion. Writers tend to exorcise their obsessions through prose, and every time I’m finished with a project I feel done. I’m in-between writing projects at the moment, awaiting notes from my editor on my second book, and I’m finding it hard to start my new project even though I know what it’ll be (a fictional retelling of Genie: The Feral Child) because I don’t feel what my friend Kira calls “the hot poker pressed up against your back”. Right now I don’t feel much, honestly, so I’m hoping to revisit the words I wrote here that came from a place of verve in order to get some of that verve back.
1. Some Thoughts on Professional Etiquette Because Some Of You Need It: This morning, I came across an article about how coffee dates kill productivity. Recently, I was duped into a “pick your brain” meeting in the guise of a new business opportunity, and I left the hour drained having given a stranger several ideas and strategies for how they could start their new business venture. As an introvert I rarely get energy from spending time from people, rather the opposite. Often, I leave these coffee dates depleted, energy resources spilled into the person who conveniently forgot to pay for the cappuccino. I remember writing the above post after spending the bulk of my time giving free advice to others. Granted, I think it’s important to be an advisor or mentor to others, however, I also believe in reciprocity and paying my rent and $1,000 monthly student loan bills. In an age when people think it perfectly normal to cancel plans via text message at the last minute, I still believe in etiquette.
2. On Perception and the Delicate Dance of Masks: Scrolling through Instagram last night I paused in front of an image of fingers making air quotes with the words “I’m Fine” in between. I had a conversation with someone recently where I said that how I represent myself is markedly different from my actual self. Curious, he asked how I was different, and I said that I appear mostly put together even when it’s clear I’m falling apart. I say I’m fine so much it’s become a comical refrain, a prayer, and mantra, and this post was one of a few I wrote that attempted to navigate the many masks we sometimes have to bear.
3. Can We Just Be Still for a Moment?: I wrote this post in Nicaragua as I was bearing the weight of a significant loss while deciding whether or not I wanted to leave New York. Often we’re painfully reminded of our need to move, catch up, don’t pause because we need to be at a certain place. Personal velocity is a lauded virtue in an age where idleness is synonymous with laziness, and I wondered aloud about the benefits of simply standing still.
4. New Fiction: Women in Salt: It takes me a long time to write anything that pleases me. And I spent years not writing anything at all. However, in the past three years (specifically, the past three months), I’ve written more than I have in decades. I finished a story collection about various women in and out of peril, and while it sits with my agent I keep returning to this particular story, which is my favorite. When I write I don’t care about plot, rather, I get off on interesting people and seeing where they go. I loved writing in Ava’s voice (I also adored Alice), and I was humbled that so many of you liked this piece too.
5. There’s a Difference Between Feedback + Vitriol: I wrote this piece (and this one in 2014) because I think the word hate is being abused so much it’s starting to lose its meaning. This is hate. Women who face abuse and threats to their person and their family deal with hate. People who are bullied because of their race, sexual orientation, appearance, weight, age deal with hate. However, readers who offer constructive criticism about the way one runs a blog or a business is not a hater. I’m honestly baffled by people who only want to surround themselves with people who hurl praise at them to an unhealthy degree. From teachers, I would hear how I was this gifted writer. From bosses, I would hear about my talents as a leader. I would nod and thank them but then immediately counter with, how could I do better? How could I grow? How could I improve? Feedback is hard to hear, at first, it stings, but it’s knowledge that you could choose or choose not to use. Constructive criticism is different than hate, and I’ve grown increasingly annoyed at how the terms have been conflated, and how bloggers wither and recoil if they’re not told they’re special, perfect snowflakes.
6. The Obligatory Mid-Life Posts: I turned 40 last week and I’ve had a lot of feelings over the year about it. I feel and don’t feel my years if that makes any sense. I am riding the fresh-out-of-fucks tour. I made some crazy decisions regarding my career and the importance of a side-hustle, learned some stuff, meditated on regret, felt (and still feel) afraid, and realized I’m still learning.
8. Some Thoughts on Losing Your Best Friend: As you get older, you lose people. Over the past ten years, I’ve lost two very close friends and those losses were devastating. I wrote a bit about losing a best friend.
9. On Publishing + Writing an Experimental Novel: By the time my second book will be published, it’ll be nearly a decade since my first, and my god, so much has changed. I wrote about taking big breaks, finding your voice, and the process of selling a dark novel about a difficult woman.
10. On Marriage, Children + Wearing a Blue Dress: When I graduated college, I thought I would work in investment banking, retire at 30, get married, have children and have a little house in Westchester. Um…things didn’t turn out as planned.
Posted on December 21, 2015
There will always be books to read. When I was younger there was a thrill in entering Waldenbooks. For hours, I’d get lost in the stacks or find a place in which to hide with my pile of books that I was already in the thick of reading. We didn’t have malls in Brooklyn–King’s Plaza–but nothing significant, and when my family moved to Long Island, malls awed me. They were gleaming and grand, and even though I couldn’t afford anything in the stores I’d still wander through them. They all had that new car smell. Sometimes I’d splurge on an Auntie Anne’s cinnamon sugar pretzel, slathered in hot butter or I’d feast on a Johnny Rockets cheeseburger back when I believed Johnny Rockets made a good burger. This was before the world. This was before context and seemingly endless choices. This was when Waldenbooks had the best books.
Back then I didn’t know what a “literary canon” meant. I didn’t know that there were writers you had to read or know. I read what interested me. I read Dostoyevsky alongside Pat Conroy and Alice Eliott Dark. I picked up Ann Beattie’s Where You’ll Find Me because the cover put me on pause. It was austere, bleached bone, and somber. I liked Flowers in the Attic and found Flowers for Algernon, and realized that maybe they weren’t so dissimilar. I read all of Ayn Rand until I realized that Ayn Rand was a bucket of crazy even if she knew how to tell a story. What I read was pretty much determined by my reaction to the first page of a book. If I didn’t like the first page or even the first sentence, why bother? I asked cashiers to recommend books based on ones I’d read and enjoyed. I read books mostly written by men because that’s what I read throughout high school and college. I was taught that men wrote the “big books”, the “great stories” while women wrote the quiet ones. It wasn’t until I was 24 and in the writing program at Columbia did I encounter bombastic, brilliant women. Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, Virginia Woolf (and no, I’d never read her work until graduate school), Gertrude Stein, Carole Maso, Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Mary Gaitskill, Grace Paley, Alice Munro, and I could go on. Until then I read books written by the dead, mostly, with some genre and sparse contemporary fiction for good measure. It’s hard to explain that there was a bliss in this ignorance, of not being aware of canon and the writers “one should read” (although now I think all of it is pretty much subjective bullshit, anyway).
Until then I read books written by the dead, mostly, with some genre and sparse contemporary fiction for good measure. It’s hard to explain that there was a bliss in this ignorance, of not being aware of canon and the writers “one should read” (although now I think all of it is pretty much subjective bullshit, anyway). Until then I didn’t know the disdain that “literary fiction” writers had for genre fiction, the tension between the books that sold well and were reviewed well. I didn’t put too much stock in book reviews because I frequently disagreed with them. I liked books people didn’t like and hated ones people revered. I read what pleased me and it would take me well over a decade to undo the snobbery I had taken for truth. Now I read whatever satisfies me in the present moment and know that a book’s value lies in the way that it gives a certain kind of pleasure to the reader or how it transforms them in some unimaginable way. I read mostly to see the world through someone else’s prism, and I write to make sense of the world in which I exist, a world that is often wonderful, frightening and confusing. I read and write to see what could be done with language, how it could be architecture or surgery.
I’ve read 52 books this year, most of them written by women, many of them poetry collections and children’s books. I love the latter because both genres require a velocity and precision that’s demonstrably absent from other genres. A child has a short attention span so the work of a children’s book lies in both the economy and simplicity of language balanced by story movement and images that transport the child into an imaginative place. People who think children’s books are easy to write are fucking bonkers. I wouldn’t dare because I’d complicate the story in some way or use an image that would send a toddler to psychotherapy. I tend to look at safe objects and wonder how I can make them unsafe or unsettling–if that doesn’t happen on the page for me, I’m not interested in the characters or story. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we can just barely endure, and we stare in awe of it as it coolly disdains to destroy us. Every angel is terrifying, Rilke writes in the first of the ten Duino Elegies.
George Saunders says that a real writer makes you feel uncomfortable, he’s kind of a freak. “Uncomfortable moments are not without value…because they make you feel luminous”. And I agree with that. The stories that have remained with me have made me feel unsettled, uncomfortable or uneasy in some way. I cleave to difficult, broken people. I like writing and reading about them.
I’m not blog-famous, and that’s okay. I don’t have a literary community and haven’t found these communities to be particularly inclusive and supportive though I dare say they would say they are all the way to the grave. I find most best-of book lists to be ridiculous because best is merely a subjective reflection of one’s taste and cultural access (or lack thereof). So I think about next year, what I’ll read and write, and I have an urge to re-read the Classics because no one does tragedy and pillaging better than the Ancient Romans and Greeks. I want to read stories that wouldn’t easily slip into my purview (meaning, I have to do the work in finding works in translation, works from POC, those not aligning with a binary gender). I want to read more children’s books and poems because both give me great joy in moments of grave darkness.
In terms of writing, I want to create stories that straddle genres. I love the blurred lines between fiction and non-fiction and the fallibility of memory. I’ve become oddly curious about dark matter and neurology and not sure how that will factor in. I still like my broken, flawed women and will continue to champion dark stories and characters even when the world tells me that they won’t sell, no one will read them. Next year I’d like to collaborate with a visual artist in some way, get better at taking pictures, and allow for different, varied voices in my work. Moreso than I’ve been writing as of late.
Sometimes I think back to those days in the mall, on the floor of Waldenbooks. I think about how much I didn’t know, and even though much has filled the space between that girl then and that woman now, there’s still so much to learn. There’s always so much to know in the brief time we’re able to know it. So this is the work. Always be the student and never posture as a pure teacher.
Posted on December 19, 2015
I’m a creature of habit, and twice a week I’d walk to Cobble Hill to take a megaformer class, but it was mainly a ruse for the latkes I would invariably hoover at Karloff, a joint that I’m sure is now far fancier than it used to be. I loved the ritual of sitting down in a familiar place and ordering the same thing time and time again. Ritual delivers me calm, gives me a sense of home, and if you ask me what I miss about New York I’ll likely tell you that I miss latkes at Karloff. I miss ice cream at Ample Hills. I miss walking around Prospect Park while I played a single song on repeat. I miss repetition.
The folks at Karloff made superb latkes, and I would have them with a red pepper aioli sauce (don’t ask me because I loathe mayonnaise, but for some reason their aioli was golden) instead of the traditional sour cream and applesauce. Sometimes I’d have my latkes with a kale salad (when I was feeling semi-virtuous), but other times I would simply enjoy fried potatoes simply for the sake of having them. I miss that. Potatoes on a plate every Monday and Wednesday. Funny the things you miss. Funny the things that follow you months after you’re sure you’ve forgotten them.
Today I had plans to see an old friend and go to a fancy book thing, but I’m not yet ready for crowds and it’s supposed to rain (a rare treat in Southern California), so I decided to stay home and make latkes and watch movies. I decided to recreate one of the many things I loved about living in New York, a place I will always, fondly, call home.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Bon Appetit, with modifications. This recipe makes 24 latkes, but I like mine hefty so I got about 15.
¼ cup almond meal
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
⅛ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
3 pounds russet potatoes (3 or 4), peeled
1 large onion
1 large egg
2 tablespoons olive oil (the original recipe called for schmaltz, and I know that olive oil doesn’t have a high heating point, but it worked just fine and I like the flavor it imparted on the latkes)
2 tablespoons (or more) vegetable oil
Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet; line with 2 layers of paper towels. Combine almond meal, salt, baking powder, and pepper in a small bowl.
Using the large holes of a box grater or a food processor, grate potatoes and onion. I’m not going to lie–I used a box grater and I got an arm workout. Transfer to a large kitchen towel. Gather ends of towel in each hand and twist over sink, wringing out as much liquid as possible. Open towel; toss mixture to loosen. Wring out again (excess moisture will lead to soggy latkes).
Transfer potato mixture to a large bowl; add almond meal mixture and egg. Toss with your hands to thoroughly combine.
Preheat oven to 425°. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil and 2 tbsp. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into skillet. If the fat sizzles around the edges, it’s ready (do not let it smoke). Working in 5 batches and adding more oil to skillet as needed to maintain about ⅛” fat, drop small spoonfuls of mixture into pan, pressing gently with the back of the spoon or a spatula to flatten slightly. Cook latkes, occasionally rotating pan, until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. (You may occasionally need to pick out stray potato bits from oil if they start to burn.)
Transfer latkes to prepared rack and let drain. Remove paper towels and bake latkes in oven until all are warmed through and re-crisped, about 5 minutes.
Posted on December 17, 2015
Who shows a child just as it stands? Who places him within his constellation, with the measuring-rod of distance in his hand. Who makes his death from gray bread that grows hard, -or leaves it there inside his rounded mouth, jagged as the core of a sweet apple? The minds of murderers are easily comprehended. But this: to contain death, the whole of death, even before life has begun, to hold it all so gently within oneself, and not be angry: that is indescribable. –From Rilke’s Duino Elegies, 4th
I read a moving piece that intertwines fiction and life, a move to another state and the stories we carry to get us through the shifts we feel between A and B. Part of me lies a cheek against her cool words and then I remember she’s still young, still starting out, and this loneliness, this wide-eyed affection for New York will be replaced by other affections, other loneliness, possible company. When I read her piece I still see the possibility, hope and desire, but if I were to write something similar you would feel the amphibian chill of a loneliness that sustains. The days repeat themselves with minor variations. My words might feel like flesh wounds. So I don’t write them. I just draft a list of books I’ve read and a few words that remind me why I read them. I finished Fates & Furies yesterday, and I wish it was the sort of book I could write had I had the knowledge of a marriage–the in of it. They smell that blood in the water, they’re going to hunt the bleeder down. Not their fault. They can’t help it. What kind of shark is a shark that doesn’t attack?
I read this and think that I need to learn to be a shark, but I tried that once and the graft didn’t stick. Instead, I became the thing that was circled, consumed. George Saunders says that a “real writer makes you feel uncomfortable.” Maybe I’m doing something right?
Today I arrive a half-hour early for my follow-up, post-surgery appointment. I’m forever early because I fear being late, so I stop at a Le Pain Quotidian and decide on a jam scone because I haven’t had a scone in over a year and why not a scone? Behind me, a woman taps her feet, impatient, because the line is moving slower than she’d like it to, and she looks at my scone with such disgust and inquiries in a loud voice if there’s anything in the store that’s low-fat. The man behind the counter shakes his head and says these are organic pastries. There’s not much by way of low-fat. Ten minutes later I sit in a dermatologist office, eating my pastry while a woman who is perhaps too thin for her frame is prepping for her latest procedure. And I wonder what’s left after fat? Marrow burrowed within bone? Why does this fucking scone bear more weight than it should? I think about this as I walk the seven miles home to Santa Monica.
On the way, I read an essay on my phone. Who we become physically moves faster than how our minds perceive us. We play a game of catch up between the world in front of us and the story of ourselves that plays out in our head. Manson writes:
People who were bullied growing up and go on to become the smartest, nicest, and most interesting dude at the company Christmas party, yet they still harbor this overwhelming sense that nobody really likes them, that it’s all fake and unreal and unearned and undeserved, and that in the end, everybody’s going to wind up hurting them. So they don’t let anyone get close to them. No matter how loved they are, they can’t ever let anybody get too close.
I think about that a lot, and what Manson writes rings true. I harbor massive steamships and I move like glaciers. This week I told someone that one of my greatest fears is being average, mediocre, second-rate. That all this work has been for naught. That I’ll write books that mean nothing, posts that don’t translate, take on jobs that do nothing but encourage people to consume. That I’ll let the noise drown out my need to find wonder and purpose. So I write down all the things I’ve done, everything I’ve created and I try not to judge it. I try not to say oh, that book wasn’t that good. I try not to say, oh, that person who used to work for me is more successful professionally–even though she’s earned it, deserves it. I try not to give what I’ve created context because I start thinking about competition. I start reducing what I’ve done to its parts–phantom limbs–and I tell myself to keep writing down what I’ve accomplished. Read this list out loud whenever you’re blue–regardless of how fatuous you feel in doing so.
After viewing Sylvia Plath’s childhood manuscripts, I’m sad that so much of what I created in childhood is gone or scattered in Long Island or hidden in stacks of paper in my closet. And if I drew a line through my work, chartered that life, I would see a girl in various stages of undress.
If I want to create maybe I should get off the internet? I’ve already made a conscious choice to dial down my rage blackouts on twitter because I’m learning that it’s getting me nowhere. Even when I read stories like these and brilliant articles like this, I collect and learn instead of spew. I’m thinking my energies could best be channeled into creating things that matter.
Years ago my friend Nicolette gave me a copy of Rilke’s Elegies for my birthday. The inscription was from 2001, I had just turned 25. Perhaps she sensed my despair and how I started to drift away from God–returning to a belief that this life is all that we really have. And therein lies the tension of living a life, filling your days with words, knowledge, and beauty instead of simply allowing them to pass. I’m in this space that feels paused (but not really, because time inexorably passes) and I know I could be doing more. I could be moving to B. I could be creating.
Tomorrow I’m turning 40 and I’ll be offline for most of the day. This is all strange and weird, and it’s okay to feel this while listening to this.
Image Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.
Posted on December 15, 2015
I’m turning 40 this week (Friday, to be specific), and for some reason, it’s all I can think about. I’ve been waxing nostalgic lately–listening to bands I loved in college (Nirvana, Pearl Jam–yes, I was into grunge and wore flannels and Docs) and watching movies from the 90s–a time when everyone considered the internet as this cute little fad that no one took seriously. We had brick phones and we worried that Y2K signified the end of days. We worshiped at the alter of Olestra and fat-free, and we started to realize that it was possible to drink for taste as opposed to pre-gaming to get wasted. [We still got wasted.]
I also think of that time as when I felt possibility. After graduating from college, I was frightened, excited yet filled with wonder. Anything was possible even if we were the generation jutting up against the boomers thinking we were different until we encountered the generation that followed, which proved to be really different (and remarkable). Two decades later I think about that time and how much I’ve learned, accomplished, endured and experienced in between and I feel like multitudes. Already, I feel the weight of my years, and this is a good thing because I’m okay with the fact that I’m no longer young. I come to this age with, what I’m realizing is, a different kind of wonder. Twenty years ago I wanted to be accomplished, achieved. I wanted escalating zeroes at the end of my paycheck; I wanted a title; I wanted degrees and other signifiers of success. Now, I see all of that for what it is–lacking. Accumulating things, ticking off items on a list doesn’t mean that I wake to purpose. An Ivy league education doesn’t necessarily guarantee fulfillment. I did what I thought I needed to do and I wake, quite literally, in the middle of my life and realize that I need something other.
I think about mortality in a way that’s less chilling but achingly real. And I keep returning to Oliver Sack’s essays because he was a man who felt his years. He was a man that lived his life with purpose, a man who went out seeking wonder, even as he lay dying. In “Sabbath”, Sacks wrote:
And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself.
In one of my favorite essays, “My Own Life”, he wrote:
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.
There exists so much bitterness, complacency, false idolatry, and fear in the world that it can smother you if you allow it. So I’m making a resolve from now until the end to wake every day and consider how I can create something meaningful without the desire for recognition or the remunerative rewards one seeks for what one makes. I plan to explore how I can continually find wonder, be surprised and surprise others, and how I can be as kind to myself and the ones I love as I can be.
For now, I’m making myself a pre-game birthday cake. Though, I forgot the 40 candles. Haha.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications. If you live outside of the U.S., here is a metric version of the original recipe.
for the ganache
2 13.5 oz cans unsweetened full-fat coconut milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
5 tablespoons agar flakes (or 5 teaspoons of gelatin powder, if you’re not vegan or you’re like me, and couldn’t find agar flakes at my supermarket)
pinch sea salt
3 1/2 oz dark chocolate (70% cacao content), broken into pieces
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
for the cake
2 cups toasted hazelnuts, divided
2 cups whole spelt flour – divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup ground flax seeds (also known as flaxmeal)
1/2 cup melted extra virgin coconut oil, plus more for oiling the pan
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup honey
1 teaspoon unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
4oz chopped semi-sweet chocolate (addition to original recipe)
for the filling (a simplified version of the original recipe)
3/4 cup cherry preserves
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
to make the ganache
1. Whisk together coconut milk, maple syrup, agar flakes and salt in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, whisk often. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, covered, whisking every 5 minutes.
2. Remove from heat, add chocolate and let it melt for 2 minutes in the covered pot. Whisk until smooth. Pour into a shallow bowl and allow to cool until it stops steaming. Put in the refrigerator for about 2 hours, or until cold and completely hard.
3. Roughly cut ganache into 1-inch pieces and add to a food processor with orange juice and vanilla. Blend until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until cake is ready for frosting.
to make the cake
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Oil two 8-inch cake pans and line bottom of each with a parchment paper. Timing wise, I started the cake as soon as I cooled the ganache. After the cake cools for an hour, the ganache is ready and prime for spreading.
2. Add 2/3 cup of hazelnuts and 1/4 cup of spelt flour into a food processor and grind finely (takes about 30-45 seconds). Transfer into a medium bowl and sift in remaining 1 3/4 cups spelt flour, baking powder and baking soda. Stir to completely combine, set aside.
3. Whisk cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth in a large bowl. Add ground flax seeds, coconut oil, maple syrup, apple vinegar, vanilla and salt, whisk until thoroughly combined.
4. Add flour mixture to liquid ingredients and whisk to make a smooth batter. Fold in chopped chocolate. Divide the batter between prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
to assemble the cake
1. Spread remaining 1 1/3 cups of toasted hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a rolling pin (or jar) crush with nuts slightly. Set aside.
2. Invert first layer on a cake stand or a plate. Remove parchment paper. Spread 1 cup of the ganache, leaving 1/2 inch untouched at the edges to avoid spillage when you layer the cakes. Add the preserves on top of the ganache and pomegranate kernels.
3. Invert second layer on top, and remove parchment paper. Frost top and sides and press the remaining hazelnuts along the top + sides. Keep in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours. The cake is actually best served the next day to allow for all the flavors to meld and set.