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.

on writing, mediocrity, and feeling blue

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When I was small, I remember taking a series of tests. I remember sitting next to my mother as the results were read aloud. My math scores were unparalleled; I exhibited deftness in understanding numbers and how to manipulate them. As a child, I’d managed to ferret out the logic within stories that depicted scenarios involving distance and time. On the other hand, my reading comprehension and writing scores were unremarkable. This baffled us because I’d been reading and writing for as long as I’d been alive, and if you asked me now to calculate the tip on a bill divided three ways, I’d reach for my calculator. No one considered the binary nature of these exams, tests that were designed to measure one’s aptitude and predicted the sort of career for which a child might be suited. For years I endured advanced math classes and much of my days amounted to playing with protractors and scientific calculators, while the spaces in between were dominated by books and short stories I’d written on loose-leaf paper.

No one thought to understand that my relationship to words was mathematical. No one imagined that I’d solved these riddles not because I had an affinity for math, but because I was so drawn into the narrative. Out of all the things I could do in this world, writing is the one thing that gives me assurance. I know I’m good at it, and the question is always one of maths. How do I get better? How do I manage the distance between this word here and the better word over there? Because the mark of a good writer is in how they navigate the subtleties, how one could find the combination of words that make others see. How can I make this sentence leaner (subtraction)? How can I make this dialogue operate like a nesting doll, working on multiple levels (multiplication). How can I write about loss in a way that puts your heart on pause (division). And how do I get to all of this in the most efficient way possible (Pythagorean theorem, a2 + b2 = c2, Euclidean geometry).

Writing, for me, has always existed as a combination of exhausting surgery and constant maths. Often I think of an image of a nesting doll because whatever I intend is never what is, and a story of mine always operates on a multitude of planes (multiplication). There exists a difference between writing simply and being simple, and the work, for me, is about how to achieve the cleanest line possible while maintaining this whole textbook of equations.

Last week I read a post on Twitter where someone wrote that there is no good or bad when it comes to writing–there is only the best you can do.

I call bullshit on that.

Not everyone can be a writer, nor should they be. And I’m not talking about the person who pens posts about their outfits or their day, rather I’m speaking about those who don’t have it but fake it and call themselves a writer because it’s the vogue thing to do. Ironically enough, writers have never felt trendy because we’re always the fringe, we’re always told that nothing we ever write sells. People don’t want dark. People don’t want complicated. People spend their whole days dicking around on the internet to avoid thinking at work and when they come home the last thing they want to do is…think. People read cereal boxes and lists and they want their words fed to them. People don’t want advanced maths (hmm, this is middle/high school math of which I’ve written), they want their reconciliations–they want what they are missing.

Hmm, so they want addition?

I don’t care if people call my writing remarkable, incredible, amazing, or any such adjective. Ego strokes and pats on the head don’t interest me. I’m 38. I know I’m good–the question is how do I get to that next place, that next line, that new story. You’re good but you’re too smart, too dark, too obtuse. You make people do all this work.

Fuck you and your dumbed-down version of a life.

Maybe I’m feeling blue because I see so many people who call themselves writers rewarded for mediocrity. The motley lot laud these “writers” for their “brand-building” (look at all her Instagram followers! Imagine all the books she’ll sell!) as opposed to observing the architecture of what’s on their page (or screen, if you’ll have it). I see people who run a blog where they prattle on about just! how! hard! it! is! to photograph their outfits every day and suddenly they put on the hat of marketer, consulting “big brands” on how they can build their brand. I read a post on Facebook where a friend of mine bemoans the fact that her not-so-smart but ambitious assistant is now a Vice President of a company. I scroll Twitter and land on a full-time role as a Director of a Health + Wellness Brand, the first in two years that piques my interest, and then I read the requirements and apparently to be a director you only need four years of experience.

People say, ignore all that! You do you! Keep pushing along! Keep smiling, keep shining, to which I want to respond, Please. Shut. Up. I’m exhausted by all the mediocrity being rewarded when the necessary failures are what have pushed me to achieve. If I was always told that I was great, would have I ever read more, tried harder, revised more? Or would have I been complacent for having achieved a first draft?

I turn 39 this month and I look around and wonder what I’ve really achieved, and whether all of it matters. Does it matter that I’ve written the greatest book I can write to date when people who can’t string together a sentence get multiple book deals? Does it matter that I am offered projects to clean up rookie mistakes made by those who call themselves marketers but don’t have the experience? Does excelling matter when the great lights and applause shine brightest on the feeblest of attempts.

I don’t know. The only solace I have this week are books written by women from whom I can still learn. Women who are artisans with the English language. The blacksmiths of literature, a dying breed.

why I will never shop at j.crew again (or a lesson in brand loyalty) — a rant

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Let me tell you a story about a lifelong love affair…with a brand. We met in the most unlikely of places–a college mailroom, where the object of my affection was shoved into hundreds of mailboxes, eager to find me amidst the lunchtime rush. This was a time when people still wrote letters, affixed stamps onto envelopes (there was no fancy adhesive so we just did the thing that others who had come before us did, we licked), and pored over catalogs. We’d been dating for over a year, and much like a faithful, long-distance girlfriend, I wore his barn coat ($98), wool rollneck sweater in oatmeal ($48; this was before the advent of more fanciful colors like puce and heather river) and wool henleys in an act of devotion. I’d fallen in love with someone who possibly lived in the Ozarks or Colorado or somewhere in the bucolic U.S.. During lunch, I scanned the pages, painted scenery of weather-beaten rocks and cabin homes lodged beyond a great, vast forest.

This was a time when people began to use summer and winter as verbs. One could arguably say that these were the best of times and the worst, because how could we know the future that lay ahead of us with our gadgets that serve as extensions of our limbs and a small box of a machine that would become our Wonderland. Just call us Alice and watch us tumble into the deep. But not yet, not yet. Right now few people used email (DOS, anyone?) much less understood it, and we purchased our clothing from department stores, boutiques or mail-order catalogs.

Can I tell you that the object of my affection was different from the rest? Sure, I had affairs with L.L. Bean (their snow/rain boots are! the! best!) and Victoria’s Secret (back when we thought it cool to order bras from catalogs, the irony of which you’ll read about soon enough), but I was committed to J.Crew. J.Crew, know that Sinead O’Connor crooned “Nothing Compares to You” after she slipped on your barn coat in burgundy and wool sweater in charcoal grey.

I don’t talk about my work on this space simply because I don’t want to. I spend much of my days playing the role of a professional, and there are some spaces where the introduction of this costume would serve as a cruel intrusion–namely, this space. However, last week I found myself so enraged, so disappointed, that I have to talk about it. The intersection of how I think and what I love came to bear. For the past 17 years, I’ve been working in one capacity or another in marketing. For most of my career, I worked in consumer marketing–a role that required me to know how to sell products or ideas to consumers, how to tell stories. However, in the past two years, I’ve focused on brand marketing. The brand side has become challenging in a way that consumer marketing, and its social and digital antecedents, have begun to bore me. How do you architect a brand? What are its pillars? How do you position it? How do you craft benefit language for the consumer in a way that’s compelling? What’s their “Reason to Believe”? For the past two years, I’ve been taking the discipline of branding and brand definition and using it in brand building and transformation projects. How do you change perception? How do establish yourself and your identity in a sea of competitors who clamour for consumer dollars? The work is heady, more strategic than the consumer marketing tactics I’d deployed previously, but it felt like how an advanced yoga student would return to a basics class to relearn the poses and become reaquainted with the foundation.

Before I could market products to customers, I had to deeply understand, for each of my projects, why a consumer would love a particular brand’s product and how they, in turn, would fall in love with the brand. I’m not going to get into the details of this because I can tell you that I’m already bored writing about it, but I was reminded of my 18+ year commitment to J.Crew, and how, in one year, the brand fucked it all up.

First, let’s talk about the quality of the goods, shall we? If you think J.Crew has exceptional cashmere, you have never owned exceptional cashmere. I’m going to pull a “remember when” and you’re just going to have to deal with it. REMEMBER WHEN J. Crew sold thick, double-ply cashmere that didn’t pill after a single use and get ratty after a year, making you regret the MILLION DOLLARS YOU SPENT ON THAT VIOLET SWEATER THAT WASN’T CALLED VIOLET, BUT LABELED SOME OBSCURE HUE? Remember when J. Crew sold wool that wasn’t cut with cheap acrylic? Remember when they didn’t hock acrylic sweaters for $118 a pop? I DO. You can give me the song and dance marketing story, replete with elevated fonts and pictures of Italian factories and fields, but nothing can replace sense memory. My clothes used to last longer, feel better, and no amount of bullshit marketing tactics, gleeful Jenna-loving bloggers and resplendent photoshoots are going to change that.

J.Crew, your clothes have gone to the crazies, and I know, deep in your heart, you know this. And don’t even get me started on Madewell, your insouciant younger sister, because the acrylic sweaters I once purchased on sale? I wear them AROUND THE HOUSE.

As a result of the poor quality, and some questionable designs, I haven’t shopped at J.Crew for nearly two years (save the Minnie pant and the Tippi sweater, both purchases put me to thinking that I’ve been trapped in some 1960s film where everything has shrunk and every woman’s name ends in an “i”). I turned to Madewell, to only realize that their clothes are the antithesis of their name (a cruel tease when expensive clothes fall apart after a single season).

Can I interrupt here? Can I tell you that I loved (and patroned) J. Crew for three reasons:
1. I hate shopping. I hate stores. I hate fitting rooms. I hate people. And J. Crew made my life simple. They sold quality classics online and in catalogs, both from which I could order from the privacy of my own home.

2. I aspired to their simplified, whitewashed version of a life. For years, before the fashionable Jenna-inspired “edits” and cool girls looking drunk in catalogs, the J.Crew lifestyle was simple, cozy, aspirational, yet accessible, and all I wanted to do come winter was swathe myself in one of their sweater-blankets, light a faux-fire and sip cocoa with organic, non-GMO puffed marshmallows. While my life, and racial identity, was this constant specter that hovered, J. Crew offered escapism and free shipping.

3. I naively thought that J.Crew was a brand that loved their customers. Oh friends, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Setting aside the questionable quality for the insane prices (I was patient though; I would wait for Crew’s triumphant autumn return), let’s dive a little into brand love, which sent this whole rage blackout on its course.

You should know that I don’t share my personal identifiable information with just anyone. I have Inbox Zero. I don’t subscribe to many newsletters. I’ve gone to great lengths to have my name and address removed from scores of mailing lists. I had a rage blackout when the TREE THAT WAS THE RESTORATION HARDWARE CATALOG landed on my doorstep. You’ll often find me on the phone with some customer service representative telling them that no, I do not want their catalog, and no, I would never shop at Fingerhut. I don’t want a complicated life, and because of this, I buy clothes from a handful of brands I trust.

AND THEN I RECEIVED THE VICTORIA’S SECRET CATALOG. I have a long, contentious history with VS, which I won’t document here, but suffice it to say I am not their customer. I do not want to be on any of their lists, etc, etc. So when I received their catalog for the third time, I decided to deploy a friendly inquisition. After speaking with multiple customer service representatives and two supervisors, I learned that Victoria’s Secret purchased my information from J.Crew.

You may think my reaction was dramatic, but who cares? I felt BETRAYED. I immediately called J.Crew and launched into a tirade about how I was “disappointed,” how I checked off that I never wanted my information to be shared, sold or communicated to any other company–I don’t even give my email at checkout! I was assured by my rather flummoxed and just-as-shocked-as-you representative that it’s against J.Crew’s policy to share/sell customer information. The representative promised to look into the matter and call me back.

No one ever called me back.

Perhaps because she was made aware of the fact that J.Crew does share customer information. I learned this because after speaking to a few more ill-informed representatives (did anyone get a CSR manual from J. Crew on their policies and procedures, because the clue phone has been ringing off the hook and no one is picking up on their end) and sending emails to their 24/7 email line, I received this note as part of a longer email thread:

While we do occasionally share addresses with third party companies, those companies are only allowed to send one piece of mail and are unable to add the customer to their mailing list. We are able to turn this sharing “off” upon request which the associate you spoke with should have been aware of and offered to you.

Interesting. So when I opted to not have my information shared, my information was shared anyway. In marketing, we like to call this erosion of brand trust. Or, a violation of CAN-SPAM if you want to get legal about it. Another call to their customer service line, a request to have my information removed from their database, was met with this terse reply: If you can’t tell me your phone number or email, how can I possibly remove you from our database? To which I calmly responded, I don’t know. My address? My catalog ID #? She put me on hold for ten minutes and then I got disconnected. Classy.

This post has gotten so long that I’m not going to even go into J.Crew’s lack of floor service in their Flatiron and Soho locations. When I’m routinely asked, Did someone assist you with your purchase today? I’m often left to respond, no, no one helped me with my purchase today.

A lot of rookie marketers will conceive of grand campaigns to lure customers from one consideration set to another. They will transform their site and social channels into “content machines” where your feed is flooded with “information you can use” delivered by a “human voice.” Self-appointed gurus will prattle on about how content is king, but let me break it down real slow:

CONSUMERS DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT YOUR CONTENT IF YOU’RE FAILING THEM AS A BRAND.

Do I give a shit about J.Crew’s newsletters and 24/7 stylists when half their customer service staff doesn’t even understand their policies on how a customer’s information can be shared/marketed? Do I give a shit about their Cyber Monday sale when I’m spending more money than I used to for a subpar product? Marketers, me being one of them, are used to dousing glitter over shit and calling it glitter, but customers aren’t stupid. If a brand can’t get the basics right: product, product value and proposition, and service, they will never care about the glitter. Stupid people care about glitter. Informed, discerning customers, who value their money and service, care about a good product and a brand that’s honest.

When I wrote J.Crew a long, heartfelt letter telling them why they lost me as a customer, much of their response was: “We’ll forward your information to the appropriate department.”

Yeah. I think it’s about time we see other people. Cuyuna, Everlane, Banana Republic with your comeback cashmere and sweaters, Rag & Bone–meet your new customer.

In case you’re wondering, I’m wearing a few new favorites: Banana Republic lovely cashmere open cardi, wool crew sweater and the softest wool coat.
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anjou pear + apple crisp (gluten-free/vegan)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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