simple coconut cake

coconut cake

It’s been a while since I’ve made a cake.

Yesterday, I spoke with my agent about a new book I’ve been working on. It’s the story of a middle-aged woman who becomes obsessed with a suicidal teenager and travels across the country to witness the girl take her own life. But that wasn’t always the story. I gave my agent a collection of stories about women in various states of unraveling–women in cults, women who have been raped, and women who have the arcane ability to speak from the grave. I started the book last year when I first moved to California and I was surprised how quickly I finished a draft. I sent it to my agent and I could practically feel the trepidation in his response. Unbeknownst to me, I was rapidly unraveling and documenting that decent in a new book. I’d soon fall into a depression–a dark country to which I’m frightened to ever return–and my agent told me to take a break, think about the book and come back to him with something other.

It took nearly nine months for me to look at my work and cringe. What I’d been writing was relentlessly dark, I couldn’t bear to read it. I actually had to physically put the manuscript away and breathe. For years, it was easy for me to access that place, to sit in pain and discomfort, to know there would likely be an escape from it. How do you write about light? How do you write happy endings when darkness is the one thing you know. The only thing that’s never abandoned you.

Yesterday my agent wondered aloud about me as a writer before meds and after meds. Am I different, he wondered. Is it harder to write? I said meds gave me perspective, that not being on them made it dangerously easy to access the darker recesses of myself. But reading all of that now, I’m not sure I even want that imbued in my work. I told Matthew that I wanted to write a book that ended with hope. He laughed. Well, that’s a switch.

I’ve got a gut renovation ahead of me, but I’m excited to write my first book with a clearer head.

But back to the cake.

If you’ve been following me along on Instagram, you’ve seen that I moved apartments this week. I left the beach and the apartment that felt like the in-betweens, a place that held some of my most painful memories, and I’m in a home that finally feels like home. I’ve never lived in a space this big. I’ve never had a home office (I’m typing this in my new office!). Counter space was always precarious, something of which I had to artfully negotiate.

I have a new friend coming over tonight and I’m making her a 4-hour bolognese sauce. But this morning I woke and had the urge to bake a cake. I don’t know if it’s the desire for meditation because this week has been painful and stressful beyond measure. I won’t bother talking about the election on this space because I’m too angry to articulate how and what I feel. Baking worked. I pulled together this simple cake and it is INSANELY moist. I will say that since I don’t have a lot of sugar in my diet the frosting was A LOT. I had to scrape it all off to enjoy the cake. But if you love your sugar rush, this piece of heaven will not disappoint.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Molly on the Range
For the cake
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour (I used gluten-free)
1/2 cup cake flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 large egg
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract (I used almond as that’s what I had on hand)
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted but not hot

For the frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1 cup powdered sugar
1 pinch of kosher salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp full-fat coconut milk

For assembly
4 oz unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
fresh berries, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
This cake is insanely simple. Pre-heat the oven to 350 and grease/line an 8-inch cake pan. Add the first 6 dry ingredients to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. In a medium bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Add the wet to the dry with the mix speed on medium. Add the batter to the pan and bake for 25-28 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn the cake onto a rack and cool completely.

Now on to the frosting. Clean out that stand mixer and beat the butter on medium until creamy (you’re using the paddle attachment, fyi). Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the sugar and beat until combined. Slowly, because you don’t want to get sugar all over your face. Beat in the salt, vanilla, and coconut milk. Frost the cake like a rock star and add that shredded coconut like it’s the last time you’ll ever eat a coconut.

cake + sweet loaf recipes

chocolate swirl coffee cake (vegan/gluten-free)

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It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. —Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark

In March, I wrote about the desire to focus on hope rather than blind positivity. We’re constantly told to swallow our voice. We could practically hear the shouts of Be happy! Be positive! drowning the reality of our waking hours. We’re admonished for feeling blue–sorrow is a demonstrable sign of weakness, of laziness, not to pick ourselves up and shake off our sadness even when it feels as if we’re choking on sunshine. When you’re told to be a binary, it’s not realistic or helpful, rather, it’s a temporary salve that gives others comfort because we live in a culture that is repelled by discomfort. And then you feel even more paralyzed because now you’re not only carrying the burden of your own sorrow, you’re now responsible for what others carry. While everyone scrambles to fulfill a social contract of being fake, no one actually feels better.

We’ll do anything possible not to feel uncomfortable because who wants to sit in sadness when we can snap filtered photos of ourselves living our best lives, right?

Wrong.

Blind optimism and pessimism are binaries that don’t require action, whereas hope gives you the power and possibility to alter an end result. Everything may not be okay, but at least you’re in the proverbial driver’s seat instead of closing your eyes while someone else drives. Hope is realistic. Hope gets you through the day. In March, my psychiatrist asked me how I felt after a month on meds and intensive therapy and I said, hopeful, which is a hell of a lot better than helpless.

In the midst of my depression, I remember someone telling me that I wasn’t being positive enough. Be happy, someone wrote on my Facebook wall, to which I shouted, what the fuck does that even mean? How does “be happy” solve the real problems in my life instead of throwing a convenient blanket over them?

I’m thinking about this today not only because I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s slim, yet extraordinary, book of essays on hope, but I have a lot of uncertain days ahead. I don’t know if I’ll find the right partner, or how my book will be perceived, or how my life in Los Angeles will pan out. But I do have hope and at least that gives me a path to action, possibility.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Maya Sozer’s Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches
For the dry ingredients
2 cups gluten-free flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder

For the wet ingredients
2 bananas, mashed
3/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used coconut nectar)
2 tbsp almond butter (or any nut butter)
1 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. This recipe couldn’t get any simpler. Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl except for the cocoa. Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Pour 2/3 of the batter into a small loaf pan (5×7). Mix the cocoa into the remaining third of the batter and add it to the loaf pan. Using a fork, create a marbling effect by swirling the fork between the two layers. Bake for 45-50 minutes, but start checking after 40 minutes.

Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack. Allow to cool for an hour before diving in. I didn’t obviously, because who can wait an hour?

cake + sweet loaf recipes gluten-free

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

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

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DIRECTIONS
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.

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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.

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

cake + sweet loaf recipes

orange + olive oil cake

cake

 

Note to self: don’t drink fancy local trade coffee at 8pm and binge-watch Jessica Jones. You’ll stay up until four in the morning, flipping through episodes on Netflix while reading through Pank, comforted there are others who write strange, miraculous fiction.

I’ve just finished a draft of an exciting new project. I’ve got the words down but the visual and multimedia aspects aren’t quite there–essentially this is text with customized/commissioned illustrations and images, not the full spectrum I’m trying to achieve. I’ve published a few pieces here, which you can read at your leisure. Part of me wrestles with the joy this project has brought me and the desire for people to read my work–it’s not a new struggle by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to prioritize lasting and fleeting joys. The deep joy is in the creation, collaboration and assembly. The fleeting is in the work’s reception. I have to remind myself, daily, that the success of what I do is not predicated on the velocity of its online movement or perception. If I tether myself to the applause I also have to accept the jeers. I also have to remind myself that I’m playing in a space where inbalance still exists, where women are perceived as good if they’re writing toward white men. I have to wonder if my work will be harder to push into the world because I’m not popular, I don’t have a writerly tribe, I’m not part of the elite, I’m not purely white, and male. But on I go, you know?

The story of my life is wanting what I cannot have or, perhaps, wanting what I dare not allow myself to have. —Roxane Gay

I started seeing a psychiatrist this week (I don’t plan to go into any detail here other than to say I’m focusing on getting well), and he asked me what I wanted from our work. I said two things: not to feel this way, and, more importantly, not to use the words love and loss interchangeably. To return to the things that bring my joy (baking, cooking, photography). Last night, I spent hours on Stocksy (check out my friend Lauren’s work–isn’t she marvelous?!) and I marveled over the talent of teenagers in Slovenia and women in Nebraska. How they have the ability to make you see by the photos they take with a lens. That’s what an artist does–makes you see how they interpret the world, and I wish I had the ability to move through image and type seamlessly. Perhaps because it’ll make this project I’m working on easier. If I could just do it on my own.

I suppose that’s my view on most things–why can’t I just do it by myself, alone?

This morning I baked a bundt cake, trying slowly to return. I curled up next to my cat, existing between the space between sleeping and waking, the space between loving to bake and making myself do it to feel. So that I could see.

 

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s Baked Explorations
3 cups gluten-free flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups organic cane sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
freshly grated zest of 2 oranges
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted for dusting

 

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter and flour a 1o-inch bundt pan

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks until they are pale and light; slowly pour in the sugar until it is completely incorporated. Add the yogurt and olive oil and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the orange zest and vanilla, and mix until just incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in two parts, beating after each addition or until just combined (this will take about 10 seconds). Scrape down the bowl and beat again for 5 seconds.

In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Scoop 1 cup of the egg whites into the batter. use a rubber spatula to gently fold them in. After about 30 seconds of folding, add the remaining egg whites and gently fold until they are almost completely combined. Do not rush the folding process.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, or until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan (I sometimes use and offset spatula for this) and turn it onto the rack. Just before Serving, dust the cake with the confestions sugar. The cake can be stored at room temperature, covered tightly for about 3 days.

cake + sweet loaf recipes

seeded banana bread

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I’ve been called a cacti-killer because of the year I bought ten succulents and watched them all slowly wither and die. You can’t kill a cactus I was told, and in 2002 I rose to the challenge. Up until this year I was convinced that if something didn’t alert me to its existence I’d probably neglect it and ultimately be responsible for its demise. When I moved to Los Angeles my friend Jennifer drove me to Marina Del Ray and we cruised a nursery. I slept-walked my way through the greenery as my friend piled plants into my arms.

Two months later, my plants are still living, and I can’t begin to describe how this fascinates me.

Saturday, I spent an hour on the 10 with a cab driver who grew up in South Central and now lives in Inglewood. His family’s from New York and we talked about the differences between New York and Los Angeles, and all I could think of (beyond the obvious) was landscape. I haven’t yet succumbed to the car culture because I love navigating a new terrain–I can’t imagine not walking. This weekend I spent a day in the San Gabriel Valley and yesterday I trekked to Westwood, and I’m starting to see how every city had its own landscape and vernacular. While New York has devolved into one whitewashed shopping mall, there are places here that still feel unoccupied. Trust me, I’m not being overly romantic because one could see the unsettling gentrification (and the disparate income/class/race juxtapositions) in DTLA among other areas, but I’m enamored with the landscape, the streets that seem to change from city to city (it’s so incredible how far Santa Monica Blvd, Pico, Olympic, etc runs). And maybe that’s why I’m producing at such a staggering rate–I’m forced awake. I’m forced to experience, to see.

Granted I’ve only been here for three months and it’ll take me years to fully appreciate where I live, but I feel so at home in California. While there are things I miss about New York (my friends and my pop, the subways in the early morning, the shores of Oyster Bay, and bagels I can’t quite find anywhere else), I’m happy that I live in a place that forces me to be present. I no longer sleep through my waking days. I’m no longer killing plants. I wake, and before I work I sometimes bake bread.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Year of Cozy, modified based on what I had on hand + how I like my quick loaves
1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
3 tbsp millet seeds
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
1 large egg (I ran out of eggs, so I made a flax egg: 1 tbsp flax meal in 3 tbsp water for 5 minutes)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 ripe, yet firm bananas, mashed
1 tsp baking soda

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour an 8.5×4.5 inch loaf pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, and seeds. In a large bowl, mix the melted coconut oil and sugars until thickened and combined. Add the egg (or flax egg), vanilla and mashed bananas until completely combined. Mix in the baking soda.

Add the flour and seed mixture to the wet mixture, and fold until completely combined. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the bottom and the center as you’ll often find pockets of flour that haven’t been incorporated.

Add the mixture to the pan and bake for 45-50 minutes until a knife comes out clean in the center and the top has browned. Cool for 10 minutes on a rack before turning out the bread to cool completely.

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cake + sweet loaf recipes california living

homemade pumpkin coconut bread (gluten-free)

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You’re tired of telling people, I’m fine because it’s what you know they want to hear. Everyone wants the triumph story, the happily ever after, the girl did good, but what if the girl did okay and life is a little bit better than what it was and the sun shines bright on your face but sometimes you go through days where the idea of getting out of bed is inconceivable and the only thing that makes you laugh is seeing a coffin emoji on your phone. You start to think about what it would be like if you weren’t here. You start to feel calm on a plane because maybe the drugs you took kicked in or maybe who cares. But you have to be okay because you have this blog and these social channels and people read them and then some take joy in your sadness, others call or text some perfunctory notes of concern of which they hope are solved by a string of random words on a screen, but most stop calling, and then you realize that sadness doesn’t get you project work or emails returned. Sadness is the ultimate repellent–it’s the one thing no one wants to be tethered to. What happens when the girl who solves all your problems has problems of her own? What if you know you’re privileged to have this life and some days are extraordinary, but then other days are so fucking dark that your fall feels bottomless, unrelenting and unending.

You write dark stories so easily because you know what it feels like to choke above water. You literally do not know how to write a happy ending because you can’t imagine what that must feel like.

An acquaintance writes you and tells you that she can tell from your pictures that you’re happy. I just wanted to say… she writes, and you don’t want to break her heart, you don’t want to ruin the image she has of your perfect life, so you reply while you’re boarding a plane. You say you’re so! happy! and then you cry in the bathroom. Through your tears you see that The Honest Company is providing all of the cleansing products on today’s flight!, and for some reason this makes you want to cry some more. A man sits two seats away from you and you both share an empty aisle seat. Win! At one point, he removes his headphones and you can feel him studying you, and he taps you on the arm, leans back, and asks if you’re okay. You don’t notice that you’ve been typing and crying at the same time and you wipe away a tear and say, yeah, I just can’t seem to get this story right. He looks uncomfortable and the only thing you know to do is laugh and say, No, really. I’m okay.

Felicia, how are you an introvert? You’re so chatty! This makes you want to break things.

When you are small, really small, a teacher pulls you aside because sometimes your eyes frighten her. You’re too young to know this kind of sadness, she says. You shrug your shoulders. Years later, you talk about your childhood in a way that makes one think you’ve flatlined and your voice is a kind of rigor mortis, and then your therapist cries and you ask her, laughing, why are you crying? Because this is all too much, this is all so sad, and you don’t look as if you can feel anything. Again, your shrug, because what is crying going to accomplish when you’ve got a job to go back to, $100K+ in student loans to pay off, a reading series to book, and everyone, everyone wants you achieved and happy.

You look up the symptoms of depression because you’re prone to self-diagnosis (how many times did you think you had cancer?) and you say that’s me to every question. But then you remember all those years with doctors, therapists and psychologists and no, you’re not depressed. You just have this problem with drinking. You just like it a little too much.

If we isolate the problem. If the problem were to be contained. If you were to abstain. If you were to take it one day at a time. If you were to say, today, I will not drink. If you were to create diversions. Happy! Things! Things that occupy your time and replace the hours that alcohol took away. You start to think you’re a walking epidemic.

This year your mother dies and it’s complicated (complicated), everyone loves your writing but they don’t want to publish it, you date but no one holds your interest and you don’t even tell your friends you went on dates because why bother? One of your closest friends, a woman who you’ve known for ten years, a woman you love and leaned on during those two months you relapsed, the first time you drank in nine years (she drove you to the animal shelter and helped you find Felix!), and she disappears when she learns you’re moving to California. She doesn’t respond to your emails, your calls, your voice messages, your texts. She doesn’t respond when you tell her that she is killing you, that her absence is breaking your heart.

You write: you are breaking my fucking heart. You thought she was the one person who wouldn’t pull this shit, but she does, and then you start to view your friendships through the lens of limited time only.

You have a friend and you like her, you’ve known her for years, but she sucks the air right out of you. You move to another state, across the country, and there is so much you’re dealing with, alone, and this friend sends you text messages using your grief, the grief with which you refuse to burden people, as a vehicle to talk about her life. You think, are you fucking kidding me? You are alone to deal with your sadness and then you have to shoulder the burden of others? Please stop. Please stop speaking.

You re-read the stories you just wrote and you hate them because you feel as if you’re holding something back from your writing, the that being this, what you write here now, and you know how to write around it, above and below it, but you’re not at the place where you can write through it because you’re in it and sometimes you feel you’re treading water in the middle of the ocean.

One year, you swam to one edge of a sixteen-foot pool to the other. You rose, triumphant. Now, you don’t swim at all. The ocean is inside you and on the plane, when they talk about life vests, you’re the only one in the aisle who burst out laughing. It takes you until today to realize that a piece of plastic won’t save you from the ocean.

And yes, for everyone who wants their discomfort assuaged after reading this, don’t worry, you’re going to “take care” of this. Never fear, Humpty Dumpty will be put back together again.

So you bake and keep nodding because people tell you that you need to occupy your hands, your head.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen
1 cup gluten-free flour
1 cup brown rice flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups pumpkin or squash puree (1 15oz can/package)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp almond or soy milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup large, unsweetened coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350′ and lightly oil a loaf pan, lining it with parchment for a cleaner removal.

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flours, salt, cinnamon, baking powder. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: pumpkin/squash puree, olive oil, almond milk, vanilla, egg and maple syrup. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and fold until just combined. Fold in the coconut flakes. Spread the batter evenly into the pan (it’ll be thick, so use a spatula to get it nice and even). Bake for 45-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before removing the loaf and allow to cool for another 15 minutes. Note that the loaf has less of a crumb (because of the lack of gluten), but it’s still delicious.

This is extraordinary served with warm butter or fresh preserves (I love preserves since the bread is not as sweet as what I might be used to and I’m cool with that).

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cake + sweet loaf recipes

almond meal strawberry cake with coconut cloud cream

almond meal strawberry cake with coconut cloud cream

I feel like my journey through the in-betweens has been a constant refrain, but I can’t help it. I’m feeling the impermanence of my surroundings as I start making dates with all the people I want to see before I leave. I regard my carpet, my couch, much of my possessions with this odd detachment because I know they’ll soon be gone, put up for sale on Craig’s List and removed from the home that will no longer be mine in a few month’s time. I hit refresh on an apartment complex, hoping to find my new home (I’ll imagine this will be my plight when I’m in Asia and I’m more than prepared to leave in August). I sit in my friend’s bedroom while she packs for a business trip and while I adore her wardrobe, I think, so much black. Strange coming from someone whose wardrobe was once the color of night. Yesterday I tell an old friend over dinner about how I’m surrounded by predators posing as house pets, that I’m drowning in mediocrity, and that I need to move to a place that hasn’t been ruined by tourists. I need to not be in a maelstrom, on the verge of frenzy. I’ve abandon red lipstick and consider softening my black hair, and another friend quips that I’m becoming Red from OITNB. Today I think: why do I still own Ina Garten’s cookbooks? I order a story collection penned by an old friend who was my trigger, my drinking buddy, and I’m reminded of a time before we wrote books. We wrote stories and drank and talked about the stories we wanted to write. She’s published them while I’m trying to sell the world on the kinder, gentler psychopath. I think, there was a time when we were on the verge. And now I think that everything that was going to happen has happened and there’s nothing left to happen until I happen to be somewhere else. But I’m stuck here for two months with a trip to Asia breaking up the in-betweens and I’m anxious for what’s next.

This is chrysalis and it’s really fucking strange.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook, modified to exclude gluten/dairy ingredients, and I changed the whipped cream recipe.
For the cake
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup almond yoghurt (plain)
3 tbsp coconut, melted and cooled slightly
2 cups almond meal
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1/3 cup cane sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp sea salt

For the strawberries + coconut cloud cream topping
1 15oz can of coconut cream
1 tbsp honey or agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups sliced strawberries (sliced)

DIRECTIONS
Turn your can of coconut cream upside down and place it in the fridge to chill. Pre-heat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 9-inch round pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. (To do this, just turn the pan upside down on top of the paper and trace with pencil. Cut-out and insert).

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the eggs well. Add vanilla, yogurt, honey, coconut oil, and whisk. In another bowl combine and mix together the almond meal, flour, sugar, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add to the wet ingredients, mix, then pour into the prepared pan. Bake until a inserted toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool completely.

While the cake is cooling on a rack, start the cream. Take the chilled coconut out of the fridge, scoop out the thick top layer and add it to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the honey and vanilla and whisk until thick, like heavy whipped cream. Put in the fridge to chill for 15-20 minutes.

Pile the cream on the cooled cake, along with the strawberries and DIVE IN.

almond meal strawberry cake with coconut cloud cream
almond meal strawberry cake with coconut cloud cream
almond meal strawberry cake with coconut cloud cream

cake + sweet loaf recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free

a virtuous banana bread

seeded banana bread

But I opened my eyes too suddenly, for no reason at all, and the beach at East Hampton has vanished, along with Bluebell and the cats, all of them dead for years now. The Turkish towel is in reality the white nubbly counterpane of the bed I am lying in, and the cool ocean breeze is being provided by the blessed air conditioner. It is ninety-three degrees outside — a terrible day in New York City. So much for my daydream of sand and sea and roses. The daydream was, after all, only a mild attack of homesickness. The reason it was a mild attack instead of a fierce one is that there are a number of places I am homesick for. East Hampton is only one of them. –From the Preface of Maeve Brennan’s The Rose Garden

I want to go. Now. My landlord asks me if I can send him my utility bill for a rebate. In response, I turn off my phone and bury it under a blanket. At home, where I’m lulled into an odd delusion of serenity, horns blare for five hours straight. Amidst all of this anger, all of this come on, now. All of this I have to be somewhere and why can’t the ant that is your car inch forward? Just drive. Why can’t you move your fucking–? Heel of the hand pumps hard. I’ll show them. I’ll beep this horn longer than they think I can. A woman shouts out her window, you’re a real big shot. You know that? And I don’t know if she’s talking about the dozens of ants in their cars honking or if she’s making small talk. There’s another woman who sometimes paces my block and she talks about how her face is peeling off. Her only salvation is Jesus Christ, so it’d be real good if you people could accept the Lord as your goddamn savior so my face can get back to what it was. I live in a neighborhood forever in repair. I live in a place where people move the curtains to one side, curious. Is her face really off? The woman bellows, can you hear me?

Oh, I can hear you. I think the only thing that can take off your skin is you smoking in the heat. Snakes like the desert; they prefer the heat.

Silence is a tree, I say once. In a forest, my pop says. Where no one’s there to hear it, I complete. I don’t buy that, my pop says. There’s always someone in the forest. A bird, an insect, a body covered in cool leaves–there’s always signs of life, my pop tells me. You can’t erase life out of a forest. One can’t unsound. And I say it’s not about the life which occupies the inside and perimeter, rather it’s our distance from it. So why a forest? Why not a boat in the ocean? A graveyard, he laughs. Ha ha. And I’m all straight when I say there’s probably more life among the dead than among the living. Look at the obsequious somnambulants–all of them–sleep-waking into their phones!

And so it goes.

Over the weekend I watch a funny movie about suicide. Trust me on this one. After the film, I keep thinking about the main character, Sophia, and how I have ashes of my Sophie on top of a bookcase and would it be cruel to put her away, somewhere quiet (but we’ve determined there is no quiet, no unsound, no fucking forest) because maybe it’s time? But this: I remember the rise and slump of her chest, how I held her–all four pounds of her–in my arms. I still own the sweater from the day when I last held her and I think about burning it. Would I keep those ashes in a tin nearby too? Is silence me in a bedroom crying into a chest where a heart no longer beats while a man with a needle and a woman with a towel wait patiently on the other side? Is silence the door that divides the two? Are we nothing if not the architects of our own forest, the makers of our own doors?

There’s a book on the floor, one I’ve been meaning to read–Half a Life. Tick toc, tick toc, toc.

I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life, a woman weeps. What is this, I think. I’ve become the sort of woman who cries over sentimental movies. I never used to be this way. I never used to cry. I used to go through my life not feeling much of anything.

I’m told that neural mirroring is a sign of empathy. Sit in front of a psychopath and yawn. For most, a yawn is contagious–people unconsciously mimic as a sign of compassion. Yet there are those who will sit across from you; they’ll engage in polite conversation and ask if you’re tired, and then you realize you’ve met someone who’s not interested in playing your yawning game. They’ve got their own forest. Their own locked doors. And then you wonder if rationality is standing behind your gossamer curtain, face up in flames. Because you’ve got the itch. Your skin is peeling if only you would just say the words. Give in to Augustine and Montaigne, into a book that foretells a white kingdom where only a privileged few are given trespass.

When I was younger I had a habit of chewing the ends of my hair. I quit it during college because eating one’s hair is the sort of thing that makes you stand out and the irony of college is that the training wheels have come off and being an adult becomes a precious exercise of blending in. Four years later I’m at a party in an apartment where the floor threatens to give way and Cate arrives with a white kingdom in a glassine bag and I’m still Christian. Back then, I still believe in a god but after that first line, after I twirl in a bathroom and maw at my ends, do I wonder if this vast white forest supersedes an old story in the oldest book.

I tell the story of silence like a knock-knock joke. I text my pop, what’s silence. We play this game. We’ve gotten good at it over the years. We rearrange the furniture, dust the curtains and put out a tray of stale cookies. Silence is the sound of holding your breath. Still looking for your forest, he says.

I suppose so. I suppose I will grow homesick for this forest when I make passage to another.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from A Modern Way to Eat (I’ve altered the recipe quite a bit)
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 cup seeds (1/3 cup hemp seeds, 1/3 cup sesame seeds, 1/3 cup black sesame seeds)
1 tsp baking powder
3 medium bananas, mashed
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp coconut milk (full-fat)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 400F. Spray a loaf tin with coconut oil and dust with coconut flour.

Mix all the dry ingredients (flours, sugar, seeds, salt and baking powder) in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.

In a separate bowl mash the bananas, then stir in the olive oil, coconut milk, vanilla extract and eggs.

Gently mix together the wet and dry ingredients, just until there are no pockets of flour left. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, then bake a little lower down in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the loaf comes out clean.

When the loaf is cool enough, transfer to a cooling rack. This is pretty yummy still warm, but also good at room temperature or toasted and spread with either butter and a little honey or almond butter. You can also use this as French toast or in bread puddings.

seeded banana bread

seeded banana bread

cake + sweet loaf recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free

coconut blueberry loaf + some thoughts on writing, publishing, and "playing the game"

coconut blueberry loaf (gluten-free)

Part of the struggle of actually finding happiness as an artist is the daily fight to not define success the way the rest of the world defines success – which is hard, because you have to fight the same battles every day. Success has this very two-faced essence… As an artist playing the game in the industry… you kind of have to play that game a little bit and ride the balance, trying to get your book on the New York Times bestselling list and knowing what to do to do that, but also, simultaneously, not drinking the Kool-aid – swishing it around your mouth and spitting it out.Amanda Palmer (via).

I used to play the game, I used to be good at it. But I wasn’t always this way. I spent much of my childhood alone, and while I received praise and accolades for my writing throughout my life, the sting–of repeatedly pulled into rooms and asked, in hushed tones, if there was a problem at home, or losing prizes because my writing was too dark, too haunting, because you can’t expect parents to give an award to someone who wrote a story about a girl hanging herself–was sometimes too much to bear. It was as if my writing had to bear the constant weight of a coda, a we love this but…

Why can’t you write happy stories? Are you incapable of it? Making me feel I have to apologize for the fact that my repertoire sits perhaps too comfortably in disquiet. Making me feel small and confused when I tell someone this isn’t that dark, to which they respond, with a sigh, oh, but it is. As if darkness can’t have a voice–it must be smothered until the flames flicker and fade out and there are only the peonies to harvest. There can only be the simple and compact, where all worlds are reconciled neatly by the final page.

But that doesn’t interest me.

I’ll tell you how I write. I hear voices–calm down, calm down–I hear a character. This is how a story begins for me. I start with people and see where they go. I’ll be on the subway like many of you, and I’ll even swipe here or turn a page there, but a scene will play itself out in my head. At first I’ll know nothing about these people other than the fact that they’ve seized my attention. And that’s what’s important–someone brings me in. Over time, the scenes start to multiply and I can see faces. They’re fictional, really. Maybe it’s a man I’ve seen in the street and my gaze will linger longer that what’s appropriate. Or maybe it’s an actor–someone not famous, but has been in more bad films than good (I often thought of Kyle Gallner–my god, he’s beautiful and fragile; I can’t stop staring at his face–when I created Jonah)–and then I’ve got people to play with. Suddenly, they’re real enough for me to get them on the page and see where the day takes them. My stories always start with a scene and I build around that. Nothing is ever linear, nothing is ever defined–that’s the after-hours work. I just move as my characters move and I love this; I love looking up and thinking, where the fuck did the day go?

Nothing thrills me more than leaving a still-hot page and listening to the chatter that continues on in my wake, because a scene never ends just because you decided to stop writing. It goes on, and I love when characters are like, you can do your own thing, but we’re going to keep talking over here. As the hours pass, the shouts become murmurs and whispers and soon they fall to quiet, ready for resurrection. For me the writing isn’t hard, rather it’s the architecture of the story that threatens to undo me. I have all these scenes but how do I arrange them? Much of my work is reconstruction, puzzle-work.

The last thing I’m thinking about is whether or not the story will be a happy or a linear one.

Years ago I drank my way through book parties, readings and other literary events that made me want to take acetylene torch to my eyes. I was forever feeling imposter syndrome–I could never keep up with the latest book, lit mag or 30-under-30 on the rise. I never thought my writing serious enough, you know, the worthy of James Wood piece or a Guardian review. But I had an MFA from a fancy school, a lit mag that was going places, and more importantly, I knew my booze and how to share it.

Still, I always felt like an outsider, someone skirting the edges of things. I was forever uncool, and exhausted of wearing the mask of an extrovert. All I wanted to do was go home and read and write, but people kept telling me that the business of publishing, the people who are good to know, was just as important as what I laid down on the page. Amidst the talented writers I’d come to know where people who got deals because they were beautiful, connected, had some sort of credential or “platform” or a combination of all of the above. And while it’s true that this has always been the case, discovering it, for someone who spent the bulk of her writing life without a community, was much like finding out there is no Santa Claus. The quarters under your pillow are not gifts from The Tooth Fairy, rather it’s an act of commerce. Teeth for cash. And through all of it I wrote less because I was distracted. I spent too much time playing a losing hand instead of surrounding myself with all sorts of people who could lift me up. I spent so much time working the room instead of untangling the voices in my head.

It’s not the book that counts but the aura of its author. If the aura is already there, and the media reinforces it, the publishing world is happy to open its doors and the market is happy to welcome you. If it’s not there but the book miraculously sells, the media invents the author, so the writer ends up selling not only his work but also himself, his image. From Elena Ferrante’s Paris Review Interview

Earlier this year, my agent circulated my manuscript to a host of prominent editors. I can prattle on about their praise but it doesn’t interest me. What rattled me was the fact that my book was too hard for American audiences, too dark and alinear. Many couldn’t “relate” to my sociopathic lead character (ah, apparently in order for fiction to be sellable it has to be relatable). I’ve never been more proud of my book and here we go again with the codas.

I have a friend who is a tremendous writer. She is well-connected (not her doing, really, people genuinely want to orbit her), published and praised, and it was hard to see her write that so many dark, experimental books were being published and it took everything in me to tell her that her small circle was being published. That for every Maggie Nelson or Lydia Millet there are thousands of authors who are told they won’t sell because people like their characters flawed but not too flawed, and they prefer their endings like a good gin–neat.

It took me a while to stop judging the value of my work against a decision for someone to publish it. While we try to get this book out into the world I’m working on a new collection (I’m sure my agent would weep if he saw this) of stories about women at various stages of their undoing and unrest, a small taste of what you read this weekend.

We think we know her, but what we know are her sentences, the patterns of her mind, the path of her imagination. –Meghan O’Rourke on Elena Ferrante’s anonymity

I admire Ferrante’s vigilance in protecting her identity, of keeping the author photo in the frame blank. All too often people look at my work, look at me and try to make connections between the two as if I don’t have an imagination, as if everything I write comes from personal experience. And then there are others, for whom what I write rings true and they feel somehow connected to me. And while I want to foster a feeling of community and connectedness, all too often people mistake that for knowing me. For thinking that reading something of mine gives them trespass to the life beyond what I’m comfortable sharing here. Both make me so unbearably uncomfortable because it makes me feel that the work could never stand on its own and that somehow me putting things here makes them less mine, me less mine.

I look at the woman I was ten years ago and she’s a stranger to me. I can’t even imagine moving at the same velocity or bearing the company of unkind people. Ferrante intrigues me because I crave so much solitude and I’ve consciously done things to compromise it. I love writing in this space but I don’t always love what it brings. So I keep strict guardrails in my world to protect my work and the quiet in my life.

At the end of the day what gives me joy are stories and the small, strange group of people around me who make them easier to tell.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, with modifications
2 large eggs, at room temperature
7/8 cup of coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup and love it more than Bob’s Red Mill)
scant 1 cup of coconut palm sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup dried coconut (coconut flakes)
2/3 cup almond flour
3 1/2 tbsp coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/2 cup fresh blueberries tossed in a scant amount of flour

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Spray an 8 inch loaf pan with coconut spray, line with parchment paper (bottom and up the sides) and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, coconut milk and vanilla. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flours, sugar, baking powder, and coconut. Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the milk mixture, and mix on low until all the ingredients combine. Stream in the cooled coconut oil and mix. Fold in the blueberries.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake for 45-50 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out on a rack.

coconut blueberry loaf (gluten-free)

book buff cake + sweet loaf recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free

grain-free dark chocolate chip peanut butter banana bread

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Today I spent the morning with one of my closest friends. Angie’s one of the few people with whom I can completely be myself. We’re quiet when we speak, there’s no artifice, and I often show up to her house in leggings, hair undone, face scrubbed clean. She has two beautiful and brilliant children, and some of her time is spent tending to them, swapping out the books they read and giving them seaweed and rice when they’re hungry. I admire her tenderness, the incredible way in which she’s able to remember the details. Although I don’t harbor any desire for children of my own, I love watching the love that binds her family. It’s this love that she brings to our friendship, one that has lasted for over a decade. I’ll walk through her door and remind her that I’m 4% Asian, to which she responds that’s nowhere near Asian (she’s Korean), and after we laugh over our private, long-running joke, we talk about our day.

I tell Angie I love her as often as I can.

What I don’t tell her enough is how much I enjoy how we pass our time. She’s busy, an ambitious executive who’s also a devoted mother and wife. I know her time is scarce so I tell her that I don’t care how we spend it, as long as it’s us, talking. And I know this may sound strange, but she has a car and nothing pleases me more than to be in it while she drives. It reminds me of childhood, how I’d spend hours in a car with my pop and we’d talk about everything and nothing all at once. Angie’s like this, and I realize most of our time is spent in her car or in her dining room (I’m sitting; she’s in the kitchen), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Today, I came for breakfast and I brought her this bread and it shocked her that something that’s gluten and dairy free could be so light, so moist, so holy-shit good. I spend time with her husband because he and I are so similar, and we always have something to talk about–our shared love of books (I envy their library), food and films. Today I told him that Angie saved my life. Did you know that? Your wife saved my life? That I was determined to drink and ruin, and she got me straight again? She drove me to Felix? Did I tell you about your incredible wife?

But then, the drive! As soon as she told me that she needed to make a run to Whole Foods for a dinner she was preparing for tonight, I was JUBILANT. She apologized for inviting me along for an errand with her son, and I told her that she’s crazy. Food, a car, my closest friend and a little boy who loves books–this is how I wanted to spend my morning.

I’m starting to realize that as I grow older I become conscious of time. I become conscious of getting lean. I don’t need a fancy dinner out or something to do, rather sometimes it’s really nice to spend the morning with your closest friend, eating banana bread. Sometimes the world is as simple and beautiful as that.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Paleo Kitchen Cookbook
3 large bananas
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
2/3 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 cup coconut flour (you may think this is not a lot, trust me, coconut flour needs a ton of liquid to absorb)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
Pinch of fine-grain sea salt

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch metal loaf pan and line it with parchment paper.

Combine the bananas, eggs, coconut oil, sugar, and peanut butter in a food processor or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until the ingredients are well blended. Add the coconut flour, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, and salt and continue to mix until all the ingredients are well combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. Circulate half-way through. If the bread becomes too dark (somewhere around the 30 minute mark), tent with tin foil. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.

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