roasted fig, kale + chickpea salad and cauliflower coconut curry + a silent call to leave home

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Truth be told, I rarely re-read what I write here. I write for the rush of it, the joy of it–the words come from a compulsion to make sense of a situation, find clarity, and once that clarity has been found I move on. However, amidst all this food, amidst a stove that resembled a bonfire, I kept re-reading this post. And one of the questions I keep asking myself is this: Why am I still here? This isn’t a Montaigne why-do-we-exist ontological argument, rather, it’s why am I still in New York? Before you talk about a hoard of writers who never grew up in New York yet pen dreamy essays about leaving old New York, my story is less about a place and more about a desperate need to sit in discomfort. A need to lay down my head somewhere else in the world for an extended period of time–beyond travel.

This place is my home. I went to Fordham when I could have gone to Boston University or Brown. I went to Columbia when I could have applied to Iowa. I watched so many people I love move away, start new lives in different states and countries and it’s only now that I have a sense of longing. A realization that my home has become my barnacle, a place to which I’ve been unhealthily attached. My mother still lives here. My pop lives here. All my memories are tethered to this place, and I want new memories, new places. I posted something on Facebook and one of my very sage friends wrote this, which put my heart on pause:

Come up with an eccentric plan and give yourself to it. For example, resolve to live on every continent for 3 months to a year (okay, not Antarctica). Or live in a different country for a year for 5 years in a row. Or live on an island for a year. I’ve found that it’s very, very hard to will a change out of the swirling lights of one’s soul, but it’s easy to react to a change you believe has already been made for you. We move in a week if our employer makes us, but if it’s up to us, we’ll linger for five years making excuses and riding the wave of inertia. So find some way to externalize the impetus for the change, and then don’t question it. Just get it done. Pretend an employer is forcing you to move. Pretend anything. Oh, you could live in four states, each of which abuts a corner or edge of the US: say, Traverse City, Michigan; Bangor, Maine; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Oregon. You get the idea. You could also plan a book and live along some route that you would create art/photos/writing about. I am not thinking about money here, of course, so the daydreaming is easy. But I’d say daydream hard first, and you’ll figure out the money.

Last night I vacillated between this comment and my post, and I realized I keep asking questions that go unanswered because I’m afraid. It’s easy to talk about New York and how much I hate it, how much it’s gone to blight, overflowing with long-term tourists who call themselves New Yorkers. I lament that so much of the danger, art and energy I loved as a child has been whitewashed, excised. Everything feels pedestrian, done by rote, and the discomfort I feel is more akin to waking up to someone whom you thought you knew for the whole of your life to realize they’re actually a stranger. The discomfort I want is the feel of the new, the unsettling that comes from uprooting yourself and planting yourself somewhere else. I want quiet. I want land. I want solitude. I want slow. I want simple.

My god, I’ve lived a complicated, often difficult, life in a place that’s frenetic. I want to slow down and breathe.

So I’m following my friend’s advice and using the next 12 months to put my exit strategy into action. More details to come.

Now, my questions are when and how?

INGREDIENTS + DIRECTIONS FOR THE CHICKPEA SALAD: Pre-heat an oven to 400F. To a large roasting pan, add figs, quartered; handfuls of curly kale; 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained; salt/pepper/olive oil. Toss the figs, kale and chickpeas so they’re evenly coated in olive oil. Roast for 30-40 minutes until the kale is crispy and the chickpeas are browned.

INGREDIENTS + DIRECTIONS FOR THE CAULIFLOWER CURRY*: 2 tbsp coconut oil; 2 cloves of garlic, minced; 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced; 1 large cauliflower head (1 lb) cut into florets; 2 tbsp curry powder; 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes; 1/4 tsp cinnamon; 1/8 tsp ground coriander; pinch of sea salt and coarse black pepper; 1 14oz can of full-fat coconut milk; 2 tbsp almond butter.

Place a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the coconut oil and garlic. Once the garlic is fragrant, add the bell pepper and cauliflower. Stir the vegetables to evenly coat them in garlic + oil.

Add all of the spices and toss to coat. Add the coconut milk and almond butter. Mix to incorporate.

Cover the pan and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the cauliflower is softened. Taste for seasoning + add more salt if needed.

*Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen.

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chickpea pancakes with leeks + squash (gluten-free + insanely delicious)

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When I think about diets, resolutions, and Hallmark holidays devoted to spending a day appreciating the ones we love, I think about time. We have twenty-four hours to celebrate the anniversary of a beloved; come February, we’ll lament abandoning the resolution we made so valiantly on the eve of the new year; we’ll white-knuckle and calorie-count until the day we surrender to a box of cookies because it’s Monday and the world owes us.

Diets, resolutions and single-day holidays are all predicated on finite time, on a defined beginning and end. We’ll be abundant with our love today, yet tomorrow we’ll resume our pleasant amiability and tender wheedling because we are the wheedling kind. We’ll compose our list, traits of the kind of people we want to be, but we always end up an inch from where we started and then we regard our skin as something like an ill-fitted costume we grow tired of wearing. We wanted that new body, that new love, that new life, but we retreat back to ourselves, defeated, think, I guess this is all I’ll ever be. We’ll pale down to bone because the world tells us about the dichotomy of maths–the more you disappear, the more you are visible, coveted. And the guilt you feel when you wave the white flag over a cookie, a warm buttered bagel, or a slice of blackout cake, that guilt whispers that you don’t deserve those single-day holidays. You don’t deserve all this love.

I have to tell you that I abhor diets, resolutions and anniversaries. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, a single day in November on which we’re supposed to be thankful. Rather, why not work to love and live with abundance every day. Instead of creating silly lists, why not absolve to create something new–big or small–every day? In that act of creation is change. Why not do something selfless without the expectation of anything in return. Why not wake each morning and say, out loud, I love you to yourself and your beloveds. Why not arrive at every meal and regard it as nourishment and fuel rather than a war you wage with flatware? How about we forget about calories as that’s an archaic measurement of health and well-being and focus on putting real food on our body? How about we consider how we feel in our body and our heart rather than whether a pair of pants fit. I’ve been a negative integer. Those pants used to always fit and often hang, and I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t happy. My heart was filled with greed, anger, and want. There could always be more. I could always be less.

I say, fuck diets, fuck resolutions, fuck singular days of economic devotion. Love and live mindfully and abundant every single day of your life. It’s hard to be present. It’s hard to stay the course. But you might wake one day, over the course of your journey, and realize that this deliberate choice you’ve made, being present for the infinite, is the best choice you’ve ever made.

I used to be angry that I couldn’t have gluten or dairy. I used to want to take the easy way out and consume gluten-free versions of all my favorite carbs. But how would I have ever discovered abundance amidst confinement? Would I have ever bothered making these vegetable pancakes when it would’ve been easier to make pesto pasta? Would I have felt a sense of pride over making something healthy and delicious, or continued on with living an uncomfortably comfortable life?

Fuck comfortable. Be present. Eat all the chickpeas.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Bon Appetit
6 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 medium leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
½ tsp kosher salt, plus more
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated peeled squash (such as butternut or kabocha)
1 large egg
¾ cup chickpea flour
¼ tsp baking powder
½ cup plain yogurt (I nixed this as I can’t have dairy)
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Optional: I served this on a bed for spinach (2 cups per person) + 3 figs divided (per person)

DIRECTIONS
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium-high. Add leek, season with kosher salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until leek is softened and starting to brown, about 4 minutes. Add squash and season again. Cook, stirring often, until squash is cooked through and softened, about 4 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a plate and let cool. Wipe out skillet and reserve.

Meanwhile, whisk egg, chickpea flour, baking powder, 1 Tbsp. oil, ½ tsp. kosher salt, and ½ cup water in a medium bowl; season with pepper and let sit 5 minutes for flour to hydrate. Stir vegetables into batter just to coat.

Heat 1½ Tbsp. oil in reserved skillet over medium-high. Add batter by the ¼-cupful to make 4 pancakes, gently flattening to about ¼” thick. Batter should spread easily—if it doesn’t, thin with a little water. Cook until bottoms are lightly browned and bubbles form on top, about 4 minutes. Use a spatula to carefully flip pancakes over and cook until browned and cooked through, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate and tent with a sheet of foil to keep warm. Repeat with another 1½ Tbsp. oil and remaining batter. Serve pancakes topped with yogurt, parsley, sea salt, and pepper.

Do Ahead: Leek and squash can be cooked 2 days ahead; cover and chill. Batter can be made 1 day ahead; cover and chill.

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mediterranean meatballs + cauliflower tabbouleh

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Ever have one of those weeks when nothing feels right? When getting out of bed is a Herculean effort? That, coupled with some frustrating emails in my inbox, made for a meh start to my week. And while I have some ideas for my new creative project, I’m feeling stuck. Perhaps it’s the Monday blues because I’m hoping that things will turn around as the week progresses. Luckily, I have leftovers of yesterday’s yummy meatball + cauliflower tabbouleh to come home to tonight.

Send love and orange kittens.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Hemsley & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well
For the meatballs
1 pound of ground lamb or beef (I opted for beef sirloin, 85% lean)
1 egg
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
1 and a ¼ tsp of sea salt
½ tsp of pepper
¼ tsp of ground cumin
¼ tsp of ground cinnamon
1-2 tsp of ghee or olive oil for frying
Optional: 1 pinch of ground chilli or a little fresh chilli

For the tabbouleh
2 medium heads of cauliflower, roughly grated by hand or use a food processor (choose the medium teeth on your grater)
1 tbsp. of ghee, olive oil or butter
1 medium red onion or 1 bunch of spring onions finely chopped (I decided to nix this)
4 large tomatoes, diced (I nixed this)
3 large handfuls of parsley, finely chopped
1 large handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon (I used lime instead)
4-5 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Toppings: Scatter over chopped radishes, nuts or seeds (such as almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)

DIRECTIONS
Steam your grated cauliflower in a saucepan (lid on) with a couple of tablespoons of water and your ghee or butter. On a medium heat, it should take roughly 3 minutes for the cauliflower to cook (not too soft!), but check there is enough water at the bottom of the pan so that the cauliflower doesn’t burn.

Drain any excess water and tip your steamed cauliflower into a large serving bowl

While your cauliflower is cooling, chop all your tabbouleh ingredients and then combine everything together. Taste for seasoning.

In a big bowl, combine all your meatball ingredients and mix well. Be careful not to overmix, you just want all the seasonings to come together.

In a wide saucepan, add a little ghee, olive oil or butter and fry a small piece of the mixture to check for seasoning. Adjust the remaining mixture as necessary.

Wet your hands and shape the mixture into balls. We used roughly 1.5 teaspoons of mixture per meatball but make them any size you like – the larger they are, the longer they’ll take to cook.

Heat up a little more ghee, olive oil or butter, and, over a medium-high heat, fry the meatballs in a few batches until lightly browned on all sides and cooked through – this should take about 6-7 minutes. (You can always brown the meatballs in advance and finish them off in the oven later if you’re having people round).

Serve your hot meatballs with the tabbouleh. If there are any leftovers, eat cold the next day with some homemade hummus.

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heirloom + sundried tomato soup (+ some thoughts on kindness + judgment)

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I was going to talk about this soup, and I am, but I’m distracted. I’ll get to the soup, I promise. But first, this:

Have you ever met someone whose voice grated? Or maybe you don’t meet them at all. Maybe it’s someone who stands in front of you while you’re ordering coffee, or perhaps it might be the best friend of a woman you admire, and you end up asking yourself: how could she be friends with her? Have you ever spent time with someone who isn’t your vibe? And have you then rendered a verdict of this person (rights read, quick jury trial, sentencing)? As if to say that you know the whole of them based on a singular encounter?

We judge. Recklessly so. And we do it all the time. We roll our eyes; we smile and nod while plotting escape plans; we become ardent clockwatchers; we shift our seats; we leave altogether. I’ve done this, more times than I’d like to admit, and it’s a flaw of mine that requires constant work. I use to judge people who didn’t read “the right books” (I no longer do, or identify a book in terms of right and wrong). I used to judge people who referred to sunglasses as “sunnies.” I used to judge people who were sloppy drunk and then I reminded myself that I’ve no place to judge since I’ve probably done everything you can imagine to humiliate myself when I used to drink.

We’re often cruel–even in miniature–but we’re cruelest to ourselves. And when you can longer bear the weight of the pain that you inflict on yourself (all this pain, where do I put it?) you easily snap, snip, snarl at others.

There’s a fitness studio I like, I go there often. I have my favorite teachers and I make sure to scan the schedule to ensure there are no substitutes. Over the course of my time visiting the space, I took three classes with this one particular instructor, whose energy was grating. She was too perky, too glib, said the word ass, and when I brought another friend to class with me, we decided, after, that the teacher just wasn’t our scene.

Recently, I found myself early for a class at the wrong location (chalk it up to absentmindedness), and as I was placing my towels on the machine, the teacher who wasn’t my scene came over and told me that I was in the wrong studio but did I want a private class? Because she’d be willing to teach it.

She’d been up since 4AM traveling to work and teaching classes and she could’ve simply refunded my class or shrugged her shoulders, but instead she was kind. There’s no poetic way to say how I felt, which was shitty. For nearly an hour, she adjusted my posture, gave me modifications for poses I couldn’t do, and worked along side me, cheering me along. After, we spent time talking and I found myself really liking her. The teacher was funny, smart, and she talked about how it hurt to see negative reviews of her classes online. How a woman once barked at her, you’re not motivating me!, and how that bruised her, so much so that she was shaken for the rest of class. I was standing in front of a woman who loves what she does, takes it seriously, who practiced grace and I felt…SMALL.

I walked away realizing that maybe I’d thought she wasn’t my scene because she she was exactly my scene. I’ve been told that my personality can be polarizing, that I’m sometimes impenetrable, and often my shyness around “new” people is mistaken for bitchiness. But I know that I’m a good person who is flawed, much like how I imagine everyone else sees themselves. Perhaps I was reacting to this teacher because I had a hard time accepting that I don’t always give a great first impression.

My friends, those for whom I would lay down, tell me that I’m the sort of friend who would go into the dark and pull them out into the light. I go above and beyond; I’ll do everything for the people I love, but when you first meet me you don’t know all of this. How could you? Exactly like how I didn’t expect this teacher’s extraordinary act of generosity. We don’t really know one another until we make the effort to, until we get past our initial discomfort or constructs of how a person should act or be. At the end of class I thanked the teacher profusely, and she shrugged her shoulders and said, We’ve all been there. I know how it feels. In that grace, I saw the lack of grace I’d been practicing, and I was grateful for the awareness. How the act of her kindness made me want to be kinder.

I’m thinking about our exchange, still. There are people who are unkind (and trust me, I’ve excised them), people who don’t deserve a setting at our table, but I have to believe the vast majority of people are good. Most of us mean well, but maybe we’re awkward, maybe we had a bad day or ten or 365. And it’s all made me think that if I can see something good in someone, even a spark or flare, I’m going to try to make the effort to push past snap judgments.

I was going to talk about this soup, I WAS, but I got caught up in all of the above. But know I’m spending the day indoors, working, writing, editing, sipping on soup and watching scary movies.

INGREDIENTS
1 tbsp of avocado oil
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 1/2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
6 sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil, roughly chopped
4 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup basil, packed
Salt/pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot on medium heat, add the olive oil. After a minute, add the chopped onion + minced garlic along with a bit of salt so the onion sweats but doesn’t char and burn. Let the mixture cook until the onions are semi-translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sundried tomatoes, stirring the mixture so that the garlic and onions coat the vegetables. Add the stock and turn the heat up to high until the soup boils. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 25 minutes.

I prefer my soup with buckwheat groats (2 cups of stock for 1 cup of groats, cook per the package directions), but you can absolutely rock this without the groats if you’re nixing grains.

After 25 minutes, add the basil, stir, and the mixture to a high-powered blender and blitz until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot and cook for an additional ten minutes. If you’re rocking groats, I add the groats when I’ve returned the mixture to the pot, so the grains can thicken the soup.

Serve hot, with basil and a little avocado oil, salt and pepper.

sensational side: cannellini bean mash

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Sometimes I reminisce over the fancy-free days that included carbs and pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A time when I piled my plate high with mashed potatoes and lapped up the buttery bits with a charred piece of steak. I loved the streaks potatoes make, and how the butter eddies in pockets around your plate.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS.

Whenever I wax nostalgic to this degree, I remind myself of how GOOD I feel now. How I’m no longer plagued with itch. How I can eat food without fearing it. How I bolt out of bed instead of needing a forklift to carry my drowsy body into the shower. Last night I had dinner with a new friend, and I couldn’t help but say that the way I eat now, the journey that I’m on, affects everything in my life.

That being said, my food coach has tasked me with more food diversity because maybe I love chickpeas a little too much. This week I’m feasting on sprouts, snap peas, sugar peas, superfoods, and scores of vegetables I rarely eat, and I’m also making dishes with beans I’ve previously ignored. Case in point: the cannellini bean.

You have to know that I waited a good minute before I took a bite of this because I was worried that it would be a BAD FACIMILE OF THE BRILLIANT MASHED POTATO ORIGINAL. And while there are elements of my old beloved, the flavor here is clearly on its own. The bean mash is filling so you need less of it (my tower reduced to a minor moat), and somehow paired perfectly with this delicious salad (below), rendering my lunch strange, nourishing and filling.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from the Hemsley & Hemsley Coobook: The Art of Eating Well
2 tsp olive oil or ghee
1 garlic clove, diced
1 tsp fresh rosemary or thyme
1 15oz can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp lemon juice
Sea salt + black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Heat the oil or ghee on low heat and gently fry the garlic and herbs for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the beans and 6 tbsp. of water to the pan, and stir to combine for 2 minutes over high heat. At this point, much of the water should be thickened. Add the salt, pepper and lemon juice, and turn off the heat.

Using a vegetable masher (I prefer my Vitamix or food processor), mash until creamy.

avocado squash + butternut squash tomato soup

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Just when I thought I found the perfect soup recipe, there’s always another. Another cookbook, another season rife with fresh produce at the market, and today I think I’ve discovered my favorite soup to date. This version, adapted from the Hemsley + Hemsley The Art of Eating Well cookbook (the gift that keeps on giving, my health conscious-minded folk. Thank YOU, Jamie, for the tip-off.) has everything you could possibly desire in an autumn soup: squash (I used avocado squash, which was a rare find at the market and butternut) and pounds of sweet orange tomatoes. Naturally, I added my buckwheat groats to give the soup some depth, heft and texture, and my recent travels to Spain have got me obsessed with chorizo, so I fried up some sausage and scattered the sliced links on top of my soup. I also love this soup because it keeps well in the fridge–perfect for packing meals for the work-week.

This week is my first week back at work and my regular routine. Pray for a woman enduring jet lag!

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Art of Eating Well (Serves 6)
For the soup
1 pound of butternut squash, cut in fat cubes
2 pounds of avocado squash, cut in fat cubes (note: avocado squash is not the same thing as avocados)
3 pounds of fresh tomatoes (used tinned San Marzano if tomatoes aren’t in season), rough dice
1 large yellow onion + 3 large shallots, rough chop
1/2 garlic bulb
1 tbsp olive oil + Salt/pepper to season the veggies
2 tbsp coconut oil
4 tsp of lemon basil (I found this at the market, but you can use rosemary, thyme, basil or sage), rough chop
4 cups of low-sodium vegetable stock
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
a pan-fried (or roasted) chorizo link per person
Sea salt, black pepper and a little fresh herbs for the finish

For the groats
1 cup of buckwheat groats
2 cups of vegetable stock

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DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 425F. Add all of your veggies (flesh side up), garlic, onions and shallots to a large roasting tray. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt + pepper. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Gently heat the coconut oil in a large pot and add the basil. Fry for a few minutes in low heat as you try not to burn your hands squeezing the garlic out of their skins. You’ll need 6 cloves. The rest you can use in vinaigrettes and perhaps some toast for you privileged GLUTEN-EATING FOLK. Add the contents of your tray to the pot, along with the garlic cloves and the vegetable stock. Cover and simmer the soup for 20 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, add the groats + stock to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes until the water is nearly absorbed. Fry up some chorizo links in a large saucepan. I like all my meat charred so I tend to start the chorizo when I start the groats. However, roll with it. Don’t have timing drama. This is cooking, not baking, which is such a blissful change of pace.

Add the soup to a high-powered blender (or use an immersion blender), and blitz until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, add the cooked groats, and cook for an additional 5 minutes. The soup will thicken. Ladle out soup into bowls, add the chunks of chorizo, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil for garnish. EAT THE FUCK OUT OF THIS.

Or you can be like me and package it up for the week!

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you’ll never find me consuming airline food // the contents of my food bag revealed

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Unless TSA agents have confiscated my food bags in some underhanded attempt at mind control, or my bag mysteriously disappears into the abyss that is the seat pocket, I never, ever consume airline food. Packed with sodium and preservatives, airline meals are never a memorable event. Mostly you find yourself playing the role of an investigator, sleuthing through the contents of your tray–all the while wondering if that misshapen blob hidden beneath a layer of opaque sauce is indeed chicken.

Ignore the lies the flight attendants tell you. It’s never chicken.

Many of my friends make poking fun of my food bag a national pastime, however, invariably, they’ll crave a piece of my homemade cookie, beg for a carrot, or express heartbreak over not bringing aboard an almond-crusted chicken of their own. For international flights, I tend to pack a carry-on filled with snacks, a proper meal, fruits and cut vegetables. I also pack a couple of bars for when I’m walking around all day or I’m in a pinch between European meal times. And over the past year, I’ve booked AirBNB apartments so I have the option of either dining out or cooking up a dish with local ingredients from the market.

Today I’m leaving for Spain, and to say that I’m jubilant is an understatement. I AM OVER THE MOON. Two weeks without the company of people is glorious, and I intend to trek to Dali’s house and museum and eat all the gluten and dairy free tapas a woman can endure in one sitting. I’m all packed (one small rolling bag, a purse and one carry-on bag), with the small exception of gathering some fruits (apples, raspberries + blackberries) + cut veg (carrots, edamame) for the flight.

The contents of my food bag are abundant. I tend to overpack because you just never know if your flight might be diverted and you end up having an Odyssean layover in some airport where the main culinary attraction is the rotating hot dog (Exhibit A: Fiji’s airport). I focus on GMO + gluten-free snacks that pack a protein punch, teas, nuts, fruit, vegetables, treats (my lemon poppyseed cookie + some dark chocolate-covered almonds), as well as packing a full meal. Today, I’ve got these DELICIOUS sundried tomato meatballs, which are just as good at room temperature versus heated, and I plan to pick up a plain green salad at JFK. I always check the food options at the terminals in advance of my flight. Most places will sell a simple green salad.

Want to make these meatballs? Super simple. 1 lb ground sirloin | 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes | 2 tbsp parsley | sprigs of rosemary | 1 egg | salt/pepper. Blitz the sundried tomatoes, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper in a food processor/blender. Add the mixture + egg to the meat, mixing with your hands, gently. Shape into meatballs. Add them to a large oven-proof baking dish. Cover with your favorite tomato sauce and cook at 400F for 25 minutes.

This post was inspired by my friend Hitha, and her enormous propensity to make travel simply luxurious.
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sage + shallot delicata squash soup with crumbled sausage

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Have you ever walked hobbled out of spin class to then tell your friends that you’re going to order those damn pancakes for brunch because you earned it? Did you ever suit up for a run because how else would you justify that one cookie (or four)? Have you ever “doubled-up” on a workout simply to say, with a straight face, that you can eat anything you want?

Lately it feels as if I’m surrounded by people who exercise as a means to justify a basic human function: eating. Last week I read an article where the women interviewed had no qualms about spending $1400/month on their workouts, burning their way through 2+ hours a day in group fitness classes–all in an effort to keep things in check, micromanage their diet, and when things go asunder, when their precarious plan starts to show signs of disrepair, they race to the altar that is the juice cleanse: a very expensive and sophisticated means for self-denial, punishment, starvation. Because why rely on your organs to perform the function they were designed to? Why suit up for the long game of being present in your food choices, when you can wash your worries away with sugar-packed juices whose costs rival a resplendent home-cooked meal. When given the choice, I’d rather fork over $12 for a 4oz filet I can cook at home than a sugary “green” juice.

When given the choice, I’d rather focus on being healthy, because let’s be honest: the twice-daily workouts, juice cleanses, and meticulous dietary vivisection–these choices are not about health, they’re about vanity. So let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? Let’s just say many care about whether they look good in their jeans or whether they’ll tear out their GI tract in ten years time. Oh, we’ll just deal with that later.

In the film adaptation of Less Than Zero, Andrew McCarthy asks a coked-up Jami Gertz, Are you happy, Blair? You don’t look happy. To which she responds, But do I look good? He says, Always.

As someone who used to run 7 miles a day and subsist on Lean Cuisine and Starbucks, I’ve given a lot of thought into fueling my insides. My food sensitivities, contact dermatitis to god knows what–but we’ll find out when I return from Spain–is a result of a succession of bad choices in response to an insurmountable amount of stress. I replaced my bottles of Sancerre with boxes of penne and thought I was the better for it. It was as if I regarded my body as a house I was desperate to burn to the ground, and now, I’m in the state of repair. I’ve dealt with the insurance claims and adjustors, and I’m rebuilding, brick by brick.

This is all to say that I now think about what I eat before I exercise because I want to make sure I can get through my workout and perform at my best. I don’t create reward systems for food or obsessively count calories (an appalling weight loss story in this month’s Shape magazine had me aghast), rather I think if I do right by my body, if I’m consistent and present in my choices, my body will thank me for it.

I’ll have you know that I came home from a pile of errands later than I thought (1:30), and by the time I sat down for my late lunch of this lovely squash for one soup, I felt so GOOD. The soup has the texture of cashmere, and the apple sage sausage I decided to fry up and crumble into my soup made for an excellent addition.

Life is strangely simple: If you do good, you’ll feel good and look good.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen, modified slightly (The recipe says it serves 4. I mean, I guess if you were serving these in ramekins? However, this makes for a delicious full lunch for one, light eat for 2.)
2 delicata squash (3/4 lb or 340g), or you can use any squash, really
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp fresh sage, roughly chopped
pinch of sea salt + fresh pepper, to taste

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DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Cut the squash in half, lengthwise, and place, face-down in on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until soft. Use a spoon to remove the seeds, discarding them, and then scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic to cook for 2 minutes, or until the shallots are soft. Add the squash, broth, sage, and salt and pepper and mix to combine.

Either using an immersion blender or a regular blender, blitz until creamy. Garnish with sage leaves, or you can be like me and garnish with a link of apple sage sausage from Flying Pigs Farm. Just sayin’

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the triumphant return of the groat!

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When I made a seismic shift in my diet two months ago, many were aghast. The top five questions, in no particular order, were (and continue to be) as follows:

1. Aren’t you hungry?
2. No really, aren’t you hungry?
3. So, what do you eat?
4. So, you eat mostly vegetables, because gluten is in everything?
5. So, you can only eat rice and potatoes? Whoa, that’s sad

There’s a thread to these questions–some are filled with curiousity and wonder, and others are trying to imagine the unimaginable–but all of them consider my life change from the perspective of subtraction rather than addition, or dare I even suggest…multiplication. In food, like life, there are additions that are not purely mathematical. For years, I relied on a handful of dishes and foods to sustain me, and know that the irony of this–someone who eats by rote and routine–does not escape me, self-proclaimed foodie. I think it’s because we’re only present for the moment we consume, rarely do consider or tally up the totality of what we’ve consumed until we open our closets one day and collapse under the avalanche of what we’ve collected over time. Until the moment when you fill three huge boxes of food, all of them gluten-based.

Through constraints, you find abundance. You become agile, creative, and I liken this to writing prose, really, because prose requires that you look the world through a different prism. Writing is about what you see when everything else about a object has been stripped away. It’s like looking through the kaleidoscopes you had as a child. The world was filled with color, glass and beads, and as you look through one end, light floods creating patterns based on the reflection off the mirrors. Your whole point of focus has been reduced to the light coming in through the tube, and there were people who recited the list of things they saw, while I always imagined something other. I saw what wasn’t there; I saw the barest thing and from that I fashioned something so far from the collection of random objects. I saw the beauty beneath and beyond, if that makes any sense.

And so after a few weeks of whining and the like (I’ll have you know that my whining now revolves around my skin condition), I decided to reframe and think of all the things I can have. I imagine all the variations on a single food (cauliflower! kale! chickpeas!) and build and mutate, build and mutate, until what I have is so much greater than what I’ve lost. Make sense?

That’s a long-winded way (shocker, this is me we’re talking about) of saying that I can have rice (so many kinds and colors!), lentils (rinse, lather, repeat), quinoa, beans, buckwheat groats, and the list goes on. But beyond that, all the vegetables, meats, fruits, flavors, spices, herbs! It’s like taking a noodle and in one country, it’s Italian, in another it’s Greek, Indian, and so forth.

So I found a few recipes for my beloved groat (ah, the couscous of our gluten-free time!), one of which is this lovely side dish that has a very Indian feel (ginger, turmeric–though, I substituted for curry as I didn’t have turmeric on hand, cinnamon, orange flavors, cilantro), and I plan on hoovering this tonight with vegetables.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gluten, Wheat, & Dairy Free Cookbook, a gift from my dear friend, Amber. I modified the recipe slightly.
2 cups gluten-free vegetable stock
1 1/4 cups toasted buckwheat groats
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric (or curry)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup raisins
2 carrots, coarsely shredded
1/3 cup pine nuts (I nixed this)
Salt + pepper
1/4 cup cilantro and orange zest, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
Bring the stock to a boil and add the groats. Simmer for 5-6 minutes on medium heat. Add one tablespoon of oil, cover, and let cook for 8-10 minutes, until tender and all the water has been absorbed.

Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil and saute the shallots with a pinch of salt over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and slightly browned.

Add the garlic, ginger, and stir for 1 minute. Then, stir in the turmeric (or curry), cinnamon, orange juice, raisins, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the carrots, cooked buckwheat, and pine nuts, and stir until evenly heated. Season to taste with salt + pepper. Add chopped cilantro + orange zest for garnish.

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creamy tomato soup with roasted chickpea croutons

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Truth be told, I can’t wait to see my allergist on Tuesday, because this itch (a reaction to god knows what) is OUT OF CONTROL. I’m told that I have to nix the antihistamines three days before the appointment, but know that I’m taking my Quercetin supplements because going to bed feeling like you have the chickenpox is not fun. Some have told me that this is all the garbage making its way out of my body (two weeks of unknowingly eating vinegar in my Sakara meals dressing + drinking Kombucha — both of which have yeast, another sensitivity), still, but my doctor and nutritionist think I’m reacting to something else; they just don’t know what.

Another thing I’m learning: don’t take cookbook recommendations from people who don’t have food sensitivities/allergies/conditions because the books will invariably have a pile of recipes I can’t eat. Frustrated with having purchased a pile of gluten-free cookbooks that are loaded with dairy-rich recipes, I decided to hit the bookstore and find tomes like The Oh She Glows Cookbook, books that I will sully and stain after a few days of use. For me, the mark of a successful cookbook is yelping in the kitchen over the fact that I got it wet (my counter space is MINIMAL, at best), or that I’ve managed to spill some sort of sauce all over the pages.

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So I broke down and bought a PALEO cookbook. WHO AM I? Someone who’s plagued with a Twilight Zone-level of itch, apparently, lest I forget. At my local bookstore, paleo books practically have their own shelving unit, and after grimacing to an extreme, I picked up The Paleo Kitchen. Thumbing through the book, I found myself nodding along, thinking, I’d actually make this. I’d actually EAT this. Scores of soup and salad dishes, grand entrees and desserts that didn’t send me fleeing in rage from the oddity of it all. There’s a creamy cauliflower soup somewhere in this book, and you know me and cauliflower are epic lovers, the Romeo + Juliet of our time.

This means I will have to tear myself away from The Oh She Glows Cookbook, which is, quite frankly, the gift that keeps on giving. Every recipe works and every dish is GLORIOUS.

Last night I made a huge bowl of this creamy tomato soup, and although I was temporarily freaked out by the soup’s pinkish hue (as a result of the creamy cashews), I love the richness of this soup and who can refuse a chickpea. (Parenthetical: If I’m allergic to chickpeas, it’s over, kids. I give up). The soup is filled with all the frees: dairy, grain, gluten, soy, and will keep you full and sated for DAYS.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook
For the chickpea croutons:
1 (15-ounce/425-g) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp (5 mL) grapeseed oil or melted coconut oil
1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried oregano
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) cayenne pepper
1 tsp (5 mL) garlic powder
1/4 tsp (1 mL) onion powder
3/4 tsp (4 mL) fine-grain sea salt or Herbamare

For the tomato soup:
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 small to medium yellow onion, diced (1.5 to 2 cups/375 to 500 mL)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup (125 mL) raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 3 hours
2 cups (500 mL) vegetable broth
1 (28-ounce/793-g) can whole peeled tomatoes, with their juices
1/4 cup (60 mL) oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
3 to 4 tbsp (45 to 60 mL) tomato paste
1/2 to 1 tsp (2 to 5 mL) dried oregano
3/4 to 1 tsp (4 to 5 mL) fine-grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1/4 to 1/2 tsp (1 to 2 mL) dried thyme

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DIRECTIONS
For the chickpea croutons: Preheat the over to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Line a large rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. Place the chickpeas on the paper towels and place a couple of paper towels on top. Roll them around until any liquid on them has been absorbed. Discard the paper towels.

Transfer the chickpeas to a large bowl and stir in the grapeseed oil, oregano, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and then spread the chickpeas in an even layer on the baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes. Give the pan a shake from side to side and cook for 15 to 20 minutes more, watching closely, until the chickpeas are lightly charred and golden.

Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes. The chickpeas will crisp up as they cool.

For the tomato soup: In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

In a blender, combine the soaked cashews and the broth and blend on high speed until creamy and smooth. Add the garlic-onion mixture, tomatoes and their juices, sun-dried tomatoes, and tomato paste and blend on high until smooth. Pour the tomato mixture into the saucepan in which you cooked the onions and set the pan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then stir in the oregano, salt, pepper, and thyme, all to taste.

Gently simmer over medium heat, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the flavors have developed.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with 1/3 to 1/2 cup (75 to 125 mL) of the Chickpea Croutons. Garnish with minced fresh thyme, a drizzle of olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper.

Tips: The chickpeas will lose their crispness in the soup, so be sure to add them just before you sit down to eat — or you can even add the chickpeas as you eat the soup.

If you have leftover chickpeas, make sure they’re cool, then pop them into a baggie or container and throw them in the freezer. Freezing the chickpeas seems to retain their crispness better than leaving them at room temperature. To reheat, simply pop the frozen chickpeas into the oven at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 5 minutes or so, until thawed. Voila — instant roasted chickpeas!

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a woman encounters the AREPA

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If my friend Amber were here right now, I’d give her a pony. And possibly an orange kitten for good measure. All because she introduced me to the glory that is the AREPA. In my humble opinion, arepas are next-level tacos. A corn-based flatbread indigenous to Colombia and Venezuela, arepas have a doughy, yet crunchy texture, and are the perfect haven for all sorts of fixings.

AND AREPAS ARE GLUTEN-FREE.

Today, I fixed mine with leftover chopped chicken, chickpeas, kale and mixed greens. Clearly, I plan to add arepas to my repertoire. I’m envisioning pulled pork and veg, roasted vegetables, and taco beef.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Bon Appetit
2 cups arepa flour (precooked cornmeal)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Desired fillings (such as shredded cooked chicken or pork, stewed black beans with cheese and lime, corn salad with onion and fresh herbs; for serving)
Lime wedges (for serving)

Note: Arepa flour is precooked corn flour, not to be confused with masa harina. Sometimes sold as masarepa or harina precocida, it can be found in Latin markets and some supermarkets.

DIRECTIONS
Combine arepa flour and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and add 2½ cups warm water. Using a wooden spoon, gradually incorporate dry ingredients, stirring until no dry lumps remain. Let rest 5 minutes to hydrate.

Knead dough a few times in bowl, then divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece on work surface into a ball, then gently flatten to about ½” thick.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 4 arepas, cover, and cook until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Uncover, flip, and cook (keep uncovered) until other side is golden brown, 6–8 minutes.

Transfer arepas to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining 1 Tbsp. oil and dough. Let the arepas cool for 10 minutes. Split arepas and stuff with desired fillings (I used chopped up chicken, chickpeas and kale sauteed in a pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper); serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.

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chicken + chickpea green salad with creamy parsley dressing

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Let me tell you about the morning I had. I woke, dragged myself to the shower–can we call a spade a spade and say I limped–to get ready for a spin class I couldn’t cancel, lest I be charged $20. The reason for the geriatric hobble can be attributed to a brutal Core Fusion Extreme class, during which I questioned whether I’d make it out of the class alive. After what felt like a million squats, lunges, TRX planks, box jumps, and tears–oh, the tears, so many of them–I came home, collapsed face-down on the couch and slept the sleep of children.

Then I woke to soreness.

I should say that I lasted one full song during my spin class before I realized I was toast. I called it a day and limped to the market to pick up a pile of veg for my first week off Sakara and into the real world. Some people get bewitched by clothes; I become obsessed with herbs, leaves I’ve never heard of, and in-season vegetables. You should know that my fridge is 80% composed of vegetables in labeled bags (Exhibit A, below). Because this is my life. 80% of a plate covered in veg. Veg at every meal, so I’ve got to make these recipes desirable, sustaining and GOOD.

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I should also confess that I shamefully succumed to the horror that is VEGENAISE. This is a weakness, friends, because in real life I LOATHE MAYONNAISE. Not as much as the WRETCHED MUSHROOM, but my hate is vociferous and real. But yet, I had a hard time recreating the DELICIOUS creamy dressings Sakara sent with my meals, and since getting their recipes is akin to breaking into Fort Knox, I’m left to my own devices.

GWYNETH PALTROW. Listen, people, a woman needs to survive. My beloved pasta, bread, bananas, cheese, turkey, sweet potatoes and a fucking laundry list of food have been stolen from me. I need to adapt. I need to succumb, and I succumbed to the damn cookbook that delivers seriously good recipes. I thought I would hate this creamy parsley dressing when in fact I do not.

I LOVE IT.

This is a HUGE salad, but it will keep you full until dinner, and it’s SO SO healthy and SO SO good.

INGREDIENTS
For the salad
1/2 cup lacinato kale, de-veined roughly chopped
1 cup spinach
1 cup Amaranth leaves
2 radishes, finely sliced
1/2 cup shredded carrots
2 sweet peppers, sliced into thin strips
1/3 can of chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and sauteed in a small pan with 1 tsp of olive oil, salt and pepper for 2-3 minutes

For the chicken
3 pieces of chicken breast tenders (total weight shouldn’t exceed 4oz)
1 large egg
1 cup gluten-free cornmeal
1 tbsp slivered almonds
1 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp of olive oil

For the creamy parsley dressing: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup organic Vegenaise
3 tbsp water
½ tsp coarse sea salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

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DIRECTIONS
First, make the chicken. Pre-heat the oven to 400F. I had the luxury of having a whole tub of pre-made chicken tenders I cooked from the previous evening (it pays to prepare!), which I chopped into chunks. However, if you’re just making the chicken now, set up an assembly station: 1 bowl of the beaten egg, 1 bowl of the cornmeal, almond and seasoning, and one oven-ready bowl for cooking the tenders in the oven. Dip each tender into the egg to coat and then toss in the cornmeal mixture. In a medium skillet set to medium, add the olive oil. When the pan is hot, add your tenders, spacing them evenly apart and cook for three minutes a side. Once the tenders have a nice, crunchy coating, transfer them to the oven-safe bowl and cook them in the oven for 5 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, combine all ingredients for the creamy dressing in a blender until completely pureed. Keeps well in a jar with a fitted lid for up to one week, as you’ll only need a tbsp or so for this recipe.

Assemble the items for the salad. Note, this is what I love. Add the veggies that you love–there are endless combinations. I used what I had on hand and what was lovely at the market.

Once the chicken is done, let cool for 5 minutes, chop into chunks, and add the lot to one huge bowl and toss with the dressing.

DIVE IN.

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