black bean taquitos with black bean guacamole + some thoughts on the big gooper's latest cookbook

chicken taquitos

There’s something about Gwyneth Paltrow that reminds me of dissecting earthworms in the 11th grade. The innards are gruesome to look at, but you can’t seem to turn away. In fact, you’re compelled to dive right in. Or maybe this is just the part of me who secretly wishes she had the drive and competency to be a surgeon finding its way into a blog post. There’s so much about Paltrow that’s worthy of ridicule: the patrician insouciance, the lithe frame, the pizza oven in her backyard, the unconscious coupling nonsense, the bad acting, the why-is-she-famous-while-Winona-stews-in-obscurity questions, Contagion, our laughter during Contagion–the jokes write themselves, so much so that it’s almost too easy. I unsubscribed to Goop two years ago because I couldn’t read her newsletter without wanting to take a shower afterward it was so banal, basic and out-of-touch. Paltrow-bashing, for most, has become a pastime sport.

But those fucking cookbooks.

Mostly I tell people that I like Julia Turshen’s (Gwyneth’s former collaborator) cookbooks. When I had to abstain from gluten, dairy, yeast (gluten-free bread was verboten FOR A YEAR), and 37 million other foods, Paltrow’s It’s All Good was a gentle reprieve. That and the Oh She Glows Cookbook whispered: you’re not going to die, face-down, in a bowl of gluten-free pasta. Not yet, anyway. Finally, I regarded cauliflower with a reaction that no longer resembled disgust.

Yet, I read her cookbooks with a perpetual side-eye. From the Kinfolk-esque photographs of her dreamily staring off into her multi-million landscape that breeds that “simple life” and the endless name-dropping (we get it, you’re besties with Beyonce) to a pantry that costs multiple paychecks to stock, it’s hard not to drop-kick her cookbooks while eating the delicious meals I made as a result of said cookbooks. It’s really hard.

I’ll be honest–I was looking forward to It’s All Easy because I wanted simple, healthy recipes that I could make at home on the days I have back-to-back conference calls and Powerpoint has me seeing double. But then I got the cookbook and sighed because, oh, it’s her interpretation of easy. Easy for the patricians, but rough for the plebeian-crunching lot. I cook often and have a pimped-out pantry, but some of the ingredients had me doing a double-take: who has Gochujang paste, Ponzu, Sambal oelek, kuzu root, and Bonito flakes on hand? I don’t even know what these ingredients are (although I’m clearly curious) much less have confidence that my local grocery will have them in stock. The point-of-view is curious–a mish-mosh of Tex-Mex, Korean, and vegan fare–to the point where the book felt a bit ramshackle even if the most of the recipes score well in terms of ease and flavor.  I paged through the book, read through her insufferable name-dropping and did that squinty thing I do with my eyes when I’m confused.

But some of the recipes (at least the ones with ingredients that were easy to procure) are pretty good. I’ve made her falafel (I did the chickpea soak thing and I am DONE with peeling shells), chicken salad, acai bowl, and eggs, and so far, so good. But still. I was disappointed with her follow-up to It’s All Good simply because these recipes aren’t easy, aren’t meals you can wrap up and store for later. However, if you love Goop, love Gwen, love this Kinfolk aesthetic, live your life and fawn over this cookbook.

These taquitos were really tasty. I changed her recipe a bit for my spice and flavor level, and they ended up being DELICIOUS. I have leftovers in the fridge, and I’ll update this post if they’re crap upon re-heating.

INGREDIENTS: Taquito recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy, modified. Of note, I like this cookbook but it’s kind of comical to call it “easy”. I quite liked the spot-on L.A. Times review, and this recipe road-test was hilarious. // Guacamole recipe is my own
For the taquitos: This recipe serves 4
1 package of corn tortillas
1 15oz can of black beans, drained + rinsed, reserve 2 tbsp of the beans
1 cup Mexican cheese blend
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp chipotle chili flakes
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
Salt, for seasoning

For the guacamole
1 ripe avocado
juice + zest of one lime
1/2 tsp chipotle chili flakes
1 tsp onion powder
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
Salt/pepper to taste
Reserve 2 tbsp of black beans

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 400F, and grease a baking dish or baking sheet. Set aside.

Mix all of the ingredients for the taquitos in a large bowl. On medium/high heat, add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a small, non-stick pan. Add one tortilla at a time, and cook for 30 seconds on each side. Once the tortilla is cooked, quickly transfer it to a plate. Add 2-3 tbsp of the taquito mixture. Wrap tightly, tucking in the mixture as you wrap, and place the filled taquito, seam side down, in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining 7 tortillas. Midway through the process, I had to add another tablespoon of oil to avoid smoking out my apartment.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

While the taquitos are cooking, mix all the ingredients for the guacamole. I like my guac smooth, not chunky, so I really get in there with the fork. Stir in the beans so as to not break them.

Once the taquitos are out of the oven, let them rest for 1-2 minutes. I love stuffing the guac inside the taquito like it’s a little cannoli. Chow down and serve with arugula or your favorite mixed greens.

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chicken taquitos
chicken taquitos

cookbooks gluten-free vegetable recipes

life lately: pups, smoothies, and lots of work

puppies!

I was once part of a turtle rescue in Prospect Park. It was a Friday and I walked the length of the park when I encountered a large turtle crossing the bike pathway, making its way to the street. Right before the encounter, I saw a man shove another turtle in a bag and I shouted at him as he walked out of the park. All of this was odd–the man in a cloth hat, a random turtle in Brooklyn–and I paused, unsure of what to do. As luck would have it, a woman riding her bike stopped and told me that she’d just a job at an animal reserve, and we stood as she tried calling her boss to find out what we should do with said turtle. For an hour, we guarded the creature amidst catcalls from boys on bikes and strange looks from passersby. Finally, the woman got through to her boss and promised she would foster the turtle for the night until proper arrangements could be made. The woman and I exchanged numbers and she walked, turtle in tow, back to her Coney Island apartment.

I followed up with the woman on the bike and she sent me photos of the turtle at the reserve. Safe. Seemingly happy.

I love animals, irrationally so. My pop and I used to joke that we preferred animals over people because animals don’t know artifice–they’re primal in their wants and honest about their affection. I’ve always had a pet, cats mostly, and I regarded every one of them as part of my family. Long-time readers know how devasted I was when I lost my Sophie in 2013. Even though she paw-swatted, hissed and had her way with my carbs, I adored her. At the time, I couldn’t fathom having another pet, and then I met Felix, my sweet boy, and I often joke that he’s a dog in a catsuit. Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting him a companion. The shelter, from where I adopted Felix, warned me not to get another cat because Felix experienced early trauma in a multi-cat household and became an alpha feline. I couldn’t imagine Felix hurting anyone (he doesn’t even hiss!) until a dog entered our home (long story), frantic, and Felix made sounds I never conceived he could make. Recently, I’ve been talking to local shelters and animal behaviorists, and it is possible to introduce a new pet, but the integration would have to be mindful, slow and it’ll require a great deal of my time. I’m saving $ for a money to a small home where I could have a little yard so that Felix would roll around in the grass (#goals, etc), and I’ve been thinking about adopting a young dog.

So when my friend Alexis text’d me with a photo of a puppy pile and a message that she was fostering 7 pups and one mom until Sunday, I replied back, inviting myself over. Alexis is this incredible human, and she’s been working with Social Tees NYC, an animal rescue, to foster dogs–even from Los Angeles! If you’re one of my unlucky followers on Instagram or Snapchat (I’m @felsull!), I spammed you with an endless stream of puppy videos, because when you’re with cuteness for three hours you tend to cuddle with one hand and snap photos with the other.  I actually fell for the mother, a pup with fox ears and a mean little strut, and I told Alexis that I would be interested in adopting her when she’s ready to be weened from her pups in three months time. And even if I don’t get this pup, at least I’ll have time to research how to acclimate Felix with a new friend without him going on rein of terror. (Any thoughts/advice are welcome)

I’m still baffled that these pups were in a kill shelter. They’re so sweet and beautiful and if you don’t fall in love after feeling their small hearts beat in your hand, you’re the worst kind of animal.

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I arrived in California, fit and healthy, and over the course of seven months, all of my hard work from the past year went asunder. I ate baguettes slathered in butter. I ordered personal pizzas on the regular. Cheese became my primary food group. A bottle of wine a day was par for the course. And then I went into therapy, got on meds, regained my sanity, got off the sauce, re-entered the world, scored two amazing projects, and decided to get my health back on track. After enduring a skin blitzkrieg (raised burning hives, anyone?) and a skin reaction that followed as a result of the medication to alleviate the hives, I made some rapid changes in my diet and life. I nixed gluten and dairy from my life (although I do have small amounts of cheese a week), I resumed blitzing my morning protein smoothie, replaced all my household cleaning products and skin products with ingredients I could read. Greens resumed their role as the headliner rather than the backup dancer on my plate, and I’ve returned to my meditation and exercise practices. Again, this is not about being skinny or depriving myself of food, this is about making it to 90 (isn’t this woman INCREDIBLE?) and still be spunky and aware, and have the ability to punch people in the face if I needed to. So I’m returning to healthy eats and I’ll be sharing recipes on this space.

Want this yum recipe? Get it here.

blueberry smoothie
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california living smoothie recipes

don't be funny about asking for money: I'm answering your questions

freelance money questions resolved

Years ago, ages it seems, I had a job where I had a great deal of control over how much people were paid. I conducted performance reviews, sat in on budget meetings, and fought for comp increases for valuable employees. Even though money in and of itself isn’t the only way to retain employees, it doesn’t hurt to recognize and reward hard work. However, what I started to notice was that the talented women on my team weren’t raising their hand and asking for what I thought they deserved. Their anxiety in broaching the question of title changes and quarterly increases was palpable and I remember at the end of one review me saying, that’s it? That’s all you’re going to ask for? From then on, I made a point of mentoring women to fight for what they deserved. It seems counterintuitive, right? Companies want to keep costs down (especially salary + benefits), and here I was teaching my team how to ask for more. However, it was important to me because only one person in my career taught me how to fight for myself. He taught me to ASK for what was my due. My mentor coached me on salary and benefit negotiations (and contract negotiations, in general). From him I learned about BATNA, and more importantly, I learned how to be assertive and bet on myself. Because, quite honestly, in enrages me that men–when acumen and experience are leveled–make more money than I do.

After my recent Great Depression, I made it my mission to give the people I care about more of the kindness I’d received during those dark months. I passed around resumes, reviewed Statements of Work, and even though I’m not a lawyer I explained the importance of IP and indemnification. I told several of my friends they were underpricing themselves, that they should ask for 50% of the project fee, up front, that they should bill project with an hourly cap because hourly doesn’t always cut it especially for those who have tenure and years of experience.

I scanned Facebook group posts where women were trepidatious when it came to asking for more. After sharing one of my contracts with a few of my friends for reference, it put me to thinking that it behooves all of us to share information and be helpful where we can. It behooves us to price right for the work we do so that we don’t get taken advantage of.

So…I’m here to help. Here’s what I know:

  • How to create air-tight Statements of Work/MSAs (Master Service Agreements)
  • How to price for marketing and writing projects
  • When to use hourly vs. project fee
  • How to negotiate (I’m pretty ruthless)
  • How/when to renegotiate and ask for more

If you have any questions related to the above, drop them in the comments (you can leave a comment anonymously), and I’ll do my best to answer all of them in an upcoming post (or point you to the right resources), and if you see questions and you think you can help, chime in!

Meanwhile, here are some great resources:

 

freelance life + careers

mexican meatloaf

mexican meatloaf

Meatloaf never makes for a pretty picture, no matter how many pressed linens or bone china plates you add to the mix. It’s sloppy, messy, brown and red (tough colors to photograph), but it’s the kind of mess I like. It’s the juices-running-off-your-chin messy. It’s the I-got-chorizo-all-over-my-shirt (this actually happened) messy. Meatloaf is the kind of food you eat standing up, fork digging into the loaf pan, mixing moistened meat with scalding sauce. It’s the kind of food that will stink up your refrigerator, but who cares? No one should judge you for the contents of your fridge.

Most of the week I’m crazy busy, but I reserve Saturdays for “me” time. Now this isn’t the sort of time I use to get perfunctory work or errands done because I consider that work, rather it’s a day when I read long books, watch good movies, bake meat in loaf pans and take copious pictures of my cat pressing his vanilla paws into his face. However, lately, I’ve also been using it as a means to learn something new each week. This week a friend (and colleague) taught me how to use Snapchat, a non-intuitive platform that I abhorred using for a while. An old friend from New York and I chatted via Skype yesterday while she taught me sophisticated ad targeting techniques. Another friend taught me how to take better pictures (I’m still learning). And yet another friend reminded me about being patient, how to play the long game when it comes to my life and career. Not all of us have the means or privilege to “hunt down our passion” or “quit our day job”, but there exists nobility in finding purpose in the work that you do and then making time for the things you love to do that don’t necessary yield profit.

During my recent financial crisis, where I was living off my credit card and frightened of eviction, some of my friends suggested I monetize this space. I have a fair amount of traffic and readers and I could make some decent change by adding affiliate links to the books I suggest since I tend to read a lot of them. I thought about this, albeit briefly, and shook my head no, not because I was taking a moral high ground, but rather it would make this space work. Making everything about work takes the joy out of the pursuit. Or to put it bluntly, Lenny Kravitz learned from Prince that”[e]verything isn’t for business. It’s for the sake of doing it. It’s about the art, the moment, the memory and the experience.” While I’m not suggesting I create art on the level of Prince on this space, I do get a great deal of joy coming here without the burden of being beholden to people or feeling frightened that I’m not making as much money as I should. I don’t come here with the intention of creating posts that will generate more traffic (I mean, come on, I write 1,000-word posts that have nothing to do with meatloaf). I come here because sharing the food I make, the books I read, the experiences I endured make me happy in a way that’s difficult to describe.

Yesterday, I focused on learning and taking care of myself. I made meatloaf, and while you’d hesitate in wanting to take its picture, this is the kind of meal you want to be eating.

I have a hectic few weeks ahead of me, and I keep saying to myself: take care, take care, take care.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook, modified slightly
1 pound ground beef, make sure this has 80% fat or your meat will dry out
1 pound chorizo
1 red bell pepper, dice
1 shallot, minced
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 tablespoon garlic powder
1⁄2 tablespoon onion powder
1⁄2 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup blanched almond flour
1 large egg
1⁄4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
2 cups salsa of choice, divided
DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. The original recipe doesn’t make the following notation, but trust me, it will save you agony later on. Layer the pan with a sheet of parchment paper that hangs a few inches off the sides. This will help when you want to remove your boiling hot loaf from the pan without an epic collapse.
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the salsa. Press the mixture firmly into the prepared loaf pan. Pour 1 cup of the salsa on top of the meatloaf. Bake for 1 hour to 1hr 15 minutes until the meat is completely cooked through in the middle. Remove the meatloaf from the oven, top with the remaining 1 cup of salsa, and garnish with extra cilantro.

making mexican meatloaf

mexican meatloaf

dairy-free recipes gluten-free meat meat, chicken + fish recipes

life lately

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You could say that the photograph above is an accurate representation of my life lately: frenetic, productive, and often chaotic. When I came home from a work trip a week ago, I felt out of sorts because the home I’d known for the whole of my life suddenly felt like a stranger. Everything in New York had become too loud, too fast, and the glare of cars streaking down Park and the sun rising up from behind tall buildings was entirely too blinding. I made a deliberate choice not to travel this year because, by definition, Los Angeles is new and I’m its tourist and there’s much to see. I promised myself I’d commit to this place, get to know it, and, more importantly, try to make a home and life for myself in a place thousands of miles away from the world, family, and friends I’d built in my prior life. So to say that my quick trip to New York was jarring would be an understatement, and when I boarded my flight back to L.A., I felt relieved in the same way I used to feel about flying into JFK.

I’ll be honest, it’s been hard to come to this space. Even now, even as I type this, I keep looking around my apartment for things to distract me because I don’t know how to explain exactly how I feel. Maybe the word pulled seems appropriate? Pulled away, pulled toward, pulled from? I’m working 70+ hour weeks to save enough money so I won’t be in the position I found myself for the past five months. I’m working to pay down the sizeable debt I’d accumulated during that time, and I’m logging these hours to save enough money to break my lease, move out of my apartment into a little house with a yard so Felix could play. Last week a friend comes over and we’re taking photographs for a client and my friend wonders aloud if I still have my designer shoes and handbags, and she stops herself and asks whether I’ve sold them all. I nod. I have, with no regrets. This week she brings over expensive leather that we don’t end up photographing. Instead, we play with avocados, eggs and rose petals. Instead, we do the thing we never did in New York–stop and see everything. Can I tell you that the best part of my day yesterday was when my friend kept pointing out places in Santa Monica that could serve as a backdrop for our client’s product? Can I tell you that the constant pause gave me joy? Because when you live in a city for a while, you tend to take it for granted. You tend to see less because you’ve already seen it, shapes and colors have already been committed to memory. You find that process to be efficient: see once, log, move on. Rarely do we return to that which we know to see it anew, to rediscover it, to take it less for granted.

Years ago, my yoga teacher told me that the mark of an advanced practitioner was not someone who could kick up into a handstand, rather it was someone who could return to a basics class and re-learn downward facing dog as if it was the first time she encountered the pose.

I haven’t read Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in over a decade–it sat on my bookshelf collecting dust. I remembered the story only vaguely, on in parts, and when I read it for the first time I didn’t love it as much as I do now.

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I’ve been reading a slew of good, fast books (see above) that were endearing and honest. From a journalist with two decades of experience at Newsweek who’s forced to reinvent his career and work at a cultish start-up to a cookbook author who discovers her husband is having an affair while she’s seven months pregnant to a blogger turned essayist who’s just trying to get through her days without screaming–I felt acutely connected to each narrator in markedly different ways. When I finally came to re-read Murakami’s book, it felt like a clarion call. The dreamlike novel invites you to question your surroundings, it commands you to not get accustomed to the light and it compels you to ferret out the extraordinary from the ordinary.

“But finally, Mr. Wind Up Bird, isn’t that what life is? Aren’t we all trapped in the dark somewhere, and they’ve taken away our food and our water, and we’re slowly dying, little by little.” I laughed. “You’re too young to be so…pessimistic.” I said using the English word. “Pessimistic, pessimistic.” She repeated the English word to herself over and over, and then she looked up at me with a fierce glare. “I’m only sixteen,” she said, “and I don’t know much about the world, but I do know one thing for sure. If I’m pessimistic, then the adults in this world who are not pessimistic are a bunch of idiots.”

When I first read Wind-Up, I liked it but didn’t love it, and it took me a decade to understand the story’s quiet nobility. Much like my life right now the story is fantastic and dull, magical and ordinary. Much like the story’s main character, I’m trying to wade through the confusion and noise to get to the other side.


What I’ve been reading:
What if your mind’s eye was blind?
Amanda Peet on not crossing the Botox line.
What’s really wrong with the “do what you love” narrative.
The new mantra for Indian gurus is social media.
Why not post your failures for the world to see?
Today’s coffee shops are not far off from fraternization 350 years ago.
The uncanny value. Get depressed.

book buff

"you know our beautiful new couch? yeah. totally toxic."

strawberries

To say that my skin has endured a Brooklyn-style beat-down would be an understatement. I don’t know whether it’s Los Angeles, growing older, or the fact that my skin is becoming sensitive to everything (cue visuals of Julianne Moore in Safe prattling on about her totally toxic couch), but the past few months have taken a toll on me. During my Great Depression, a time when I ate a whole baguette slathered with butter, frozen “organic” enchiladas and halloumi cheese by the pound, I started to feel sick and then I noticed whiteheads setting up shop all over my forehead. One night I woke to burning raised hives, which covered 80% of my body, and I thought, fuck, not again. I went to a dermatologist who gave me a cortisone shot and prescriptions for steroid creams. The steroid cream triggered my second folliculitis outbreak, and I’ve been on antibiotics for weeks. Finally, the bumps have finally started to recede. And let’s not even discuss allergies so severe it sometimes became difficult for me to breathe.

All because my body reacted to what I was putting in it. Lately, I’ve become hyper-aware of the air I breathe, the food I eat, and the products I put on my skin and use in my home.

I loathe drugs. I only like taking medication if it serves to progress, rather than impede, function. And yes I know that the Felicia of 2001 would find that hilarious, and that’s okay because that Felicia used to subsist on Lean Cuisine and Starbucks and we’ve come a long way, baby. Now I take antidepressants because they’re necessary for me to focus and function. I take birth control pills because I’d rather not lock myself in a bathroom for three days every month. I used to take anti-anxiety medication because I have a crippling fear of flying (I’ve screamed during turbulence more times than I’d like to admit). Only recently did I stop taking Xanax because pills really don’t work when the plane starts shaking mid-flight. Nothing works, really, other than me curling in a ball, doing my deep breathing, and telling myself that turbulence is normal. Even when it feels like it’s anything but. Now I only take medication if it’s completely necessary.

farmer's market

Monsanto, aka Satan, does exist and it’s ubiquitous. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed not to find food tainted by Roundup or any of the litany of chemicals plaguing our soil in the name of greed and profit (here’s looking at you Koch brothers and shady politicians on both sides of the aisle). I work in marketing and I often joke that my profession boils down to throwing glitter over shit, and that statement couldn’t be more accurate when we’re talking about Big Food. Everyone lies. We know that the term “natural” is obtuse and meaningless, but it makes us feel good much like the cool sensation from toothpaste or the suds from shampoo–both giving the impression of cleanliness when they’re actually just marketing ploys satisfying human behavior. Years ago, I sat in on a case study on Fabreeze, a product that, when launched, was initially a complete failure. Only when marketers conducted at-home focus groups did they learn that people gained a certain level of satisfaction from using the product after they’ve cleaned their space–the product functioning as a kind of digestif. We’re learning that Big Organic is just as shady as conventional, and every day we’re greeted with the news that some food may or may not kill us. Fear drives traffic and lies sell products, so it’s no doubt that we sometimes walk into a supermarket, restaurant or farmer’s market either completely ignorant or violently skeptical.

I don’t even trust Whole Foods anymore, but what can I do? Move to my own private Walden and grow my own food? Drink water from my own well? Sure, if I had Angelina Jolie money, but I live in reality and in this world, I have a budget and a life that is filled with little compromises. Even then I’m acutely aware of my privilege–the fact that I’m now able to afford vegetables and farmer’s market meat, which are often considered frivolous expenditures in homes where people are barely making ends meet, and this financial fragility isn’t getting better anytime soon. And I don’t foresee the lies and big business surrounding food, GMOs, and farmer equities getting better in my lifetime. Until then, I try to buy as much locally-produced food as I could. I try to educate myself on what’s going on with labels and faulty manufacturers.

I would talk about how cutting out gluten and dairy again from my diet have eliminated my allergies and the hives on my skin, but that topic is polarizing. People levy this discussion with that of dieting or food restrictions and let me be the first to tell you that if I could return to a life of eating Sidecar huckleberry donuts, you damn well know I would. If I could put cheese on my fucking bean pasta you know I would. This isn’t about dieting, it’s about my body having an adverse reaction to certain foods. And even that argument is countered with “food sensitivity doesn’t exist” to which I respond, ten years ago doctors were prescribing women antidepressants when they described symptoms that eventually surfaced as celiac disease. In short, I don’t believe long-term scientific studies have caught up with the pace in which our diet, the environment, and our food supply have changed. But let’s not talk about gluten and dairy and say we did.

Living a healthy life is expensive and exhausting.

For the past six months, a few of my friends who are beauty writers were kind enough to supply me with everything from deodorant to toothpaste to facial cleanser because that stuff adds up. You walk into any target and CVS and you could easily spend $50 on items that keep you clean. The irony in this is that these products don’t really serve you regardless of the luxury packaging, the celebrity endorsements or the commercials with English or French voice-overs. Many of these prestige products (ah, the promise of increased efficacy) are manufactured using similar formulas and factories as the “cheap” products. And when I start reading the multi-syllabic list of ingredients, each product listing water as the first and most concentrated ingredient, it reminded me of the time I read an ice cream label and asked, what is guar gum? 

What is this shite I’m putting in and on my body? But then again, we live in an age where people are comfortable injecting their faces with botulism. So there’s that.

natural beauty products

With each paycheck, I’m slowly making product swap-outs. I’m buying products whose ingredients resemble words in the English language and they’re working. Some of them are shown in the snap above, although some of the products (Caudalie) are mass manufactured–they’re holders from my friends’ extreme generosity, for which I’m grateful. I’m stocking up on more vinegar because that will get out cat vomit in carpet far quicker than some newfangled $10.99 bleach cleaner.

This post started one way and ended differently. I don’t have the answers to the long, meandering post I’m sharing with you, but I’m doing the work of being more thoughtful about what I put on and in my body, what I use in my home, and the environment in which I surround myself. It’s expensive and exhausting to live a healthy life, to cut through the confusing and conflicting news articles. It’s hard finding out what’s true and what’s marketing copy. It’s hard not having the food you crave and want and having to deal with people who sometimes respond to health issues with swallowed laughter and sarcasm. It’s hard knowing things and not having the ability (or the knowledge) of what to do. What do you do when you can afford farmer’s market pork and then you read an article about people who know McDonald’s is unhealthy but what are their options? What do you do when politicians don’t really talk about food or climate change because there’s a host of other ills in our country, but all the way Big Food does little to benefit the economically disadvantaged. What are the small things you can do that allow you to use your privilege to benefit others?

I welcome your insight.

style

running from ambition toward grace: the year I stopped wanting all the wrong things

pineapple in the ocean

There goes that pineapple again.

Let me tell you what I thought I wanted. I wanted to write a New Yorker story and get a blurb from the Michael Cunningham of 2002. And then I read the magazine and didn’t particularly like the stories or their formulas and Michael Cunningham started writing books that drew a chasm between author and reader and it had become an ocean I was too tired to cross. I wanted blue glitter heels that gave me the advantage of a few inches because height, the ability to stand over someone and stare down at them, got you places. Or so I thought. But the pretty tall shoes pinched my feet and one day I tripped and fell and nearly twisted my ankle. I donated the shoes and hoped they wouldn’t pinch another woman’s feet. Now, I mostly wear flats and have lost interest in staring. I thought I wanted an expansive brownstone apartment outfitted with a blue velvet couch, and when I had the home I lamented over the largeness of it and when I finally bought the couch I felt it was a thing you would admire in a magazine but an item in your home that you’d dust and preserve but wouldn’t dare touch. Everyone complimented my blue couch while I sat on the floor repelled by it. I spent over two thousand dollars on a piece of furniture and when I moved to Los Angeles I sold it for $50 and begged a young woman to take it away as quickly as you can. The thing I’d coveted had become an eyesore–a reminder of all I hadn’t wanted. I thought I wanted a job with a fancy title and a check with a sizeable number of zeros because I thought that represented respect and intelligence, but the job became my slow burn ruin and the paycheck only served to buy things that self-medicated (see: blue glitter shoes, blue velvet couch). I didn’t need a title to tell me I was smart and a title doesn’t actually hand you respect–you earn it. I thought I wanted what Tony Montana wanted: the world, chico, and everything in it because I spent my childhood playing the role of parent, of an adult. Because I thought I deserved it. But who deserves anything? Who says that with a straight face? And I came to realize that the words that found themselves replayed in rap songs and printed on posters and t-shirts weren’t two arms wrapped around a globe, rather they were a black ocean intent on swallowing me whole. When you have all there is to have you have nothing. The ground gives way and the fall is bottomless as a result of your want, which is never really fulfilled because you dedicated your life to accumulation rather than cultivation.

Funny how time sorts things.

A while ago, one of my closest friends, Amber, asked if I’d seen the Nora Ephron documentary, “Everything is Copy”. I said no in that dismissive way I can sometimes be, and told her I’d add it to my Netflix queue. She posed that question while I was surveying my home with the realization that I didn’t want this apartment. I didn’t want much of what was hanging in my closet. Pacing my very expensive apartment I kept saying I don’t want as if it were a sermon, a prayer.

Then I boarded a plane to New York for a work trip and when I landed in the maelstrom that was JFK I was exhausted. In Manhattan, I viewed the buildings and the people with their clipped tones and determined gait moving every which way with dread. My home, my place of origin, after eight months, had become a stranger. My solace were people: my client team who’s smart and passionate and funny, my mentor who told me I seemed changed but in a good way, and the few friends I was able to see whom I held close and made a point of smelling their hair and feeling my cheek against their shoulder or neck. I know that might sound strange or primal, but I wanted to remember them whole not in parts. I want to remember what it felt like holding them close rather than what they wore or how they colored their hair (all my friends have lightened their hair since I’ve last seen them, which is interesting. More so when one of them pointed out I’d lightened my hair too, to which I responded, laughing, L.A.). This was me taking a picture of them because I knew I wouldn’t see them for a while. And this want, this desire to have them close to me, in my home, broke my heart in places I never conceived could break.

While I was in New York, I stayed with Amber and we watched the documentary and all the while I imagined Joan Didion calling Nora Ephron a cool customer. In her dying days, all that ambition, all that want, morphed into a grace, a quiet and deliberate receding. She’d built a career on ambition and there’s nothing wrong with that–in some ways we should want and work for that want–and I consider the balance of ambition and grace. It seems to me that one tends to follow the other–maybe because of age or exhaustion, who’s to say–and I wonder if both of them, grace and ambition, can occupy the same space and live amicably. To want but not to be subsumed by it, to recognize that life is not a series of battles waged, wars conquered and spoils savored. To realize that one can want but one can also simply be.

In the cab headed to Kennedy, it occurred to me that New York is a repository of my history of wants, of so much history that it’s daunting–all of it is entirely too much to bear and carry. Perhaps this is why I was so anxious to abandon the only home I know because the memory of it was inextricably tied to the life I’d devoted to creating–a life I ended up never really wanting.

I’ll tell you what I do want. I want to stop wanting because desire can sometimes be exhausting and often confused with need. I want a small house I can afford with a yard because I’ve never lived in a house, only apartments. I want this space because it affords me quiet and it would be nice to watch my Felix roll around in the grass. It would be nice to consider adopting a dog. I want to write without caring where my work would be published or if it achieves any level of acclaim–and I’m nearly there, but not quite. I want to live within my means and not feel the pang of desire simply because someone else has more things. I want to be calmer, quieter, less reactive and more forgiving and pensive, and I’m almost there but not quite. I want my ambition to be graceful and filled with grace. I want to remember this is how her skin felt when I left her. This was the crush of our embrace and it feels good to love and be loved.

I want to be and remember this moment as it happens as it’s happened as it has happened and as it will happen.

I would also like a pineapple.

 

Image Credit: Unsplash

the gathering kind

falafel for the flight

baked falafel

As you well know, I try to avoid eating plane food. There are notable exceptions: I’m in a foreign country and I’m not able to find a local market where I’m able to stockpile food in Tupperware, or when I arrive at an airport and my only food options are a corndog stand that makes 7-Eleven look like a Michelin-starred restaurant. In those cases, I find myself invariably poking at the contents of the hot aluminum foil tray much like how one would prod a dead body with a stick.

Believe me when I say that my food bag is just as sizable as a carry-on. I bring snacks, nuts, fruit, and plastic bins filled with food that can withstand hours without refrigeration. Often, I’ll bring cooked chicken and rice or pasta or meatballs (complete with my own utensils)–anything that contains a cooked protein.

Tomorrow, I board a plane back to New York for a brief work trip. It’s the first time I’ve returned since I’ve moved to Los Angeles, and it already feels weird to think about landing in New York without a place to go home to. I’ll be staying with a friend in the city, whose apartment is in walking distant of my client’s office. I’ll spend most of my days in work sessions and strategy meetings, and evenings working or catching up on new business proposals and new client deliverables, with very little time to see anyone. Initially, I was excited to return because Ample Hills Salted Cracked Caramel Ice Cream! Real Bagels! However, my recent fatwa on gluten and dairy (and my carting along my steroids in the event of a random flare-up), has made that blissful dream nothing other than a fantasy.

But I digress.

I’ve already started packing and doing prep work for next week’s meetings, and naturally I’ve started on the food bag. This time, I’m bringing fresh cut berries, protein bars, pistachios (I’m OBSESSED with matzo, don’t ask), and a tub of this falafel in a hummus bath.

Please know that I’m shaking my fists in rage over how good this cookbook is thus far. I’m on my third dish and I’ve been satisfied with the ease in which I can make these dishes and the tasty results. But again, this is not for the busy mom. Maybe a mom like Gwenyth who has access to fancy organic ingredients (I’m aware of the privilege I have in being able to buy fresh and local food) or someone like me who cooks for one.

I’ll be honest–I was tempted to fry these fuckers but after months of crap eating, I’m feeling the need to return to that which is virtuous. Enter–the tasty falafel.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy (FYI–I altered the recipe a bit for clarity)
Olive oil or cooking spray for the baking sheet
2 (15oz) cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp of chopped parsley
2 tbsp of chopped cilantro
4 scallions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup Greek yoghurt (I used dairy-free plain yoghurt–coconut, almond or soy works)
2 tsp salt, to taste

DIRECTION
Dump all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse 15-18 times. You want all the ingredients to be combined, but not smooth.

Use your hands and roll the mixture into 30 walnut-sized balls. Personally, I think that size is insane (who eats walnut sized falafel? NO ONE), so I got 20 golf balls out of this recipe and I was a happy camper. Keep a small bowl of water nearby since the ingredients tend to stick all over your hands.

Arrange the falafel on the greased baking sheet and cook for 20-25 minutes (depending on the size). Flip midway through to avoid burning the bottoms. I’ll be honest, flipping the falafel balls was annoying AF so I used a spatula and a spoon and only 3 of them fell apart.

Eat immediately. Serve with hummus or a salad.

baked falafel

gluten-free

gwyneth paltrow's moroccan chicken salad

gwyneth paltrow's moroccan chicken salad

This week I was reminded of a woman, a close friend, who broke my heart.

Ten years ago, I worked in book publishing and I met a woman who was, up until then, the smartest person I’d ever met. To this day, much of how I think and work is a result of our friendship. I worked hard because I thought I was never as smart or as capable as she was, and it was only until a few years ago she told me she’d felt the same about me, which, frankly, was astonishing. Professionally, she was always this bright light that shone perhaps too brightly and I felt as if I was forever regulated to the role of her shadow.  She’s probably one of the most achieved and brilliant brand marketers I’ve ever met, and we spent 2013 giving each other the equivalent of an MBA (she already has one, but whatever). This friend taught me everything I know about brand marketing and I taught her everything about digital. I shadowed her on a brand project and the reason I’m able to now build brands from the ground up was because of her and that year we spent working closely together.

We even talked about forming a partnership because together there wasn’t nothing we couldn’t do. I loved her, I really did. Even if she didn’t know it, even if I didn’t always show it. She was the friend who picked me off up from the couch when Sophie died and drove me, hung over, thick in relapse, to Bark where I found Felix. A mother of two with a c-suite job she drove me around all day while I spoke in non-sequiturs and told her that I view love and loss as two sides of the same coin.

She was the friend who told me that my friendship with S was unhealthy; she worried about the codependency nature of our friendship. My friend was rational, pragmatic, and we never fought because when either of us had an issue with the other, we talked it out, calmly.

This person was also one of my closest friends, and when I told her I was moving to Los Angeles, she stopped speaking to me. I was devastated. I called her, wrote her–nothing. Never would I have expected this to happen, and when I told people who knew her about what had happened, they were incredulous. They said, [INSERT NAME]? That’s not like her. And I’d nod, tearfully, feeling bitterness and hurt creep into my voice when I talked about the irony of when [INSERT NAME] said S was a coward for not giving me the dignity of a proper friend breakup. Friends shared their opinions on why she did it, none of which I won’t say here because I’ve no right to share the intimate details of her life.

It’s a funny thing, though, I remember she said once: I would never do what S did to anyone. Until she did.

It’s been a year since she excised me from her life after ten years of close friendship and symbiotic mentorship, and the hurt still feels new and raw. I’ve come to realize that this loss was far more painful that the others because I didn’t expect it. Because this friend was one of the few people with whom I could truly let down my guard.

I was reminded of her this week when I met a founder of a well-funded start-up. The product is extraordinary, and the whole time I was brainstorming with the founder and the woman who introduced us, I was thinking, this is an [INSERT NAME] kind of project. This is the sort of thing my friend would have knocked out of the park–the very thing she taught me how to do. For a moment I felt curtained, I felt her presence like a specter at that breakfast. This is the kind of project where I would’ve called her, shared my proposed approach, and asked, what do you think, muffin? And I would’ve considered her voice as a blanket, her agreement a validation of my intelligence and competency. I know all of these things aren’t healthy or right, but I feel them anyway.

I think about this friend often, and I’m still not over the hurt, but I guess I’m grateful for the time I did have with her and the fact that I’m able to build brands as a result of that friendship.

So here I am, with a tiny space in the day to think and cook. I made myself a quick lunch from Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cookbook. I’m not a fan of the actress or her energy, but I do admire her cookbooks, even if this one doesn’t feel like it’s right for the busy mom–maybe the busy affluent mom? Anyway, the book is filled with what appears to be quick and tasty meals, and if the recipes are as tasty as this salad (which is shown as a wrap in the book), I’m going to ignore the obvious slight blanket of pretension.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy
2 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 1 1/2 chicken breasts)
1 celery stalk, finely diced
2 scallions, chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground coriander
6 tbsp Vegenaise, or more to taste (more seems like a crazy idea, to be honest)
1 tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)
1 tsp agave nectar or honey
Salt/ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir wall. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I like this a bit cold so I put this in the fridge for a half and hour before chowing down.

gwyneth paltrow's moroccan chicken salad

 

dairy-free recipes gluten-free meat, chicken + fish recipes

homemade fennel apple sausage…on a pizza

gluten free pizza with homemade apple sausage, ground beef and bacon

I’ve been holed up in my home the entire weekend working, and  trust me, I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m the happiest I’ve been in months. Last week, I had a wonderful dinner party where my friends and I toasted our successes on my balcony. I onboarded a new client, sent out a contract for a second client and met a woman who’s the epitome of extraordinary. Come Friday I took a long nap and woke Saturday ready to get to work. When you’ve spent months without work as I have, you become grateful for employment. You stop complaining about the work because you realize, in the absence of it, you’re privileged to have it. So I read through 35 files, analyzed data reports, and compiled findings that will lay the groundwork for my client’s marketing strategy.

But a woman’s gotta eat.

Since I now have to return to a life free of dairy and gluten, I’m returning to reinvention–I stocked up on cauliflower, blitzed my morning smoothies, and pored through my cookbooks to discover recipes that are filling and wholesome. Over the past five months, I slipped into purchasing convenience foods and frozen Amy’s enchiladas because I’m making food for one and convenience doesn’t equate to costly. Now that my life is a little more stable, I’m able to control what comes into my home and what goes into my body, and I’m the better for it.

This pizza was SO GOOD that I didn’t even miss the cheese. And quite frankly, you don’t need to put cheese in your pesto if the herbs are fresh and fragrant. After a few slices, I feel confident to crawl back into round two of work.

No complaints. Always grateful.

P.S. You might have noticed that my posts lately have been a little shorter. Bear with me as I get accustomed to my new work schedule.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook
For the sausage
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 pound ground pork
½ red apple, diced
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp ground sage
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp dried rosemary
¼ tsp black pepper
3 tbsp butter, ghee, or coconut oil

For the crust
I love making pizza crust and you can make an amazing gluten free one using this recipe. Since I’m crazy busy today, I purchased a gluten-free crust from the market.

For the parsley chive pesto
You can find the recipe here.

For the additional toppings
1/2 cup bacon, roughly chopped
1/4 lb ground beef

DIRECTIONS
In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the fennel seeds for no more than 5 minutes, until fragrant. Place all the ingredients except the coconut oil in a large bowl and mix until well combined.

Divide the sausage mixture into 8 patties and flatten them between your hands. In a large cast-iron skillet (I don’t have one so I used a large non-stick skillet) over low heat, melt the butter. Add 3 or 4 patties to the pan and cook for 5 to 6 minutes per side, until golden brown and cooked through. Keeping the heat on low will help cook the inside of the patties without burning the outside. Patience is key here.

While this is going on, preheat the oven to 425F. Pre-bake your crust (regardless if you’re getting a store-bought crust or making the gluten-free one I made last week) for 10 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven, briefly, and set aside.

Once you’re done with the sausage, use the fat from that pan to brown the bacon and sausage. Drain and set aside with the patties.

Make the pesto per the instructions. Add the pesto to the pre-baked crust. Crumble up 4-5 of the sausage patties, and add the bacon and ground beef to the crust. Bake the pizza for another 10-12 minutes until the crust is lightly browned and the meat is glossy and sizzling.

Add some fresh parsley to the top and chow down!

homemade apple fennel sausage

homemade apple fennel sausage
homemade apple fennel sausage

gluten free pizza with homemade apple sausage, ground beef and bacon

bread recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free meat, chicken + fish recipes