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

on imposter syndrome + being a student

writing

We’ve all read about imposter syndrome, ad nauseam. Some argue that it doesn’t exist, that we’re right to experience self-doubt because we’re grappling with the reality of our limitations, that there will always exist things we know and don’t know, and our paralysis comes from confronting that fear. We’re taught that women experience imposter syndrome more than men because we’re told, straight out of the womb, all things we are and not. We’re taught to recede, to stand behind, to support. We watch old shows and movies where women are diminutive and deprecating, where they either pander to their beauty or folly. We tell our girls that they’re pretty before we praise their intellect, curiosity or artistic temperament. Even now, even after all this supposed change and time, women are still, in some respects, considered lesser than. I had a significant other who once tried to explain derivatives to me as if I was a small, developmentally-deficient child while I quietly reconciled his financials and made all his numbers foot.I have a journalist friend who studied engineering and she’s routinely talked down to by people who have nowhere near the amount of education and experience she has. In my last job, I spent more time trying to appease and be liked while my male peers’ acerbic and abusive behavior was tolerated and even accepted. And I’m not the only one. Women have to balance respectability with likeability on top of all the actual work they have to do.

I hate the word “ladylike” because it implies limitations, a way women should behave. So is it a shock that we doubt ourselves simply because we’re reconciling all the ways we should and should not be before we even evaluate our level of acumen and experience?

The things we carry.

I’ve been privileged in the sense that I’ve had a lot of wonderful professional opportunities and I’ve made a career over the past twenty years based on what I can build. I’ve built companies, brands and mentored hundreds of people. I’ve published books and a literary magazine and started an impact organization that aided disadvantaged women in Bed Sty, Brooklyn. And yet, whenever I start something new–an article, a book or a new project–I suffer from crippling, abject terror. Even if I’ve done what I’ve been asked to do dozens of times before, I still get anxious. I still wonder: can I do this? Still.

I read somewhere once that women won’t apply for a job unless they meet 90% of the criteria while men will apply if they have at least 60% of the required experience. I’ve built my career on overcoming fear and, on paper, I was never qualified for every job for which I’ve applied. I was all about positioning and side hustles. I was hired for a marketing role in book publishing because I had built and marketed a successful literary magazine online. It also didn’t hurt that I was a writer who was a voracious reader. I won a senior role at an agency because of my curious, non-linear CV. I tell people that I go to the challenge, even though it momentarily terrifies me. What did I know about managing clients after spending over 11 years on the brand side? What did I know about marketing business and diet books when I never read or enjoyed either? What did I know about starting an impact organization or a literary magazine? I’d start every venture taking inventory of all the ways in which I wasn’t qualified for the challenge put in front of me.

The one thing I truly know how to do, the one thing in which I have confidence is my ability to tell stories. Stories always start with a fixation–writers exorcise their obsessions–what gets them hot. A kind of primal attraction. Then there’s an outline for the three acts or movements, and the realization that although you may have an idea of where the story will go, it never goes where you intend it. The mark of a confident writer is the acceptance of the unknown, of all the factors that are beyond your control once you dive in and wade your way through your fixation. So I like to think of every new opportunity in the same light–I focus on the aspects I do know, the things I can control, and then I play it as it lays. I’ve also come to realize that failure is part of the process. There will be books you will write that will end up in the bin. There are projects you will take on that will be a disaster, and it’s important to separate your self-worth from what you do because who you are is not what you do.

It took me forever to realize that.

Image Credit: Gemma Correll
Image Credit: Gemma Correll

When someone says they’re an expert or a guru, I do this squinty thing with my eyes. Both imply there’s nothing left to learn, that one is now and only a teacher while I believe that everyone, regardless of age and tenure, is always a student. There’s always more to learn. A yoga teacher told me once that the mark of an advanced yogi is someone who repeatedly returns to the basics classes to re-visit and re-learn the foundation poses. After twenty years of practice, they swallow their ego and re-learn downward facing dog from the ground up.

I think I’ll always panic right before I start something new, whether it be a writing project or a project. However, what comforts me is that this feeling inevitably passes because like writing a book, I break down the story and tackle what I can, day by day. If you consider the whole the possibility of you being subsumed by it is greater than you saying, ok, today I will do this one thing. I break everything down to its component parts, and I’ll tackle each part knowing that I’m moving to the whole.

What also gives me comfort is the fact that I go into everything with the perspective of a student. At the moment, I’m bidding on a major brand project and I’m also downloading newsletter marketing tutorials and listening to podcasts about how to build Facebook ads. One would think that I’m at the point in my career where I’m passed the tactical. Yet, I don’t see it this way. I see it as coming back to the mat and re-learning my poses. I see it as always taking the role of the open and receptive student instead of the arrogant, closed teacher.

Top Image Credit: Pexels

the gathering kind

the best smoothie ever: banana almond + date

Banana almond date smoothie

After a few morning calls and a hot yoga class, I came back to my apartment drenched and starved. Since a few of my clients are on the east coast, I keep early morning hours so the notion of having lunch at 10am is often a reality. In an effort to prevent me from gnawing at my own hand, Hannibal Lecter style, I’ve been making mid-morning smoothies.

When I first started seeing a nutritionist, she analyzed my food diary and told me that the smoothies I’d been making were appropriate for athletes and men. While the smoothies themselves were healthy, they were packed with fat and calories (hello, several scoops of peanut butter!) As a result, I got smart about controlling my sugar intake and scaling down on fat without sacrificing flavor.

I just finished this banana almond date smoothie and it was the TRUTH. Basically, this tastes like dessert and gives you enough protein and potassium for a post-workout, pre-lunch snack.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk
1 small banana
1 heaping tsp almond butter
3-4 dates
1 tbsp vegan protein powder
1 cup of ice

DIRECTIONS
Blitz all the ingredients until smooth. Kick back and enjoy!

smoothie recipes

the captain awesome dinner party, chrissy teigen style

pasta a la norma chrissy teigen cookbook

Last night was a photograph worth taking. Ten incredible women feasted on cheesy pasta, brussels sprouts salad and grilled chicken and kale salad. I planned the party last month before I secured two incredible projects. Before my life resumed any sense of normalcy. Sending out the invites was a bet on myself, on my comeback. So much of my life feels tethered to the east coast, and last night was the first time I feel as if I’d established roots. I was surrounded by mostly New York transplants–people who wanted a different kind of life, women who wanted to break ranks without breaking themselves down–and it felt good to see my friends trade numbers and friend one another on Facebook. It felt good to have my friends Merrill and Meghan linger after everyone had left and we talked about the New York we used to know and the women we were a decade ago.

I take none of this for granted.

While I slowly work to pay down my debt, repay my friends, and get some semblance of a real budget in order (I’ve resolved that this will be the year I get my proverbial house in order, I’m making it my point to help as many people as I can. Experiencing random acts of kindness from friends and strangers saved me, and I want to be able to share that compassion and kindness with anyone whom I can help.

To be honest, I’m exhausted, but I wanted to share the culinary highlight of the evening–Chrissy Teigen’s pasta a la Norma. I passed around Teigen’s cookbook and everyone paged through the recipes and called out their favorites while feasting on this cheesy dish. And while I couldn’t eat a bite, it made happy to see my friends fawn over this dish. It made my night seeing them leave, stomachs full, new friends made.

It’s good to be home.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings
For the eggplant:
1 cup olive oil
2 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp red pepper flakes

For the baked ziti:
1 pound ziti or penne pasta (with ridges)
Perfect Tomato sauce (recipe below)
2 cups goat cheese
1 1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella (buffalo)
1 cup basil leaves (hand torn)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes

For the Perfect Tomato Sauce:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onions
2 tbsp finely minced garlic
3 1/2 pounds juicy ripe Roma (plum) tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
For the eggplant
In a large skillet or a wide soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When you can see little waves in the oil, carefully add the eggplant and sprinkle on the salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook stirring once in a while, until the eggplant is soft and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

For the baked ziti
While the eggplant is cooking in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the ziti to al dente according to the package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Preheat the oven to 400F. Add the eggplant (and any oil from the skillet) to the pasta along with the tomato sauce, goat cheese, two-thirds of the mozzarella, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, the black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Dump the mixture into a large baking dish and top with the rest of the mozzarella, gently pressing the pieces into the pasta.Bake until golden and bubbling, about 1 hour. Let stand for 5 before serving.

For the Perfect Tomato Sauce
In a 4 quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until translucent and beginning to turn golden, about 13 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and then 1 minute longer. Add the tomatoes, oregano, thyme, remarry, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens slightly, 25 to 30 minutes for fresh tomatoes, 20 to 25 minutes for canned.

brussels sprout salad chrissy teigen cookbook
cooking from chrissy teigen's cookbook
grilled chicken kale salad
brussels sprout salad chrissy teigen cookbook

cookbooks pasta recipes

cookbooks worth coveting: a roundup

cookbooks

I own a lot of cookbooks–so much so that before I moved to Los Angeles I had a massive purge because books are HEAVY and expensive to cart across the country. Many of my books were acquired in 2002 when I started making things as a means to occupy my hands. At the time, I was recovering from one of many addictions and I needed to create something from nothing instead of pillaging everything in my wake. My first cookbook was Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, where I learned how to make simple cakes and loaves. My experiences boiled down to a lot of trials, but mostly error, and let’s not talk about the time I used confectioner’s sugar instead of granulated in a cheesecake and say we did. Ina, Martha, Tyler, Giada–as my prowess grew so did my library. For nearly a decade, I identified myself as a baker of towering cakes and flaky pastries until a few years ago when a sickness ravaged my body and I had to gut renovate my diet.

That’s when the exploration really began.

My diet was paleo with grains, gluten-free vegan with meat–essentially, there was a hodgepodge of foods I could eat and a lot I couldn’t. My mainstays–pasta, paninis, muffins, and croissants had to be replaced with almond milk, nut creams, cauliflower and copious amounts of legumes and vegetables. The adjustment was a difficult one, and I purchased many cookbooks that inevitably gathered dust. I had to replace sugar and carbs with good fats and flavor, and it took me a while to regard my new batch of books without skepticism.

After last week’s burning hive assault (and my closing on a new project), I found myself returning to the cookbooks I’d briefly abandoned because over the past six months I’d slowly become addicted to cheese and yogurt and now those foods are verboten. Back to the drawing board, as it were.

Cookbooks these days are REALLY hit or miss. Many are published without the rigor of recipe testing or basic copyediting. Faulty measurements, obscure ingredients, and a bland finale often had me wanting to hurl my books out of the closest open window. Believe me when I say that these books are the BUSINESS.

The Paleo Kitchen: The only reason this fine book wasn’t included in the photo above is because I took the picture at 6:30am and I didn’t realize it wasn’t included until I started writing this post. Let me tell you, Juli Bauer’s book had me changed on the uber-trendy paleo lifestyle simply because the recipes are GOOD. The recipes are pretty easy to make (except for a cinnamon bun recipe that was lackluster), and most of the ingredients are probably in your pantry or easily accessible at your local market. Some of my favorites are the: sundried tomato sweet potato hash, sweet plantain guacamole, sage & shallot soup, pumpkin tomato soup, rosemary sundried tomato meatballs (WHOA), spaghetti squash chicken fritters (my top pick of the lot). I’ve made 70% of the recipes in The Paleo Kitchen and I was so pleased I purchased Bauer’s follow-up book, Paleo Cookbook.

The Oh She Glows Cookbook: After the purge of 2015, I now have about 50 cookbooks, and this one is in the top five. I LOVE THIS BOOK. As a proud carnivore, I’ve given a lot of vegan books the side-eye because I’m not a fan of faux meats or the idea that meat can be recreated, however, Liddon developed the most imaginative, tasty recipes. From her, I learned about using tofu and avocado in smoothies, desserts, and as a substitute for cream. I still think about my creamy avocado basil pesto pasta and faux vodka sauce made with cashew cream (so surprisingly good!). I made crave-worthy veggie burgers and a slew of soups, salads and main courses that won over the most discerning palates.

A Modern Way to Eat // At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Perhaps it’s the design of the books or the photography, but I use these two clean-eating tomes interchangeably and often. A Modern Way delivers wholesome, flavorful vegetarian recipes including green fritters (LOVED these), the perfect chili, squash tarts, pizza, hummus a million ways, chickpea and veg stews and some of the tastier desserts I’ve encountered. Judging by the markings in At Home in the Whole Food, I use this book a bit more. This is the book on which I relied to build and outfit a whole food pantry. Grains and legumes are discussed in excruciating detail, and I came away with a great deal of knowledge about the food I was about to consume (as well as the corresponding health benefits). From the simple red lentil soup and blackberry cornmeal muffins to the best cherry coconut granola you’ll ever make–the recipes are filling, complex and delightful. I’m loath to use the word marvelous, but you’ll feel a sense of wonder paging through the book. I’ve made over 50% of the recipes in this book and I’ve yet to encounter a flop.

Cravings: FML with this book. Of course, this book came into my life the very week I had to stop consuming dairy. Many of the recipes contain cheese and you will weep salty dairy tears. I wouldn’t dare say that this book is healthy by any stretch of the imagination, but the recipes are drool-worthy. You will want to make all the food and lick all the plates. I’ve made four dishes out of the book pretty successfully, and I’m trying to devise ways to manipulate the recipes for my palate. I’ve found that nuts + nutritional yeast + seasonings evoke the flavor of spicier cheeses even if I know in my heart that the alternative pales in comparison to the original. I’m having a dinner party this week and I’m making the brussels sprout + kale salads as well as the eggplant baked ziti with mozzarella bombs. I plan on staring at my friends while they feast on fried eggplant and cheese while I toss around dairy-free pesto pasta on my plate. SOB.

Kitchen Stories: My friend Denise Hung, culinary pro and astute coffee connoisseur, is one-half of the genius duo who authored this great book. I met Denise while I was in Singapore last year and it was heart-at-first-sight. The book centers recipes around certain moods and emotional states, and although you’ll have to master the metric system (there exists no U.S. version of this book), the simple and delectable recipes are worth the stretch.

cookbooks