Posted on December 8, 2015
Over text the other day one of my closest friends tells me there was a time when I pushed her away and she took the hint and stayed away. I tell her I don’t recall this, although much of the years I spent working at an agency were a blur of anxiety and boundaries crossed. If you would’ve asked five years ago if this friend (Amber) would be one of my closest I would’ve dismissed you. Not because she wasn’t kind, smart or fun to be around–my friend is all these things–but because I never expected it. You have an idea of who’s going to be in your life and you’re often surprised. The first, for most, comes when you graduate high school and you realize most of your childhood ties you aren’t so binding. Then college, and the first few years of your adult life, and then marriage, children, geography–all of these things shift the ground beneath your feet and you find that you have to hold on to the grasp to stop yourself from slipping.
There was a time in my life (late 20s/early 30s) when I wasn’t a particularly kind person. I have a stockpile of reasons for this, none of which are particularly interesting, and cost me years and dollars in therapy to resolve. I remember the feeling of having dozens of numbers in your phone book but no one I could really call. So over the past decade I’ve resolved to be present, to listen–to be a better friend, the kind of friend I want to have. And this is not to say that this resolve comes unblemished because I’m human, fallible, blah, blah, blah, but when I left New York this year I felt as if I had a foundation. I collected a motley lot of strange, wonderful, brilliant people and we would endure the challenges that geography brings. We wouldn’t have the kind of passive friendships that only require a quick scroll and a read. Oh, I know how she’s doing; she posted that photo on Facebook! I don’t need to make an effort, do the work. No, I thought. We wouldn’t be this until we were this, and there’s that.
When I first moved to Los Angeles I met an east coast transplant who’s lived here for two years, but only until recently she felt comfortable calling L.A. an adopted home. I remember that first week when I was jubilant, high off the weather, physical space (no more crowded subways! no one booking one-way tickets to my sternum, etc), and vernacular, and my new friend shook her head and told me that I was in for a big awakening. After the new car smell wears off, you’ll start to see the people who are unencumbered by distance. And I’ll tell you, she said, it’s never who you think it’ll be.
It took me four months to realize she was right.
I’m seeing a psychiatrist, and while I won’t talk about the specific goings-on of my offline life, I will say that I’m working on dealing with loss. It only occurred to me that I suffered a lot of losses this year–most were good and necessary, others were surprising and heartbreaking–and I was too busy, too focused on my move out west, to deal with them. I would just consider the loss at the time, say, oh, this thing is happening, and move on. And then I moved here and things got quiet, really quiet, and the losses stockpiled and smothered. Individually, they could have been managed, but collectively they were the equivalent of an emotional monsoon. Think of it as if you’re running the longest marathon you can imagine and you only feel a portion of the pain while you’re in the thick of it, but after, the days after, whoa, you are bedridden.
Through all of this, it’s been interesting to see who’s remained on the sidelines, demonstrably silent, while others emerge, become omnipresent. And like my friend warned, it wasn’t who I expected. My friend Amber and I text nearly every day and Facetime a few times a week. Yesterday I asked her if supermarkets in New York had aisles of wine–I couldn’t remember–because every market in L.A. offers a sommelier on-demand. We talk about our days, but mostly I know she wants to check in, to see how I am, because she cares and she can take the dark bits with the good. My friend Liz, whom I’ve known for half my life, is an incredible mother, brilliant lawyer and devoted wife, but she still makes an effort to call me on her drive home, and now that she has an iPhone (finally!), we can iMessage with ease. When I was in college I never anticipated that Liz and I would be as close as are for as long as we have. We’ve endured distance, marriage, children, my multiple addictions and emotional instability and frenetic careers–but we still fall into that comfort we had when we were 19 and wearing flannels and bad baseball caps. Sometimes I miss how we were then–how we’d walk around campus in the dark and ride the train into the city, feverish over the night’s possibility, or studying for finals in our pajamas while watching 90210. But it’s also wonderful to witness how we’ve grown as women. In so many ways Liz and I are completely antithetical, but our friendship works and I never expected it would, but I’m grateful it has. Same with Amber. We were always friendly, always enjoying our banter, but it wasn’t until we took an interesting holiday together did we become close.
The past year I’ve seen cracks in the fault and efforts at repair. I’ve seen those whom I thought were essential in my life drift or disappear altogether. At the same time, I’ve seen new friends enter the frame, and although I’m trying to reconcile the losses, I can’t help but feel privileged for the slow and mounting gains.
I love the saying “play it as it lays”, and I’m trying to be present for all the change. I’m trying to accept that geography plays a powerful role in who’s in your life and who isn’t, and this isn’t about anger, it’s frankly about reality. And although it’s challenging for me to make new friends I’m trying. And that’s all I can do for now–the work.
Posted on December 6, 2015
2002, from what I remember, was a rough year. I finally recovered from a two-year off + on cocaine addiction, I was still on leave from Columbia and I was in a particularly fragile place. What I do recall is writing a list of 50 things I wanted to do that would focus on creating something instead of destroying everything. That was the year I launched an online literary journal, Small Spiral Notebook, I got serious about writing my first book, and I absolved to read a book a week. The idea behind this was if I was immersed in great work, I’d create it, and in that first year I read 80 books, and every year since I’ve made a point to document all the books I’ve read in an effort to remember them. The books served as emotional and professional bookmarks, and looking back it was easy to see why I chose the books I did–I was reading stories of people who had journeyed through a similar dark country in which I still waded through.
If I look back on the books I read this year, it becomes clear that I’m desperate for an awakening. All the children’s books represented my relentless pursuit of awe and the non-fiction books were meditations on character, quiet, and solitude–cultivating a fertile ground from which to grow. I have some reading goals for next year (especially after reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s essay on learning Italian): finding more works-in-translation, reading more from the POC, gay and transgender communities. While I naturally cleave to fiction and stories, I’m making a point to read smart reportage and narrative non-fiction.
So here we go. A snapshot of nearly all the books I read in 2015. I know I left some out (I’m scanning my shelves and I’ll add more as I remember them), but you get the gist. Hope this makes for good reading recommendations!
- Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Reading Big Magic was a wonderful creative awakening. I fawned over the book here and regaled a former life of book snobbery.
- Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slowness: From Slow food and workouts to alternative medicine and guided meditation to meeting people who huddle across the globe as a means of learning how to sit in a place of calm amidst a storm, Honoré doesn’t rally for a device-free era or for us to pick up and create our own version of Walden, rather he espouses ways in which we can manage pieces of our life in a slower way as a means of deeper connection and a more meaningful quality of life. More here.
- Adam Phillip’s On Kindness: While Adam Phillip’s philosophical and historical examination of the history of kindness is slim, it took me nearly a month to complete. Phillips analyzes kindness through the lens of faith, folklore, psychology and literature. Why are we kind? Are we kind merely as a means of serving our own self-interests? More here.
- Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation: I read Offill’s elegant novel nearly in one sitting. I once had the honor of having my work included in an anthology she edited with Elissa Schappell, and if that’s the height of my glory (occupying the same page space as Offill), I’m okay with that. Her slim novel was, by far, my favorite book of the year. Never have I read of a marriage come undone with such humor and poetry. She’s a hero for people like me who play in experimental fiction.
- Nick Flynn’s My Feelings (Poems): I read everything that Nick Flynn writes. He’s an artisan of the English language.
- Lydia Millet’s Mermaids in Paradise: A hilarious story about a couple who honeymoons in paradise to soon discover the waters are teeming with mermaids. Millet is a hero of mine because she’s able to draw wry, acerbic women as easily as she is in creating a canvas filled with broken people.
- Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper: A story of two odd people who trek across Northern Europe examining love, fidelity, friendship, desire–all while transforming into unlikely eco-terrorists. The writing is sharp, crisp and funny. Often times you never get to truly glimpse the innards of a marriage–you believe the life your friends represent–but rarely do we hear about the work.
- Nelly Zink’s Mislaid: To be honest, Zink’s second effort fell flat. While the writing was smart, I found the story of a white privileged woman “passing” for black offensive.
- Tracy Daugherty’s The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion: I am a Didion fanatic, and while I thought Daugherty’s profile was exhaustively researched, I didn’t come away with feeling as if I learned anything new. Granted, Daughtery was denied access to Didion + her closest friends, so consider this a compilation of everything you wanted to know about Didion in one place.
- Cheryl Julia Lee’s We Were Eating Expired Things (Poems): I purchased three poetry collections while I was in Singapore from Books Actually, and they’re all exquisite.
- Mayo Martin’s Occupational Hazards (Poems): I purchased three poetry collections while I was in Singapore from Books Actually, and they’re all exquisite.
- Krishna Udayasankar’s Objects of Affection (Poems): I purchased three poetry collections while I was in Singapore from Books Actually, and they’re all exquisite, however, I thought Udayasankar’s poems on love and loss to be the finest of the lot.
- Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge: I stumbled upon this book earlier in the year, and it’s been a while since I’ve read Maugham and I was reminded of his great narrative gifts. Who knew that a story centered around a man in search of life’s meaning in the midst of societal pomp, the aspirational rich, and the culture of conformity would hold such weight in today’s society–one that closely mirrors the one in Maugham’s work.
- Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train: I’m going to be honest–I hated Gone Girl, the book (and yes, I realize I’m in the minority). I thought the writing was exhausting and called too much attention to itself. The Girl on the Train, on the other hand, was sharp, smart and engaging–a terrific fast read.
- Sarah Hepola’s Blackout: Reading Hepola’s incisive book put my heart on pause because I felt as if she had described my life-long love affair with booze. Like Sarah, I thought it was perfectly normal to pre-game (economics!), drink hard and fast (I can keep up with the boys!), and lose time (because everyone has blackouts when they drink, right?). More here.
- Marilynne Robinson’s Lila: Robinson is truly magnificent. I never thought I’d love Gilead as much as I did (I’m usually not a fan of pastoral fiction), and I came to Lila with vigor. You met Lila in Gilead, however, Robinson’s latest novel turns its microscope to Lila, juxtaposing her current life of piety and disquiet with her nomadic, violent childhood.
- Darrin Strauss’ Half a Life: The fantastic novelist’s memoir of how a single moment (a car accident) shaped the whole of his life.
- David Brooks’ The Road to Character: Too bad the man who wrote this book is the complete + utter opposite of the great characters profiled in this book. If you can ignore the fact that David Brooks wrote this, you will enjoy a fascinating compilation of exemplary humans.
- Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love (Stories): This collection is astonishing, and I feel privileged to have discovered Bambara’s work. You can get a taste of her work here, but she reminds me of Junot Diaz with more rhythm.
- Katherine Heiney’s Single, Carefree, Mellow (Stories): Razor-sharp collection about young women tangled up in love and betrayal.
- Anton Chekhov’s Chekhov (Early Stories): I love reading a writer’s early work, a time when they’re finding their voice and developing their signature. While I didn’t love all the stories in the collection, I found myself laughing out loud at Chekhov’s pomp and wit.
- Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness: I’m still in awe over how a tiny book could have so much impact. From war veterans suffering from PTSD to Leonard Cohen and Buddhist monks, Iyer’s book is a meditation, a sermon that preaches mindfulness and quiet. More here.
- Carson Ellis’s Home (Children’s book): I loved this remarkable picture book that imagines all the ways in which one can make a home.
- Taro Yashima’s Umbrella (Children’s book): A portrait of patience, Umbrella hones in on a girl who finally has her favorite books and umbrella and can’t wait for a rainy day.
- Maeve Brennan’s The Rose Garden (Stories): This deft collection reminds me of Cheever, but better, and does not disappoint.
- Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should & Must: Buy this book. The end. How it helped me.
- Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: I’ve been a long-time fan of Manguso’s poems + memoirs. If you put her in a room with Lydia Millet and Maggie Nelson I might just combust. Her latest is an introspective look at the art of keeping a diary.
- Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment: In a really odd way, I sometimes feel this book has the weight equal to the Neopolitan books, and when Ferrante was interviewed she declared Days as one of her best books. The story takes place during a sweltering summer where a woman unravels after her husband leaves her and their children. While the Neopolitan books feel expansive, this one feels claustrophobic–perhaps that’s why I liked it so much?
- Bardur Oskarsson’s The Flat Rabbit (Children’s book): If you’re looking for a way to explain the complexities of death to a child, I think this book is one of the best ones. A dog and a rat happen upon a “flat rabbit” (dead rabbit) and they try to resolve their loss.
- Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time: Although it’s primarily targeted to parents, specifically mothers, on how they can find time and balance, much of the book is applicable to everyone that feels the weight of their calendar and to-do list on their shoulders. Schulte’s shares the effects of stress on our brain and bodies. More here.
- Kate Bolick’s Spinster: One of my favorite books of the year. It struck a proverbial chord because I’m tired of women nearing 40 who have to apologize for their independence. More here.
- Sonya Hartnett’s What the Birds See: My god, this book stayed with me months after I read it. I had the same feeling reading this as when I read Kirsty Gunn’s Rain. Told from the perspective of a nine-year-old child, you see how an unloved child bears witness to a crumbling, fragile world around him. Buy this book. Preferably now.
- Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women: An astonishing assembly of women who were on the verge. Interestingly enough, I saw a lot of parallels between this collection and Kate Bolick’s Spinster.
- Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend: Read everything + anything written by this woman. End of story.
- Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Read everything + anything written by this woman. End of story.
- Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name: Read everything + anything written by this woman. End of story.
- Laura Kasischke’s Mind of Winter: I don’t think I’ll ever tire of disquieting stories centered around familial discord. Mind of Winter is part horror story, all anxiety–a day in the life of a woman come undone.
- Cary McWilliams’s Southern California: When I first arrived in Los Angeles, I was eager to learn everything I could about California’s history. I bought tons of books and this one, by far, was my favorite.
- Sonya Lea’s Wondering Who You Are: The ultimate story of love and devotion, Lea writes honestly (and beautifully) about coping with her husband’s traumatic brain injury and the aftershocks.
- Heather O’Neill’s Daydreams of Angels (Stories): I learned of O’Neill’s collection via a short story I read online. The stories are fantastical, smart, and imaginative. I’d say 70% of the collection was terrific with a few bumps along the way. Definitely worth reading if you want stories that transport you.
- Mandy Kahn’s Math, Heaven, Time (Poems): I had the great privilege of sharing a stage with Mandy last month. She’s a wonderful lyric poet, and I devoured her collection in one sitting.
- Sara Jaffe’s Dryland: For the past month I couldn’t read anything longer than a poem, so I was thrilled that Sara Jaffe’s wonderful novel was a glass of water in the Sahara. This story centers around a teenager coping with the loss of her brother.
- Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage (Stories): These are characters who “love and hate extravagantly”. I loved this beautifully written collection of real people in peril.
- Mac Barnett’s Sam & Dave Dig a Hole (Children’s book): My friend Jason showed me this book when I visited his office and Jason, his coworker and I crowded around a table and read it, aloud. This story–of what is seen and unseen–is perhaps my favorite children’s book of the year.
- Ali Wentworth’s Happily Ali After: I’ve had a brutal few months and I want to thank Ali Wentworth for making me laugh out loud. Each chapter is a hilarious meditation on one of those inspirational self-help quotes, and how she brought it (or didn’t) to life. SO worth your purchase.
- Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child: Read everything + anything written by this woman. End of story.
- Stacey Levine’s The Girl With Brown Fur (Stories): While I was in Seattle in September, I picked up half a dozen wonderful books and Levine’s feral stories were such a rare find. Levine has often been compared to Kafka in the surreal landscapes she paints and the comparison is an apt + warranted one. I haven’t been this excited since reading Aimee Bender.
- Maile Meloy’s Devotion: I just finished this miniature story today and I loved it. Maile is such an incredible storyteller, and she manages to encapsulate hurt, loss and devotion into so few pages.
- Laura Kasischke’s In a Perfect World: If you want to feel the end of the world read this magnificent novel alongside Gold Fame Citrus. After a whirlwind three-month courtship, Jiselle (who’s name in Danish means “to pledge”) marries a pilot who is rarely home and becomes step-mother to his three children. Their idyllic life is anything but, especially with the hovering Phoenix flu (think Contagion).
- Claire Vaye Watkin’s Gold Fame Citrus: After reviewing this list it occurs to me that I didn’t include Claire’s terrific first novel. I bought it when I first moved to California and the apocalypse that ensues as a result of the drought is so beautifully rendered, and if The Road and White Noise birthed a miracle baby, this would be it.
- Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies: Easily one of my favorite books of the year. The hype is well deserved and this book is pure magic from plot to character to vision. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Posted on December 5, 2015
You can’t imagine how wonderful it feels to make healthy food after The Epic Sadness Q4 2015 (sometimes I need a little humor to shine a light in the darkest of situations). For weeks, I stared into an anemic refrigerator, unable to cook or bake with very rare exceptions. Instead, I ordered out and made recipes that required me only boil water. And for those who’ve been following my journey to eat mindfully, know that what you put in your body directly contributes to your emotional and physical well-being. So in an effort to turn the beat around, I made (and reserved the leftovers) a pound of chicken cutlets to accompany all sorts of recipes. My favorite dish is chicken cutlets breaded in almond meal and fried in a butter/oil mixture, topped with fresh cheese. I usually pair this with an arugula salad because I love the buttery chicken juxtaposed with the sharpness from the bitter greens. In a former life, I’d dump the chicken over pasta or macaroni and cheese (!!!) but I want to feel energized after every meal instead of falling into a catatonic state. A heaping serving spoon (or three) of pasta will do this to you.
This morning I woke early and decided to make a simple salad. If you would’ve asked me a year ago if brussels sprouts would be part of my salad repertoire, I would’ve accused you of smoking crack. I used to LOATHE the brussels sprouts, however, I think the taste is predicated on how you cook (or don’t cook) the vegetable. Now I love sprouts charred and roasted, topped with a little maple syrup, or served raw when it’s shredded and dressed in oil.
Know that I’m typing this forking salad into my mouth. Enjoy!
For the salad
1lb brussels sprouts
3/4lb Lacinato kale
1/2 pomegranate seeds removed
Optional: 1 avocado, skin removed and roughly chopped
For the lemon mustard dressing
1 large shallot, roughly chopped
1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey (or you can use 1/2 tbsp maple syrup)
Zest + juice of 2 small lemons
1/2 cup macadamia nut oil or olive oil
Salt/pepper to season
First, make the dressing. Place the shallot, garlic, mustard, honey (or syrup), zest and juice into a small bowl. Mix until combined. [Here’s a captain obvious method for not getting seeds into your dressing: squeeze your lemon over a strainer.] Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify the mixture. Essentially, your dressing should be creamy and pale blonde in color. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Honestly, the hardest part of making this salad is shredding the sprouts. Don’t use a box grater–I tried that and made a mess all over my counter. Instead, remove the outer skin layer and chop off the stems. Using a sharp knife, slice the sprouts thinly. Pull them apart and the look will resemble confetti. Add the shredded sprouts to a large bowl. Once you’re done, chiffon the kale and add them to the bowl of sprouts. Slice a pomegranate and remove the seeds. Mix in the pomegranate seeds, add the dressing and stir until all of the leaves are coated. I like to set this aside for 20 minutes so the flavors really come out. Chow down immediately after.
I had this salad with some leftover chicken.
Posted on November 27, 2015
I turn 40 next month and I hadn’t really given it a lot of thought until recently. Until a friend responded to something I’d say with you’re not in your forties yet. A kind of slow-your-roll response, to which I laughed and said you’re right. I have a habit of rushing through things. I won’t burden you with a tidy list of things I’ve learned now that I’m approaching four decades of living because I kind of think those lists are a remarkable pile of bullshit–one can’t demarcate knowledge acquired neatly within a decade, rather knowledge is learned and unlearned and re-learned, and what we have with age is the comfort and discomfort you feel when you oscillate between what is known and what is not.
I read a tweet yesterday where a beautiful woman was applauded for looking “young” at the ripe old age of 43 as if we expect our women to be covered in scales with gray weeds sprouting out of their head. As if money and surgery and societal pressure don’t have a say in the matter. As if we keep reminding women about how they look over the years instead of how they’ve lived. I’ve had my time to look and feel young and I’m okay with the fact that when I look at my face in the mirror the reflection back isn’t the Felicia of 17, 27, or 35. I’m okay with lines on my face and a body that aches a little easier than it used to. I’m okay with standing aside and watching the next generation find their way and interpret the world for us, as we did. I’m fine with sitting in quiet. I’m getting accustomed to letting go of regret.
Perhaps what’s bothering me is the notion of mortality and how it presents itself as the years cycle forward. I didn’t much think of death when I was younger because it felt like an impossibility. You’re filled with all of this wonder and promise and you can’t even fathom the idea of loss. Until you grow older and the casualties slowly creep into your life. By 25 I only knew of one person who had died–a suitemate of mine in college who suffered from inoperable brain cancer. Yet her loss felt random, a freak occurrence of nature–unimaginable. And then a good friend of mine died of cancer, and then another. And then someone I knew took his life. And then another. People you love, and acquaintances you know only slightly, depart. Loss makes itself known whether you want it in the room or not, and when I got a mammogram this year and I learned I have dense breast tissue (nothing to be concerned about–just something which requires attention), I thought that the impossibility of dying became real, possible and unavoidable. Now I think it would be insane not to have health insurance because you never know. When I was younger I thought about the life unfurling in front of me, and while I still think about that, while I still try to hold on to the wonder, I think about time, about all the ways in which I could avoid squandering it. I’ve moved from desperately cleaving to the want of happiness and toward a life of purpose. And I suppose I will continue to oscillate between the wonder and the legacy for years to come.
At various points in my life doctors have asked me if I’ve ever considered taking my life. I nodded my response and said while I thought about it and all the ways in which I’d devise my end when it came down to it, I wouldn’t do it. I would only think about it, and the thought would come like a torrent and it would leave as swiftly as it had arrived. All the doctors would invariably follow the first question with this–why? And at every point in my life I said because there’s so much beauty left. There’s so much more worth doing in the small time we have here. Because it’s not fair to just give up. Because I don’t only want to know one small piece of my life without experiencing the whole wonderful composition of the rest of it. One of the few gifts that time breeds is perspective, context. A few days ago a new friend came by with her sweet daughter and we walked around Santa Monica, and she did the thing I wanted her to do–talk about anything other than the specter that I’ve been thinking of (i.e. this omnipresent sadness). We got to talking about Room (the book and the movie) and I’d expressed anger about one specific scene. There’s a scene where the mother is being interviewed about her time in captivity, and when her son was born had she ever considered giving him up. The mother is incredulous. Why would she give up her child? So that it could be free was the seemingly obvious response. And in that moment I saw the ways we’re cruel to mothers. We paint them as selfish, their bond to their child unhealthy, borderline selfish. Freudian. As if there exists a singular moral truth for every situation. The scene was minor, but I walked away from the film and my re-reading of the book, angered. My friend, who’s a new mother, and I talked about this for a bit–the idea of morality within context. There might have been a time when my moral compass would have been myopic, my pursuit of right and wrong, binary. But now there exists so much gray. Context emerges. Empathy creeps into the picture.
I don’t have much to offer about growing older. I can’t deliver neat little listicles that are easily tweet-able. What I can tell you is this–age has brought me physical and emotional space. And that space is filled with so much gray. That space requires patience, temperance because it dawns on you that you are in the midpoint of your very short life and the world is not clean, simple and complete. And this is okay. As the years press on, you keep telling yourself that this is okay. That it’s okay to settle in the gray, vacillate in the betweens.
Or who knows? You may already know all of this at 25. I could be wrong and that’s okay too.
For the pie crust: makes a nice 9″ pie, it can also create 2 4″ pies (approximately)
2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 tbsp organic cane sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 sticks of cold, unsalted butter, cubed. Keep this in the freezer until you need to use it.
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup ice cold water
For the pie filling:
4 cups blueberries
1 cup organic cane sugar
3 1/2 tbsp flour or cornstarch
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt until combined. Cut the chilled butter into the mixture with a handheld pastry blender. Cut together until the butter is the size of small peas or lentils. If you’re using a pastry blender, don’t SLIDE the blender, press down on the butter against the flour or you will lose the integrity of the solid butter. You can also pulse all of the ingredients in a food processor. I opted to do this by hand as I wanted to understand how the dough should look and feel before I take shortcuts. Of note, it takes a while (10 minutes) for the dough to be properly cut, so be patient.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, chilled water and apple cider vinegar. Using two forks, make a “well” in the center of the flour mixture. Pour the egg mixture into the center of the well. Using the two forks, toss dough from each side to cover the wet well and then toss the flour mixture into the egg mixture from the bottom up. Toss this gently as if you were tossing a salad. I know this sounds odd, but it’s genius. I used to use my hands and I ended up overworking the dough and my crust would always have a cookie-like, tough texture. Do NOT touch the dough with your hands and I even recommend chilling the forks.
Intermittently, check the dough by lifting it up with the fork on its side. If you see lots of “sand” that means you need another small drizzle (think 1 tbsp) of cold water and continue to toss until the dough comes together. You don’t want a wet, sticky dough rather you want a dough that completely comes together. Continue tossing until there are no loose crumbs of flour and the dough sticks together.
Turn out the dough onto a baking sheet, wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Believe me when I say that this is critical. YOU DON’T WANT TO WORK WITH WARM DOUGH, TRUST ME.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. While your dough is chilling, in a large bowl toss together the fruit filling mixture. Remove your dough from the fridge (after 30 minutes) and unwrap. Coat a clean, dry work surface with a dusting of flour. Lightly coat the chilled dough with the flour. Cut the dough in half and coat the cut edges with flour. Place one-half
of the dough on the flour dusted surface. Wrap the other half and chill in the fridge.
Using a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough. Make sure you lift the dough between rolls and make sure the dough surfaces are coated with flour so it doesn’t stick. Continue rolling the dough. Roll each corner of the dough, one time, then turn the dough clockwise, roll again, turn, roll again, until you achieve a round circle of dough about 10 inches in diameter (1/8 inch thick). Fold the dough in half. Gently, transfer the dough into the pie tin, align the dough with the center of the tin, covering half the tin. Unfold the dough to cover the other half of the tin. Gently, relax the dough into the tin to shape. Cut off any excess dough hanging over the edge of the tin.
Now you can fill your pie with your fruit mixture! Place the pie tin in the fridge (cooling again! I’m serious, kids!) while you roll out the top crust.
Remove the other 1/2 of dough from the fridge and roll out until you achieve a round circle of dough about 10 inches in diameter (1/8 inch thick). Fold the dough in half. Remove the pin tin from the fridge and transfer the folded dough onto the top of the pie. Unfold to cover the entire pie. Cut off any excess dough hanging over the edge of the tin. Fold the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust. Crimp the crust with your fingers to create a decorate edge.
Chill the pie until the dough is firm (20 minutes). Once chilled, brush the top with heavy cream and cane sugar. Cut three score marks in the top of the pie to allow the pie to vent while steaming. Place the pie on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake the pie at 400F for the first 20 minutes. You want to shock the pie to allow it to hold the integrity of its shape and create a flaky crust. Reduce the temperature to 350F and bake until the pie bubbles in the center — approximately 45 minutes.
Remove, cool on a rack, and serve with ice-cream!
Posted on November 25, 2015
Note to self: don’t drink fancy local trade coffee at 8pm and binge-watch Jessica Jones. You’ll stay up until four in the morning, flipping through episodes on Netflix while reading through Pank, comforted there are others who write strange, miraculous fiction.
I’ve just finished a draft of an exciting new project. I’ve got the words down but the visual and multimedia aspects aren’t quite there–essentially this is text with customized/commissioned illustrations and images, not the full spectrum I’m trying to achieve. I’ve published a few pieces here, which you can read at your leisure. Part of me wrestles with the joy this project has brought me and the desire for people to read my work–it’s not a new struggle by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to prioritize lasting and fleeting joys. The deep joy is in the creation, collaboration and assembly. The fleeting is in the work’s reception. I have to remind myself, daily, that the success of what I do is not predicated on the velocity of its online movement or perception. If I tether myself to the applause I also have to accept the jeers. I also have to remind myself that I’m playing in a space where inbalance still exists, where women are perceived as good if they’re writing toward white men. I have to wonder if my work will be harder to push into the world because I’m not popular, I don’t have a writerly tribe, I’m not part of the elite, I’m not purely white, and male. But on I go, you know?
The story of my life is wanting what I cannot have or, perhaps, wanting what I dare not allow myself to have. —Roxane Gay
I started seeing a psychiatrist this week (I don’t plan to go into any detail here other than to say I’m focusing on getting well), and he asked me what I wanted from our work. I said two things: not to feel this way, and, more importantly, not to use the words love and loss interchangeably. To return to the things that bring my joy (baking, cooking, photography). Last night, I spent hours on Stocksy (check out my friend Lauren’s work–isn’t she marvelous?!) and I marveled over the talent of teenagers in Slovenia and women in Nebraska. How they have the ability to make you see by the photos they take with a lens. That’s what an artist does–makes you see how they interpret the world, and I wish I had the ability to move through image and type seamlessly. Perhaps because it’ll make this project I’m working on easier. If I could just do it on my own.
I suppose that’s my view on most things–why can’t I just do it by myself, alone?
This morning I baked a bundt cake, trying slowly to return. I curled up next to my cat, existing between the space between sleeping and waking, the space between loving to bake and making myself do it to feel. So that I could see.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s Baked Explorations
3 cups gluten-free flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups organic cane sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
freshly grated zest of 2 oranges
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter and flour a 1o-inch bundt pan
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks until they are pale and light; slowly pour in the sugar until it is completely incorporated. Add the yogurt and olive oil and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the orange zest and vanilla, and mix until just incorporated.
Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in two parts, beating after each addition or until just combined (this will take about 10 seconds). Scrape down the bowl and beat again for 5 seconds.
In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Scoop 1 cup of the egg whites into the batter. use a rubber spatula to gently fold them in. After about 30 seconds of folding, add the remaining egg whites and gently fold until they are almost completely combined. Do not rush the folding process.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, or until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan (I sometimes use and offset spatula for this) and turn it onto the rack. Just before Serving, dust the cake with the confestions sugar. The cake can be stored at room temperature, covered tightly for about 3 days.
Posted on November 23, 2015
I wrote a book. I’m in the darkest hours I’ve known and this book came like a torrent. I can’t take on major work projects because I can’t focus, and I can’t tattoo tiny smiles on my face for the people who want me cured, transactional, and normal again–but I can write a book of linked stories that I dare say is better than the novel that I’m set to publish next year. And I wrote 180 good pages, 48,000 words in two months. It took me a lifetime to write my first book, two years on my second, and both endured major surgeries, required backup generators, and defibrillators on standby. This book simply came, effortlessly, and I printed these pages and stared at them thinking, what the fuck is this? Words, illustrations, and photographs surround me on the day I’ve embarked on turning my mental beat around. Frankly, I don’t know what to do with this just yet because it’s not visually ready (although the story is there and it’s sound albeit in need of copy-editing), but it’s something that suggests an urgency. It’s something that needs to be doing something. It’s not like anything else I’ve written that requires cooling on a rack. Part of me is nervous about sharing a story collection with my agent without giving him a roofie first because…story collection and book publishing and yawn and fucking yawn some more. Part of me wonders how this project would have taken shape had I had more money, and then I realize I’ve enough saved for rent and the idea of one of these crowdsourcing campaigns feels unseemly, the equivalent to elegant panhandling and if there’s one aspect of my personality that’s stubborn it’s my inability to ask for help because that means I’m beholden to someone. I owe someone something and I honestly hate the idea of art as a card game, art as arbitrage, leverage. Not being beholden means this can be as strange as it needs to be. Part of me is like, fuck it, I’ll publish this whole thing online knowing maybe 5 people will read it. And part of me wonders if that still matters to me. I don’t want what to tell you other than I have this thing and it’s arrived and it’s doing the thing that newborns do–fucking cry to make themselves known, heard, cared for. This isn’t a call for advice, honestly, it’s just an update on the strange happenings going on in my life.
Posted on November 22, 2015
Leave me alone. Let me have my wine and my poison and let me be done with it. You tantrum your way through a screen to let me know you can see the stains on my mouth, the amber liquid in my glass — reminding me of what I can and cannot have. I am on a spit, roasting, turning and turning from your admonishments. Let the darkness that surrounds me rise up, and watch me fall out of windows and claw under doors. Can you see my desperate fingers stained black from your reprisals? You once worked your way through my hair while I apologized. I’m sorry everything with me takes so long. You send me papers that instruct me to Get Well Soon and I think: and then what? What happens in the space between wellness and not wellness? Do we mime our despair? Perhaps winter will breathe out my sadness, diminish it. Do we stand under deciduous trees with mouths gaped wide? Do we harvest what’s in the earth in hopes that we can pry the cobwebs out of their sleeping mouths so they can tell us what they’ve learned? We plunge those desperate fingers inside to only feel the rough edges of cold coins. Notice where your fingers go when you say your mother’s name, a doctor tells me. I want you to know that I tried to play happiness, but the graft didn’t take, and the fingers become hands that lock doors, and open faucets and bottle caps and sharpen razors and then finally, I feel the embrace of the clean and cool quiet. I will purple. I will sleep with hands in tight fists. My subtractions will multiply multitudes. The glass of still water on my desk warms while I cool. There are no temperatures here. There is a yard of me and I feel hideous and weeded.
Where is the rain when I’m feeling this brave and reckless?
Can you give me permission to go? No, I will not. You have traveled screens and now you orbit a room that resembles a womb, only it’s white and there are bars on the windows. You tell me I was once happy, coaxing what you need from my dry mouth. Yes, I was happy but I was mostly unhappy and what would be the point of living for a number of smiles I can count on one hand when I’m drowning in oceans that are my tears and the sorrow of others who’ve had to bear the burden of my grief. I look outside. The day pulls taut and sours. While the nurses take my temperature, I tell you that I’m tired of being necrotic. I was momentarily purple, but you discovered my cooling body and now I’m back to fucking black. Look at my fucking face, all covered in ruin — everyone’s minor injury. Speak your white noise and leave. Please? You say: did you know you took enough pills to spell out the words I tried so hard to be happy. You say did you know this? And then the razor, the fucking razor I sigh. Of course, I did. I made the words. I’m not one of those cry-for-help types.
The doctor swans in and announces that visiting hours are over. He administers the drugs and you fall out of focus. The days don’t make demands of me so why do you? Why do you insist I go on, I can’t go on?
Doctors scan my skeleton and I ask them what my bones say. Are they trying to hold on to my entropy? Watch for the edges, they’re perforated. Big shock, my appendages are sad.
Make me understand, you say. I shrug. It’s simple, really. I am sad because I’ve never become acquainted with happy. I drink because I am sonnets — my body is too small to house all of this pain so I fill bottles. I’ve been flickering off and on, on and off, what else is there to know? Why do you want what I can’t give you? Trust me, my body is a province and it’s in revolt. If I walked in the world I would crack. Now do you see? Next time can you bring me a carton of eggs? Why? I want to count the children.
One day you come and tell me stories. You stole someone’s laundry. There was a shirt you wanted to buy a few years ago and by the time you had the money it was too late, and wouldn’t you know there it goes like a Ferris Wheel in the dryer in your building, and the shirt was the only thing you took and you’re wearing it now and I say that it suits you. You ask me why I’m smiling; it’s been ages since you’ve seen that shape on my face. It never occurred to me that you would be capable of taking. You have been here for a month and all you do is eat tacos, browse surplus stores, and fit your feet over the cemented footprints of stars. Go home, I say. My father will take the night shift. You ask me if this — the bed, the doctors, and the drugs — was about my mother, about not having time.
It’s simple but not that simple. Don’t reduce this to the sum of someone else’s parts. Does the crack of ice in a glass resemble the crunch of bones underfoot? I don’t say this out loud because I need to leave this place so I can go home and do what I need to do. I need to complete. The woman across the hall practices her primal screams. The color of her pills is different from mine — this much I know.
My father tells me that he has no idea what I’m thinking. My father’s favorite word is coffee. Coffee was a demand, a question, and an answer. Coffee opened and closed are conversations and was the blanket we were tethered to. What are you thinking? What were you thinking? There are tears in his eyes. There is a photograph of him on a horse and he is shimmering and young and I cry independent sad movie tears when I say, coffee.
There’s no going home to the home we think we know. No, no, no home for me. I hold a blank book in my hand and it is filled with your memories. Do you remember the photographs of us — few exist — and we are ghost white and smiling? Knowing that one would soon follow the other to our natural conclusions?
My father doesn’t understand. I was so solid. Things were going well. (All those Get Well Soon cards and well wishes!) I shake my head because I am not a canister. I am the lid of a coffin opening and closing to the hum of the telluric dark. He doesn’t take the joke well. I am a wound where no flesh comes with its warm coverlet. My father tells me he needs me to get better. I nod because I’ve taken inventory of everyone’s needs.
We need you to get better soon. We need you to not open bottles and drink them. We need you to not open pill bottles and swallow the contents. We need you to ignore certain “contents”. We need you to steer clear of sharp objects. We need you to tattoo the shape of a smile on your face. We need you to kick this, snap out of this, forget this, move on from this, and be better than this.
I’m aware of what you do and do not need.
My friend flies home because she’s run out of money and I send her a credit card check for my limit. My father reasons that I’ll be fine with fresh air and walks on the water. Months have passed and I am tired now. I approach a mailbox and it’s hard to see and walk straight and I mail him the Polaroid’s of my slow wave goodbye and there is the water behind me and I write coffee over and over in black ink. You are right. I’ll be fine by the water and under the air. They will carry me coffee, home, coffee.
Author Note: Going forward, I’ll be publishing short pieces of fiction from my new short story collection, multimedia thing, here instead of Medium. If you like what you’ve read, let me know! :)
Posted on November 16, 2015
I’ve been called a cacti-killer because of the year I bought ten succulents and watched them all slowly wither and die. You can’t kill a cactus I was told, and in 2002 I rose to the challenge. Up until this year I was convinced that if something didn’t alert me to its existence I’d probably neglect it and ultimately be responsible for its demise. When I moved to Los Angeles my friend Jennifer drove me to Marina Del Ray and we cruised a nursery. I slept-walked my way through the greenery as my friend piled plants into my arms.
Two months later, my plants are still living, and I can’t begin to describe how this fascinates me.
Saturday, I spent an hour on the 10 with a cab driver who grew up in South Central and now lives in Inglewood. His family’s from New York and we talked about the differences between New York and Los Angeles, and all I could think of (beyond the obvious) was landscape. I haven’t yet succumbed to the car culture because I love navigating a new terrain–I can’t imagine not walking. This weekend I spent a day in the San Gabriel Valley and yesterday I trekked to Westwood, and I’m starting to see how every city had its own landscape and vernacular. While New York has devolved into one whitewashed shopping mall, there are places here that still feel unoccupied. Trust me, I’m not being overly romantic because one could see the unsettling gentrification (and the disparate income/class/race juxtapositions) in DTLA among other areas, but I’m enamored with the landscape, the streets that seem to change from city to city (it’s so incredible how far Santa Monica Blvd, Pico, Olympic, etc runs). And maybe that’s why I’m producing at such a staggering rate–I’m forced awake. I’m forced to experience, to see.
Granted I’ve only been here for three months and it’ll take me years to fully appreciate where I live, but I feel so at home in California. While there are things I miss about New York (my friends and my pop, the subways in the early morning, the shores of Oyster Bay, and bagels I can’t quite find anywhere else), I’m happy that I live in a place that forces me to be present. I no longer sleep through my waking days. I’m no longer killing plants. I wake, and before I work I sometimes bake bread.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Year of Cozy, modified based on what I had on hand + how I like my quick loaves
1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
3 tbsp millet seeds
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
1 large egg (I ran out of eggs, so I made a flax egg: 1 tbsp flax meal in 3 tbsp water for 5 minutes)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 ripe, yet firm bananas, mashed
1 tsp baking soda
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour an 8.5×4.5 inch loaf pan. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, and seeds. In a large bowl, mix the melted coconut oil and sugars until thickened and combined. Add the egg (or flax egg), vanilla and mashed bananas until completely combined. Mix in the baking soda.
Add the flour and seed mixture to the wet mixture, and fold until completely combined. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the bottom and the center as you’ll often find pockets of flour that haven’t been incorporated.
Add the mixture to the pan and bake for 45-50 minutes until a knife comes out clean in the center and the top has browned. Cool for 10 minutes on a rack before turning out the bread to cool completely.