almond cake with coconut cream and fresh berries

almond cake with coconut cream and fresh berries
We need to talk about this cake and the fact that you should have already baked it. Over the past few weeks I’ve been slowly adding dairy back into my diet (small pieces of cheese), but gluten is still verboten. Quite honestly, I will probably continue to live gluten-free with the exception of an extraordinary piece of crusty bread or homemade pasta. I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would, and I’ve discovered so many new tastes and flavors that I never want to fall back into a rut of food complacency.

As I’ve mentioned, ad nauseum, gluten/dairy-free baking has been a challenge for the past eight months. I’ve purchased dozens of cookbooks to only discard them (purchasing your special blend of gluten-free flour is a prerequisite for baking any of your recipes? No thanks, I’ll pass) because either the recipes rivaled a science experiment or the results were gritty and tasteless. I’ve discovered few cookbooks that truly deliver on flavor and texture, and Flourless is one of them.

So far I’ve made half a dozen recipes and the cakes and muffins do not disappoint. In particular, this almond cake is the sort of dessert that has drawn me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning, eyes filled with sleep. Somnabulent-style, I’ve stumbled into the kitchen to pry a piece out of a plastic tub in the fridge. This cake is THAT GOOD. I love the light cream and soft berries juxtaposed with the crumbly almonds. Perfection.

And to think I randomly picked up this book at Anthropologie!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Nicole Spiridakis’s Flourless (a hodge-podged a few of her recipes together to bring this cake to life), modified to eliminate dairy
For the almond cake
3/4 cup coconut oil, softened but not melted
3/4 cup cane sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
2 1/3 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

For the coconut cream
1 13.5oz can of full-fat coconut milk
3 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Chill the can of coconut in the fridge, up-side down. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper and grease the bottom and sides with coconut oil. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the coconut oil and sugar until fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until completely combined. Add the coconut milk, extracts, and blend until all ingredients are combined.

In a medium bowl, mix the almond flour, salt, baking powder. On low speed, mix in the dry ingredients into the sugar batter until combined.

Pour the batter evenly into the pan and cook until the top of the cake is browned and a tester inserted in the cake turns out clean, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the springform pan for 20 minutes. Carefully turn out the cake and allow it to cool completely, approximately 1 hour. The cake will be delicate since you’re not working with gluten flour and its magical binding properties so be gentle with the cake, k?

While the cake is cooling, drain the cooled can of coconut milk through a sieve. Discard the liquid and add the solid coconut to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the sugar and extracts and beat for 3 minutes.

Dollop the cream on the cooled cake and add a pile of berries. I had strawberries, raspberries and blueberries on hand, but I can imagine that this would be INCREDIBLE with figs and blackberries, as well.

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this is 39: the year you no longer give a fuck

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


My life, which exists mostly in the memories of the people I’ve known, is deteriorating at the rate of physiological decay. A color, a sensation, the way someone said a single world–soon it will all be gone. In a hundred and fifty years no one alive will ever have known me. –From Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

Over dinner I remind my friend Liz that we’ve known one another for half our lives. We were young, wide-eyed, scrubbed clean. We once hatched plans to live in the city after college, and I saw those plans wither as she returned to Connecticut for law school and I made my way around Manhattan, alone, filling myself with drink and stories. But here we are, older, scrubbed honest–we are our most compassionate selves, and it feels like a privilege to carry the weight and potency of the years on our backs. It occurs to me that Liz knows me longer than anyone, save my father. We’ve grown into adults, apart and sometimes together, and it’s been awe-inspiring to watch our respective bloom.

Much of our conversation over the weekend centered around time–how we have so little of it, how it’s imperative that we don’t squander it, and the knowledge that all roads inevitably lead to zeo predicates how we live. We shape our lives around time because there was a moment when we felt infinite, and as the days pressed on the finite revealed itself in degrees. I like to think Liz understood the weight of her mortality when she had children (although I can’t be certain since I never asked but can only assume). While mortality is vivid, omnipresent because I fear the moment when I’ll lay dying.

This knowledge (or fear, as honesty will have it) makes life clear in the way it hadn’t previously. When you’re at the midpoint of your life you tend to focus on bringing presence and meaning to the hours. You don’t consider what you’ve lost, rather you focus on minimizing the bloodletting; you think about the joy, love and wisdom that’s left. You wonder how you can imbue your days with meaning. You care less about noise, the superfluous.

You start to give fewer fucks.

I suppose it’s fashionable to pen lists of things you’ve learned by a certain defined age (30 seems popular), however, I think learning is continuous–we’re always students, sometimes guides or teachers, but mostly we’re here to learn. For me, age is about letting some of the noise dissipate. Age is about shedding that which is unnecessary. For me, 39, right now, is about giving fewer fucks. For example:

You don’t like me; I don’t need my phone list to resemble The Yellow Pages: When I was in my 20s I wanted the whole of the world to like, no, love me. I vivisected conversations, scenarios, and encounters much like how a doctor would attend to life-saving cardiac surgery. When I was younger I believed in the power of quantity over quantity, and the more people who attended my parties, the more people who attended the readings I hosted, the more people I could program in my phone, the better. Never did I equate the fact that the amount of alcohol I consumed was in direct correlation to the amount of people who orbited my life. Never did I consider that being surrounded by people–making sure I always had a drinks plan, a movie plan, a book party plan, a stay-at-home-and-faux-relax-with-ten-friends plan–exhausted me.

I didn’t realize that I was an introvert until I was 37. I stopped caring what people thought about me around the same time. I have a specific sense of humor (dark, sarcastic, and biting at times) and management style (I’ve a low threshold for bullshit, entitlement, laziness, complacency and stupidity; I don’t do office/friend politicking, etc), and I know I’m not for everyone. I realize that some people might think me intense, others might consider me aloof. Do I care? Yes, to a certain extent–especially if I know I’m making a bad first impression on someone whom I care about. However, in the grand scheme of things I’m not changing the core of who I am, so if people can’t roll with my style I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I’m more interested in finding my tribe–people who challenge me–rather than surround myself with people who are intent on changing me. Big difference.

At the end of the day, my people love me–flaws and all. When you get older you winnow down the phone book to those who are necessary, those whom you need and love.

“Eventually I confess to a friend some details about my weeping—its intensity, its frequency. She says (kindly) that she thinks we sometimes weep in front of a mirror not to inflame self-pity, but because we want to feel witnessed in our despair. (Can a reflection be a witness? Can one pass oneself the sponge wet with vinegar from a reed?)” ― Maggie Nelson, Bluets

Want to know a secret? This is the moment when you break down the doors and all the mothballs flutter out. This is the time when you finally, finally, let the right ones in. All the way. This is the time when you no longer wince when someone draws you closer. You allow yourself to cry the tears you’ve been holding back–you are a river and you are fine. You lay your greatest hand on the table, your heart. You feel safe; you tell your friends this: you’re home to me.

Sometimes you stumble backward. Sometimes you revert to old habits. But this is life, and at 39 you acknowledge this too.

You’re, like, really important or something: Why is it that people think I care about how important they are? Do I care that you’ve made it on a list defined by accomplishments by a certain arbitrary age? Do I care that your book was published in 23 countries and an A-list actress X will play you in the film adaptation of your life? Do I care that you’re a blogger who gets paid six figures to sell pieces of yourself to the highest bidder? Consider me a headliner at The Fresh out of Fucks Tour 2015 because I don’t care about your verbal CV or all the finery you wear on your sleeve.

I care that you’re a person with integrity. You’re not some cretin who disposes of your friends when they no longer suit you. But mainly I care about the fact that I’m not occupying space with an asshole.

The people who inhabit my life are the kind of people I want to invite in my home and with whom I want to share a meal. They’re the kind of people who would lay down their heart for you. They’re the kind of people who will carry you through the dark instead of affixing bandaids over your mouth and skin. I’m impressed by the content and quality of your character, not the length of your CV.

I’m no longer a size 0: Being an integer was fun for a total of five minutes, and then I became that annoying girl in the dressing room who whined about the tragedy of clothing stories failing to stock sizes less than zero (these were the halcyon days before the 00). I was also a functioning alcoholic recovering from a cocaine addiction so I was clearly not living my best life although the media would have you believe I was based on my dress size.

After waging an outright war on my body for nearly two decades, I finally have become comfortable in my own skin. I no longer talk about “earning” the right to eat. I no longer fixate on working out as a means to eat, rather I focus on filling my body with good food so I can live, perform my best when I hit the gym.

I look at photographs of myself in my 20s and it takes everything in me not to cry. You should know that it takes a lot for me to waver, break, but I wish I could hurtle through time, sky and space, and hold my younger self close, bury my face in her hair and tell her that she is so fucking beautiful. You know that, right? You’re beautiful as you are, as the world meant for you to be. You know that beauty isn’t just about whittling down to a bone, right? You know it’s about how you write, love, and breathe.

Lately I care more about running up flights of stairs, breathless. I care about being strong. I care about nourishing my body with the good stuff and some of the not-so-good stuff because I have this one life and am I going to spend it grabbing at flesh and punishing it?

Where does a number get you? Does it inch you further along your journey to fine? Or is it really a shackle, a self-imposed prison where the wardens are endless rides on a spin bike and grating your teeth through green juices and undressed salads?

Stupid people, drama, stupid dramas: There was a time that I reveled in the telenovela–I lived for the drama, drinks thrown, and intrigue because it all made for a good story. However, I’m now at the point in my life where I’ve been through war and dressed the wounds; I’ve a great deal of stories, and now I care about living a good life.

“Before I took to the road, a friend tried to get me to go to a department store with him. He said it was to improve the place where I lived. He said,” I want to know you are reading beneath this lamp. ” This fellow was dying. He knew it and I did not. I think he was tucking me in. He was making sure all of his friends had the right lamps, the comfiest pillows, the softest sheets. He was tucking us all in for the night.” ― Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories

It occurs to me that the older I get the more I see people die. A good friend of mine, who was the first person to really be a friend through my alcoholism, died of cancer a few years ago. Two friends of mine died in their early 20s. An acquaintance I knew, a glinting literary light, committed suicide. Time takes it all, washes it away, and what you have left are the hours. So when you think about the fact that every day forward is a march closer to the grave, you start to think about the quality of your days and who occupies them.

I used to be friends with really shitty people. Catty women who clawed and conspired. People who were covered, head-to-toe, in issues. I used to love men who were incapable of loving me in the way I deserved. And while this is life and there are times when my dearest friends will experience periods of darkness and heartbreaks, I no longer have time or energy for people who are less than extraordinary. I no longer have patience for people who refuse to tend to their hearts like a well-desired harvest. What I don’t have time for? People who put themselves on the road to ruin and like it. People who act as if these are the last days of disco. People who connive and scheme.

I have a cat. I sometimes fall asleep at 9:30PM. I don’t have the time.

banana coconut cookies + some thoughts on food and friendship

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I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention. Experience in itself was never enough. The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it. –From Sarah Manguso‘s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

Remember when we got together in 2005 and you made that baked brie and the beef with the arugula salad? I tell my friend of twenty years that I remember every meal she’s ever made me; I’ve saved her mother’s recipes for fettuccine alfredo and Thanksgiving stuffing–recipes my friend wrote on index cards when we were in college–even though I haven’t made either meal in years. But I like to think that I could if I wanted to because I have the cards. And even though the years spanning from college through my late 20s are sometimes opaque from all the drink, even though my friend, one day over casual conversation, reminds me of the time I couldn’t attend a Pearl Jam concert in college because I’d a finance exam to study for–this is one of many memories with which I struggle to fit in the frame–I’ve always been able to recall, in detail, the food.

Food has the propensity to connect people in a way that’s visceral because we’re sharing our most primal desire with someone else. We’re our most awkward, unkempt selves when we steady a spoonful of liquid or twirl slippery noodles around a fork. As women, we are at our most vulnerable when we eat because we shoulder the weight of propagating bloodlines; we bear the burden of a society that dictates what we can and cannot eat. We live in a world where the amount of food we consume and the measure of our self worth are inexplicably, tragically, bound to one another. Food is the soft, nubby blanket in which we swathe ourselves. We hatch plans, weep, rage, talk our way through our darkness over a plate of hot pasta or a bowl of comforting soup. Food has an arcane ability to transform, bind, heal.

Liz and I, circa 1994. Mid-day drinking at its finest.

Liz and I, circa 1994. Mid-day drinking in college at its finest.

Liz and I, circa 2010. I still find it odd that I'm an adult.

Liz and I, circa 2010. I still find it odd that I’m an adult.

It’s hard to explain all of this to Liz–that I remember all of the moments that are visceral, intimate. That first meal we took in a diner in Easton after four years of silent estrangement, how she tactfully inquired if I was done with blow, if I was no longer the ticking that was the bomb. Across from me, I noticed how she examined me with her eyes. Was I really clean or white-knuckling it? Would I retreat back to the woman in 2001 who frightened her? While we waited for our food to arrive, until we had a means with which to busy our hands, we shifted uncomfortably in our seats. We spoke of our children–her son and my book–and also of memories and friends past. After the lunch, Liz invited me to her home because I suspected she knew how hard I was trying to regain her trust, everyone’s trust. So how could I explain two days ago that I remember that midpoint in our friendship–the shift from college roommates who were midnight marauders to adult women with children and burgeoning careers–through the brie?

This weekend, I spend time with my best friend’s husband, a man whom I’ve come to love in a way that you would love a brother, and he talks about the hot sauce recipe that took him fifteen years to get right. We dissect the word balance, and rhapsodize over his sauce as if it were a symphony–one false note, one errant cymbal crash, and the whole lot of it would fall asunder. The greatest gift you can give someone is compliment the food they’ve prepared for you. My only regret, I confide to Tim, apart from starting a game of Scrabble with the word “foe,” is the fact that I didn’t slather your sauce all over my chicken. I acknowledge the willful abandoning of the sauce as a rookie move, and I’ve since doused half the bottle on my roasted vegetables and on my eggs the following morning. He laughs and proceeds to give me a jar of his sauce to take home, and how could I explain that this is the second greatest gift one could give?

Would they think me foolish? Sentimental? Getting all weepy over a jar of sauce, a strip of uncured bacon, a plate of herbed roasted vegetables?

Cause next thing you know Miss Anna May Wong got this sweet record on the Victrola and wearing this long shiny white gown and she hands you a champagne glass, and, honey, it’s all over. Not that she’d poison you. Worse. She gonna speak on your life and drop the truth in your lap. So real quiet and super-patient, the record playin out and the camera crowdin in on her face, she reveals how disappointed she is with you and your dumb self. And you realize you blew, but too late. Lloyd Nolan kickin in the door. But there she is, gorgeous for the occasion, so your life at its end will have good taste, though it has for a long time lacked good sense. —From Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love

But the real reason why I’m here, in Connecticut, is Liz. I’m here because of time. I’m here because I’m moving and it hurts and I’ll miss that while I don’t see my best friend as often as I’d like, I know that she’s only a train ride away. I’m here because I’ve built a fortress around my heart because I’ve so much to protect but here’s a key, one of a few, because I want you to come in, all the way. I’m moving but will I still have you? Can you believe I’m moving? New York’s the only home I’ve ever known. I’m here because I’m frightened of leaving but I know being here is an exercise in maths, that you’ll somehow make all the numbers foot. I’m here because, my god, your children have gotten so big. Remember that night with the brie and the wine (a time when I still drank) and we spent the night laughing because we had time, because your son had only just been born, and we had the hours? I’m here because now there are fewer hours. I’m here because remember that homemade ice cream and the pie you baked? I’m here because I want to commit to memory the chicken with the rub and the hot sauce and the peanut butter cookie in a cafe in Avon, and all the minor meals and bites we’ll share because there will come a time when we will share fewer of these moments.

I’m here because I’ve finally made a decision that is based on wanting to live a good life, needing to have good sense in which to live it, and I want to share all of this with you, my dear friend. I want to hold the hours close. I want to log the meals. I want this time with you before it’s squandered, before it’s too late.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts
3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup almond flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (I used almonds)
2/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the bananas and coconut oil. In another bowl, whisk together the oats, ground almonds, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix to combine. Mix in the walnuts and coconut.

Using a teaspoon measure, add the cookies to the baking sheets. You don’t need to worry about spacing them close apart since the cookies won’t spread all that much. Bake the cookies until they’re lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool n a wrack.

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on feedback: there’s a difference between constructive feedback + vitriol

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Believe me when I say that I had a plan for today. After having finished Toni Cade Bambara’s astonishing story collection, Gorilla, My Love, I’d plan to share parts of it here, weaving her words throughout the post and allowing them to settle. I’m privileged to be able to be home on Thursdays, so I typically spend the day decompressing from the office, doing all of the errands that were once relegated to the weekend, and working on a freelance project for a financial giant located in the Midwest. Thursdays are my quiet time. I cook and photograph food to share on this space; I watch old films, read books, magazines and blogs.

And all was well with the world until a few clicks landed me on a fashion/lifestyle blog, and then the rage blackout ensued.

I hadn’t intended on reading the comments of this particular post–one that featured a series of pretty dresses from an affordable clothing brand–however, I found myself scrolling through notes left by many disappointed readers. While I read scores of blogs and know that sometimes what one writes won’t always appeal to the common denominator, I was startled to see just how many people were heartbroken over how the author, who was once effusive, creative and relatable, had quickly devolved into someone who peddled sponsored posts like cheap trinkets. Long-time readers of this particular blog expressed frustration over the forced shill after shill (after reading through some of the most recent posts I’m inclined to agree), and instead of accepting this constructive feedback with grace, the blogger TORE INTO her readers in the comments section.

Awkward.

Lately, I’ve been reading posts that espouse the notion of playing nice; bloggers parade out the old adage if you can’t see something nice, don’t say anything at all, and talk about uniting to create a kinder, gentler community. I’ve seen comment wars where people who leave heartfelt constructive comments are immediately devoured, called bullies and haters. Many toss around the term, mean girls, without realizing the weight of the words they’re using.

Let me make something crystal clear. There’s a difference between someone who routinely stalks another person’s site and social channels in an effort to terrorize them versus someone who leaves a snarky comment. There’s a difference between someone who ridicules someone else’s appearance, gender, age, or sexual orientation versus someone who expresses despair over the fact that the business of blogging has changed the blog they used to love. There’s a difference between being cruel and constructive. There’s a difference between vitriol and the tough words you may not want to hear.

Over the course of my nearly twenty-year career, I’ve had to shoulder some tough conversations about my attitude (I had a problem with authority early on in my career, among other things). I had to sit through annual performance reviews where my weak points were spelled out in excruciating detail. I’ve had direct reports who’ve told me that how I managed a situation was not okay. For four years my mentor (now, dear friend) routinely called me into his office to give me feedback on how I could have managed a meeting, call, staff member, or crisis, better. A friend once told me I was impenetrable. A great love told me, point blank, that I was a nasty drunk. My yoga teacher once told me that my ego was getting in the way of progress in my practice. Must you hold on to your anger so hard, my dad once said. Another time, he shook his head and regarded me with sorrow. Always with the hangovers, the damn wine lips.

Over the years I’d cry in bathrooms or sit in front of the television, catatonic, clutching a box of pizza. Words are like barnacles–they have the propensity to bind and sting. More than once I’d complained to my friends. Fuck them. They don’t know the whole of me. Not really.

Actually, they did.

If I’d only perceived feedback coming from a place of hate versus help, how would I have been able to grow personally and professionally? If I’d ignored the advice from people who wanted my success, yet felt it important to show me that sometimes I put myself in my own way, how would I be where I am now? People who care take the time to deliver constructive criticism because they want you to be the very best you. You will never move forward if you’re constantly tending to your ego. You will never progress if shut your eyes to words you don’t want to read simply because you find it hard to read them. Criticism isn’t meant to be painless–it’s a bandaid you need to keep ripping instead of inching it off ever so slowly. The sting eventually goes away. Once it does, be honest with yourself, really honest. Why is it that you felt the need to respond so defensively instead of with calm, compassion and presence? Is it because there there’s a kernel of truth to what people are saying, and you don’t want to admit it because admitting to it will require a shift or change for which you’re not quite ready? Or maybe you don’t know how?

I remember snapping at my mentor once to which he responded, laughing, I don’t have to invest in you. I can use my time on someone who’s willing to work on becoming a better manager, an effective leader. His words remained with me and I’m grateful for his feedback because it is an investment. In me. Another time, I received anonymous feedback from my team that my early morning emails made them anxious. They felt compelled to respond to my 7AM requests lest they be penalized. I was shocked, actually, because I simply sent emails in the morning because that’s when I do my best thinking. I never considered the effect of my actions, and instead of snapping at my staff I thanked them. I told them while I won’t be able to change overnight, I am listening and I will make changes.

If your blog is your business, you have to treat it like one. You have to be prepared to accept feedback in order to be successful. Not every comment is going to be filled with glitter and orange kittens. This is the real world and in the real world people will criticize your work. If it’s constructive, comes from a good place, and is meant so that you can get better at what you do, take it seriously. Suck it up. Have humility. Set your ego aside. After the dust clears and the emotions pass, allow yourself to digest what is useful and make small, measured changes in response.

Don’t be defensive. Don’t act like a petulant jackass in the comments section.

In other news, while I was chatting about this post to a host of friends this morning, I managed to make some incredible almond flour-crusted chicken cutlets and this extraordinary saffron herbed rice.

INGREDIENTS: Saffron rice with barberries, pistachio + mixed herbs from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter (I used Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
2 cups white basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained well
2 1/3 cups boiling water
1 tsp saffron threads, soaked in 3 tablespoons boiling water for 30 minutes
1/4 cup dried barberries, soaked for a few minutes in boiling water with a pinch of sugar (I used currants)
1 ounce dill, coarsely chopped
2/3 ounce chervil, coarsely chopped
1/3 ounce tarragon, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup slivered or crushed pistachios, lightly toasted
salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice, making sure the grains are well coated in butter. Add the boiling water, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Mix well, cover with a tightly fitting lid, and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to uncover the pan, the rice needs to steam properly.

Remove the rice pan from the heat. All the water will have even absorbed by the rice. Pour saffron water over one side of the rice, covering about one-quarter of the surface and leaving the majority of it white. Cover the pan immediately with a tea towel and reseal tightly with the lid. Set aside for 5 – 10 minutes.

Use a large spoon to remove the white part of the rice into a large mixing bowl and fluff it up with a fork. Drain the barberries and stir them in, followed by the herbs and most of the pistachios, leaving a few to garnish. Mix well. Fluff the saffron rice with a fork and gently fold it into the white rice. Don’t over mix, you don’t want the white grains to be stained by the yellow. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer the rice to a shallow serving bowl and scatter the remaining pistachios on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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five tips for freelancers: because some of you are doing it wrong

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Over the past two years of being a consultant*, I’ve seen it all. I’ve cringed during uncomfortable conference calls when counterparts waged a financial war over 30 minutes of billable work, and I shook my head when another freelancer told my client, in no uncertain terms, that they weren’t big enough to be a priority. I’ve had to bear witness to freelancers loading a gun and shooting off every limb until there’s nothing left. Freelancing isn’t for everyone–some prefer the structure and rhythms of a traditional office environment, and that’s totally fine–but for those who have made the leap it’s important to know that there are nuances in handling client relationships and managing yourself. I’ve read through Copyblogger’s exhaustive list of all the mistakes one could possibly make as a freelancer (all 53 of them), but I keep seeing the same excruciating five over and over again.

TIP ONE: GET RIGHT WITH YOUR LOVE. Nothing says you’re not my priority than telling a client you can’t manage their request because you have other deliverables…for other clients. I’ve seen scenarios where a freelancer would tell a client they couldn’t answer their question (which was actually a simple one) until the following week. I’ve seen countless instances where people would be too transparent with their workload (I’m so slammed with other client work, can I get back to you on this? is a constant refrain). Let me let you in on a little secret: your client doesn’t care about your other clients, obligations, or workload–they only care about what’s in front of them. Clients care about their own problems, and they hired you for solutions.

And I get it. You need to juggle multiple clients because of the uncertainty of deal flow. You need to save for the drought. Sometimes your clients ask stupid questions (and they do, often) and you just don’t have time to answer them. Sometimes you read through your emails think, are you kidding me with this? However, let me be clear about something:

The fact that you can’t manage your workflow is your fault, your problem. Right now, I’ve three very active clients and they barely know that one another exists. And that’s how it should be. Want to know how I got to this place? Simple:

a. Be clear about your work arrangement, hours allocation and response time for “fires” in your contract. I go through the pain and bloodletting during the contract process. Contracts are critical because you’re not only negotiating the deliverable, IP, warrants, and all that other nonsense, but you’re also stipulating how you will work with the client and their expectations on your time. You’ll go through so many rounds on the contract that your client will have your availability committed to memory. In all my agreements, I define the hours or days allocated to a project, how we’ll mutually manage overages, and I even have clauses about how I’ll manage fires and normal response times on off-hours, and how I can be reached in an emergency. I hired a lawyer to manage my vendor agreement, and usually use a lawyer for 1-2 hours if I’m working off a client’s standard MSA/vendor template so I can ensure my language is covered, however, there are amazing affordable resources like Upcounsel, where lawyers can help you in one-off agreement negotiations.

b. Maintain your agreement (because there is the reality of the slippery slope) but be open to flexibility: Be thoughtful and strategic about managing client requests during off-hours. Is this an urgent request and can it be completed quickly? Is this just a one-off question that won’t take more than five minutes of your time? Then manage it. Your client will be grateful. If the request is substantial, be open with your client and remind them of your terms but suggest a midway point if the request is urgent, i.e. I’m sensitive to the request, and although I’m not available at the moment (I never say why because they know and don’t want to be reminded!!!), how about I come back to a solution at [insert later point in time]? Or, offer an alternative resource internally, or someone you trust who can supplement the work. Notice how I’ve address urgent inquiries. Use your best judgment in determining what’s truly urgent. If the situation is not urgent, kindly remind your client of your terms.

c. Manage your time: The hardest part of being a freelancer is establishing your own structure amidst a day without guardrails and routine. Establish a routine. Use productivity tools that are best for you–click here and here and here and yes, here, for some excellent resources. And, more importantly, be honest about what you can manage, because while I understand the need to squirrel away cash, at one point you will face diminishing returns and your performance will suffer, which will affect your performance and future referrals. Personally, I can only take on one “big client” in a 3-6 month time frame, and then I can take on other clients where the workload is no more than 10-15 hours a week. I usually have 1 big client and 2 smaller projects cooking at once and that tends to work for me. Yesterday, I read this interesting post where a freelance web designer takes on projects sequentially. Not right for me, but figure out what works for you and the services you’re offering.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

TIP TWO: RIGHT-SIZE YOUR APPROACH. Because consulting is not a one-size-fits-all approach. A few years ago I bemoaned a client to a dear friend and peer. I prattled on about how my start-up client wasn’t doing things the right way, they skimped on the essentials of branding and marketing, to which my friend responded that I was doing the equivalent of fitting a square peg in a round hole. She continued and said that startups don’t have the time, luxury or money to do everything according to plan, that I had to rethink my approach and focus on the essentials for the client. I had to deliver what my client truly needed at that point in time, as opposed to what they should have.

That advice has lingered with me since, and now I’m able to shape my services to all sorts of client sizes and budgets. What I would deliver to a billion dollar electronics giant would be markedly different than my deliverable to a start-up clothing brand. Usually, the latter is leaner, tighter and execution-heavy. Yes, there’s strategy in both but the strategy for an established brand or business is demonstrably different than the needs of a burgeoning brand, whose positioning and value proposition may change over the course of refining their product or service.

What you think your client should do might not really sync with what they need, and you have to be prepared to be a consulting chameleon. Assess your client’s objectives, evaluate their resources and budget, and deliver what works best for them now, even if it’s a phased approach. I LOVE a phased approach because it gives me the flexibility to add and refine over time while offering the client a more risk-averse approach (and they can see your BIG THINKING!). All too often I see startup founders shake their head when reviewing a proposal, with a that’s nice, but that’s not really feasible when I’m still trying to get my product in shape.

In short, be flexible, be malleable. Realize when you’re fitting square pegs into round holes.

TIP THREE: DON’T GET SURGICAL ABOUT EVERY BILLABLE HOUR. No one believes in getting paid on time more than I do. If you expect me to deliver at a specified time, I expect to be compensated for my work at a specified time. However, we live in the real world not an imaginary one, and sometimes in this world people in accounts payable go on vacation, people forget to submit your invoice for processing or the direct deposit might take forever and a day to set up properly. Give your client the benefit of the doubt and don’t roll in acting like a collection agency if your check is under 5 days late. Client service was invented for a reason, people.

While I establish late fees in my contract (usually when payment is over 30 days), I also specify and negotiate payment terms in my agreements. Few companies pay N30 and even fewer pay on receipt. Most companies pay N45 and I’ve even seen N60. Luckily, most of my clients pay N30, and I have a few different gigs happening at once so the cash flow feels continuous (although I admittedly have to get better at budgeting–WIP!!!).

I usually wait five days after the payment due date before I send notes of inquiry because I try to exercise the belief that most people have good intentions and want to pay for the work you’ve delivered. And while I’ll send out the troops for clients who are clearly being egregious with late payments, don’t issue the brigade if the payment is a few days late and exercise compassion for when clients have good reasons for delays.

Also, while it’s important to track your project hours, don’t get crazy over every billable hour. I’ve actually seen emails where freelancers nickel and dime over a 1/2 hour. I’ve read emails where a consultant underdelivered on a project because they didn’t have enough time in the hour allocation. Umm…that’s your fault. As a consultant, it’s critical that you price right, profile right, and allow for flexibility in the contract when the deliverable changes or you encounter scope creep. Delivering subpar work and telling your client you’re doing so will ensure that you will never work for them, or anyone they know, again.

In general, you’ve noticed the constant, quiet refrain of flexibility. While I have iron-clad agreements and I’m pretty direct when it comes to how, when, where I work, I allow for a degree of flexibility for the times when I know being flexibility is an investment in the relationship and future business. Be smart. Don’t think in the billable moment.

TIP FOUR: DON’T ALWAYS BE PITCHING. There’s a time and a place for a sale and it’s not every waking moment. This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross–know when and how to sell. Education is always an implicit, soft sell. Balance that with upsells once you’ve identified a real need, have established a relationship, and have problem yourself a valuable, trusted resource. Overt sells can be grating and show just how focused you are on money. Yes, we all want to make money and secure successive deals and cash flow, but exercise grace. Be subtle about how you sell.

I’ve created education guides (e.g. social media best practices, worksheets for branding exercises, etc) that I use as investment products and soft-sells. Once I’ve established my value with a client, I’ll often send guides that are relevant for their needs/business, with no explicit sell. I’ve done mini education sessions (or the clients have used these guides for internal education), and I’ve almost always secured MORE business because of it.

Be strategic about the sale and offer additional services when you’ve established trust and value, and have some back-pocket tools that you can offer than can bring you closer to a sale.

TIP FIVE: HAVE A PLAN FOR RECIPROCATING/COMPENSATING FOR LEADS. Can I tell you how many people have received project leads or jobs because of my network? Can I tell you how many people have thanked me or issued a % compensation for their completed project as a result of my introduction or lead. Believe me when I say the former is greater than the latter. I continue to be shocked by the fact that people feel entitled to connections or leads. Every single time I get a lead, I thank the person who made the introduction, because although the project might not come to fruition I have someone new and valuable in my network. If the project comes to fruition, I offer a % referral fee on final payment. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do even if people refuse it.

At the very least be humble and thankful for any lead, even if it’s beneath you, not appropriate, not in budget, etc. I’ve experienced ingratitude that’s prevented me from sharing leads or referrals, moving forward. Every referral speaks to my brand and my integrity and I won’t risk either over an ungrateful/entitled referral.

*Bit of Advice: I accept LinkedIn invitations from people with whom I’ve worked previously and prospective clients. If we don’t know one another, please make an effort to pen an introduction to your connection request. Otherwise, it feels like the equivalent of you walking into my home, uninvited.

workplace tip: learn how to assess your manager’s personality

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

A few years ago, I stormed into my boss’s office and launched into a 45-minute tirade about how one of our clients should be institutionalized. Bellevue, rubber sheets, straightjackets–the whole nine. My story was one for the ages, replete with fireworks, an excruciatingly detailed play-by-play of all the conversations that lead to my deduction, and word confetti. I hardly noticed that my boss fixated on his inbox for the whole of my rage blackout, not once glancing up to offer insight or advice. In the end I was depleted, exhausted, and frustrated when he said, quite bluntly, So what’s your solution? As the weeks pressed on I noticed that I wasn’t able to get as much face-time with my boss and his manner was clipped, brusque and cold. Since I felt he wasn’t giving my concerns the weight that it deserved, and he felt that I was sucking the breath right out of his mouth, our relationship deteriorated to the point where we were barely on speaking terms. Not necessarily a smart play when your boss is the CEO of the company.

On the flipside, I’ve a real inability to write or read long emails. Direct reports would fill my inbox with artfully composed epic poems, followed by thirty attachments, and I’d scroll the length of the email (endless scroll, my friends), and I’d call them over and ask, What’s the problem and how do you recommend we resolve it? Because I didn’t have time for the telenovela–give me the Cliff’s Notes version paired with your thinking. You may not have the right answer but show me you’re bringing me something more to the table beyond another complex problem I have to review and solve in addition to be responsible for an agency of 160 and millions in revenue. Make me realize that I’m not doing all the thinking in the room. Give me options. For the love, meet me in the middle.

It wasn’t until my mentor conducted a personality assessment training did I realize that I wasn’t matching my boss’s work style and, in turn, my team wasn’t managing mine (and vice versa). Over the course of a few short months I was able to repair my relationship with my boss and be more compassionate with my direct reports, who, in turn, adjusted their style to be more in rhythm with mine.

I know the term “profiling” carries the weight of the pejorative. It’s often construed as reductivist and fallible, and while I agree with this to a certain extent, having some parameters of how people work, present, negotiate and manage conflict is extremely helpful to minimize miscommunication, stress, and frustration.

My mentor riffed off a Myers Briggs training where he assigned personality traits based on a quadrant method. Using terms from the advertising world, he composed four archetypes: Headline, Logo, Body Copy and Illustrator, along with two simple questions: Are you task or people oriented? Do you ask or tell?

Image Credit: Simple Talk

Image Credit: Simple Talk

We completed a lengthy questionnaire and I discovered that I’m a “Headline” in the workplace and a “Logo” in my personal life. I sometimes bring the personal into the professional so me ranting to my boss was me in Logo mode (I was trying to establish a relationship and trust), but my interaction with my direct reports was in Headline mode (solutions not problems, be brief, be brilliant, be gone, etc).

A Headline is interested in results, tasks risks, believes in brevity, and makes quick decisions. We like options and the fact that you came to us with a brief assessment of the problem and a few alternatives for a solution. We’re entrepreneurs, division leaders, sales leaders, turnaround specialists. My reports used to make fun of how often I said, send me bullets in an email. A Logo puts relationships first in business; they are people-oriented, consensus-builders, the ultimate team player. They’re cautious and very sensitive to office politics. Think politicians, HR managers, and CEOs. A Body Copy believes in the power of process–they’re cautious, methodical, detail-oriented, extremely professional, and may endure analysis paralysis since they spend so much time weighing all of their options. Accountants, project managers and lawyers are excellent body copies. An Illustrator cleaves to the Bright Shiny Thing–they love the latest, trendiest, coolest. They’re impetuous and want to inspire and be inspired. They’re creative directors, in PR, or they might be in sales. They do what they can to get the job done but they may not necessarily think through implications (it bores them to tears) like a Body Copy would.

To that vein, inspired by my mentor’s training, I created two quick charts on how to present and negotiate based on archetype.

HOW TO PRESENT (BASED ON PERSONALITY TYPE)
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HOW TO NEGOTIATE (BASED ON PERSONALITY TYPE)
Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 11.10.01 AM

Granted, these are basic archetypes and people may move through the quadrants based on situations, stress levels, mood, etc, however, this helpful guide empowered me to not only manage up more effectively, but it allowed me to recognize how my team managed themselves and their communication and I made a point to meet them halfway. Example: I was demonstrably less impatient with stories and lead-ins (especially for my more junior team members) and I could see how they were trying to devise solutions for problems. Remember, communication and connection are not unilateral. We’re not here to change who we are and how we work based on who we work for, rather, we’re all trying to find our way to a comfortable middle.

kale fried rice + “being an adult”

kale fried rice

How old are you? My accountant for nearly a decade rises from his chair and asks what he already knows. He moves into another room where I can’t see him. I buy time, ask what he’s making. Pasta fagioli, he says. The way he speaks reminds me of Italian matrons holding court in Bensonhurst, severing vowels at the end of sentences. Fagiol. I stand outside of his kitchen, but never dare enter it, because it would be rude to trespass this space. I think about a profile I recently read on Italo Calvino, penned by his English translator for The Paris Review. For nearly twenty years the two were colleagues, Calvino trusted Weaver with his work, yet the two spoke to one another using the formal address, lei. Even though I make the annual trip to my accountant’s home, even if I sit on his couch and use his pens to make notes along margins, stepping into his kitchen feels like an intrusion, a shift from the formal to the intimate and informal.

I don’t tell Paul my age but I lay down a few cards (not the whole hand, mind you), and reveal what I’m close to, what’s nearby: 40. To which he responds, You make this money but where does it go? Because you don’t strike me as the spendthrift type. He pauses, tries a joke on for size: Are you like the kids? What is it, weed? Alcohol? I laugh and consider the woman of ten, fifteen years past. A woman who loved her red wine and her coke cut into fine lines. She would be unrecognizable to both of us, but perhaps she lingers just beyond my reach. Perhaps she’s someone, if you look close enough, you can still see.

Or perhaps I strike him as the kind who would be anaesthetized with things that are ephemeral rather than the things that collect dust and fade over time. But this isn’t about blow or booze, not really, this is about being an adult. About having your house in order. About making a healthy six figures and still find yourself choking on an even healthier five-figure tax bill. This is about not having a house yet. Not being married yet. Not having kids yet. This is about a woman who spent years in banking but who can barely balance a checkbook.

I tell Paul that I’m still paying the debt from a previous life. I’m paying for the life I thought I needed, a life I felt I deserved. And that life was rife with finery, pretty things that stockpiled in tiny closets. I bought a life that was about to burst and here I am, years later, still paying the debt for all the things I have given away. Because by the time I realized what sort of life I really deserved, it was already too late.

I’m happy, truly happy, but I sometimes find myself bound to the traditional notions of what it means to be a grown-up. I am mature, I’ve the weight of years, knowledge and experience, but I don’t feel it. I look in the mirror and I don’t see 39. And when I look at bank account I certainly don’t fit the role of 39.

Part of me thinks I’ll always be this way–mercurial, nomadic, odd, strong, yet unable to reconcile an income statement. Part of me will always feel as if I’m straddling a strange middle between childhood and adulthood–some kind of curious adolescence. What is it mean to be an adult anyway? I never understood the dictionary with its binary definition of every word. The weight of the word feels unbearable, something to which I can barely live up. Instead I focus on what’s ahead–paying taxes, securing projects, saving for California. Focusing on a new home, hopeful for a new love, a quieter life.

Maybe one day I’ll get this money thing together, I say, collecting my bulk of papers and forms I need to sign with checks I need to mail. We exchange looks that say the unsaid, the very opposite.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow, modified slightly
2 cups baby kale, stems discarded
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
2 clove garlic, peeled and very finely minced
3 large scallions, cut into 1/8 inch diagonal slices
2 ½ cup cooked brown rice
1 tbsp + 1 tsp tamari sauce

DIRECTIONS
Cut the kale leaves in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into very thin ribbons (chiffonade).

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic. Raise the heat to medium and add the steamed kale and scallions. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the greens have wilted, and then add the rice and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring. Add the tamari sauce and cook for 30 seconds more.

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(guest post) the freelance life: surviving the drought

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Earlier this week I tweeted that I was seeking advice from freelancers on enduring deal drought. Those who freelance know precisely what I mean, and pipeline is what keeps us up most nights–how and from where we’ll secure our next project, how we’ll endure the period from this to what’s next. My friend Daniel Doebrich, being the thoughtful and methodical person he is, sent such an exceptional and thorough list that I invited him to pen a guest post for this space.

I had the opportunity to briefly work with Daniel when I was a managing partner at my previous company, and found him smart, passionate, detail-oriented and creative. We’ve kept in touch in the two years since and it’s been incredible to see his trajectory, and more importantly, to share valuable information and leads with one another. I think you’ll find his advice pragmatic + helpful, and let me know if you dig this sort of thing–guest posts, that is.

About Daniel, in his own words: Daniel has worked in social media and digital marketing from its nascent days. He has positioned a number of startups and emerging companies, and helped large corporations to develop a digital mindset. At the core, he connects strong analytical skills with a storytelling approach to define result-driven strategies. Past clients include: Target, BMW, Audi, Unilever, Credit Suisse, Vodafone.

After years in the agency world, Daniel decided to work as a freelance digital strategist, advising a diverse set of clients, from emerging startups to large-scale companies across different industries. He is also partner at MISTER, a digital creative agency, where he develops striking websites and e-commerce for new generation brands such as Hood by Air, EN|NOIR and Alyx.

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Doebrich

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Doebrich

Freelance life can be fun, thrilling and filled with inspiring projects. You have more creative freedom, and clients will appreciate your unconventional ideas if you make them relatable to their corporate structure and mindset.

In between those dedicated times, where you are driven to deliver a strong creative proposal to the client, sometimes ecstatic about the opportunities, there come the periods when nothing happens. Your phone is still. Days without any new email in your inbox, other than those newsletters which you loathe. You marvel for a second about your recent success, but then you realize that you need to work hard, leave that comfort zone once again, and hustle to land your next gig. Those breaks can stretch, drive you crazy and get you to a point where you wish that you didn’t have two left hands when it comes to being a waiter.

In these moments you should remind yourself of a few things.

On surviving the drought, because it’s a struggle:

Always be humble and friendly with people, whether it’s your landlord, your personal assistant at the bank, or your friends. Do things without expecting anything in return. It will pay off when you are late with your rent, or need support to raise the credit line for a while.
Don’t overspend while you have a strong income. Keep being reasonable with your spendings instead. Do you really need to go out that night or get another drink, or go for dinner? Put that money aside, you will need it in bad times.
Don’t feel self conscious if a friend offers to treat you in bad times, but don’t get comfortable with it either. Sometimes it’s just great to be invited for dinner in a time where you couldn’t spare a dime.
Take time off even when it seems counterintuitive. While in the drought, you sometimes want to just keep working and contact everyone you possibly know, but your brain screams stop. Take some time off. Even if it seems to go against reason. You need that break and there is nothing more important than having a fresh mind and good energy.
Work out. The only way to prevent you from going crazy by the sheer thought of your open bills is a good, hard workout. Do it regularly, and push just a little more. In those moments, you will find the ideas that take you to the next stage.

On generating leads (always be closing):

Write it down. It’s the most important rule to success. Make plans and get them on paper or a Google doc. Only by outlining the immediate steps, and by defining specific actions you can make them reality.
Keep your network alive. Understand with whom you like to work and who is helpful in getting you leads. These people know your capabilities or might have a good network themselves. Keep them posted about your projects.
Create lists and keep them up to date. Sure, LinkedIn is great, but it’s so unstructured. Create a spreadsheet and divide it in a way that makes it easy for you to filter contacts according to how helpful they are in generating leads, how quick they respond, or which industries they serve.
Be precise. Create an initial email that sums up exactly what you are searching for. Describe the set of tasks you want to work on. Provide examples. The more precise you are the more likely the recruiter or contact at any company can match you to a job opportunity/project.
Be personal. Send an email blast to start with, but make every email personal. It will get you more responses than just writing an anonymous email. More importantly, it will keep you in people’s mind and lead to unsolicited leads later on.
Pitch your crazy ideas. If you have a good idea, let’s say to do a startup innovation workshop within a big company, prepare a short pitch deck, research the people who are responsible for innovation on LinkedIn, and make that cold call (i.e. write them an email). It works wonders. You will have few responses, but the people who answer might open a whole new opportunity for you.

I am pretty sure that you know most of the above and it might seem trivial, but remember them the next time you are in a period of slow business.

Connect with Daniel on Twitter // Instagram // LinkedIn // website (MISTER)

banana cocoa muffins

Banana cocoa muffins.

We came from zero, and on a long enough timeline we’ll return to that from which we’ve come. Zero. I think about this a lot–life, death–perhaps maybe more than I should, more than what’s deemed healthy, but I can’t help it. I think about planes sometimes, how my greatest fear is being on a plane that dives into an ocean. Sometimes I imagine closing my eyes and humbly crawling back to the cool dark, because although this is the one thing I don’t remember (that one head pushing out, those eyes that opened wide to the first light, and the mouth that screamed so valiantly, even through the terror of being born), it brings me an unexplainable comfort. It’s as if by living through the cycle of life and death I’ve conquered it, and for a time I’m okay until the moment I think about it all over again.

I also think about time. How I’ll never have enough of it, how it’s always running out. I used to wear a watch and have a clock in every room–the old fashioned kind, the sort that ticked. And then time passed as it’s wont to do, and I move through rooms with my phone, checking it every now and again, just to see how much time has passed. How much I’ve spent (or squandered, depending upon the day) from the last moment I checked to the next.

Aren’t you afraid of it? I asked my pop last week. Of what, he said? Death. Dying. Not really, he said and paused. Maybe a little but not a lot. I don’t think about it as much as you do. How is it possible that he’s not frightened? Like me, he’s not swathed in faith–he doesn’t believe in a white kingdom and a god who will carry you all the way home. Like me, he’s spiritual, sees the world as this magical, miraculous place, but we’re not tethered to a faith. Nor do I suspect we ever will be. We don’t have that warm comfort, and while I sometimes agonize over the certainty that these two feet on this floor will no longer be, my father goes about his days undisturbed. He tells me that death is inevitable so why get worked up over something that you can’t control?

The thing is, I like control. A lot. But I’m learning to let go of it, piece by piece.

Illustration Credit: Taro Yashima

Illustration Credit: Taro Yashima

Time is slippery, and since I’ve made the decision to forgo having children, of not establishing a legacy, I look at my work as one of the tangible things I’ll leave behind. I ache to produce and find that this space brings me so much joy because I can write the smaller things here while I consider the bigger things on a blank canvas. I use books (and life) as a bridge between the minute and known (blog) and the great unknown (novel). Lately, I’ve been ordering children’s books at a ferocious clip. Maybe it’s the fact that as a child I never appreciated the complex simplicity in books where a few words and illustrations are forced to convey SO MUCH, or perhaps I see the extraordinary juxtaposition between the size of a book and the length of its words versus the magnitude of its meaning. Children’s books are magnanimous in the sense that they don’t patronize or take a pedagogical approach, rather they allow you to dive in and find your own beauty, at your own time, on your own terms.

After poring over these illustrations (don’t the colors just DO YOU IN?!), I decided to order Umbrella because it’s such an magnificent expression of the tension of time. Of feeling anxious to move from one space to the next. But it’s also a meditation on time and being present, of savoring these moment of being alive. I need a little more of that in my life.

Today, I turned off the television, silenced my phone and kneeled down to play with Felix. For fifteen minutes, I heard the sounds of his purr and breath and all the noise in my head fell to quiet. All that existed was a woman and her cat. I don’t know what that means in terms of legacy, of pragmatism, of leaving something you can hold in your two hands, behind. But what I do know is that holding his small neck in my hands felt wonderful.

Drawing lines, drawing outlines. Unfurling maps.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts
2 large eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup ground almonds (almond flour)
1/2 cup ground gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whisk the eggs, maple syrup, and olive oil until completely combined. Add the bananas and beat until combined. In a large bowl, whisk together the ground nuts, oats, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make sure you have all lumps pressed out (almond flour tends to clump up) before you add to the wet ingredients. The last thing you want is a bit chunk of nut flour in your mouth. I’m saving you, people.

On low speed, add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold until combined. Using an ice-cream scoop, add the batter to the tins and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool for ten minutes on rack before turning out to cool completely.

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the importance of the side hustle

the importance of a side hustle

Let me talk to you about a time most of you can’t remember, let alone fathom. (But first, I’ll break into my gravely voice while I yell about kids getting off my lawn.) I started out my career in the age of resumes on bond paper and file cabinets. Back in the day you mailed your resume to the company you wanted to court, and you prayed that yours would be the one that would rise above the stack. This was an age when cold calls were verboten, and recommendations were reduced to someone making phone calls made on your behalf because who knew of LinkedIn? Who actually used email?

Throughout college I interned at some of the most prestigious investment banks simply for the fact that those jobs paid handsomely. Smith Barney money afforded me top shelf instead of well drinks. Merrill Lynch money afforded me rollneck sweaters, barn coats and anoraks from J. Crew, and I would watch as everyone hawked my every delivery with the sort of envy I’d begun to covet. When I graduated, I took a job in an investment bank because this is what one did — one went along with the pre-defined plan. One didn’t question or argue the trajectory.

Until I did. Until I realized I didn’t want to be Gordon Gekko; I wasn’t built for an industry that created nothing except for the illusion of progress. I realized I hated banking during a relentless heat wave when I decided to walk into work wearing a long floral skirt, sans hose. First, let me explain the business of hose. Although we entertained dress-down Fridays with a mixture of confusion and mild amusement, a woman simply dressed from one of the several somber suits arranged in her closet. Pants were passable. Skirts were lined and grazed our knees. Heels were a smart variation on cocoa, black or blue. But floral skirts were sacrilege. Unlined rayon was the financial antichrist. You might as well have adjusted Powerpoint slides in the nude while preaching idealism like sermon.

Are you surprised that I wanted to run?

Recruiters shook their heads and sighed when I suggested a change of industry. Who would employ me? One had to have experience in a profession, and I competed with a line of college interns who could afford the luxury of the unpaid internship. They worked for glossies, designers and the arts. I worked in banking so I would only be interviewed for jobs in banking.

I should tell you in advance that I don’t accept refusals. I shirk the words you can’t; I don’t take kindly to the word no. At the time I’d been routinely hitting up sample sales and traveling to outlets and selling some items on eBay, until it occurred to me that there was no market for designer resale. Online commerce barely existed and there were parts of the country, the world, where people didn’t have access to finery at a discount. So while employed in an investment bank I decided to create experience where none existed. I filed papers for a LLC, managed my own accounting, built a website, purchased a camera and tools for photoshoots, and scouted sample sales for inventory. Essentially, I was the Outnet of 1999 at a small scale. While it’s true I made a good bit of money and had a lot of fun buying Dolce & Gabbana shoes with my father during trips out to Woodbury Commons, I’d started to learn the language of digital–I understood what it meant to run a business. This caught the attention of my next employer, who hired me as a project manager for a burgeoning luxury goods dot.com.

That’s when I first learned about the importance of a side hustle. That’s when I learned how to say, fuck you and your no, out loud.

If I hadn’t built a business from scratch I wouldn’t have realized that we are far greater than our bulleted parts. Because there are thousands of people pushing paper with similar credentials. All those resumes read like minor variations on the same theme. While it’s true that people may attempt to dress up a piece of paper in designed finery, the words (and experience) remain unchanged. When you realize that one’s work as a strategist mirrors someone else’s carefully composed resume, you begin to understand that people hire people, not paper.

Every employer has hired me as a result of my side projects. They’ve gotten me through doors and industries that would have remained closed. They’ve given me supplemental income. Side projects have saved me from the doldrums of the office and have empowered me to pursue creative endeavors and learn skills that I wouldn’t have gained in a traditional office environment. Side projects have expanded my network and put me in front of people who have become lifelong friends. I’ve launched literary magazines and websites, hosted events and started organizations. I’ve practiced photography to the point of not being half-bad. I’ve a diversified skillset in a way that I understand technical details just as much as I get creative. Recently, I’ve been guiding a sizeable website relaunch and I understood the principles of UX just as deftly as I did the process for establishing a creative vision. A lot of my current consulting work is a hybrid of creative brand work with organizational design–all because I have a voracious appetite for knowledge. All because I raised my hand at work and volunteered to learn something new, to assist someone in another department in my free time. All because I was brought up in the age of extra curriculars. All because I never be defined as one thing. All because I never want to stop learning and building.

More importantly, side hustles have given me hope when none existed. They’ve shone lights amidst the dark, and have made me realize that there is so much possibility–something nearly impossible for someone of my tenure and experience who may not necessarily believe that the whole of the world lay at their feet. Side projects have made it such that I walk into a room and I have so much to talk about!

How I’ve Created Side Hustles:
*Start small: Early side hustles were inspired by my friend Jeff’s book, 52 Projects. Sometimes we get subsumed by BIG and we need to start small. Explore your creative and practical self through small, fun assignments–whether it be baking a batch of cookies or learning how to code websites and write software programs. Start from a place of curiosity. You’ll have more fun with it and flex varying brain muscles if you know your income isn’t dependent upon your expertise. Start from a place of pursuing something that excites you. You’ll start to notice how this passion and new skill will inform or augment what you’re doing in your professional life
*Take classes: From local continuing ed classes to online ventures, I’m always learning new skills or strengthening my existing ones. I love General Assembly, SkillShare, Nicole’s Classes, and Lynda. This year I plan to take classes to get fluent in Spanish and I want to take a Classics course.
*Raise your hand: At various jobs, I’ve gone out of my way to connect with people in different departments and have volunteered to help on projects where I have less experience. Consider it an informal apprenticeship, but I found it so practical to learn about SEM by sitting with an expert and help him churn out reports. I learned so much about photography by helping a friend out on a project. I also routinely hang out with people who have varying skill sets and make a point to know about what they do.

Photo Credits: Death to the Stock Photo

side hustle

chocolate chip almond cookies (grain/gluten free)

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Yesterday, my father took me to the water. Passing a bag of cookies between us, we drank coffee in his car and watched the tide come in. It’s high, he says, look at the waves. I nod. We’re still like this for a time and I love him for this–the ability to share a comfortable silence. My pop and I love the quiet, worship at the altar of it. We are in Long Island watching swans on the pavement and seagulls overhead and I talk about India, how encountering Delhi for the first time felt like an assault of color, of beauty. My pop inquiries about the countries to which I’ve traveled and I speak for a time and then I pause and ask if I’ve gone too far, said too much. Are you bored? I ask. He says no. He tells me that he likes to close his eyes and imagine the countries I’ve been. He likes the words I choose and the spaces I create between them. Through me it almost feels as if he’s been. So I talk about Jaipur, a city painted vermilion and blush pink, and the fumes that plumed up from a volcano in Masaya. I tell him about the parakeets that make a home in the crevices of the volcano, that they can somehow withstand the fumes I could barely stomach.

We spend some time in the car talking about what we can endure.

Yesterday I watch my father run. I’m standing inside a restaurant and a pane of glass comes between us. He legs move swiftly, effortlessly–this is a man who once had to crawl up a flight of stairs because the pain from his hips was more than what he could endure. From inside, I bring my hands together in prayer; I’m thunder, and when he swings open the door I hold him so tight. I practically fall into him because this is the first time in years he’s been able to walk properly, much less run. We take this for granted, I tell him. The fact that we have two legs. The fact that we can use them.

Tell me about your new home, he says. We pass plates of food between us because we’ve always shared food. We’ve always picked at the contents of one another’s plates. We’ve held food in our hands and presented it, as gifts, to one another.

I tell him about the place I want to live and we talk for a while. He understands why I want to leave New York, the place I’ve called home for nearly 40 years, but he’s heartbroken–I can tell. I’ll miss the days we’ve spent doing nothing but feeling the enormity of something. I tell him that I’ll miss sleeping while he drives. I’ll miss our two chairs facing a television and the fact that we talk through every show. I’ll miss the timbre of his voice when he says, Coffee? I’ll hold a mug in my hands out of love, habit, and I’ll miss the slow sips, the deep quiet.

I’ll miss you tremendously, I say. We’re at the train station when he laughs, pulls me close and tells me that he’ll miss me too.

INGREDIENTS
1½ cup almond meal
2½ tbsp melted and slightly cooled coconut oil
¼ cup cacao nibs
3 tbsp maple syrup
1½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp baking powder

DIRECTION
Preheat oven to 350F. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix all ingredients until completely combined. Using a tbsp measure, portion onto a lined baking tray, press down slightly in the center with your thumb.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch the bottoms so they don’t burn. Set on a rack and let cool for 20 minutes before diving in. You can keep these in an airtight container for 3-4 days but they will get crunchy over time.

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chocolate banana mousse (vegan)

chocolate banana mousse (vegan)

Yesterday I had lunch with my marvelous agent, Matthew Carnicelli, and I left inspired, invigorated and ready to start another novel. We spoke at lengths about my first book (he’s still making the rounds) and the tremendous feedback it’s received balanced with the fear of publishing my book because it wouldn’t break through, it wouldn’t be big because it’s largely so dark. My book is this beautiful, risky thing, was the constant refrain from book editors, and Matthew and I brainstormed possibilities while he tries to sell this dark little thing I’ve created.

We spent two hours talking about what I write on this space and we decided that what I write here (personal stories connected to food, career advice, issues of race and identity, how I’m redefining success for myself on my own terms) should be kept here. The writing on this space is honest, good, and brings me joy in writing it and sharing it with you. So it’ll stay here and I’m privileged that you’ll bear witness to its inevitable bloom.

I talk about a new project that’s been stirring. The problem with how I write is that I never, ever think of plot, a story fully realized. I start with characters and a few scenes. I figure that if I know the people they’ll do some interesting things and the plot will follow. So I’ve a rather ambitious idea, one that will yank me out of my comfort zone, and it centers around a neighborhood in Brooklyn and a prominent (and potent) Puerto Rican crime family. Naturally, me being me, I have a few fully-realized scenes toward the end of the book, when I laugh and tell my agent this, he rolls his eyes because he’s been down this road with the last book. I always start in the middle of things and give him a 100 pages and inquire whether what I’ve written is any good. It’s always good, he assures me, and I can tell he’s relieved that this story is manageably dark, rather than relentlessly so.

I pause in the middle of our lunch, stir food around on my plate, and ask, timidly, the novel isn’t that dark, is it? He laughs because what I’ve asked states the obvious, because the title of my book is Follow Me Into the Dark, and he says, Felicia, it’s dark. But it’s also beautiful and good and we’ll find it a home.

I left reminded of the singular rule I was always taught in graduate school. Don’t just lean your hopes on this one great thing. Write new books, tell new stories, scatter them like confetti all over the place. So this is me, investing more time here, more time away from here. Writing. Creating something new. Every day.

INGREDIENTS
2 medium ripe bananas
½ ripe avocado (3/4 cup)
¼ cup cacao powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp maple syrup (or honey)
½ tbsp water

DIRECTIONS
Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend for 30 seconds or until smooth and well combined. I added cacao nibs and pistachios to my mousse, however, I can imagine this would be AMAZING with some whipped coconut cream. I let this chill in the fridge for an hour before serving.

chocolate banana mousse (vegan)