the gift that distance (and life) brings

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When I first moved to Los Angeles, I sat in a coffee shop and wrote a story collection in two months. I remember arranging printed pages on my floor, growing increasingly disturbed by how swiftly the stories came. Writing for me always felt a bit like surgery–although ultimately rewarding, the creation process existed as a series of stops and starts, and the editing process always proved far more unrelenting. There were days when I’d read through a manuscript and press delete on whole chunks of it. First readers of my new novel were shocked to see hundreds of pages excised in subsequent drafts. I was merciless on what needed to be cut for the sake of telling a good story.

But these new stories were different–they were dark, acerbic, and they excited me in ways I couldn’t understand at first.The voices were clear and puncturing, bordering on a violent tone I hadn’t explored previously or perhaps felt too frightened to. The story collection, Women in Salt, was a loose re-telling of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, a group of friends meditating on their friend’s suicide. I felt Salt was better than my second book, a novel that took me years to write and re-write. A novel that will be published nearly a decade after my first book–that’s how long it took me to find new characters on which to fixate.

When I write, I think about the characters for a long time before I even sit down in front of a computer. I originally conceived of the principle characters in my new novel, James and Gillian, when I attended Columbia’s graduate writing program. Fifteen years ago. I’m methodic when it comes to my characters and they’re nearly realized when I set out to write a story.

Not this time. Half the time I wrote these stories without thinking. The characters arrived, fully-formed, and they were filled with rage. And when I first sent this book to my agent his response was measured–I think perhaps he was surprised that I managed to write a story darker than what I had just written.

I set the book aside for months and yesterday I spent the day re-reading the stories. To say I was disturbed would be an understatement. Although I loved what I composed on the page, I had to put the book down at times because it was just so fucking bleak. And it occurred to me that what I had written was a mirror of my depression, a lifetime coping with a condition that had only recently been diagnosed and treated. For years, I never understood when people told me what I write is sometimes difficult to read. My characters, while interesting to read, were helpless, hopeless. I’d laugh, confused, because it wasn’t as dark as it could be. Actually, the fact that my main character in my novel could be described as Ted Bundy with a whisk was kind of funny.

What started as a 230-page manuscript is now down to 120 pages. And I sat on my couch, I sit in this cafe, wondering where to take this. I have a 120 good pages but what do I do with this? How do I dig them out from the graves I’d dug with corners pristine and neat?

When I started taking anti-depressents I had the worry that most people have–would I change? When people ask me how now is different than before, the only way I can explain it is that there’s this door that never opens. I can feel sad, I can cry, I can hurt, but I don’t spiral. I’m not able to return to that dark country I’d once considered home. It’s like standing in front of a door while you’re crying, knocking, and someone on the other side telling you there’s no vacancy. There’s no room for you here. Go back to where you’ve come. And without drink, with therapy, I’m able to deal with all the things that I’d spent a lifetime avoiding. I uncovered aspects of my character that made me wince. There’s a reason for me being difficult but I can’t go on using it as an excuse. That’s the work I do, every day, and it’s hard.

And it’s hard to explain that while I’m in a much better place that I sometimes miss access to that place. I can write those 120 pages over but it would be different. I would be writing from beyond the place not in it. It would be seeing the dark from a distance rather than having it rise up all around you.

I don’t know how to write about the space I occupy–a place that temporarily exists between before and later on. It’s unfamiliar and requires a whole new vocabulary. Being here feels like a new language I have to learn and here’s me stuttering, messing up the verb tenses and conjunctions. Here’s me feeling my way around new words and being surrounded by kind people who help me with its pronounciation. That’s what three months back on track feels like.

So I wait, I guess. I wait until I can stop staring at a blank page, not knowing what to say and how to say it. I focus on getting better.

book buff depression

the grain-free granola you need in your life

Grain-free granola

This post was a series of starts and stops. It was a stutter that got silenced, a long note that ended up being deleted, and I’m finding it challenging to translate my offline life to my online one. Yesterday, I bumped into a friend and she told me I had this glow. I shrugged it off, made a flippant joke about being on anti-depressants, and she said that what she’s seeing is so much more than a pill at work. It’s more like a life well-lived, and I’m inclined to agree.

I’m really good at settling into dark spaces and sitting uncomfortably in them. The dark is familiar territory to me, a terrain I’ve devoted my life to navigating. Fancy publishers have remarked on my talent and skill as a writer, but her work is so relentlessly dark. For a time, this baffled me because when your life is reduced to night vision you can’t fathom people who complain about not being able to see their hand in front of their face. I can see just fine, you think, and you never consider that the dark has its own capacity to be blinding.

I spent most of my days at work. Working on client projects and working on myself. On paper, my days are seemingly unremarkable but they are because I don’t feel the way I did three months ago. I don’t sleepwalk through my days. There exist a calm and a centeredness I hadn’t felt previously, and I’m finding it hard to write about this in a way that doesn’t seem trite or fatuous. Maybe it’s best to simply live through it and write as plainly and simply as I can. Forget about advancing the plot or language.

When you’re writing a book, it’s a given that the first draft will be garbage. It’s the kind of work you don’t show anyone, and you spend what might seem like forever cleaning up the mess you’ve made. And in that cleaning, in that work, the story will invariably emerge. Just keep at it. Keep doing the work.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Nourish
1/4 cup (50g) raw coconut oil
1/3 cup (80m) honey
1/3 cup (85ml) maple syrup
2 cups (200g) coconut flakes
1 cup (115g) almonds, very roughly chopped (I used cashews, as that was what I had on hand)
3/4 cup (80g) sunflower seeds
1/2 cup (80g) pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon rosewater (I didn’t have this on hand)
1 1/2 cups (200g) dried apricots, roughly chopped (I used mixed dried berries instead)
2 tbsp hemp seeds
2-3 tbsp dried rose petals (who has this?)

grain-free granola

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 325F (170°C/gas mark 3) and line 1 deep-sided baking trays with baking parchment. Melt the coconut oil, honey and maple syrup in a small saucepan until it starts to bubble and simmer, then turn off the heat.

Combine the coconut chips, pistachio nuts, dried fruit, hemp seeds, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds in a largish bowl. Add the honey mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. There should be enough of the honey mixture to lightly coat all the dry mix, but if you feel there is not enough just add more honey mix using equal amounts of melted honey and coconut oil.

Spread the mixture onto the lined baking tray, making a layer that isn’t too deep, otherwise, it won’t all crisp up. Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes so that all the mix turns a lovely golden color and doesn’t burn, which it can do easily due to the coconut. I actually cranked up the heat to 350F five minutes before I took it out of the oven. Remove from the oven, allow it to cool for ten minutes then sprinkle over the rosewater if you’re using it. Lastly, stir through the petals if that’s your life.

grain-free granola

gluten-free

herbivore botanicals

Herbivore botanicals

Let me preface this review by saying you can probably get these products at Whole Foods (minus the wallet cleanse) or you can make them if DIY is your bag. Got sugar, oil, and fragrance? Boom–there’s your scrub. I’ve no patience for making anything other than a meal, and I admittedly get seduced by the tranquility beautifully packaged and fragrant bath products bring (a marketer duped by other marketers), so here I am with body polishes and jasmine oils.

I need to also share that the number of blogs I read for personal pleasure can be counted on one hand. For work? Different story, different post. However, I’ve gotten burned so many times by people who promoted products without actually trying them. Roundups baffle me–have you actually felt the fabric/tried the fit of that dress or were you more fixated on the affiliate income that Shopbop link yields? Have you used a skincare product for six weeks or are you telling people that this product is one which you’ve used forever, forever being a few months from the last time you talked about your forever mainstay products? And so on. My bounty would arrive in the mail at the behest of a “trusted” blogger’s recommend and invariably I’d do that twitchy thing I do with my face, roll my eyes, say, this is shit, and bicker with a retailer over their return policy. I’m STILL angry about my Chicwish purchase and how I had to PAY to return a garbage product.

Now, I text a few of my friends who are bloggers (or just normal, non-incentivized people) and ask them what they think of a certain product. Do they love it? Does it work? Is it worth spending their hard-earned $? And if they’ve received the product for free, would this be something they would buy in the future? I text’d my friend Amber who’s a beauty writer and blogger about Vintner’s Daughter. Is this serum worth $180? To which she responded, hell no. It’s an oil marketed as a serum. That’s it. You can get the same product somewhere else for a fraction of the cost. Yet every magazine editor nearly labeled this “serum” the second coming. It was life-changing and insert more bullshit adjectives. There I go again, getting deceived by the promise of seemingly poreless skin at 40.

There I go again, getting deceived by the promise of seemingly poreless skin at 40.

Paranthetical: Granted, I know a lot of bloggers are legit–I’ve just gotten burned by too many shilling to make the effort to place my trust (and income) in the hands of another set of bloggers all over again.

I heard about Herbivore Botanicals from magazines, bloggers I sort of trusted, and Instagram. Everyone prattled on about its austere and luxe packaging (glass with a white label–maybe I’m missing the revolutionary part?), yet NO ONE had actually tried these products possibly because they served their purpose as a “like-worthy” Instagram photo. I queried my usual suspects via text and everyone had “heard good things” but no one I loved actually bought the products. I read an interview with the founders and I’m reminded of Kinfolk. Consumer Affairs calls the formulation legit. And this review felt the most honest. I also found this YouTuber and loved her vibe. Check out her natural skin-care routine (she made her own toner, people).

So I closed my eyes, bought it, and hoped for the best.

I purchased the Jasmine Body Oil and the Coco Rose Body Polish + received the products the other day and while I was annoyed with the wasteful packaging (see above photo), I was delighted my products arrived in-tact.

Although the scrub smells nothing like roses (more like coconut mixed with something that doesn’t smell like a rose), I loved the feel, the granules that exfoliated my skin in the shower (it wasn’t harsh or abrasive) and the oils that kept it soft after. The product works but I’m not that keen on the smell so I don’t think I’d buy it again. But that jasmine oil. Oh, dear god this is a keeper. How do I explain this? The oil smells and feels pure. I don’t get a synthetic floral/alcohol smell, rather, I get unadulterated fragrance and oils that set in my skin pretty quickly and my skin immediately felt soft, not greasy. I love!!! this product. This is definitely a keeper. A lot of people have proclaimed that a little goes a long way. Hmm… I’m not so sure of that unless you use this right out of the shower while your skin is still damp. The jasmine scent doesn’t last the day, but my skin is still soft–a plus. Would I purchase this again? YES. Do I know that I can probably get this product somewhere else for a fraction of the cost? ABSOLUTELY. However, if you want an oil that’s potent and efficacious and you crave the feel of luxury/indulgence (e.g. Friday night bath routine, etc.), then I’d recommend this product.

If you’re into the natural beauty game, drop me a line in the comments re: products that you’re using that work.

style

the benefits of reciprocal mentorship: be good to the kids, you need them

Untitled

There’s a reason for the peonies, I assure you.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I was kind of an asshole. It was 2009, and I’d just accepted a role in an agency after a career on the brand side, a career dominated by companies that recycled old ideas and were frightened of progress, so much so that the state of stagnation had become tragically ubiquitous. I wanted velocity and risk after years of being methodic and measured. Up until 2009 it had been rare for me to work with people who were younger than me unless they were interns or assistants. Most of my coworkers were older and their most beloved word was no. As in, no, this can’t be done. As in, no, who else has done it, first? As in, no, we’ve always done it this way, so why try something new? It became such that I wanted to staple things to their heads and bang my head against my desk while pleading for progress.

After a career of being the youngest person in the room, I was excited about being one of the OLDS. I was proud of my tenure and believed I had a thing or two to teach the youngsters who’d taken up residence on my lawn. Little did I know that after a career working for people who believed that one spent decades paying their dues, and junior employees didn’t speak until spoken to, that I would adopt this dangerous way of thinking. I’d come to this new role with a five-piece luggage set of baggage. While I was initially excited to work with kids in their 20s, I quickly became astonished. Are you telling me you want a pay raise and a title change after 2 years while I waited FIVE YEARS to be promoted to manager? How do you not see the benefits of slaving over excel sheets and doing those staid, repetitive tasks because I had to endure daily paper cuts filing papers in cabinets back when one used paper–a time when everyone used a fax machine.

You want purpose, mentorship, and a clear path for advancement? Surely, you jest.

For a time, I grumbled with the OLDS I once admonished. Who do these kids think they are? They’re in diapers and they want to run companies and enjoy their work? My generation never enjoyed their work, rather we were told that work afforded you money for the life you were supposed to have: kids, the car, the house and the fence–all aging remnants, an eyesore from a generation where women swallowed voice and served frozen dinners to the men who came home from the office secretly frightened that the best they could ever be was second-rate. I never wanted that life and here I was clinging to it. Here I was telling people who wanted progress! change! to swallow their voice. To speak unless spoken to.

It took a few years to undo the damage inflicted by my previous generation, and when I left the fancy job it occurred to me that I had much to learn from those who were younger than me. Never would anyone in my generation leave a good job for uncertainty. We would never be consultants. We would never pursue a life of purpose and professional fulfillment. We took what was given and swallowed our medicine with tepid glee, like the good children we were raised to be.

Why not design a life you want to live since we have so few years in this life to live? Why not buck complacency? Why not question that which has always been done? Why not view failure as a means of inevitable success?

Now, the great majority of my friends are under 30. And I’ve so much to learn. When I first left my job years ago and considered going back to full-time, a friend suggested that I stay the course and go out on my own. What’s the worse that can happen? You try and fail? So then you know. A few weeks ago, my friend Jenna gave me a refresher course on the more sophisticated ways one could target consumers on Facebook. She spent an hour of her time on Skype answering all my dumb questions. My other friend Jennifer, an insanely smart and passionate marketer who once reported to me, patiently showed me how to use Snapchat. This may all seem small, insignificant, but I owe much of my success to the fact that I’m humble enough to learn what I do know. I’ve become smart enough to see the value in reciprocal mentorship, the hey, I’ll teach you how to lead teams and grow a business and you’ll explain every nuance of every new technology and how people are shopping today. You’ll inspire me to want more, to question everything and think differently. This is what has kept me fresh and competitive while some of my peers continue to struggle.

I really hate the sound of my own voice. 

For every project I take on, I usually partner with a subcontractor, and it’s rarely a peer. Granted, I’ll punt things with one of my two mentors. I’ll gut-check a strategy or an approach with those who’ve done what I’m trying to do before and have done it successfully. However, I have SO MUCH FUN with smart people who are younger than me. I’m working with my friend Jennifer on a beauty project and we spend a few hours each Friday (or Saturday) brainstorming ideas, staging photo shoots (like the peonies business above), and talking about trends, and I always leave those afternoons smarter and inspired.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past five years, it’s this: be good to people. Not because you never know if they’ll be your boss, client, or a decision maker, but because you should want to be a good human. Being humble and receptive to learning from the younger set has made me smarter, kind and patient, and nearly all of my projects this year have come as a result of referrals from my millennial friends.

I loathe the word expert because I firmly believe that one is constantly a student and a teacher. We always have more to learn, and the more you open yourself up to alternative sources of knowledge, the more you grow professionally and personally.

And you end up taking really nice snaps of your client’s product for social media. So there’s that.

freelance life + careers

I’ve got a brand new look + vegan chocolate mousse!

Chocolate mousse

You might have noticed I’ve done a little sprucing around these parts. Well, that’s actually a lie–my dear friend Lorissa Shepstone (psst. hire her!) did all the heavy lifting while I sent emails asking if we can make the link color blue and could you remove that film in the header photo because it’s driving me bonkers–that kind of nonsense. I’ve known Lorissa since 2002, and she designed and built author sites when I worked in book publishing, and she’s my go-to designer/developer for all my client work not simply because she’s talented, but because she’s kind. She cares about her work and it shows. While this site was down for a couple of days, she panicked, and I shrugged my shoulders and said, it’s not that serious. I love what she’s done with this space and I feel this spring cleaning is a minor prelude to some of the big overhauls on the horizon.

If you’re one of the five people wondering why I made the change, I could share any number of reasons but mainly I wanted a change. I grew tired of the inflexible WP.com platform and wanted all the bells and whistles of WP.org. I craved something simple, warm, and I wanted to make sure you didn’t have to click to read more because that irritates the fuck out of me. I’m not here for page views.

More importantly, I’m thinking ahead and considering the bigger picture. I’ve got plans to build a separate site under my own name, which will focus more on my work (writing books + composing marketing plans–all under a storytelling arc) — a virtual shingle to hang my hat if you will. I’m thinking about how I can merge two seemingly disparate worlds–marketing + business with writing fiction–and it occurs to me that both worlds rely on a certain level of suspension of disbelief. People will always cleave to a good story.

pasta salad

Last night, I invited a friend and her husband and daughter over for dinner, and it occurred to me that I’ve entertained more in Los Angeles in one month than the whole of my last year in New York. I no longer feel the need to recede, to hole up in my home as a form of escape from everything that lies on the other side of my front door. Call it space, clarity, or the right dosage of anti-depressants, but I feel present and focused in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. When a check I direly need to pay my rent arrived two weeks late (thus making me two weeks late in paying my rent), I didn’t freak out like I normally would–I knew the money was coming and what would I achieve about freaking out over that which I can’t control. Nothing. Over the next six months, I plan to work a lot (and consult with a debt counselor) because I really would love to feel what it’s like to not have debt. I want to be at the financial place I was before I moved to Los Angeles with the calm I occupy now. Granted, achieving this balance requires a lot of work and humility, but it’s worth the stretch.

I had planned to make my friends a homemade pizza, but the dough fell on the floor and then the cat decided he needed a new toy, and I subsequently found myself back at the market, covered in flour. Instead of pizza, I took all the ingredients and transformed it into a spicy pasta dish (basil walnut pesto coupled with chorizo and sliced pepperoni). My starter was a kale and baby arugula salad topped with sliced fresh apricots and blueberries dressed in a honey-shallot vinaigrette.

After talk of politics, books and rape culture (good times, good times), I served up this chocolate mousse, which wowed the crowd. My friend’s daughter wiped her ramekin clean and my friend’s husband was pleasantly surprised by the avocado, which he couldn’t detect. Frankly, this was the highlight of the meal. I’ve made vegan chocolate mousse before, but this version is more substantial–more pudding than whipped mousse, more nuanced in flavor (the almond butter helps balance out the avocado taste)–and it was such a hit that I plan on adding this to my dinner party dessert repertoire since everyone is allergic to something these days.

If you LOVE chocolate and want a little protein in your life, make this mousse. It’s THAT GOOD. Hope you enjoy the recipe and my new digs.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy
1 large ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
2 tablespoons almond butter
Sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla powder or vanilla extract
1⁄4 cup brown rice syrup 1⁄4 cup maple syrup
1⁄4 cup raw cacao or unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1⁄4 cup almond milk
1⁄4 teaspoon liquid stevia (I didn’t use this because I didn’t have it, and the recipe turned out fine)
2 tablespoons coconut oil (this doesn’t need to be melted)

DIRECTIONS
In a blender or food processor, combine the avocado, almond butter, a large pinch of salt, vanilla powder, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, cacao, almond milk, stevia, and coconut oil and blend for 2 minutes, or until very smooth.

Divide among four ramekins; cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

dairy-free recipes gluten-free pudding recipes

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

chicken taquitos

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

But those fucking cookbooks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

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

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

Untitledchicken taquitos
chicken taquitos
chicken taquitos

cookbooks gluten-free vegetable recipes

life lately: pups, smoothies, and lots of work

puppies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want this yum recipe? Get it here.

blueberry smoothie
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california living smoothie recipes

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

freelance money questions resolved

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, here are some great resources:

 

freelance life + careers

mexican meatloaf

mexican meatloaf

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

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

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

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

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

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

making mexican meatloaf

mexican meatloaf

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

life lately

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

book buff