cookbooks worth coveting: a roundup

cookbooks

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

That’s when the exploration really began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cookbooks

meat lover's pesto arugula pizza (gluten-free)

meat lover's pesto arugula pizza

For those of you who haven’t followed my lamentations on twitter, the burning raised hives have made their comeback. Last Monday morning, at around 3am, I woke to my body covered in hives. Thankfully, I still had leftover steroid cream or I wouldn’t have made it until morning. Imagine how thrilled I was that my doctor’s office opened at 7am.

We’re not going to talk about where the cortisone shot went but let’s say we did.

Admittedly, because of stress and depression I haven’t made the wisest food choices. Although I’m good about keeping my gluten in check (I honestly don’t miss it anymore) and I no longer crave sweets (my palate changed the year I went gluten + dairy free so now I crave salt), I can’t resist cheese. Cheese, glorious CHEESE. Melted mozzarella on my chicken, charred halloumi on my salad–you name the dish and I’ll find a way to throw cheese on it.

There I was slowly regaining half the weight I’d spent a year losing, and my skin suffered from my dairy fixation (read: addiction). And then the hives–a cruel reminder that mindful eating is a life-long commitment. While the burning itch has abated, fat spots cover most of my legs and I know they won’t be gone for another couple of weeks.

Back to basics.

Now that my life is back in some semblance of order, I can resume making healthy meals and focusing on a plant-based diet. After hitting the farmer’s market this morning, I popped into B&N to find a new cookbook and I LOVED Juli Bauer’s The Paleo Kitchen (so many good recipes!) that I was thrilled to snap up Paleo Cookbook. These are recipes you’re going to want to make, and I had most of the ingredients for this pizza.

Let’s talk about this crust. I’ve tried dozens of crust recipes–cauliflower, grain-free, gluten-free, and all of them were HORRIBLE. Granted, a cauliflower crust does have its place, but when I want something chewy and bread-like, I want something that will resemble the real thing. And while nothing compares to the elastic dough that only gluten AP flour can yield, this crust was pretty stellar. You won’t get much of the charred crunch here, but the flavor profile is unique (I actually didn’t mind the hint of coconut juxtaposed with the salty sausage) and I helped myself to TWO slices (hence the cut-out in the photo above).

As projects come in (cross fingers), I’ll be able to share more recipes on this space. For now, make this pizza and make it your own. I had these ingredients on hand but you can make the pesto as a base and throw onions, peppers and ton of veg on top. Or, if you’re a cruel human and have the ability to consume cheese, I would crumble goat and smoked mozzarella all over this bad boy.

INGREDIENTS: Crust recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook
For the pizza crust
3 large eggs
1 cup full-fat coconut milk (basically one 15oz can, but make sure you wish the cream and the coconut water until it’s smooth)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cups tapioca flour/starch
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt

For the toppings
1 cup basil walnut pesto*
1/4-1/3 lb ground mixture of pork, beef and bacon
1 pre-cooked chicken sausage link, sliced thin
1 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, roughly chopped
2 cups arugula

*2 1/2 cups basil
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup-1/2 cup olive oil (depends on your preferred consistency)
Salt/pepper

DIRECTIONS

For the pizza crust
Preheat the oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, coconut milk, and olive oil. In a large bowl, mix the tapioca flour, coconut flour, baking powder and salt until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and whisk until completely smooth. The dough will be wetter than normal pizza dough–it’s okay, don’t freak out.

Pour the dough onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and spread it out flat. Bake for 10-12 minutes and it feels like soft bread in the middle when touched. Cool for five minutes. Raise the heat to 425F. Add the toppings, pop back into the oven and cook for 7-8 minutes.

For the toppings
While the pizza is baking in the oven, saute the pork, beef and bacon mixture until browned. Blitz the pesto ingredients until smooth. With a spatula, spread the pesto all over the warm crust. Add the meat toppings, sliced sausage, sundried tomatoes and cook for 7-8 minutes.

After the pizza has been cooked, add the arugula to the top and DEVOUR.

pizza

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

finally!

fucking finally

You better believe I’ve posted a picture of a pineapple perched on top of an ocean rock. It’s been that kind of week.

The past six months have been nothing short of horrible, and I finally feel as if I’m climbing out from under the rubble. When I moved to Los Angeles, I had no idea that I’d have to confront all of my losses, which had been slowly mounting. I hadn’t realized that I was approaching the middle of my life and I needed a change, a new course of direction. Instead, I spent the past year myopic, driven toward a single goal: leave New York, and it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d arrive here and have to sit with my losses spread out in front me, alone, confused, in complete quiet. It’s kind of like sitting naked in a room surrounded by mirrors and you’re forced to confront your most raw, unattractive, and frightened self. And you look at the person rising up in front you and the one behind and beside you, and for the first time you look around and haven’t a clue as to what to do.

And then depression. And then the realization that some friendships can’t survive geography. And then the fear that I will always, in some way, define myself in the context of my mother.

Last week a friend warned me about what I choose to share online. He came from a kind and concerned place and said that some hands are worth holding close simply for the reason that people don’t know how to handle discomfort. They don’t want the burden of one’s sadness. And I considered what my friend said and told him that while it appears that I share a great deal online, I don’t. I’m surgical about what I share and do so because if words have the propensity to make someone feel less alone, then I’ll keep writing them until all the pens run out. I don’t care if people don’t like me or what I say, rather I care more about people who’ve been forced to suffer privately or feel the stigma that accompanies addiction or mental illness. Over the past six months, I’ve been a voyeur in other people’s lives–reading blog posts documenting their constant struggle or scrolling through their photos as they try to survive their day without screaming into pillows. I drew comfort from this because it reminded me that there are others. And while this is captain obvious, you’d be surprised how swiftly and often we forget. How we believe that our pain is an anomaly, that our suffering is singular and acute.

One night last month I wrote a post that I subsequently deleted–one where I shared that I no longer feared death, and wouldn’t it be easier if I took my own life? I then went to bed, oblivious to the panic I’d created amongst my closest friends, and I woke the next morning to a slew of messages. My oldest friend called me from work and I could hear the pain in her voice and the difficulty she had in assembling her words. Listening to her, I tried to arrange my face in the shape of fine but the shape wouldn’t take and my voice shook, and I promised to return to therapy because I loved her and it killed me that I was hurting her. When I hung up I wanted the love I had for her to eventually become a love I would reserve for myself.

Whenever you think life doesn’t get better, it does. Eventually. I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

Last night I spent an evening with old and new friends and I was comforted by how freely we spoke about politics, mental illness, familial anguish and discord, and addiction. There was no shame, only laughter between people who had gone through war and sometimes knew they’d have to dress their wounds. We are the bandages that we wrap around our hurt selves. We are our urgent care.

Then I thought about my friend who told me to play my cards close and now I shake my head. No. Fuck no. If someone reads what I write here and judges me for being human, for trying to take my life back and live it–that’s not someone whom I want to know. I’m finally, slowly (snail’s pace, people) getting back on track. I’m in the contract phase for a new project, with a list of good leads coming in. I’m hosting my first dinner party next week for old and new friends in Los Angeles. I’m volunteering at Kitty Bungalow, helping feral kittens get adopted. I’m reading and writing. I’m more present for my new friends, and I’m doing everything I can to help those who are struggling since I’ve been humbled by those (strangers and close friends) who’ve extended me their heart, compassion, and care.

And when have I ever played a straight hand? I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I feel good. I have hope.

If your words have the capacity to shake someone, to comfort someone, use them. Keep writing, keep talking, keep texting, keep caring because we all walk quietly through this world bearing varying degrees of struggle. Why not be empathetic? Why not pause and care and not immediately judge or dismiss? Why not say: What can I do? How can I help?

Because I’ve been there. Or simply, because I care.

 

depression

guest post: alexis farah, random acts of lipstick

AlexisFarah

My friend Alexis is the epitome of awesome. She’s the kind of person you simply just want to be around. I knew Alexis in a former life as we worked together at an agency in New York, and we both found ourselves on the west coast, living by the beach and cultivating quiet and perspective. It’s wonderful to see your friends bloom, and Alexis is finally merging her two passions: beauty and philanthropy. 

Recently, she launched her incredible venture, Random Acts of Lipstick focused on forward beauty and giving back. I asked her to write about the impetus of her venture and how she balances RAOL with her freelance life. I hope you love Alexis’s post as much as I adore her. –FS

 

After 10 years of working as a beauty editor in New York City, I began to explore different avenues for starting my own business. That venture, I decided, would be different than anything else that currently existed in the market. It would fuse my life experiences and passions in a unique way. But the when and the how remained question marks.

What I learned very quickly is that sometimes it takes an outside perspective to see your best self, and to identify the traits and strengths that define your character, ultimately leading to the most fitting business opportunity. And as this site’s founder helped to so beautifully pinpoint, in addition to having beauty expertise, I’ve made it a life’s mission to give back. Because as the great Dalai Lama XIV once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” And yes, charity work delivers a unique dose of fulfillment and perspective, so why not make that a part of my work focus, too?

It became a natural next step to tap the experience I’d acquired as an online editor to craft a site that combined my two passions, beauty and giving back. There I’d spotlight hair care, skin care, makeup, fragrance and nail polish brands that are doing really incredible things to change the world. Stories that often go untold from brands that many of us have stashed in our makeup bag right now. After much back and forth about the name (which was surprisingly hard to choose), I landed on Random Acts of Lipstick during a road trip with my parents. It was perfect for a site that’s bottom line was to encourage random acts of kindness through tangible beauty experiences.

Once the site was up and running the editorial direction became clearer and in a way built itself. Each week, I cover a “Product with Purpose.” It’s a single product that is in some way positively impacting communities. A portion of the proceeds could be donated to a charity or it could help raise awareness about an important cause in other ways. On Fridays, I’ll offer a “Feel Good Friday” post that recognizes influencers, brands, or entire product lines for their superpower efforts, too. To appeal to a retail audience, the shop sells a signature tote with the site’s logo emblazoned on the front. In keeping with my own mission, a portion of the proceeds from sales of the bag will go to an organization I’ve worked closely with for years, New Alternatives for Children.

In many ways I hope the site creates it’s own path and grows in directions based on user feedback, trends in the market, and new solutions to promote compassion. But as far as concrete plans go, I aspire to be the go-to spokesperson for beauty and caused-based partnerships and campaigns. I also want to be the go-to source for the best beauty brands that give back. And as I grow my feel-good marketplace, I want to be the go-to shopping experience for all buying needs that also have a giveback component.

Balancing a startup and a freelance/consulting career can be a challenge, but I’ve found that it’s important to stick to a routine and remain consistent in my workflow to get it all done. Surprisingly, my best work takes place at night and on the weekends so I get all my administrative work, meetings, and events out of the way during the day.

And since I never know when a new idea for a pitch or opening sentence for a story will strike, I keep a notebook or something to write on with me at all times. That goes for in my shower as well, where you’ll find waterproof AquaNotes to write down any ideas that arise while sudsing up.

The goal is to make Random Acts of Lipstick my primary job, but the bottom line is that if what I’ve built can put a smile on just one person’s face, can help one child avoid hunger, can help one family have access to clean water, my business plan will have succeeded.

Connect with Random Acts of Lipstick on Twitter and Instagram.

freelance life + careers

chrissy teigen's lemony cacio e pepe

chrissy teigen's cacio e pepe

My god, I miss being in the kitchen. I miss poring over cookbooks, marking my favorite recipes, and mapping out my meals. While I loathe shopping (department stores give me rage blackouts), I could spend hours in a supermarket. I’ve always been fond of food and the way in which it brings people together. We choose to share our meals, our most primal of intimate acts, with the people we love. Nothing makes me happier than feeding people, and the past seven months have been hard because food is expensive and entertaining is a challenge when your days are spent burrowing under blankets because the thought of going outside is unbearable.

Luckily, my days of cozying up to cashmere have come to an end. (Thank god for meds.)

However, until financial conditions improve, my food budget is pretty limited. Now I tend to make recipes I can reheat for a few days, and my days of making food just to share it on the blog have been put on pause. While typing this I’m trying to forget that this week is important in the sense that I need to close on a project to stay in Los Angeles. Anxiety is futile, it doesn’t serve me, so instead I focus on a gift a dear friend sent me–Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook! It’s been a while since I’ve read through a cookbook and earmarked nearly all of the recipes. I can’t wait to make her chili, cheeseburger and kale salads. However, for now, I fixed up her easy-peasy cacio e pepe recipe.

And as Edith Piaf so sagely sang, I have no regrets. This dish was remarkable. A bit heavy on the pepper, though, so I dialed it down by half a teaspoon. You will want to make this ASAP.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat
Kosher salt
12 ounces dried spaghetti (I used gluten-free fettucini)
1/4 pound (about 3/4 cup) pancetta or bacon, finely diced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp (about 4 big cloves) minced garlic
1 tsp red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
3 cups baby arugula (ack! I forgot to get this at the grocery!)

Untitled

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot of heavily salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti to al dente according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water (it comes in handy), then drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the pancetta over medium-high heat until crisped, 7 to 9 minutes. Add the olive oil, then add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the lemon juice to the skillet, then toss in the drained pasta and toss to coat. Add the Parm and toss, adding the pasta water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, just to help the cheese coat the pasta. Add the arugula and toss until it wilts, about 1 minute. Season to taste with additional salt, lots of black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Serve with more Parm.

chrissy teigen's cacio e pepe

gluten-free pasta recipes

the best tomato carrot basil soup

tomato, carrot and basil soup

When it comes to my inbox, I feel like I’m waiting for Godot. I’ve three proposals out in the world, three exciting projects, and I’m hoping one of them lands before April. After seven months of anguish and anxiety, I’m ready for a little light. So I’m hopeful. I try to be productive during the day while I periodically hit “refresh”. I think about ways in which I can reframe my portfolio to account for storytelling that is both creative and data-driven. I’m considering launching a series of writing workshop or marketing classes via Coach (is this something that piques your interest? I’d love your feedback!) to supplement my project work. I’m reading, writing essays, and making healthy food I can afford.

It’s hard not to be a clock-watcher, to not stare at a date that looms and hope for that one yes. That one email in my inbox. Until then I press on. I keep going. I keep having hope.

INGREDIENTS
2 shallots
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt + 1/2 tsp black pepper
3 lbs fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 carrots, washed and roughly chopped (don’t peel them!)
3 tbsp tomato paste
3/4 of 1 qt. low-sodium vegetable (or chicken) stock
1 cup basil
1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese

Note: I make my soup with buckwheat groats (terrible name, for sure, but I love that the groats thicken the soup and are gluten-free and super healthy). See how I cook them in this post.

farmer's market tomatoes
carrots at the farmer's market

DIRECTIONS

In a large pot, on medium heat, saute the shallots in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and cook for an additional minute until the mixture is fragrant. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, carrots, and stir to coat. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes. Add in the basil. You can either use a food mill, blender, or immersion blender, but blitz until smooth. Pour the blended soup back to the pot, add the cheese (and cooked groats if you’re rolling with them), and simmer covered for an additional 10 minutes. Give it a taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot!

Note: if you like a little cream in your soup but don’t want to deal with dairy, you can use cashew cream! Four hours before you make the soup, rinse a cup of raw cashews and then soak them in a bowl. After four hours, add them to the soup when you’re about to blitz and voila, cream!

tomato carrot and basil soup

gluten-free soup recipes vegetable recipes

my captain obvious moment as a freelancer: play nice with all aspects of yourself in the sandbox

Death_to_stock_photography_Wake_Up_2

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

When I started my career in finance, I learned about the power and peril of diversification. Creating a diversified portfolio carries with it an element of calculated risk–too much and you lose focus and expertise, too little rendered you a specialist tattooed with an expiration date. Your work lies in cultivating balance in the extreme so that in the event the ground opens up and gives way, your fall won’t be precipitous, bottomless. A strategic, well-rounded portfolio is the hedge you need to weather industry downturns and personal catastrophe. When I started my career in digital marketing in 2001, many of my peers were recalcitrant–they considered online commerce a blip, a fad that would inevitably fade and their marketing prowess, experience, and education would prevail. They resisted social networks and failed to learn the language of a seismic behavioral and cultural shift that would become omnipresent, ubiquitous. A Darwinian marketplace rallied against them, rendering smart, albeit stubborn marketers, obsolete because they didn’t diversify–they failed to keep up. On the flipside, you’ve seen what happens when one company or person tries to be all things to all people: they end up being nothing to no one. They end up broken, a whole that would never equate to the sum of its parts. They’re reduced to a spin-off, a division excised from the whole, auctioned off to the highest bidder.

For much of my career, I drew a fine line between work and art. Never have the two played peacefully in the sandbox because one was always kicking sand in the other’s face. Work colleagues were hardly aware that I wrote lyrical, dark books and writer friends were always shocked when I used words like “brand positioning” and “customer segmentation”. One part of me made money and the other derived purpose from writing the small stories that rarely registered on the cultural radar. One part of me paid for the other; for much of my own career, I served as my own patron. I had become my own benefactor. For a while, this strange symphony worked. I wrote my first book and published a successful literary magazine while working in marketing at Time Warner Cable and HarperCollins. I started (and subsequently sold) my second book while juggling brand strategy and digital marketing projects as a consultant. But money sometimes gets tricky and soon I regarded my “work” with mounting annoyance. I was beholden to marketing in order to create the kind of stories that bolted me out of bed in the morning instead of looking at it for what it was: another vehicle that allowed for storytelling.

To use an anti-feminist, subjugating turn-of-phrase: I had become my own bitch. And I didn’t like it.

This week my therapist and I talked about how I fell so hard, so fast when I moved to Los Angeles. Part of it was prolonged grief from not adequating mourning the death of my mother (sound familiar?), for sure, but, more importantly, I had spent the year prior to my move in a state of persistent acceleration. There was a cross-country move to plan, projects to land and conquer, a book to revise with my agent and sell, and the subways, the frenetic rush of people, the axiom of living in New York: do it faster! and it was only after I unpacked all the boxes did I realize I had been running on empty. I’d been forced to settle in quiet and I didn’t exactly like what I saw. I told my therapist that I wanted physical and geographic space, to which he responded: from what, your friends? I laughed, shook my head no, then shook my head yes and then said I don’t know. Maybe all of it? Maybe I’d built my life defined as one thing, stuck in that thing, and moving offered the promise of not being the thing people knew, or expected you, to be. I arrived and wrote a good book in two months and then fell apart.

During the journey back, I created a portfolio–you know, your resume in narrative form with pretty pictures and colorful slide dividers because everyone craves the elevated, derivative state. We want our stories beautifully told. We want our personal brands to be luminous, yet accessible, yet aspirational, but still inspiring and achievable. Yet in creating the outline which would morph into the final presentation, I found it difficult to tell the story of me without including the whole side of my life devoted to storytelling. Suddenly, it felt strange to not talk about the dual nature of my life and the value that it brings to bear. I took on a small project for a successful blogger (and dear friend) where I helped her tell her story in professional form. Gone are the media kits and capes decks–I wanted to create something that started the conversation but wasn’t the whole of it, and I found tremendous joy in using my two loves: marketing and lyrical storytelling and profiting from those lives lived without needing to take a long shower.

Today I had a wonderful chat with an acquaintance who served as my editor on a short essay I’d written about going to Ireland with my pop. I’d be referred to her by a friend and she was curious about my background. Could I edit books? Could I develop projects with authors? Could I help authors structure their books and tell their stories in a compelling way?

Of course, I can.

I started talking about all the work that wasn’t on my resume. Editing at Scholastic, working closely with editors in book publishing, editing and publishing a literary journal, butchering my friend’s novels and helping them create structure and refine their voice in their work. I even trotted out the Columbia MFA, although I’m fairly ambivalent about the degree now, and regret the debt that accrued as a result of it. I’ll be paying for my writing to the grave and so on.

As a freelancer coming out of a long hiatus and finally back in the proverbial saddle, I realized that I’d been myopic about consulting. I failed to create a portfolio that spanned my strengths: marketing, digital, social, editing, brand architecture, organizational design/process, writing, editing, brand development, project management and development. I hadn’t mined a network that would account for my diverse skill set. I hadn’t positioned myself as someone who could create, distribute, analyze and refine. It was only this morning did I see the need to have all the kids playing nice in the sandbox because right now I need all the kids to rally.

Now I position myself as a creator, someone who builds things and tells stories, and what distinguishes me is my range, breadth, and depth. What sets me apart is the fact that I color outside the lines and I also create new books in which to color.

This is why I want to remain here. I want to feel the new, uninhabited and unconquered. I want the space to be able to see.

freelance life + careers

the bullshit "be positive" vs. the realistic "be hopeful" narrative

Santa Monica, Los Angeles

Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. –from Samuel Beckett’s The Unnameable

 

Every morning I wake and clean my home. I spray and wipe down the counters and the stove burners. I sweep and vacuum the floors, load the dishwasher, and make my bed, freshen the sheets. Twice a day I shower and wear clothes that are clean and pressed. I spray perfume on my neck and rub moisturizer on my face. On good days, I wear red lipstick. On bad days, I carry Chapstick and apply and reapply until the possibility of gliding over my face becomes a reality. Admittedly, part of this desire to clean and be clean stems from growing up in a home that was unkempt, unclean. It comes from a compulsion based on control, the need to create order where none exists. Then I walk as far as I can go, to the point where a ticker-tape of cars separates me from the ocean, and I’m comforted by limits, a self-imposed pause, and confinement–there are still places I can’t reach yet the cars keep moving. Life goes on.

my fortune foretoldI walk the length of the boardwalk and spend a little money for a machine, featuring a fortune teller named Zoltar, to tell me my fortune. Despair not I say for your days of despair will soon be over. And then this: You have many friends, particularly in the armed forces. I carry this ticket, my fortune foretold, everywhere I go, as if it’s a fakir ready to ferret out the light in what feels like a constant darkness. As if I have a platoon at my disposal, ready to wage war against the past seven months I’ve lived in disquiet. Already, the stub is worn from my hope and handling.

Ours was a generation that was instructed to Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Amidst pestilence, war, economic uncertainty, cultural apathy, and a generation who wanted to pull the covers over our collective heads to escape all the bullshit we were burdened to bear, we were taught to “reframe the narrative”, to turn the beat around, to think happy thoughts and remain on an even keel. Sadness was greeted with the refrain: Be positive! So we wore our masks and whitewashed the story of ourselves that we presented to others. We refused to be a drag, to invite others to stand in our darkness. Being positive doesn’t allow for unsettling thoughts to creep and burrow in. Being positive excises anything that’s malignant in nature, but stand in the light long enough and you’ll end up burned by it. The benign becomes malignant by the sheer act of living a life in a single extreme; our happiness brings forth a kind of inoperable cancer. Breed happiness long enough and you’ll find yourself smothered by the mask you so readily affixed and tightened over your face. Be positive, you’re instructed, even if you can’t breathe. Even if you end up choking on your self-imposed glee and your face remains paralyzed in the shape of a teeth-baring smile.

I think about my simple routines: cleaning house and taking care, and wonder why I bother maintaining something I’ll likely lose. Why do I cart around a stub from a machine that spits out fortune-cookie predictions like it’s some sort of talisman?

Hope.

The very brilliant Rebecca Solnit views hope as a kind of opening in the context of uncertainty. It neither predicates a fairytale ending or doom, rather it allows for space to navigate between the two and move toward something other. Hope accounts for the totality of experience to arrive at a new reality. She writes,

It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings.

I carry my fortune as I stare at an inbox willing projects to come in. I sweep and scrub the floors because hope isn’t about giving up, it’s a pressing on. It’s the will to get through something by going through it, acknowledging and settling into the fear, anger, sorrow, regret and despair that accompanies that journey through, out, and beyond.

For me, drinking has served as an anaesthetic, a way in which I can prolong the inevitable. My reality still exists it’s only my dealing with it that’s put on pause. So when I hear the words “be positive”, it feels like anaesthesia, albeit in a different form. “Be positive” invites you to be myopic, to set aside real emotion for an architected one. “Be positive” is an Icarus jetting up to the sun in wings fashioned from feather and wax. Daedalus, his father, warned him to fly neither too low or too high, so the sea’s dampness would not clog his wings or the sun’s heat melt them, but the pleas went ignored, and Icarus plummeted as precipitously as he ascended. There’s no nobility is oscillating between the extremes, but there is value in existing between them. And that value is hope.

I think about Beckett’s line, I can’t go, I’ll go on, and I see it as a carrion call for hope. When your current existence feels unmanageable, when you think that the possibility of going on is fatuous and futile, there exists a part of you (and its size may vary depending on the context of your darkness, among other things, but it does exist) that whispers: Keep moving. One day, that voice shouts: Go on. If I don’t close on a project in the next few weeks, I’ll lose my apartment. Keep cleaning. I’ll lose everything I’ve spent decades building. Get out of bed, take your pills, move through your day because even the possibility of getting better far exceeds the bottomless fall if you don’t try. If you don’t go on. Hope is straddling a dual interior narrative, a war between why bother and yes, you need to bother. Hope carries the burden of the two and it’s what moves you slowly out of the dark into the grey and cloudy and hopefully, into the light. The journey is long, hard, gradual and hardly linear, but it’s a trip worth taking. Hope promises you this. It promises that you’ll learn something from the journey that aids you, even if the destination is not one of myth and fairytales.


 

On a related note, I’ve been humbled and grateful for your support these past few weeks. I don’t write long emails and I’m not one for long comments, but please know that I’m finding your kindness to be a great salve. And to the few amazingly generous people who’ve contacted me to send me funds–it made me hope to be at a place where I can extend the same kindness to someone else. Thank you. xo

depression

play it as it lays

pexels-photo-59920

I’m tired. I’m tired of writing cheerful emails and chasing after projects with follow-up emails that are met with radio silence. I’m tired of Facebook status updates. I’m tired of looking around my home and imagining having to pack it up and put everything in storage as I board a plane to go to a place I don’t want to go. I’m tired of people thinking that everything will be fine, just fine, even after I tell them that I plan to file for bankruptcy, that I’m on the road to financial ruin. I’m tired of the burden I feel as if I always have to bear. I’m tired of getting it up for my friends who think that this period is not as dark as it is–possibly because I’m still editing, still positioning, still angling for that hopeful, magical ending. I’m tired of staring at my inbox willing that one email to come in. I’m tired of wondering why people won’t write back. I’m tired of waiting for Godot.

I’m exhausted. I love Los Angeles and I’m terrified of leaving.

I’m giving notice for my apartment come April 1, and I’ve no idea how I plan to pay the thousands of dollars required for breaking my lease. I’ve no idea how I’ll pay for storage or where I’ll live in New York or how I’ll afford a bankruptcy attorney. I don’t know about anything and the not knowing, the uncertainty, is eating away at me. Sometimes I sit at home and run through all the things I should’ve done (although I know that exercise is futile)–I could’ve moved into a cheaper apartment. I could’ve taken that project in the midst of my depression last November–money that would’ve sustained me for a few more months. I could’ve not taken that trip to Bali and Singapore this past summer and opted to save that money for the darkest days ahead. There are a million things I could’ve done, but what’s the point in playing the record on repeat if the song has already played itself out?

I’m calmer about this than I expected, which surprises me, but this calm is one of the few things that brings me comfort. And today I finally accepted that I’m doing and have done everything that I can possibly do. I humiliated myself by asking my friends for money on Facebook. I’ve applied to every job I possibly could, and took every meeting, sent and responded to emails. I signed up with temp agencies. I made a point of returning to therapy to take care of myself. I’ve done everything I can do and the fact that I can’t control my inbox or people’s decisions or the inevitability that I will lose my home and my credit and my pride, gives me a disquiet I’ve never felt before. I’ve always managed to survive, but this is the one time I haven’t boomeranged back and coping with this is harder than I could’ve ever imagined.

I’m tired, and I’ve decided to take a break and just roll with what happens. Play it as it lays. I’m not going to send the hundred follow-up emails or pen pleas on Facebook. I’m just going to go through my days and if I have to move back to New York with Felix and live on people’s couches, I guess this is something I will have to do.

I’m just sad, you know? I came here in August with so much excitement and possibility, and I could’ve never predicted this. Because how could you? Why would you?

So here’s me, seeing how this story will play out. Keep Felix and me in your thoughts 🙂

depression

on my bookshelf: when books are/fail to be a salve

books

For the past few months, I’ve been swimming upstream in a sewer. Books have always been my salve, my reprieve from waking life. It was easy to step into someone else’s life when my own became too much to bear. When Mike B. and his crew made me their object of scorn and ridicule in high school, I packed my bookbag with Cheever, Salinger, Hemingway, and Ann Beattie. When I was laid off from a dot.com that blew through $10MM in VC-funding within its first year, I cocooned in my bedroom with Joan Didion, Virginia Woolf, and Judy Budnitz. When I learned a great love was sleeping with half of the women in the tri-state area, I pored over biographies penned by Stacy Schiff, Harold Bloom, and Janet Malcolm. I read every biography on Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and T.S. Eliot I could find.

I write to make sense of the world. I write to create clarity when none exists. I write to get passed, to get through. However, there are times when I can’t find the logic and my life is so dark I can’t see what’s in front of me. Times when grief and sorry become entirely too much to bear. In that disquiet, I turn to my bookshelf and browse. I might re-read a story collection I haven’t read in a decade because I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible to remember the plots of the books I read in my 20s–I only recall the generalities of a book, not its innards. I might read poetry because it’s hard (economy of language, the constant reference to other works that make you feel as if you’re falling through a bottomless nesting doll) and a single line could seize me for days.

[As I grow older it occurs to me that I only have vague recollections of all the years that came before, only my romanticized memory of them.]

However, over the past few months, reading has been a challenge. I’ve started nearly a dozen books to only file them back on the shelf. I’ve fallen asleep in the middle of a chapter. And sometimes I’d stand in front of my book thinking that the act of reading is an exercise in futility. A book wasn’t going to change my reality; I didn’t have the time to hide because I had resumes and cover letters to submit, humiliating emails to write.

Perhaps it’s my intensive therapy. Perhaps it’s the meds. Or maybe it’s my desire to climb back from this dark time and fight, but after the hours spent looking for projects and work, reading is a reprieve. Yet, it’s better than staring at a television screen playing out my anxieties to the point where they feel like an inevitable reality. And slowly, I’ve become engaged again–not at the voracious book-a-week clip, but just long enough to read a few chapters and check my email again.

I haven’t read much, but what I’ve read has been exceptional. Let’s hope the oncoming months usher in light and more books worth reading. For now, here are a few book recommendations:

Samantha Hunt’s Mr. Splitfoot: I’ve been waiting for Samantha Hunt to come out with a new book since I first read The Invention of Everything Else in 2009, and her new novel does not disappoint. The dual-narrative story follows the lives of abandoned orphans Nat and Ruth with Ruth’s pregnant niece, Cora, as they desperately try to piece together some semblance of a family. A modern gothic that plays out varying ways in which one can form a family–cults, religion (replete with faux evangelical Christians), orphanages–when a traditional one fails to materialize. The plot twist at the end is imaginative and unexpected. By far, this is the best book I’ve read this year.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words: I admire Jhumpa Lahiri, an author who takes calculated risks in her work. I’ve read a lot of the criticism of her latest book, which is an odyssey of an infatuation with a language–in Lahiri’s case it’s Italian. Some called it frivolous, an act of privilege played out on the page. Others remarked that In Other Words didn’t have the narrative prowess Lahiri exudes in her prior books, where English was her dominate language. However, I loved it because it was risky not in spite of it. As a writer you can choose to play it safe, to create in your own narrow dominion, or you can fail better. Lahiri’s latest reinforced that sometimes it’s okay to pursue a passion that may not necessarily be pragmatic.

Pamela Moore’s Chocolates for Breakfast: I loved this book SO HARD. I have a predilection for books detailing the exploits of the rich and morose, and this story set in 1950s New York and Los Angeles, about the pains of privilege, was downright delicious. The story centers on ambivalent and bored Courtney Farrel, a fifteen-year-old-going-on-thirty-five, who comes of age in the midst of financial ruin (her mother’s an actress whose star is no longer a firmament in the sky), teenage debauchery (think Gossip Girl before cell phones and Instagram). I felt like I was reading Fitzgerald because everyone’s wasted and no one is happy–lost generation, etc. I read this book nearly in one sitting and I’m glad it’s back in print.

Monica Drake’s The Folly of Loving Life: I happened on this story collection by accident. Scrolling through Facebook, I saw a post from Drake’s publisher promoting the book, and I instantly bought it. I’m half-way through the book and already it’s one of my favorites. The linked stories set in a non-hipster Portland show characters at their most vulnerable. Broken people determined to find ways to make themselves whole. You follow the journey of a family where the mother is plagued by a vague illness (schizophrenia?) and the father who tends to her at the expense of their two daughters who try to find their place in the world when familial love and stability are missing. From Mexico to empty art museums and college dorm rooms, the despair expressed by the characters is palpable, but there’s a feeling of hope, which has been pulling me through.

Lauren Holmes’s Barbara The Slut & Other Stories: I wanted to love this story collection more than I did. The stories navigate the spectrum of intimacy. From the slut-shamed Princeton-bound woman who cares for her autistic brother amidst the cruelty of her peers to a daughter hauling Victoria’s Secret lingerie to Mexico in hopes of reconnecting with her mother–the stories are sharp and poignant, yet I felt as if there was something missing. I know that sounds vague but I finished the collection content, but not wholly satisfied or as connected to the characters as I wanted to be.

 

book buff