knowledge talks, wisdom listens

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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. – Samuel Beckett

Yesterday, I fell. On the way to the train station I was fixated on reading an article on my phone and then suddenly I could see it–the trip, tumble and collapse–but I could do nothing to stop it. I tumbled a few feet and landed on the ground in the rain. I skinned my palms, my knee ached from the impact and a man helped me up and asked me if I was okay. I laughed and said, that hurt more than I thought it would.

Later on that day I read an article calling food sensitivities a myth, a product of our own psychosomatic invention, and I was angry not because the opinion was blatantly wrong, it was the fact that pretty, popular girls can publish un-researched, un-informed fiction under the guise of journalism and the masses will swarm at their manicured feet. I was angry, still, when a comment I’d posted–something I rarely do, comment on websites–calling into question the lack of research from both sides of the argument, the lack of interviews with trained medical professionals and those who actually struggle with food issues (because should we assume that since our food has been chemically and genetically modified more so in the past 40 years than the past 400 that our bodies would have a reaction of which science has yet to understand, much less concretely diagnose?), was deleted. I was angered over the ignorance and then the silencing. But the world presses on and they sell more branded gloss.

That night during my yoga class, in the dark, I kept thinking about night driving in California. How I hated being in cars at night because you couldn’t see the road ahead of you. But in California I didn’t mind not knowing, instead allowing the road to unravel ahead of me in degrees. I thought about a trip I took to Tacoma, Washington and being in car with a man who’d been drinking, and then drinking wine coolers in Manhasset, and I’m mixing it all up. All the memories are shards I can’t piece together and I’m angry that I can’t remember everything. That part of my life is gone and I won’t again feel what it’s like to be 24 in a car, sleeping while someone drives.

We tell stories in order to live, Joan Didion writes. What if the stories are all mixed up, silenced, deleted, not read, not told?

I met with my nutritionist yesterday and the weight loss slowed because I’d been, knowingly, adding more fat back into my diet. Bacon and candied pecans on salads, extra slices of sausage. I was worried, I said. About time. And I knew Dana wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, I didn’t, because I was acting like every meal was my last when another was three hours away. We tell stories in order to live, but what if time runs out? How could I explain that I worried about the time between now and then? How do I tell that story?

I met with an old friend and we talk about the business of books and I tell him I’m done with all of those people, all of that, and he shakes his head. Those people don’t matter. That history doesn’t matter. This thing about your introversion, he starts, and I talk over him, a thing I now rarely do, about how I was telling real stories on this space, on all the spaces I occupy, and he alluded to the fact that my letting people in isn’t a singular event. I have to to continue to leave the door open, even if it’s a crack. I have to keep telling stories, honest ones. I added my email to my About page, and you may think it’s not much but it’s huge, HUGE, for me. That’s the door opening, a little.

There are a lot of stories and I want to tell them but I don’t know. About how I don’t know what’s next and that’s okay but not okay. About how I have this book that I love this much but what if no one buys it, and I know I’m not supposed to wrap up my worth in the business of books but knowing something and feeling something are two different things. About how hard it is to be present because when you’re not present you fall on the ground. About letting my anger go when I see silly articles written or just how many men hate women in this world for no reason. About being young and not loving it then when I was in it and making it all pretty and romantic now when I’ve traveled oceans away from it. About hearing people who are 30 complain about being old when all I want to do is stop the clocks and go back and get a do-over because maybe I would have done things differently.

We tell stories in order to live, and I realize I write and eat and sometimes live like time is running out.

I take this picture of me in yoga class and I immediately dissect everything that is wrong anatomically with the pose. I think about the ten pounds I’ve left to lose. I show this photograph to my yoga teacher and he smiles and doesn’t see everything I do. He says, you look strong.

I think about being awake in the car. I think about driving it.

the avalanche of books (this month’s recommended reads)

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Over the past two years I’ve managed to whittle down my life to that which is essential. I have what I need and nothing more. I no longer care about investing in exceedingly overpriced designer clothing, rather I buy sensible clothes for work, home and working out. It took some time, and frequent trips to other countries, particularly Southeast Asia, to make me aware of my excessive materialism. Now, my home is relatively sparse with the exception of books.

I have a problem with books. I like them. A LOT. So much so that I bring home books I’ve found on the street. Every week I’m greeted by a cardboard box from Amazon. When friends move, I stand aside patiently waiting for the moment when I’m allowed trespass to their leftover book collection. At my height, I stored over 3,000 books in my apartment–now I think I have 1,000. No matter how hard I try to refine my collection, there’s always a new book, always something to learn, always a need to discover what I don’t know.

Don’t you dare talk to me about e-readers or books that don’t have paper (Pft!). You are likely speaking a language I do not understand. I spend most of my days in front of a computer screen. I equate computers with work or getting things done, and no, no, I don’t want to relegate books to that lot. Books are pleasure. Books must be accompanied by popcorn and feet tucked under blankets. Books are better than work.

But truth be told, I’m getting a little anxious when I see the towers looming, and I’ve decided to do a mini clean-out this weekend of books I haven’t read in over a year. Pray for my strength amidst all the hardcovers.

This month’s lot is an exciting one, a combination of street finds, recommendations from friends, and books I’ve discovered through my Twitter feed. Right now I’m thick in Marilynne Robinson’s prequel to Gilead, Lila, and it’s nothing short of remarkable. I only dream that my writing will one day have Robinson’s quiet strength, that steadfast precision.

Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me might be the first true crime book I’ve owned and I’m SO EXCITED to read it. My hairstylist, Sarah, and I always talk about books; we’re always trading recommendations. Sarah’s one of the few who agree with my belief that Zadie Smith is a far better essayist than novelist (I did order NW, as that’s the only Smith novel I haven’t read), so there’s trust there. Last week I was telling her about my novel, how I’ve become fixated with the dual nature of sociopaths, and she immediately recommended Rule’s book. Rule spent two years working with Ted Bundy at a suicide crisis hotline, and she would correspond with him until his execution for having murdered 40 women. I’d no idea that Bundy, a man who was described by Rule as “sensitive,” counseled people into not taking their own life (the irony!). This striking dichotomy of self got me excited so I ordered the book immediately. I’m actually making myself move through Lila so I can get to this.

The Rule book promises to be a swift read, so I’ll tackle NW next. The same day I got the Rule recommendation, I scanned Twitter to discover that Sheila Heti (!!!) and Heidi Julavits collaborated on an edited collection of essays, Women in Clothes. Candidly, I was trepidatious, especially after having read Worn Stories, short essays that stood beautifully on their own but grew tiresome in a collection that could have used a heavier editorial hand (as well as a narrative arc). However, I have much admiration for Heti (an extraordinary writer) and Julavits (author + Believer editor), so I’m excited to dive in.

Finally, I found two books on the street and immediately I scooped them up: Sherman Alexi’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (so hilarious, witty and well-written) and Teresa Carpenter’s New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009. Part of me wishes I could keep a diary (I guess this blog is one of sorts, albeit edited for television), so I was intrigued by this exhaustively-researched tome filled with diary entries from Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and other literary heavyweights on being in, or traveling through, New York.

Suffice it to say, I’ve got a BUSY month ahead of me. What are you reading?

glowing strawberry-mango guacamole

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This weekend was exhausting. Although I love consulting, and enjoy the fact that I live a creative life without being chained to a desk five days a week, sometimes my flexible schedule means I have to work nights and long weekends. I wrote a lot this weekend, so much so that all I want to do is lie supine and not write. From finalizing the final draft of my novel for submission to creating recipes for a fun work project to writing positioning and marketing copy for an appliance and a new type of agency, I’m a little spent. Exhilarated for what’s to come, but spent. So apologies for the super short post. I did want to pop in and humbling thank everyone who sent me kind notes regarding the first chapter of my new book. I’ve been tethered to these characters for so long it feels as if I’ve been writing in a black box, a box so dark no light gets in. Imagine me putting on blinders after sharing 14 pages and getting such a warm reception, suggestions from friends on editors to whom my agent should submit my manuscript, and virtual fist pumps.

Thank you! Your fist pumps mean the world and back, and then some.

So don’t mind me as I lie on the floor, spooning this guacamole into my mouth.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook
2 medium avocados, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion (I nixed this as I don’t dig onions in my guacamole)
1 fresh mango, pitted, peeled, and finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped hulled strawberries
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
1 to 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice, to taste
Fine-grain sea salt
Corn/gluten-free chips, for serving

DIRECTIONS
In a medium bowl, gently mash the avocado, leaving some chunks for texture. Rinse and drain the chopped onion (if using) in a strainer to wash off the sulfurous compounds. This makes the taste of the raw onion more pleasant. Fold the mango, strawberries, onion and cilantro (if using) into the avocado. Season with the lime juice and salt to taste.

Serve immediately with your favorite corn or pita chips. Avocado tends to spoil quickly, so leftovers won’t keep for longer than 12 hours or so. Makes 3 cups.

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heirloom + sundried tomato soup (+ some thoughts on kindness + judgment)

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I was going to talk about this soup, and I am, but I’m distracted. I’ll get to the soup, I promise. But first, this:

Have you ever met someone whose voice grated? Or maybe you don’t meet them at all. Maybe it’s someone who stands in front of you while you’re ordering coffee, or perhaps it might be the best friend of a woman you admire, and you end up asking yourself: how could she be friends with her? Have you ever spent time with someone who isn’t your vibe? And have you then rendered a verdict of this person (rights read, quick jury trial, sentencing)? As if to say that you know the whole of them based on a singular encounter?

We judge. Recklessly so. And we do it all the time. We roll our eyes; we smile and nod while plotting escape plans; we become ardent clockwatchers; we shift our seats; we leave altogether. I’ve done this, more times than I’d like to admit, and it’s a flaw of mine that requires constant work. I use to judge people who didn’t read “the right books” (I no longer do, or identify a book in terms of right and wrong). I used to judge people who referred to sunglasses as “sunnies.” I used to judge people who were sloppy drunk and then I reminded myself that I’ve no place to judge since I’ve probably done everything you can imagine to humiliate myself when I used to drink.

We’re often cruel–even in miniature–but we’re cruelest to ourselves. And when you can longer bear the weight of the pain that you inflict on yourself (all this pain, where do I put it?) you easily snap, snip, snarl at others.

There’s a fitness studio I like, I go there often. I have my favorite teachers and I make sure to scan the schedule to ensure there are no substitutes. Over the course of my time visiting the space, I took three classes with this one particular instructor, whose energy was grating. She was too perky, too glib, said the word ass, and when I brought another friend to class with me, we decided, after, that the teacher just wasn’t our scene.

Recently, I found myself early for a class at the wrong location (chalk it up to absentmindedness), and as I was placing my towels on the machine, the teacher who wasn’t my scene came over and told me that I was in the wrong studio but did I want a private class? Because she’d be willing to teach it.

She’d been up since 4AM traveling to work and teaching classes and she could’ve simply refunded my class or shrugged her shoulders, but instead she was kind. There’s no poetic way to say how I felt, which was shitty. For nearly an hour, she adjusted my posture, gave me modifications for poses I couldn’t do, and worked along side me, cheering me along. After, we spent time talking and I found myself really liking her. The teacher was funny, smart, and she talked about how it hurt to see negative reviews of her classes online. How a woman once barked at her, you’re not motivating me!, and how that bruised her, so much so that she was shaken for the rest of class. I was standing in front of a woman who loves what she does, takes it seriously, who practiced grace and I felt…SMALL.

I walked away realizing that maybe I’d thought she wasn’t my scene because she she was exactly my scene. I’ve been told that my personality can be polarizing, that I’m sometimes impenetrable, and often my shyness around “new” people is mistaken for bitchiness. But I know that I’m a good person who is flawed, much like how I imagine everyone else sees themselves. Perhaps I was reacting to this teacher because I had a hard time accepting that I don’t always give a great first impression.

My friends, those for whom I would lay down, tell me that I’m the sort of friend who would go into the dark and pull them out into the light. I go above and beyond; I’ll do everything for the people I love, but when you first meet me you don’t know all of this. How could you? Exactly like how I didn’t expect this teacher’s extraordinary act of generosity. We don’t really know one another until we make the effort to, until we get past our initial discomfort or constructs of how a person should act or be. At the end of class I thanked the teacher profusely, and she shrugged her shoulders and said, We’ve all been there. I know how it feels. In that grace, I saw the lack of grace I’d been practicing, and I was grateful for the awareness. How the act of her kindness made me want to be kinder.

I’m thinking about our exchange, still. There are people who are unkind (and trust me, I’ve excised them), people who don’t deserve a setting at our table, but I have to believe the vast majority of people are good. Most of us mean well, but maybe we’re awkward, maybe we had a bad day or ten or 365. And it’s all made me think that if I can see something good in someone, even a spark or flare, I’m going to try to make the effort to push past snap judgments.

I was going to talk about this soup, I WAS, but I got caught up in all of the above. But know I’m spending the day indoors, working, writing, editing, sipping on soup and watching scary movies.

INGREDIENTS
1 tbsp of avocado oil
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 1/2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
6 sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil, roughly chopped
4 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup basil, packed
Salt/pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot on medium heat, add the olive oil. After a minute, add the chopped onion + minced garlic along with a bit of salt so the onion sweats but doesn’t char and burn. Let the mixture cook until the onions are semi-translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sundried tomatoes, stirring the mixture so that the garlic and onions coat the vegetables. Add the stock and turn the heat up to high until the soup boils. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 25 minutes.

I prefer my soup with buckwheat groats (2 cups of stock for 1 cup of groats, cook per the package directions), but you can absolutely rock this without the groats if you’re nixing grains.

After 25 minutes, add the basil, stir, and the mixture to a high-powered blender and blitz until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot and cook for an additional ten minutes. If you’re rocking groats, I add the groats when I’ve returned the mixture to the pot, so the grains can thicken the soup.

Serve hot, with basil and a little avocado oil, salt and pepper.

massive moment of pride: my new novel (we’re getting ready for submission!)

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This is how I write. I write in my home on my couch with feet up on this table, with the doors locked and a single song on repeat. The song is deliberately chosen–it gets me in a headspace to move (right now, I’m listening to this as I type this post). I read dialogue out loud as I write because I need to hear the words to see if they’re right. The cadence of the prose needs to follow the rhythm and logic I’ve defined for it. I need to know my characters, bury myself all the way in. If I’m skipping paragraphs that means I need to delete them. Every line has to work on multiple levels.

Someone asked me the other day about the kind of man I’m looking for, to which I responded, I want someone who’s been through war, still has some of the bruises, but isn’t still changing the bandages. Dressing the wound. And then I thought about my work, and this logic fits there, too. I write about broken people dressing their own wounds and people who pretend the wounds that are blistering and raw, pain the rest of us can so easily see, don’t exist. I’m best in the dark.

After I published my first book, I was exhausted. Writers tend to write out their obsessions, the things that seize them when they wake, and for years my mother was my singular subject. So after the book was published I knew I couldn’t go back to that dark country. I’d made sense of our history (or so I thought), and I needed something new in which to fixate.

I started stories that I deleted. I read 23 books about Jim Jones and typed one chapter I hated. I took a job that would occupy me for nearly four years. And soon I stopped writing. However, my friend Sarah will tell me that just because you’re not typing doesn’t mean you’re not writing. Who knew that after those four years I will sit in a hotel room in Biarritz and write. The story felt like it had come from nowhere, but it came like a torrent. The story swiftly took shape with a command of language and structure that frankly surprised me. I’d always had the problem of filling a white page with type, now the issue was: what do I do with 80 pages of insanity? It was good madness, the stuff one keeps, but it was madness nonetheless.

I mean, my first chapter is about a woman who sets her father’s mistress’s hair on fire. That should tell you everything.

A year and a half later, multiple drafts, early and late readers, and my novel, FOLLOW ME INTO THE DARK, is finally ready for submission to publishers. In retrospect, I didn’t love my memoir. I wish I would have waited until I was older. While some of the chapters are quite good, I cringe at others. It’s weird being in the present tense and reading what you’ve written when you were another version of yourself. I guess it’s like re-reading your childhood diaries as an adult. CRINGE! MAKE IT STOP!

But I love this book. Every page of it. And I’ve also learned to love the version of myself (an extremely flawed woman waging her own private war against addiction) who wrote that first book.

My agent asked me to write a paragraph on what my book is about, and naturally, I’m struggling. I could say that the story is about two adults, step-siblings, who are bearing the weight of their families’ mental illness and cruelty, and how broken children keep breaking even when they desperately try to dress their wounds and stitch themselves up again. It’s about trying to understand the pathology of sociopaths, and finding the humanness in a person even after they’ve committed inhuman acts. I’ve three main characters: Kate, an obsessive-compulsive baker, who we think has a psychotic break after her mother dies and she seeks revenge against her step-father’s mistress by setting her hair on fire, although we’ll learn that her pathology is infinitely more savage. There’s Gillian, the oversexed, hyperintellectual woman who’s engaging in an affair with Kate’s father. Finally, there’s Jonah, Gillian’s sociopathic, yet loving, brother who is actually ‘The Doll Collector’, a hunted serial killer who’s committed gruesome acts against women across the country. Jonah is the key link between the two characters and how the story unfolds. We learn about these three characters by understanding their familial history–2 generations of emotional and sexual abuse–and how the weight of their history bears on the choices they make now.

In all candor, it was initially challenging to show that one’s actions don’t define one’s character. We have a tendency to ascribe mistakes people make, or, in this case, the horrific acts that one does, to one’s person. We’re binary in our reactions: The person who commits murder is pure evil! The person who attacks someone else is crazy! And I’m trying to detangle act from person, and somehow show the complexity of mental illness. There’s this wall we put up when we hear that someone is ill, an “otherness” is created, and do we ever make a true attempt to understand those who are ill. Do we see the complexity in them, their ability to love amidst their propensity to hate?

So, we’re ready for prime-time, I guess. And I’m glad that this time around I don’t have the same ego and ambition as I did with my first book. My novel need not be hardcover. I don’t need the fanfare and confetti and bananas advance, I just want to be able to share this story with people–regardless of form.

If you’re interested in checking out my first chapter, click here.

Wish us luck!

my food journey week 11: the vile mushroom invasion

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When I was in junior high school I befriended a girl with red hair. Let’s call her K. Her father was fiery too, prone to fits of alcoholic rage, and often we’d come to her house after school to find him cutting into a deer he’d hunted or hunched over a canoe he owned, scrubbing. Theirs was the sort of home that never got clean no matter how much you scrubbed, but I didn’t mind it because K was witty, funny, an outcast like me, and furthermore the idea of coming home to a cold, quiet house was unimaginable. We’d just moved from Brooklyn, rented a basement apartment underneath a group of men in a band who played music late and often took baths and let the water run–so much so that we had floods in our home. My mother must have threatened, done something, because after a while the place got mouse-quiet, the torrential downpours in our apartment grew sparse. She worked a lot and when she’d come home, late, she was always angry. There was never enough money, the man she married (not my father) disappeared to Atlantic City with his coke and his station wagon for days at a time and she was left with the silences. I imagine she thought to herself, This is my life? All of it?

I realize I’m being generous with her today. I don’t know why, considering our history. But I digress.

With K, I traded in one unclean house for another, and I remember one day coming over to find a MUSHROOM growing out of her wall. I’d never consume said vegetable because it looked feral, mossy, something grown out of dirt in an age where we preferred our food manufactured; our cereal boxes were gleaming, rolling off of steel assembly lines. In the late 80s, we wanted pristine over dirt, and although much of my food came out of a can or from industrial boxes, seeing a MUSHROOM in someone’s home, growing alongside a wall, was TOO MUCH. I’d ignored her father’s drunken rages and her sometimes odd sexual comments, but apparently my food moral relativism couldn’t handle a MUSHROOM. Don’t ask about the thought process of a thirteen-year-old. It’s mystery, at best.

Since then I couldn’t escape the mushroom. My mother brought home a package of button mushrooms. I even remember the package: blue styrofoam base with the waxy white buttons covered in plastic. She brought home dark mushrooms in a can, their oil congealing at the surface, making jaundiced streaks on my untouched dinner plate. I remember eating one of those mushrooms once, because in my house you ate what you were fed, and immediately rushing to the bathroom to spit out the contents of my mouth into the sink. I didn’t even make it to the toilet. My mother assumed a physical reaction was at play and never did she bring home the VILE MUSHROOM again.

This morning, I read an article describing the contents of children’s breakfast plates around the globe. From our cereal culture to the imaginative, salty, and sour, the writer relayed that childhood is the critical moment when you can introduce what some would consider unpalatable foods. This is the time to put a bowl of sour cabbage in front of a child and do it consistently because the child will eventually adapt and grow to love said food. My diet was so limiting and so American 80s with its Kingdom of White, that it took a decade of my adult life to eat vegetables toddlers in other countries would consume for breakfast; I didn’t have my first dark green until I was in my 20s. And while I’m starting to enjoy cauliflower, bean sprouts, snow peas, sugar peas (don’t be deceived, they are NOT SWEET), pickled radish, and all the foods that my food coach is encouraging me to consume, I hate the WRETCHED MUSHROOM, still. Maybe I’ve made a connection between it and my mother? Don’t ask about the thought process of a thirty-eight-year-old woman. It’s mystery, at best.

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This week’s menu has been a challenge. It’s taken nearly three months to whittle out the starchy carbs from my diet to focus on superfoods, vegetables, proteins, and legumes, but it’s been hard to give up certain starches (potatoes and rice), albeit briefly. The idea behind all of this is to expand my repertoire, to not depend on, or fuel my addiction to, carbs. This isn’t some Atkins nonsense, rather it’s about learning to eat more. Eat different. Eat better. And that’s been hard. I had way too much popcorn, had rice with my Korean BBQ dinner, got really irritable and irrational, and the scale hasn’t budged. I’m still getting used to the taste of sour, spicy foods (I had a lot of pickled food and Korean food this week), with the thinking that I’ll slowly evolve my diet to host a wide variety of tastes and flavors. I will no longer subsist on homogeneity.

Part of the experiment is swapping out my morning smoothie. Previous versions were pretty fruit heavy, and now my food coach has got me on a blend (pictured above) she’s created + vegetables + almond milk. More protein, more vitamins and minerals. I love the stuff, actually. It tastes like vanilla and I feel full for HOURS. I don’t claw the desk at 9:30 when I’ve had my breakfast shake at 7, and I oddly look forward to having it.

So I decided to glance at the ingredients. All the good stuff you’d imagine: yellow pea protein powder, hemp protein, brown rice protein, wildcrafted camu camu berry powder, monk fruit, RAW CORDYCEPS MUSHROOM POWDER

I’VE BEEN EATING A GODDAMN MUSHROOM EVERY DAY. I give my friend a shake and tell her how mushroomy it is, to which she responds that I’m bonkers. This doesn’t taste like mushrooms, well, maybe a little bit. But it’s really good.

And no, this does not mean I plan on eating a plate of HORRIFIC PORTOBELLOS or VILE WHATEVER OTHER VARIETIES OF MUSHROOMS EXIST.

What this week has taught me is respect for vegetarians and vegans who have imaginative diets. It’s taken me a host of cookbooks and advice from my food coach in order to mix up my salads and proteins. We’ll see how this goes…

sensational side: cannellini bean mash

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Sometimes I reminisce over the fancy-free days that included carbs and pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A time when I piled my plate high with mashed potatoes and lapped up the buttery bits with a charred piece of steak. I loved the streaks potatoes make, and how the butter eddies in pockets around your plate.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS.

Whenever I wax nostalgic to this degree, I remind myself of how GOOD I feel now. How I’m no longer plagued with itch. How I can eat food without fearing it. How I bolt out of bed instead of needing a forklift to carry my drowsy body into the shower. Last night I had dinner with a new friend, and I couldn’t help but say that the way I eat now, the journey that I’m on, affects everything in my life.

That being said, my food coach has tasked me with more food diversity because maybe I love chickpeas a little too much. This week I’m feasting on sprouts, snap peas, sugar peas, superfoods, and scores of vegetables I rarely eat, and I’m also making dishes with beans I’ve previously ignored. Case in point: the cannellini bean.

You have to know that I waited a good minute before I took a bite of this because I was worried that it would be a BAD FACIMILE OF THE BRILLIANT MASHED POTATO ORIGINAL. And while there are elements of my old beloved, the flavor here is clearly on its own. The bean mash is filling so you need less of it (my tower reduced to a minor moat), and somehow paired perfectly with this delicious salad (below), rendering my lunch strange, nourishing and filling.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from the Hemsley & Hemsley Coobook: The Art of Eating Well
2 tsp olive oil or ghee
1 garlic clove, diced
1 tsp fresh rosemary or thyme
1 15oz can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp lemon juice
Sea salt + black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Heat the oil or ghee on low heat and gently fry the garlic and herbs for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the beans and 6 tbsp. of water to the pan, and stir to combine for 2 minutes over high heat. At this point, much of the water should be thickened. Add the salt, pepper and lemon juice, and turn off the heat.

Using a vegetable masher (I prefer my Vitamix or food processor), mash until creamy.

almond meal cookies with coconut + cacao nibs (gluten-free!) + the power of friendship

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The gift of girlfriends. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, how I’m privileged to have a group of women in my life who encourage me to be my truest, sometimes most awkward, self. All of my close friends have a singular trait in common: they’re strong. When you think of strong you might think of Popeye, fuerte, or image a pile of weights of incalculable size being flung into the air. The women I know are greater than the sum of their parts. Their strength isn’t about the thing they can lift, rather it’s about the way they can hold and what they can bear. They’re builders. Two of my closest friends are building a company from scratch, while another is reinventing one. Another creates single-page stories using an illustration and the words find themselves in the spaces between the lines–she writes about the tough stuff, and in a single page she can rip your beating heart out of your chest and scotch-tape it back together again. Some of my friends don’t even know their own strength. How the pace and depth of their breath doesn’t change even as the octaves of their children’s voices climb. Some are patient, some are funny, others are a little crazy (I like it that way), but when I’m with them, I’m my best self. They demand it and nourish it.

Friendships, for me, have always been tricky. For over three decades of my life, I craved the companionship of a single person. The face of this person might shift over the years: he wears a flight jacket and sings Taylor Dane (we are 12); she is Filipina and we write letters from across the country when she moves away (we are 10); she has curls that flounce and she thinks the world is about ski trips, Nautica jackets and what money can buy. We watch Heathers in an apartment that will undergo inspections and violate state health laws for all the filth. But she, she, is impeccable. She is the definition of beautiful with those pink cheeks and eyes the color of certain seas (we are teenagers); She is a lover of Pink Floyd and nudity and we run on a beach naked before I realize my body is covered in burns from the sun. She is the antithesis of me and everyone tells us this. She’s an English major who writes long letters and lies to her family and I’m a finance major who writes short stories in the dark because story-writing doesn’t make you money. She will become someone who lies, so much so she gets lost in the stories she tells and she will never forgive me for having another friend (we are in college). This friend is blonde, hails from Connecticut and has a family I’ve only read about in books. We are funny, heavy drinkers, and serious about the business of being serious. From her and her family, I learn how to become a woman (in the absence of not having a present and sane mother). From them I’m Republican for a few years. From them, I’m Christian for many. We are friends to this day and while we are no longer a pair, while politics is a subject we don’t discuss, and while she is a devoted mother and wife and I sometimes don’t know what I am, we are still close. Ours is perhaps, as I think about this now, the only friendship that has endured half my life (we are 20, we are 30, we are 38/39). Within that time though, I form an unhealthy attachment to a woman who is also a writer, also a fellow addict, also a connoisseur of the dark, also a reader of books and “the right movies,” and our friendship spans many years and ends quietly, abruptly, and the only way I can think of her now is in positive terms because although she excised me from her life (had I been a barnacle? Had we both been?) I’m grateful for much of our friendship (we are late 20s, early 30s). That friendship taught me that I don’t need one physical, breathing person constantly by my side, I need many. I need legions, teams, beautiful, strong people who may take a week to respond to my email but will run, take cabs, fly to my doorstep if I really needed them.

So thank you, S, for the gift of your leaving. I mean that kindly and sincerely because I would’ve remained with a slight variation of me. I wouldn’t have friends who challenge me, uplift me, correct me, teach me, and love me in the small, wonderful ways that they do.

I think about this today, as I bake these cookies for a dear friend, because I have 11 women in my life who are so different from one another (some of whom don’t even know any of the other 10) and from me but they all are strong. I say this because I’m nearly 39 and I don’t know if I’ve things figured out just yet. Or do things need to be figured out at all?

I ate one of my friend’s cookies and I text her this, to which she responds, I hope so. Knowing you, you probably made dozens. I retort, 20.

I know that right now that this year has been greater than the previous five. That I’m healthy, strong, writing good stuff, making mistakes and quietly learning from them, and living on less so I can see more of the world. And I have friends who calm me down when I demand a single personal statement. I need the facts and the maths and the certainty, to which many of my friends remind me that there are few certainties, and if this time, this time right now, is good, roll with that.

Roll with that…

INGREDIENTS: Slightly adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook
1 cup almond meal
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips (Sara used cacao nibs)
1/2 cup shredded toasted unsweetened coconut
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1 egg
3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, stir together almond meal, coconut and tapioca flours, dark chocolate chips, coconut, baking powder, salt and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg until it’s a pale yellow color, and it’s doubled in volume.

Whisk in the slightly cooled coconut oil and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix on low until the ingredients have just combined.

Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (the original recipe said to nix this and ALL of my cookies clung to the pan, so forget that noise) with 1-1/2 inch space in between each. Press down slightly to flatten a bit. Bake until edges begin to brown, 7-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.

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beef ragu + zucchini noodles + a little bit on food diversity in your diet

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I’m at the point in the game where I have to consider meal diversity. Candidly, I’m a creature of habit (translation: addict), and I tend to gravitate to the same sort of foods, which are healthy, easy to make and in my repertoire. The notion of creating an abundance of variety is exhausting, especially when I’m in an office for most of the week and my schedule is random for the remainder of the week.

However, after meeting with my food coach yesterday, and presenting yet another jetlag-ravaged food journal rife with CHICKPEAS, kale, and chicken, I realize that I’m in a rut. And while you may see some beautiful dishes on this space–case in point: this beef ragu + zucchini noodle dish–much of my weekday meals are a rinse, lather, repeat. That soup I made last week? It was lunch for three days. And while it’s okay to repeat meals, variation is key so your body doesn’t become accustomed to what you feed it. Apparently, I need to be a magician and pull rabbits out of hats and flash wands every few days in order to maintain my health, weight loss, and more importantly, expand the foods in my diet.

So over the next two weeks, I’m following what Dana calls “The Body Project.” Essentially, I won’t be relying on my morning smoothie every day, rather I’ll introduce eggs, chia puddings and other new dishes in the morning mix. The amount of greens in my diet will be substantial, and I’m adding in bean sprouts, snow peas, snap peas, harissa, cress, and new juices (carrot blitzed with almond milk). Superfoods such as pomegranate seeds, Brazilian nuts, seeds, and mint are finding their way into my diet. I’ll let you know how it goes. The good news is that I’ve learned that you crave what you eat. Many people have lamented that I can no longer have pizza (unless it’s with a cauliflower crust, and no, no, I don’t want that, thankyouverymuch), pasta, bread or cheese, and to be honest, I don’t really crave them anymore. Sure, I have the occasional ache when I walk by a bakery and just SMELL EVERYTHING, but it leaves as it comes, and in this way, I’m sort of reminded of my relationship with alcohol. While I sometimes miss my glass of sancerre, I no longer need it. Those cravings have been replaced by the goodness in my diet.

I mean, when I came home from Spain I NEEDED cruciferous greens because my body had become so used to eating it that it missed it. And who misses kale?

I also talked to Dana about weight loss. So far, I’ve lost 20 pounds and I mentioned that I think I only need a set number to get me back to the weight I was four years ago. More than that made me feel uncomfortable because I want to eat the foods I enjoy–re-introducing carbs beyond my twice-weekly splurges, and desserts–and I don’t honestly want to be too thin. I know that may sound shocking because we’re taught, practically programmed, to believe in the cult of thin, but I’d rather have muscle, strength and a bit of fat because I feel right and I’ll age more gracefully. And yes, I have to start thinking about age as I’ll turn 39 this year. I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that I want to feel me in my skin beyond a number.

At the end of my weight goal, I’ll share the before + afters, details, and tips learned. Yet, I’ve also made another important decision–I plan to eat this way (and adding back the random bowl of pasta when I can have it in 7 months time) for the rest of my life. I’ve energy all day, my skin glows and I’m focused, attentive and present, and I can’t help but think that what I put in my body, my house, affects me in more ways than a numerical one.

To that end, this dish is part of that diversity. Who knew I’d be one of those weirdos who gets a SPIRALIZER? However, mixed with the beef, the zucchini noodles, while clearly NOT PASTA (I mean, come on), were though a lovely accompaniment to the hearty beef.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Hemsley & Hemsley. Serves 4 people
1 lb ground sirloin + 1 sweet sausage, casing removed
2-3 tablespoons of vegan butter or olive oil
1 large onion + 2 shallots, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1 28oz can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped basil
1 cup vegetable stock*
1 cup of red wine**
2 large carrots
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1 tsp nutmeg
4 large zucchinis

Recipe Notes
*I know it’s logical to use chicken or beef stock, but I really love the sharp celery and other veggies that mix with the beef here.
**I used a Rioja, but a full-bodied cabernet is also a fave. If you’re sober and are sensitive about having alcohol in your home (totally get it), I would just add another cup of stock and another tablespoon of tomato paste). I’m cool with cooking with alcohol and reds tend to last in the cupboard than whites in the fridge (good for having friends over).

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simmering ragu
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what it’s really like to cook in my kitchen

DIRECTIONS
Heat 2 tablespoons of vegan butter (I use Earth Balance and love it) or olive oil, and fry the onions/shallots on a low heat until softened, not browned, then add the garlic, basil and any other herbs that you choose. Add the extra tablespoon of butter or oil if needed.

Increase the heat and add the ground sirloin/sausage to the pan and brown, using a wooden spatula to break it up as you go. Pour in the red wine to deglaze the pan, then the tomatoes, paste and broth. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and then reduce to a gentle simmer for 1 ½ hours until rich and thickened, stirring occasionally. I left this cook for 3.5 hours, and added a little more wine (or stock if you’re nixing alcohol, though note that the alcohol cooks out in the heat) if the sauce is too thick for your taste.

Ten minutes before the end of cooking, add the grated carrots and season with nutmeg, sea salt and a good grind of pepper.

Meanwhile, use a spiralizer/julienne peeler on the zucchini. Or use a vegetable peeler and then a knife to slice the courgette strips into spaghetti type strands.

Wilt the zucchini using a little butter and water in a pan. Or, to be more authentic in your service and to save time and washing up, just run some of the sauce hot from the stove through your spirals and the heat and salt in the sauce will soften them.

Check the seasoning and serve on top of a pile of zucchini spaghetti with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to serve.

beef ragu with zucchini noodles
beef ragu with zucchini noodles

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on reading as a writer + my towering babel stack of new books

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a lot of yellow here, right?

Since I was a child, I believed in the power of books; they had the propensity to save, to whisk me away from the world in which I lived and plant me temporarily somewhere else. Immersed in a stack of books, I could fall deliriously in, imagine myself in different lives, countries, and taking on the shape and voices of different people. While that sounds slightly schizophrenic, it was magical for a child who also found that she understood the world through writing about it. Through reading and living there was the writing. Always the writing. I grew up reading poems, Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew when I was a small, and then when I was 11/12, I started mixing those books with Salinger and Cheever, more sophisticated poems (Frost, Browning–even though I didn’t know what they meant, I loved the melodic rhythm of the words). When I was a teenager, I carried a bookbag of extra books to school–I wasn’t popular, at all–and I spent the days between classes and lonely lunches, reading. Often I was bored by my AP English reading lists because I’d read those books already, and sometimes didn’t agree with my teacher’s interpretation. I liked Cheever’s Bullet Park when everyone else called it a failure, and ever since then, I read only literary fiction.

All other books were like gnats, annoying distractions. I mean, I ran a very prestigious non-fiction series at KGB Bar years ago, and I struggled, even then, finding the books, save the memoirs, interesting.

Until a few years ago when I realized I’d been missing out on SO MUCH. My myopic view toward books started to work against me as a writer. I only exposed myself to the books I wanted to write, rather than challenging myself by reading authors who had stories to tell but didn’t always rely on language as a device to tell them. I started reading more non-fiction (I tend to like biographies, industry exposes, and anything with a story as opposed to books that center around the theoretical), YA fiction (OMG, YA HAS BEEN SO AMAZING OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS!), graphic novels (I tended to drift to ones relating to food), and food/travel essays. All of these books, styles and approaches started to infuse my fiction with a lot more light. The challenge with writers (as opposed to general readers) is that we’re covert sleuths. We look at books from two perspectives: the enjoyment we get from reading a good story, and then the vivisection, the how did he/she do this? We break apart, we dissect, we analyze. I actually ripped apart a book and started moving the pages around to understand how a non-fiction author structured her book in hopes that it could help my own experimental fiction novel. Crazy, right?

When I went to Spain I carted four books with me, two of which I left behind because I didn’t enjoy them at all. Ironically, I left the literary/experimental fiction behind, and found myself comforted by reading Peter Chapman’s Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World. The book isn’t new, and I found it on someone’s stoop, but while I found the history of United Fruit, and its social, political and economic effects on Central America, and America, powerful. The company was often called “the octopus,” and that image was palpable as a writer. Thinking about how one entity can find its way into so many lives and change them, damage them. Oddly, reading this and going back to editing my novel felt natural, whereas picking up two of the lit books I brought felt distracting, annoying, filled with language tricks. If anything, it made me go back and see if I was annoying readers with too many tricks.

Other books I’m LOVING right now:

Darcey Steinke’s Sister Golden Hair (OMG. I have been waiting for a new novel from Steinke, author of Jesus Saves, for ages) | Eliza Robertson’s Wallflowers (Stories) | Janie Hoffman’s The Chia Cookbook (who knew?) | Hemsley + Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well

Any great recos? Books you’ve loved? Let me know!

my food journey (weeks 8-9) chowing gluten + dairy free in spain (a lamentation)

Restaurante Campanario Granada
If you love (and I mean, LOVE) fresh bread, red wine, cured sausage, seafood and cheese, you will hole up in your AirBNB apartment in Spain and never leave. You will slice into your chorizo and lap up all the spice and grease happily with a chunk of warm bread. You will worship at the altar of the mollusk and you will eat cheese into the gloaming. Or until you pass out, whichever comes first.

However, if you don’t drink, can’t consume gluten or dairy for fear of a full-body hive blitzkrieg, and the idea of fondling a crustacean gives you vertigo, Spain can be challenging. While I was away I didn’t bother with a food diary because you people didn’t even want to know the amount of sausage and patatas bravas I managed to Dyson in one sitting. You don’t want to know that my meals were a rinse, lather, repeat, because everything, everything, contains gluten. That fried eggplant with drizzled honey? Flash-fried with flour. Ah, that’s why I broke out in hives! The salad that I thought would satiate arrives on a childlike plate, and the greens are actually nearly white because cruciferous greens are not as abundant in Spain. While it was easy to stockpile food in Barcelona (and La Boqueria provided ample offerings in terms of vegetables), Granada was a real challenge. I’m sure eating gluten + dairy free can be done, however, it requires research and preparation. You can’t just walk around, fancy-free, without analyzing the menu, without alerting your server that you have an allergy to gluten and dairy, and inquiring, este tiene gluten?

Because EVERYTHING CONTAINS GLUTEN.

The other day I was reading Twitter and a woman upbraided a group of women who inquired whether there was gluten in a dip. The woman tweeted about rolling her eyes, and perhaps a few months ago I would have done the same, however, now I know what it’s like (unfortunately so) to treat every meal like it’s a miniature inquisition because gluten isn’t just about BREAD, it’s a thickener, a binder; gluten delivers perfect texture and heft to a sauce, marinade or dip. Plus, it’s cheaper. And while wheat processing in the EU is markedly different than the Food, Inc. of the U.S. (wheat in the EU is a smaller protein, less abrasive to your system), it still creates an inflammation for someone like me who can’t chow down on roasted bread slathered with Spanish olive oil and crushed tomato (a breakfast staple in Spain, one which made me weep with all my bread-adoring envy). Gluten is in soy sauces, ketchups, beef stocks, off-the-shelf salad dressings, even in gluten-free rolled oats, and you’ve got to be a food-label sleuth in ensuring that your meal won’t make you sick to the point where you feel as if your appendix might burst, which is how I used to feel when I overdosed on gluten and dairy on the regular.

Lucky for me, I love pork, most vegetables, potatoes and rice, but after two weeks of a restricted diet, I started to actually crave vegetables. Since veg constitutes about 80% of my daily diet, I actually ached for cruciferous greens. I didn’t want pasta or pizza or bread–I actually desired brussels sprouts and roasted cauliflower. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s this:

1. Do your research: Before you leave, make a list of restaurants that specialize in gf/df or vegan/vegetarian food. I didn’t do this in advance and I’m a moron because of it. Even though I can’t have gluten or dairy for another seven months, for the rest of my life I have to be cognizant of my intake. I can’t ever go back to how I used to eat, so I’ve decided to make my life easier and live gluten/df 95% of the time. Going forward, I’m making it a point to consult travel magazines, blogs, WIKI pages and other resources so I have a handful of restaurants/food markets that will keep me sane during my trip. Next month I’m going to Thailand, and while everything thinks that this is easy, breezy, I have two words in response: soy sauce.

2. Rent an AirBNB, if you can: Having the ability to make breakfast (eggs every day, friends!) and dinner in an apartment saved a lot on my budget and gave me some sanity in terms of meal balance. Most supermarkets in the EU will show items that are gluten-free or dairy-free, which is awesome. Food shopping was a cinch, and I found that nut milks were pretty abundant in Spain. In advance of my trip, I asked my hosts if they could provide me with a blender so I can make my morning smoothies and protein shakes to offset the egg situation.

3. Learn how to talk about your allergies in the country in which you plan to visit: My Spanish is pretty decent, but I made sure that I learned how to correctly address my allergies in the Spanish. Most countries in the EU know about food allergies, although I didn’t even bother saying that I have a sensitivity, which would create a host of confusing questions. When in doubt, I went extreme and said I had celiac because most people in the food industry know what that means. Not only did I explain my situation up-front, but I asked about the ingredients (and how the meal is prepared) in my dish, even if I didn’t think they had gluten or dairy based on the description. I mean, do those eggplant slices look like they touched flour? Clearly I was wrong, assumed that they were safe, and paid for it in hives later than evening. Thank god I’m not celiac.

4. Bring back-up snacks: While I fervently believe that you should always eat local food, I’m finding that it’s easier to bring a bunch of bars and pre-made snacks, especially when traveling to smaller airports. I know it doesn’t seem right, but I need to plan for everything.

Now I’m back, chowing on all the veg a woman can get her hands on, and I have exciting news to report: my itch is nearly GONE and I’m at the twenty-pound weight loss mark. I couldn’t be more thrilled, humbled and excited for this marked shift in the way that I eat.

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Restaurante Campanario Granada
Restaurante Campanario Granada
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avocado squash + butternut squash tomato soup

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Just when I thought I found the perfect soup recipe, there’s always another. Another cookbook, another season rife with fresh produce at the market, and today I think I’ve discovered my favorite soup to date. This version, adapted from the Hemsley + Hemsley The Art of Eating Well cookbook (the gift that keeps on giving, my health conscious-minded folk. Thank YOU, Jamie, for the tip-off.) has everything you could possibly desire in an autumn soup: squash (I used avocado squash, which was a rare find at the market and butternut) and pounds of sweet orange tomatoes. Naturally, I added my buckwheat groats to give the soup some depth, heft and texture, and my recent travels to Spain have got me obsessed with chorizo, so I fried up some sausage and scattered the sliced links on top of my soup. I also love this soup because it keeps well in the fridge–perfect for packing meals for the work-week.

This week is my first week back at work and my regular routine. Pray for a woman enduring jet lag!

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Art of Eating Well (Serves 6)
For the soup
1 pound of butternut squash, cut in fat cubes
2 pounds of avocado squash, cut in fat cubes (note: avocado squash is not the same thing as avocados)
3 pounds of fresh tomatoes (used tinned San Marzano if tomatoes aren’t in season), rough dice
1 large yellow onion + 3 large shallots, rough chop
1/2 garlic bulb
1 tbsp olive oil + Salt/pepper to season the veggies
2 tbsp coconut oil
4 tsp of lemon basil (I found this at the market, but you can use rosemary, thyme, basil or sage), rough chop
4 cups of low-sodium vegetable stock
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
a pan-fried (or roasted) chorizo link per person
Sea salt, black pepper and a little fresh herbs for the finish

For the groats
1 cup of buckwheat groats
2 cups of vegetable stock

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DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 425F. Add all of your veggies (flesh side up), garlic, onions and shallots to a large roasting tray. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt + pepper. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Gently heat the coconut oil in a large pot and add the basil. Fry for a few minutes in low heat as you try not to burn your hands squeezing the garlic out of their skins. You’ll need 6 cloves. The rest you can use in vinaigrettes and perhaps some toast for you privileged GLUTEN-EATING FOLK. Add the contents of your tray to the pot, along with the garlic cloves and the vegetable stock. Cover and simmer the soup for 20 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, add the groats + stock to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes until the water is nearly absorbed. Fry up some chorizo links in a large saucepan. I like all my meat charred so I tend to start the chorizo when I start the groats. However, roll with it. Don’t have timing drama. This is cooking, not baking, which is such a blissful change of pace.

Add the soup to a high-powered blender (or use an immersion blender), and blitz until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, add the cooked groats, and cook for an additional 5 minutes. The soup will thicken. Ladle out soup into bowls, add the chunks of chorizo, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil for garnish. EAT THE FUCK OUT OF THIS.

Or you can be like me and package it up for the week!

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