lentil salad with mustard dressing + shopping my cookbooks

lentil salad with mustard dressing

Getting rid of books is a painful process. It’ll take me months, sometimes years, to let go of a book I rationally know I no longer desire or need. While I’m able to discard clothing and household items with ease, tossing books feels like bloodletting. So know that when I put out over 40 issues of Gourmet, Martha Stewart Living, Food & Wine and Bon Appetit, along with 22 cookbooks, I was exhausted. Know that as I watched passersby pilfer through the magazines and page through the books I wanted to run downstairs and snatch them all back. Even if I have no intention of making Ina’s salmon bisque in the near future.

When it comes to clothing I tend to rotate between 10 items in my wardrobe because it’s easy. Rarely do I have to think about what I’m wearing each day for longer than a minute. Sadly, I’m the same way when it comes to cooking. I have five cookbooks on my living room floor and I cycle through them until I buy another cookbook. Rarely do I find recipes online because I’ve been burned by so many blogs, and I’m old-school–I like the feel of pages clumped together from overuse, and the promise of a completed dish that only a glossy photo can offer.

However, I’ve forced myself to get surgical with regard to the items I have in my home because I have to pay to move them to California. Yesterday, I paged through every cookbook and magazine I owned and asked myself whether each still inspired. I wondered aloud if I’d still cook from this book given how much my life (and subsequent eating habits) have changed over the past year. Books I once adored suddenly felt like strangers. I’d lost interest in the old-school Food Network chefs I once revered, and my taste in desserts has shifted to the more virtuous. Sure, I’m down for a piece of rich pastry, but I’ve decided to only keep the decadence to a whisper. While I’m able to consume gluten sparingly, I don’t have the taste for it as I once had. And books that I’d purchased because I was drawn to the particular personality behind them, yet found the recipes uninviting to my palate (Rachel Khoo), found its way to the giveaway pile. Books that were beautiful but served no other purpose than offering me rich paper stock and gorgeous photos–they too became a member of the departed.

At my height, I owned upwards of 350 cookbooks. Now I own a lean 43.

all of my cookbooks

Over the next few weeks I’m going to “shop my cookbooks”, which is to say that I’m dusting them off and determining whether I need to trim down even more. Some cookbooks haven’t been used in years and I plan on returning to Nigella, Martha, Thomas Keller, and some of my old favorites to see if they stand up in my current life.

Can I tell you how thrilled I was to start with Sophie Dahl? There is SO MUCH GOODNESS in this book, and I plan to cook up her Mexican eggs, and scores of healthy eats. But first, these lentils.

Over the past year I’ve fallen in love with lentils. They’re filling, versatile, and packed with protein. From salads to soups, I’ve cooked all sorts of varieties, and when properly dressed it stands up against its gluten counterparts (orzo, couscous and the like). The dressing gives the salad some bite and the feta is creamy and silky smooth. You will love this dish + it serves 4.

A brief aside–you may have notice that this week’s snaps are a little crisper and sharper. After a year of saving, I finally purchased the Canon 50mm 1.2 lens.

WHOA.

All I want to do is take pictures.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Sophie Dahl’s Very Fond of Food, modified slightly
For the salad
1 1/4 cups Puy (French) lentils
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
A handful of cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
A small handful of fresh mint, chopped

For the dressing
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard (my Dijon expired so I used stone ground dijon and it was fine)
1 shallot, finely minced
Salt + pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Place lentils in a medium saucepan and add just enough water to cover (for me, it was 2 1/2 cups). Bring to a quick boil, reduce to low, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, I did all the prep work (which took about 20 minutes). I also made the dressing by whisking together all of the ingredients.

Once the lentils were cooked, I drained them in a fine mesh strainer and tossed in a large bowl with the chopped tomatoes and celery, and feta. I dressed the salad and tossed all the ingredients until the lentils were completely coated and then I added the fresh mint. You can savor the salad warm and it’s also perfect at room temperature.

lentil salad with mustard dressing

lentil salad with mustard dressing

plum millet muffins

Plum millet muffins

After two months of working seven days a week non-stop, of churning out brand voice guides and strategies, of working with graphic and web designers, and Skyping with a new client in Tuscany–I was wiped out. Every Sunday I re-enacted study hall with one of my closest friends, and we’d sit on her couch, side by side, taping away in silence. We’d work for hours and sometimes I’d read something aloud to her, something that wasn’t quite working, and it felt comforting to be able to bounce ideas off someone, to feel foolish in front of a friend–better that than your client, right? And we’d lament over the constant stream of emails, conference calls and deliverables, and then we’d feel grateful to have these problems. Because better a storm than a drought. Better to pay your rent than put your rent on your credit card.

To say that I’m far from financially solvent would be an understatement. I’m still paying off six-figure graduate loan debt; I’ve the burden on monthly IRS payments and credit card debt from a time when I cared about such things as designer footwear. And although I buy everything in cash and try to be smart about spending, I’m nervous that I haven’t put anything away from retirement. No safety net exists to catch my inevitable fall.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, about getting my shit together as my accountant has begged me to do, but up until yesterday I’ve been plagued with an irrational fear of no work, no money, and all these bills to pay. So instead of paying down my debt, I sit on savings. Believe me when I say that I know this isn’t smart or rational. I’ve read all the books, watched the shows and once worked with an advisor. My relationship to money has always been fraught, deeply emotional, and I’ve only just become to untangle myself from many unhealthy habits.

For two months of significant labor, I’m collecting a check and I’ve decided to pay off two of my credit cards, bringing down my debt to the level it was TEN YEARS AGO.

Because I’m nearly 40 and I’m really fucking tired of carrying credit card debt.

An old friend reminded me that I have to consistently invest in myself, know that I am the greatest hand I can play and I will get work. I will be able to travel and live simply.

There will come a day when I will no longer shoulder the burden of mistakes made in previous lives.

Until then, cheers to small steps in paying down debt and celebrating with muffins.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications
1/4 cup millet
1/2 cup water
Pinch of salt
1 cup gluten-free flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or melted coconut oil
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 medium red plums, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/4 tsp cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Soak the millet in a bowl with 1 cup of water for at least 12 hours. Rinse the millet in a fine mesh strainer and transfer to a small pot. Add 1/2 cup water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, covered. Remove from heat and allow the pot to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes, then remove the lid and fluff the cooked millet with a fork. You should have about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cooked millet.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.

Mix the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, combine the orange zest, lemon zest, orange juice, maple syrup, olive oil (or coconut), almond milk, and vanilla extract. Whisk until the ingredients emulsify.

In another bowl, toss the plums in one tablespoon of flour. This will help keep the fruit from sinking in the muffin pan. Gently stir the flour mixture into the liquid mixture. Fold in the plums and 1 cup of cooked millet.

Divide the batter between 10-11 muffin cups, filling almost to the top. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and the remaining 2 tablespoons of millet. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool for 5 minutes prior to transferring to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

plum millet muffins
plum millet muffins

on playing small

Photo Credit: Pexels

Photo Credit: Pexels

What we are is a set of walking contradictions. Our inner lives are not partitioned like day and night, with pure light on one side of us and total darkness on the other. Mostly, our souls are shadowed places; we live at the border where dark sides block our light and throw a shadow over our interior places…We cannot always tell where our light ends and our shadow begins or where our shadow ends and our darkness begins. –From Lewis Smedes’ Shame and Grace

We always want more–even if we don’t want it, even if we never needed it. When we are children our eyes rove over the things we see–the pink light that filters in through trees (dusk), machines that race down streets (cars), furry things that lick their paws (cats, dogs–this could get complicated). Everything’s a puzzle, mostly; images and words play Lego for the whole of our lives. We are forever in reconstruction, and we lean on others for definition, interpretation, and perspective. Over time we consider everything in the diminutive as an unfinished state, not yet realized and far from its potential. That cute wobbly puppy grows into a dog that can run. That infant who once smelled of clean cotton sheets grows into someone who builds houses, flies planes, cures diseases. Our memory of the miniature plays out in sepia, it’s hazy and often romanticized–we only fixate on what we become, leaving our previous states aside.

I’ve been thinking about children lately. Not having them, but observing them. I’ve also been thinking about death (although this article would try to convince me that thinking of these things will help alleviate my fear of them. Nice try), and I’m making connections between the two. In death, we return from that which we’ve come–our mode of transportation varies depending upon what you believe–but I wonder if the place to which we’ll go vaguely resembles the one from which we’ve come, and the space we’ve been occupying between the two, our holding pen, has been spent trying to make sense of our journey from one to the other.

Or maybe that’s my life.

We cry coming out and we weep slouching our way home. Because isn’t that what death is, really? Our final stop, a story, a home that cannot be torched or torn down? Our tears come from fear of the unknown, of what’s to come. I assume babies scream-cry because they consider everything an assault. What are these shapes, colors, and lights? Who are you? What is this, what am I, and so on. Over time, the answers are revealed in degrees, and for a brief while we are comforted by these certainties. Life becomes a slow conquering of sorts, a means to ferret out truth from the unknown, and our death is a surrender. We lay down our armaments because we’ve no idea which tools we’ll need for the next battle. In our twilight years I suppose we weep because we’ve left a life where most riddles have been resolved, loves have been felt, truths have been revealed–to what? To nothing? To a fugue state that morphs into the eternal black? To azure skies and golden gates or fiery bowels–as some books would have it? Or do feel sorrow because we spent our lives trying to know when there is so much we’ll never know. Have we wasted time in this single, temporary waking life?

I greatly fear my hidden parts–From Augustine’s Confessions

It occurs to me that these moments, life and death, are monumental, yet we’re small when confronting them. We’re small in the beginning (literally), and in the end we become small in ways that are more complicated. In both states we don’t consider the notion of wanting more; we can’t even comprehend acquisition, and isn’t it funny that we face our two greatest moments being valiant and great in our smallness, in our need for nothing?

Lately I’ve been feeling, for lack of a better term, colonized. Colonized in terms of defining a home, colonized in reference to how I live my life. We all have a reference point. I came from a home that had nothing and spent the great deal of my 20s and early 30s in the business of hyper-accumulation in hopes that it would satiate a need that could never be truly filled by the things bought in tender. I hailed from a generation that believed in the beauty of size. We measured our self worth in width, height, and weight, and our homes made us feel like dwarves, our Italian leather handbags threatened to swallow us whole. We became bound to this title, to those letters after our name, as if ascension equated to human greatness.

Me & My Pop at My Book Party

I think about my dad. For a time I couldn’t comprehend why he didn’t want more from life–why he didn’t demand the world and everything in it just I had. His home and closets are spare — he has only what he needs. He cleaves to his rituals: coffee in the morning, coffee as a means to connect, and long drives to clear his head. He holds few photographs. Luckily, I’m in one of them. He doesn’t speak about the past often, but what he remembers are the moments I sometimes struggle to recall: they’re small, but we explode into laughter when he recounts them. The day he drove down a one-way street. The day we made a point to eat one meal from every fast food joint in a five-mile radius (I don’t recommend this). He has the ability to say one string of words and we’re immediately transported back and I can feel everything. He has a way of making the world simple, clean and neat–even when he’s engulfed in sadness, loss, heartbreak.

I admire him this, his quiet nobility. I admire a man who’s lived a great, small life–who loves every minute of it. You feel everything so hard, he once joked.

Recently I ask, are you afraid of death? To which he responds swiftly, fearless, no. I ask him how that’s possible. I ask all the questions. And he shrugs and says that it’s silly to waste your life thinking about something you’ll never understand or could explain. He has an acceptance, a calm reserve that at this moment I find unimaginable, although I hope that will change as time passes.

Yet when I look at him, when I think of children, I’m reminded of the beauty in playing small. Of not needing to puff up your chest, resume, byline or biography. Life is still worth loving even if I don’t win prizes, or reach financial, professional heights. Yesterday I finished reading David Brooks’ magnificent book, The Road to Character, and the final chapter closed on the dangers of a society solely focused on meritocracy, on the accumulation of desires and the constant cult of me. He writes,

The meritocratic system wants you to be big about yourself–to puff yourself, to be completely sure of yourself, to believe that you deserve a lot and to get what you think you deserve (so long as it’s good). The meritocracy wants you to assert and advertise yourself. It wants you to display and exaggerate your achievements. The achievement machine rewards you if you can demonstrate superiority–if with a thousand gestures, conversational types, and styles of dress you can demonstrate that you are a bit smarter, hipper, more accomplished, sophisticated, famous, plugged-in, and fashion-forward that the people around you. It encourages narrowing. It encourages you to become a shrewd animal.

By coveting the largess of life, we end up being silly and small. But what if we revered the reverse? What if we came from a place of curiosity, humility, self-acceptance, honesty. What if we formed our character based on how we loved, what we built as an extension of that love versus what we boast, promote and share. I think about this tension a lot, especially when I read that I have to make a ruckus in order to break ranks. What if I ceased wanting all the things (I’m close, not completely there, to be honest)? What if I burned the measuring tape and scales, and stopped equating large and more with joy and greatness? Fewer, better. Quality reigns over quantity. I’ve done this in nearly all aspects of my life, but not my life in its entirety. But then I wonder if that’s even possible. I’m not sure that it is, so perhaps that’s part of the journey, too.

What if I spent my life playing small? Because I’ll need that nobility, that calm and reserve, for the next home, the final place to which I’ll be traveling.

+++++++++++++++

Currently listening to this.
Currently reading this, because, you know, smart, dead people.

the evolution of an address

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You can’t possibly know how much I struggled with posting this photograph on this space. I abhor having my photo taken because it feels like a physical distraction. We all make unconscious judgments and assumptions based on what we see; we assess the superficial: Is she pretty? Is she the “right” weight? And we speculate and place value judgments on the deeply superficial: Who makes that dress? How can she afford it? Suddenly, what we see becomes an extension of our mirrored selves, and we forget about the person behind the photograph. I’ve been guilty of this having stared at photographs of myself over the years and thinking, What was I thinking? I was too thin. How did I look like I was happy when I was far from fine? Is it possible for a lens to freeze-frame a lie? And so on.

For the great deal of my life my style was a mimicry of those who surrounded me. When I was a teeanger, I wore clothing several sizes too large and striped shirts from The Gap. In college, I wore tight shirts under flannels, Doc Martens and baseball hats. In my twenties, I was obsessed with Anthropologie, and anything that carried the stench of luxury. In my early thirties I still erroneously believed that expensive clothing gave you what you lacked. It wasn’t until I gained the most weight I’ve ever sustained on my frame did I have to sit back and think about fit, comfort, and more importantly, what I liked.

Believe me when I say that I’m the very definition of low maintenance. I don’t wear makeup, save for a swipe of lipstick or I’d otherwise be mistaken for the dead. I walk fast and find heels to be a cruel form of sartorial torture. No, I’m not interested in blisters, scabs, and bloodletting simply for the sake of appearing fashionable. For whom? For what? And more importantly, WHY??!!! If something looks complicated in assembly or wear, I run screaming in the other direction. I’m too old for drama; I don’t need my clothes to exhaust me.

Although I slowly lost the weight I’d gained, I learned to dress for my body. I’m a freelancer who’s no longer tethered to office attire. I’m petite. I will always have a sizeable chest (grr) and curves, and some cuts/looks, while beautiful in theory, are hazardous in practice.

I’m also moving to an anti sweater-weather state, so there’s that.

This year I donated and gifted bags of clothing, shoes, and accessories. I’ve pared down to only what I love and need. I’ve no multiples. I’ve discarded all of the clothes from my 20s when my size was a negative integer (I assure you those were not halcyon days) and I’d forsaken comfort for trendiness. Now, my uniform consists mostly of v-neck drapey tees with cardigans and fitted pants, or dresses that nip/dart at the waist. You’ll almost always find me in flats or sporty sneakers, and I care less about the label and more about the quality of the garment. I LOATHE shopping (reason: people) and clutter (reason: anxiety; I’ll have to pay to move all this crap) so the idea that I won’t have to enter a store or deal with an online return gives me an insurmountable amount of joy.

I want to feel comfortable and somewhat stylish but I don’t want to overthink it.

For the first time in forever I’m wearing white and color. I picked up this dress over the weekend and I’ve already worn it twice. Although I have to wear this with a slip (I got a Commando full-body slip on a recommendation, but I hate it because it rides up), this is probably the most comfortable and AIRY item of clothing I own.

It also doesn’t hurt that it’s California-ready!

Photo snapped by my sweet friend, Alyssa, before we had…ALL OF THIS!

cheeseburger at Upland, NYC
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cherry coconut granola + a journey back to the wonder

cherry coconut granola
When most people think about the future, they dream up ways they might live happier lives. But notice this phenomenon. When people remember the crucial events that formed them, they don’t usually talk about happiness. It is usually the ordeals that seem most significant. Most people shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering…When [suffering] is not connected to some larger purpose beyond itself, suffering shrinks or annihilates people. When it is not understood as a piece of a larger process, it leads to doubt, nihilism, and despair. –From David Brooks’ The Road to Character

This weekend I tried to go back to the wonder. When we’re small we believe in the infinite–we incant the word forever like sermon, like song, and we truly believe, as Edna St. Vincent Millay once wrote, that childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies. Remember that bike you rode with unsteady hands and how you drove it into a tree? You don’t remember the ride, you remember the fall–the sting of torn skin which will a scab you persistently pick, a wound that takes forever to heal. Remember that rain in August? How it came down like a victory and washed the streets clean and you got caught up in it, felt chilled to the bone amidst all the heat. You never conceived of being cold in August.

As you grow older you realize that your life is composed of a collection of firsts. Your world is complete and beautiful; you believe in fairies, magic, and old men who fly down chimneys. You stare up at the sky and wonder how planes can be suspended in midair, and in that moment you can’t fathom that one day you’ll be in a flying machine buoyed up by mathematics, science, and sky. You think people in China, India and Canada and wonder if they can see that plane too. For a time you are told that the ground is safe–it’s the one thing that doesn’t move–until you are in a place where the earth rumbles and shifts below your feet. A man points to a hole in the ground and says in a thousand years time this barren land will be filled with water–too bad we won’t be around to see it, haha!–and it occurs to you that there will be a great many things you won’t see, firsts for the unborn.

We are nothing but a clock inching us forever forward.

And then there comes a time when forever feels like a silly word to use because you’ve seen people lying in caskets, and how could forever exist when the people you love leave and never come back? You hear whispers of drunk men being paid $5/hr to don a red suit and bounce kids on their knees. Late one night you slip downstairs and see people you know pile presents under a tree. You feel a hand slide under a pillow leaving a quarter for a tooth. And then you begin to see that magic is about commerce and the moment we are born we grow to inevitably rot.

There go the adults storming the kingdom and bringing it to ruin. As time passes, knowledge, memory, and experience chip away at the wonder. And we absolve to preserve our children in the kingdom for as long as we possibly can, but we’re adults and we can’t help ourselves and the children become repeats of us with minor variations.

A man wakes at his desk and thinks: This is my life? All of it?

I have been happy. Is that success? –Advice on careers, finance, and life from Harvard Business School’s Class of 1963

I watch a movie where two grieving sisters come to believe that their dead mother will return. She said to wait, hold tight. But who’s going to record our heartbeat before God? I watch another movie where a pragmatist, a cynic, becomes undone when he sees what science and logic cannot prove. I read a book about character, which reaffirms what I already know–character is shaped and formed largely through how we breathe through and manage experience. How we breathe through the dark spaces and dig our way out of the darkness. Character becomes the hands that do the digging, and then the spaces between light and dark. Character becomes the breath between the tick of a metronome, how we manage the off-beat, the breath before the jump.

I’m thinking about wonder lately because I’m an adult who believes in the rational and pragmatic. I’m an adult who no longer believes in a god although so many people desperately want me to. Yet, I’m an adult who’s just realized that I haven’t had all my firsts. There are firsts left to be had! There are trees to crash into, knees to scalp and skin. There will be a new zip code that I will write on envelopes. There will be two hands that will clutch a wheel and propel a machine forward. There will be the heartache and break of farewell, the I will see you sometime soon. There is so much that is unknown and frightening and I know that I will be different somehow, once I emerge from the other side. Once I set foot into a new home thousands of miles away from what is safe, familiar.

There is a wonder that is not quite science and not quite god, but something beautiful that exists between the two.

Part of this has made want to turn inward, not share as much. It’s made me want to experience more. I’m finding that the more I talk about my move the more I allow people to ruin it with their constant questions and advice. The more I seek out wonder the more I feel subsumed by the noise of pragmatism. So I’ll be holding my hand close and you’ll know where I’ve landed when I’m there because right now I need to experience this first without having adults intrude.

I need the wonder.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
4 cups of rolled gluten-free oats
1 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
2 1/2 cups dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
1/3 cup chopped dried figs
1 cup unsweetened dried cherries (or blueberries)

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat oven to 300F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Add the pumpkin + sunflower seeds to a medium bowl, cover it with water, swish the seeds around and drain it using a strainer over a running tap. Set the nuts aside.

In a large bowl (and I’m talking LARGE), toss the oats, pistachios, coconut flakes and cinnamon until combined. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the syrups + salt until they bubble slightly. Remove from the heat, stir in the olive oil and vanilla extract, and set aside. Stir the drained seeds into the oat and nut mixture. Pour in the olive oil mixture and stir everything until completely combined.

Divide the granola between two baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, toss the granola, rotate the trays and bake for another 15 minutes. Then, toss the granola again and bake for another 10 minutes until the granola is brown.

Add the hot granola to a large bowl and toss in the dried fruit. Allow the mixture to cool completely before storing it in airtight containers.

cherry coconut granola

coconut apricot bars + some thoughts on transparency as an aesthetic

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Your limitations are important because you must eventually come to the realization that your time on this planet is limited and you should therefore spend it on things that matter most. That means realizing that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. That means realizing that just because you like certain people doesn’t mean you should be with them. That means realizing that there are opportunity costs to everything and that you can’t have it all.Mark Manson

This week I learned that the appearance of integrity has become one of the many masks people wear. Integrity is borrowed finery, it requires you to be humble and honest even when it proves impossible to be anything but. Invariably, the weight of the mask becomes too much to bear and one sheds it, revealing their truest self, which was never honest to begin with. Between the acts, between the outfit changes and the curtain fall, our faces are scrubbed clean and our hair come undone, and when the mask has been discarded just as swiftly as it was worn, we see people for who they really are. I wonder though, if they’re able to see past their duplicity.

I spent much of my adult life swallowing voice. I was amiable, rarely did I break waves or raise my voice in dissent. My rebellions were minor emotional thievery, but in the end I wanted to be part of the hive, to blend in. Even if I knew the people who occupied my world were catty, cruel and conniving. Even during junior year in college when all my homophobic friends said cruel things about my roommates whom everyone suspected as gay. Know that I’m ashamed of this, still. Even when I sat in a meeting and watched my boss lie to people. Never did I raise my voice, and it took me a long time to see that my silence was deafening, my complicity was worse because I knew what was right and I smothered myself. It took a long time for me to find my voice, my place, and it’s heartbreaking that the moment when I’m finally loud becomes a time when so many want to silence me.

Wow, you’re really intimidating, someone tells me. You’re, like, really aggressive on Twitter, someone tells me. You’re very vocal, someone tells me. Why are you so angry? someone tells me. How do I react?

Shall I curtsy? Affix a muzzle over my mouth? Would my silence make you more comfortable?

I live in a world where black men are assassinated in daylight simply because they are black. I live in a world where women are routinely raped, harassed, demeaned, admonished, silenced and disrespected. I live in a world where illiterate bloggers preen for the camera and architect an artificial world for the peanut-crunching lot and they make $5,000 for a fauxto, meanwhile I spend weeks building value, creating meaning, and I make less. I live in a world where feminists tweet lines from The Bachelor and get annoyed when I complain about it. I live in a world where I tell bloggers that it’s unacceptable to act like they’re celebrities because no one person is better than another. I live in a world where I don’t know how to play nice amongst people who make it their life’s work to be on an even keel. I live in a country where most are ignorant about what happens outside of our borders because it doesn’t affect us, doesn’t impact our noon SoulCycle sign-ups. I live in a world where stupid people get book deals and they’re lauded because they have so many followers. I live in a world that values quantity over quality, noise over quiet, the guise of humility over exposing yourself raw. I live in a world where people play the integrity game but only as far as it elevates their personal brand–gets them that deal, that job, that extra zero at the end of a check.

I live in a world where women constantly tell me that I’m too loud, too vocal, too aggressive, too opinionated, and I wonder if they would say all of this if I were a man. If the words I say don’t cause them discomfort, because god forbid people graze a moment of darkness. God forbid people acknowledge their ignorance and privilege. God forbid people examine themselves just as I’ve spent two decades confronting the most unkind aspects of my character. God forbid people do the work.

Now it’s time to make your dent in the world. –Mark Manson

I don’t trust people. I see people I care about getting taken advantage of because they’re kind in a way most people aren’t. I see people try to align with my integrity, all the hard work I’ve had to do, because by association perhaps they’ve made the difficult choices I’ve had to make. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes I’m bristly, I recoil often, and people have said my viewpoints are polarizing, but at least I’m honest. What you see is always you get because I’ve worn masks for the whole of my life and my god have I grown tired of playing the part of so many other people.

I read somewhere that the true test of whether you’re an artist is to ask yourself how you would feel if someone told you that you couldn’t do the thing that you loved for the rest of your life. Straightjacket my arms, cut off my hands, eliminate any trace of paper and pen. What would be the limit of your sacrifice? Is there a limit? Can you go without a lifetime of committing words to paper (or screen, as it were). For me, not writing a waking death. Intellectual suicide. I couldn’t live in this world without writing through, and about, it, and everything in me has come to calm when I finally decided that all I want to do is write.

All I want to do is write more, shout louder, and be with the people who are like Vivian Gornick, people who are unafraid and unapologetic. People who can give a fuck about an even keel or playing nice. People who don’t wrap themselves up in their personal brand or transparency because it’s the fashionable dress they need to wear. The real and the true are few and far between, and I hope to hold on to my tribe here in New York and find my people out west.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well, modified
For the crust
1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 cup gluten-free oats
1/4 tsp aluminium-free baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I prefer Cup4Cup)
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling
1/3 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
1/2 cup unsweetened apricot jam

For the topping
1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/3 cup raw cashews
1/4 tsp aluminium baking powder
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp of olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of one lemon
1 cup dried, unsweetened, coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line a 13 x 9-inch pan with parchment paper; set aside.

For the filling place the thinly sliced apricots in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to softened for 5 minutes while you make the crust.

To make the crust place the coconut, oats, baking powder, and salt in a food processor; blend until fine, about 45 seconds. Add to a medium bowl and mix with the almond meal and gluten-free flour. In a medium bowl, place the oil, maple syrup and vanilla, whisk until combined. Add the coconut and oat mixture, and mix with a fork until combined. Dough should be moist but not sticky. With your hands press the dough thinly and evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Prick crust with a fork, and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside; keep the oven on.

While waiting for the crust to bake, drain the apricot slices and set aside to drain well.

To make the topping place the maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and lemon zest in the medium bowl. (Use the same bowl used for making the crust – no need to clean). Whisk to combine and set aside. In the food processor place the shredded coconut, cashews, and baking powder, and blend until ground and moist, about 45 seconds; transfer to the bowl with the wet ingredients. Stir to combine. Mix in the flaked coconut.

When the crust is ready, spread the apricot preserve over the crust and sprinkle over the apricots. Crumble the topping over the apricot crust, leaving some filling showing.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes or until golden on top. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool completely before cutting into bars.

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why I closed shop on comments on this space

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

What happened to listening and engaging with people? What happened to “how are you?” I remember when people used to complain about people tweeting what they had for breakfast. Perhaps they still do complain. That never bothered me though. At least their breakfast didn’t want something from me.Annie of Ethical Thinker

I don’t want new friends. That may strike you as a bit cold, but it’s honest. I’ve spent the great deal of my life focused on personal velocity, acceleration, volume and quantity, and I’m at a place where I have what I need. I want for nothing more. Years ago I took a workshop taught by Nathan Englander, and during office hours he would sit with two copies of my short story. One version was clean and the other was a massacre of red ink. Over time he taught me to be economic with my writing–how to find one word that could do the work of three. Make the line work harder, he taught, and I’ve since applied this axiom to all aspects of my life. I’m surgical about the people who inhabit my life and I’ve no desire to pander or please the smart set, or be “famous” or “popular.” And while I realize that one can’t live in complete solitude (especially as I plan to move to the unfamiliar), I plan to befriend a few rather than entertain the masses. I don’t mind traveling or being alone; I prefer my own company. I’ve had all the fanfare and confetti in my 20s. Now, I crave the minimal and the quiet.

Some might find this intimidating while I view it as a means of keeping myself honest.

Over the past year I’ve started to feel the tension that comes with more people discovering your work. I wrote some pieces that garnered a modicum of attention and I started to feel noise occupying previously empty spaces. I received demands of friendship and attention from strangers. I received a deluge of requests: Can you read/edit/help me publish this? Can you help me with this? Can you link to this? Can you promote this? Can you do this? Can you meet me for this? Can you connect me to this? Socially, we’ve been conditioned to help, to give away pieces of ourselves in service to others at the expense of ourselves. If I say refuse, I’m the “bad guy”, but no one ever considers that the invasion of one’s life and time as inappropriate social behavior. I don’t exist to service strangers.

Putting myself out into the world has allowed me to meet some truly wonderful and courageous people. I’ve made great acquaintances around the globe, have found online spaces where I want to spend time, and I’ve exposed myself to cultures and ways of thinking I never would have otherwise encountered. I’m grateful for this. Yet I sometimes feel that the noise–the persistent clamour, the questions, the look at me!–subsumes the beauty I’ve accumulated. A handful of people have come here for insightful, passionate discussion while others leave links in hopes that people here will go elsewhere. People don’t read, they skim. People don’t connect at a visceral level, they self-promote. People tell me this writing intimidates them without having to do any of the work to move past their discomfort. People feel as if they are entitled to access to my life, time, and contacts, simply because I publish words on this space. People (even friends) feel as if they can give me unsolicited advice even when I haven’t asked for it or needed it. People often listen as a means for waiting for their turn to speak (or type, as it were). People add my email address to mailing and press lists even when I emphatically state that I do not want to be pitched or contacted for promotional/commercial purposes (I thought you might be interested in…you thought wrong). I want to forge real, meaningful friendships. Have honest conversations. Love, and be loved, deeply.

Within the next few months I have to make decisions. I’m uprooting my life (and cat) and moving west. I’m starting another book and editing a second one without any guarantee that anyone will read my work. I have to figure out a work structure that will help me pay the bills. I have to learn how to drive a car. I have to say goodbye to people whom I love. I’ve a lot to navigate and I need my world quiet.

I may not be making the right decision in shuttering comments here (temporarily) but I’m doing my best to quell the noise.

freelancer files: people are funny about money

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Once a week I’ll field an email from a recruiter or have a conversation with a friend where they’ll remind me that the freelance life bears an expiration date, and thus: when will you go back to full-time? To which I respond, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch. Over my twenty years in the workplace (from intern to middle management to executive to consultant) I’ve learned that chaining yourself to a desk in a company merely gives one the illusion of job security, however, the only secure fact is that for a period of time you will get paychecks every two weeks. I’ve been through enough corporate restructurings, failed dot.coms and agency right-sizing to know that people are disposable. No one is truly indispensable–one can be always be replaced. Because at the end of the day most companies are focused on profit rather than people. This is a cold truth, admittedly, but a real one. Many have failed to understand that when you place people over profit you incur more revenue and satisfaction. So when a recruiter (or friend) prattles on about the perfect job and compensation package, I ask three simple questions:

1. How do you practice flexible work schedules? (Notice how I didn’t phrase the question as “Do you…” because the latter gives employers an escape clause to prattle on about how employees can work from home one day a week but those employees tend to overwork out of guilt, and the only flexibility they truly have is the ability to wear sweatpants)
2. Do you create an environment where employees are encouraged to pursue side projects?
3. If so, tell me about the side hustles of your employees (junior to senior).

Radio silence. Crickets. Tumbleweeds, etc.

Until an employer can answer those questions to my satisfaction, I’ll play in this sandbox over here, pursuing my own projects and passions. Creating my own rules.

Two years ago I resigned from a job that was slowly killing me. I left a place where I no longer believed in the integrity of leadership for something other. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t what I’d left behind. But I was frightened, lost. My generation was taught to stick it out; we believed in the promise of a corporate ladder, even if the ladder was poorly assembled. I didn’t know how to price myself or get clients or build a pipeline. I only knew my value.

After I left to pursue consulting, my mentor gave me the best piece of advice I’d ever received: surround yourself with smart people. These people need not be in your industry, nor are they steps to get you to your next project–these are people who are inspired by what they do, can offer you information about their industry and adjacent industries, and surround you with good energy and light, because if you asked me two years ago what I would be doing today I would never have conceived that I would have had two large projects relating to organizational workflow and process design (a fancy way of saying I put my Type A organization + financial skills to use).

One thing I did notice is that people are funny about money. No one wants to talk about it. This baffles me because it isn’t as if we were working in the same company (although learning about disparity in previous roles has helped me negotiate aggressively come annual review) or bidding on the same project. In an age where people share the most intimate details of their personal life online (I used to know an executive who regaled the details of her sex life on Twitter), money is still taboo. What if I make more? What if I make less? These are the reasons people SHOULD talk about money. Talking about money has helped me create alternative pricing based on my skillsets (my strategy work rate differs from my copywriting rate), and has helped me determine my day rate vs. project rate and how to account for all the outliers in my contract.

Believe me when I say finding consultants who are open about their finances was akin to finding a thimble of water in the Sahara.

Luckily, there are resources that give clarity: rate calculators, generating alternative revenue streams, smart tips on project pricing, and overall survival guidelines. Frankly, this isn’t enough. We can read countless articles written by freelancers, but that can never replace speaking openly and honestly with our peers. I know of two women who have at least ten years experience in online marketing and they were pricing themselves out for under $100/hr in New York. Granted, the pay scale varies by industry, but that’s why it’s so important to supplement online research with real conversations. I’m transparent about all my rates (standard rate, day rate, agency rate, copywriting rate, discounted rate for non-profits, start-ups and passion brands) and I talk about the things that are not in standard calculators (is the client that sort that requires a lot of education and hand-holding, which amps up the billable hours–ruin if you’ve signed on for a project rate since you’ll likely burn through your allocated hours without the ability to tack on an hourly rate on top of your project fee if you’ve exceeded an hourly count OR building in all of this from the onset). I learn a lot about a client through the pitch phase–initial calls to communication preferences to proposal review–which helps me deliver project and hourly rates that ensure they get the best work while I make a profit.

See what I mean? All the online research doesn’t compare to real-life scenarios from people who have been there. When I determined my rates, I used a calculator, considered what will keep me sustained every month–but I also considered the market, industry size and sector, so I tend to customize my rate but I have a threshold below which I won’t fall and the client is satisfied.

This is not to say that I won’t get emails from people expecting that I will take on projects for $50/hr when I’ve nearly 20 years of work experience. This is not to say that people will ask me to work for free or relay that they can get my services cheaper from some kid down the block. And then I have to remind everyone that I don’t compete on price.

If I’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s this: be open. Talk to everyone–from seasoned executives to junior talent just starting out. Talk to smart people and hear what they have to say. Ask them questions about money and be willing to share your own experiences because in the end we all want fair compensation for the work we do.

grilled corn + herb chowder

grilled corn and herb chowder
Why do we fear failure? It’s quite often not failing itself that strikes fear into us, it’s the other negative outcomes that come along with failing like a lack of income or potential embarrassment. –From Ash Reed’s essay on conquering fear

I used to hate rain, now I welcome it. Especially when it come down in sheets through my window. It’s funny how we’re conditioned to fear rain–the inconvenience of it (my hair! my clothes! my shoes!), how it ruins and disappears things. But are we really afraid of water? Of papers getting soiled and hair coming undone?

When I got sober I composed a list of fears I wanted to overcome, things I wanted to do previously considered impossible. It was 2002 and I wanted to publish a book, see much of the world, and stand in the rain.

It took years but I remember a Thanksgiving when I found myself running around the park, getting drenched in a surprise thundershower. The sky darkened and the air turned cold. I stood still in the middle of it and thought, this feels good. This is what it feels like to no longer be afraid of that which is temporary and real.

It’s been a challenge to write lately because all I can think about is leaving. Originally I’d planned to wait until fall, until I had enough money saved and time to sort out the logistics. But really, I need to deal with four things: packing + moving, changing paperwork, finding a place in California and moving there. So many people make such a huge deal out of moving (the dramatics of which can be exhausting to read), but in its simplicity it’s just about moving a body and possessions from one place to another. It’s a week of phone calls and coordination and saying goodbyes.

Part of me wanted to be more productive this weekend–write more, work more, see more–but I ended up seeing a friend, binge-watching shows related to serial killers, making this chowder, and thinking.

Thinking maybe it won’t be so crazy to leave sooner.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Small Plates & Sweet Treats
4 ears of corn (you’ll need 3 cups of corn)
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (1 15oz can)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
3 sprigs thyme
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium shallot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp chopped fresh chervil (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the grill. Peel and rinse corn (removing all of the corn silk, I think that’s what those strands are called). Grill the corn over medium-high heat, charring the outside. It should take 8 to 10 minutes. If you don’t (and I certainly don’t), you can char these in the broiler for 15 minutes, turning every so often. Let the corn cool slightly and then cut off the kernels.

In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, vegetable broth, thyme, and corn kernels. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Turn the heat off and let it steep for 15 minutes.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, onion, celery, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper, ground cumin, and ground coriander. Cook the vegetables over medium heat for 5 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add the coconut-corn mixture. Bring the soup to a low simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.

Add the cilantro (and chervil, if using) and stir. Then serve the soup warm.

grilled corn and herb chowder

finding the edge of your ocean

Untitled

Usually I make it a point not to see people on Thursdays because this day is devoted to being free of people–I need time alone, in unadulterated quiet. I can’t function otherwise. However, I acquiesced to meet old colleague whom I admire and hadn’t seen in years. What he probably doesn’t know is how I remember him. He was one of the first who interviewed me for a job that I once loved and slowly, over time, began to hate, and much of the interview centered around The Shining. I realize it’s odd to talk about a movie so horrific so comfortably, but we laughed over the twins, dissected Kubrick, and I revealed a predilection for horror movies.

People who are frightened of flying are often put in mock planes so that they could overcome their fear by confronting it, by breathing through it. One is never comforted by statistics because we always think that our flight could be that one in a million. We ignore silence so wholly and completely because our heart wonders how is it possible that a giant machine can be suspended in midair? We think ours will be an inevitable ruin, a tumbling and fall, and no amount of comparing plane crashes to car accidents will help. But if you put us on a plane and make us go through it, again and again, the hope is that we’ll find a way to cope with maths, probability. We’re never really cured, but we can sometimes go on planes without believing we’ll die. I like to think of this as being at the end of our private ocean–a life spent on the shoreline and then we’re propelled to take out a boat and move it as far as it will go until we’re at the edge. We never go over the edge but we know it exists, we’ve seen it, and we take comfort that we’re closer to it than a life lived on dry land.

This is probably why horror and darkness comfort me. They are my edge of the ocean.

So in that small space of time spent with a stranger who will become a coworker and now a friend, how could he know that on that particular day I started to work through why it is that I’m able to sit so comfortably still in the dark.

Time passes.

Yesterday we spend a few hours in a restaurant that serves good eggs and has a tree planted in the middle of the dining area. We talk about a lot of things–work created and owned on our own terms, the place where we used to work, and more importantly, what’s next.

I told him about my decision to move to Santa Monica, how I didn’t want advice (please don’t, please don’t). When he asked about Santa Monica I told him it was about being in the midpoint between the familiar and the foreign, and he wondered aloud if I was prolonging that which I desired for the sake of being comfortable. Was I losing time by settling in a place that in my heart I suspect won’t be home. So why not risk it and plant roots to prove my gut right or wrong, to know that I made a choice without regret, that certainty will invariably reveal itself.

Why not go to the edge of the ocean instead of paddling halfway?

He said all of this without judgment, without talking about the pros and cons of north vs. south (I’m sure you’ve already worked that out), but he suggested I make a choice based on time and gut and heart–the rest will sort itself out. And then I came across a typewriter on my way to the bathroom in this restaurant, reminding me of my presence in prose.

I left exhilarated, confused, feeling as if I walked in a metronome and walked out oscillating wildly. I have so much to think about in the coming months, so much to consider.

Then I came home and fell into a world of work and watching The Fall. I felt sick because the character so closely resembles Kate in my novel and I realize that I’m not quite done with examining the masks people wear in my work. I’m still paddling–not quite at my edge yet.

A small note: For the next few months I won’t have comments activated on this space. It’s not out of disrespect, but more from a place of self-preservation, and a need to filter out distractions as much as possible. There will come a time when I’ll reopen them, I promise.

coconut blueberry loaf + some thoughts on writing, publishing, and “playing the game”

coconut blueberry loaf (gluten-free)

Part of the struggle of actually finding happiness as an artist is the daily fight to not define success the way the rest of the world defines success – which is hard, because you have to fight the same battles every day. Success has this very two-faced essence… As an artist playing the game in the industry… you kind of have to play that game a little bit and ride the balance, trying to get your book on the New York Times bestselling list and knowing what to do to do that, but also, simultaneously, not drinking the Kool-aid – swishing it around your mouth and spitting it out.Amanda Palmer (via).

I used to play the game, I used to be good at it. But I wasn’t always this way. I spent much of my childhood alone, and while I received praise and accolades for my writing throughout my life, the sting–of repeatedly pulled into rooms and asked, in hushed tones, if there was a problem at home, or losing prizes because my writing was too dark, too haunting, because you can’t expect parents to give an award to someone who wrote a story about a girl hanging herself–was sometimes too much to bear. It was as if my writing had to bear the constant weight of a coda, a we love this but…

Why can’t you write happy stories? Are you incapable of it? Making me feel I have to apologize for the fact that my repertoire sits perhaps too comfortably in disquiet. Making me feel small and confused when I tell someone this isn’t that dark, to which they respond, with a sigh, oh, but it is. As if darkness can’t have a voice–it must be smothered until the flames flicker and fade out and there are only the peonies to harvest. There can only be the simple and compact, where all worlds are reconciled neatly by the final page.

But that doesn’t interest me.

I’ll tell you how I write. I hear voices–calm down, calm down–I hear a character. This is how a story begins for me. I start with people and see where they go. I’ll be on the subway like many of you, and I’ll even swipe here or turn a page there, but a scene will play itself out in my head. At first I’ll know nothing about these people other than the fact that they’ve seized my attention. And that’s what’s important–someone brings me in. Over time, the scenes start to multiply and I can see faces. They’re fictional, really. Maybe it’s a man I’ve seen in the street and my gaze will linger longer that what’s appropriate. Or maybe it’s an actor–someone not famous, but has been in more bad films than good (I often thought of Kyle Gallner–my god, he’s beautiful and fragile; I can’t stop staring at his face–when I created Jonah)–and then I’ve got people to play with. Suddenly, they’re real enough for me to get them on the page and see where the day takes them. My stories always start with a scene and I build around that. Nothing is ever linear, nothing is ever defined–that’s the after-hours work. I just move as my characters move and I love this; I love looking up and thinking, where the fuck did the day go?

Nothing thrills me more than leaving a still-hot page and listening to the chatter that continues on in my wake, because a scene never ends just because you decided to stop writing. It goes on, and I love when characters are like, you can do your own thing, but we’re going to keep talking over here. As the hours pass, the shouts become murmurs and whispers and soon they fall to quiet, ready for resurrection. For me the writing isn’t hard, rather it’s the architecture of the story that threatens to undo me. I have all these scenes but how do I arrange them? Much of my work is reconstruction, puzzle-work.

The last thing I’m thinking about is whether or not the story will be a happy or a linear one.

Years ago I drank my way through book parties, readings and other literary events that made me want to take acetylene torch to my eyes. I was forever feeling imposter syndrome–I could never keep up with the latest book, lit mag or 30-under-30 on the rise. I never thought my writing serious enough, you know, the worthy of James Wood piece or a Guardian review. But I had an MFA from a fancy school, a lit mag that was going places, and more importantly, I knew my booze and how to share it.

Still, I always felt like an outsider, someone skirting the edges of things. I was forever uncool, and exhausted of wearing the mask of an extrovert. All I wanted to do was go home and read and write, but people kept telling me that the business of publishing, the people who are good to know, was just as important as what I laid down on the page. Amidst the talented writers I’d come to know where people who got deals because they were beautiful, connected, had some sort of credential or “platform” or a combination of all of the above. And while it’s true that this has always been the case, discovering it, for someone who spent the bulk of her writing life without a community, was much like finding out there is no Santa Claus. The quarters under your pillow are not gifts from The Tooth Fairy, rather it’s an act of commerce. Teeth for cash. And through all of it I wrote less because I was distracted. I spent too much time playing a losing hand instead of surrounding myself with all sorts of people who could lift me up. I spent so much time working the room instead of untangling the voices in my head.

It’s not the book that counts but the aura of its author. If the aura is already there, and the media reinforces it, the publishing world is happy to open its doors and the market is happy to welcome you. If it’s not there but the book miraculously sells, the media invents the author, so the writer ends up selling not only his work but also himself, his image. From Elena Ferrante’s Paris Review Interview

Earlier this year, my agent circulated my manuscript to a host of prominent editors. I can prattle on about their praise but it doesn’t interest me. What rattled me was the fact that my book was too hard for American audiences, too dark and alinear. Many couldn’t “relate” to my sociopathic lead character (ah, apparently in order for fiction to be sellable it has to be relatable). I’ve never been more proud of my book and here we go again with the codas.

I have a friend who is a tremendous writer. She is well-connected (not her doing, really, people genuinely want to orbit her), published and praised, and it was hard to see her write that so many dark, experimental books were being published and it took everything in me to tell her that her small circle was being published. That for every Maggie Nelson or Lydia Millet there are thousands of authors who are told they won’t sell because people like their characters flawed but not too flawed, and they prefer their endings like a good gin–neat.

It took me a while to stop judging the value of my work against a decision for someone to publish it. While we try to get this book out into the world I’m working on a new collection (I’m sure my agent would weep if he saw this) of stories about women at various stages of their undoing and unrest, a small taste of what you read this weekend.

We think we know her, but what we know are her sentences, the patterns of her mind, the path of her imagination. –Meghan O’Rourke on Elena Ferrante’s anonymity

I admire Ferrante’s vigilance in protecting her identity, of keeping the author photo in the frame blank. All too often people look at my work, look at me and try to make connections between the two as if I don’t have an imagination, as if everything I write comes from personal experience. And then there are others, for whom what I write rings true and they feel somehow connected to me. And while I want to foster a feeling of community and connectedness, all too often people mistake that for knowing me. For thinking that reading something of mine gives them trespass to the life beyond what I’m comfortable sharing here. Both make me so unbearably uncomfortable because it makes me feel that the work could never stand on its own and that somehow me putting things here makes them less mine, me less mine.

I look at the woman I was ten years ago and she’s a stranger to me. I can’t even imagine moving at the same velocity or bearing the company of unkind people. Ferrante intrigues me because I crave so much solitude and I’ve consciously done things to compromise it. I love writing in this space but I don’t always love what it brings. So I keep strict guardrails in my world to protect my work and the quiet in my life.

At the end of the day what gives me joy are stories and the small, strange group of people around me who make them easier to tell.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, with modifications
2 large eggs, at room temperature
7/8 cup of coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup and love it more than Bob’s Red Mill)
scant 1 cup of coconut palm sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup dried coconut (coconut flakes)
2/3 cup almond flour
3 1/2 tbsp coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/2 cup fresh blueberries tossed in a scant amount of flour

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Spray an 8 inch loaf pan with coconut spray, line with parchment paper (bottom and up the sides) and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, coconut milk and vanilla. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flours, sugar, baking powder, and coconut. Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the milk mixture, and mix on low until all the ingredients combine. Stream in the cooled coconut oil and mix. Fold in the blueberries.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake for 45-50 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out on a rack.

coconut blueberry loaf (gluten-free)

mint, pistachio + zucchini balls

mint, pistachio and zucchini balls
Always the setting forth was the same, Same sea, same dangers waiting for him, As though he had got nowhere but older. Behind him on the receding shore, The identical reproaches, and somewhere, Out before him, the unraveling patience, He was wedded to. There were the islands, Each with its woman and twining welcome, To be navigated, and one to call “home.” The knowledge of all that he had betrayed, Grew till it was the same where he stayed, Or went. Therefore he went. And what wonder, If sometimes he could not remember, Which was the one who wished on his departure, Perils that he could never sail through, And which, improbable remote, and true, Was the one he kept sailing home to? — “Odysseus” by W.S. Merwin

It’s normal for me to wake at dawn, to feel the cool air coming in through my window. I spend most mornings working, reading, making food to post on this space (like these veggie balls), contemplating and planning, and by nine it already feels like afternoon. Already I’ve asked myself where the day has gone. Already I’m thinking about time, how there’s never enough of it; how it’s slippery, it’s the one thing you can never retrieve or contain. There is six, seven, eight and nine in the morning. Gone. The past becomes irrelevant, the future is always on the verge, lingering, waiting with bated breath, and as Buddhists will have it, we only have this one moment in which to live, the present.

Easier said then done.

I remember coming across Merwin’s poem when I was working on my first book. I was searching for the right words to introduce my story but I couldn’t find them. I read Merwin’s words but couldn’t inhabit them–they were an ill-fitted suit, a pair of too-tight shoes. Merwin’s words were beautiful and clean but impenetrable, and it would take me years to understand that I, much like Odysseus, was forever tethered to the extremes of past and future, creating a kind of self-imposed alienation that only served to imprison, rather than liberate, me in the present moment. I’d become fixated on finding myself a home that spanned across two points of time, yet ignored the life I lived in this moment. Right here, right now–not what came before and what will inevitably happen, but this breath that I continue to breathe. What of that?

I hadn’t had the distance to see the flaw in a man who tried to find his way home because time had become a metaphor for his self-doubt and fear.

I just remember sitting at my desk thinking, I can do anything with my time. Anything. Is this what I want to be doing? –From Elle Luna’s Design Matters Interview

People tell me they admire me and this makes me uncomfortable. Strangers act like they know me, like we have this intimacy, and this makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know. I wake every morning and try to be brave. I try to remember that there’s a quiet nobility in leading a good life that need not be large or thick or heavy. That abundance isn’t about the size of what you occupy, but it relies more on how much of your heart you’re willing to bear. How you’re willing to play a hand without looking at the cards. Years ago a great love told me that I was a coward, that I slept on top of the sheets instead of between them and I never let him, all the way. He was right. Abundance would’ve been flinging the doors open and letting the mothballs flutter out. Abundance would’ve been folding him into me and letting him be there. I’ve learned from that, and in my morning hours I remind myself to let the right ones in. Not everyone, but the right ones.

I sat in my mentor’s office crying. You should know that I’m not the crying type, but that day I went the distance. We’re talking marathon tears: flushed face, tissues askance, contact lenses ready to fall out–that kind of cry. All because he’d asked me a single question: Are you happy? It took me a good ten minutes to choke out, between cries, that no, I was not happy. Never did I conceive that I could just get up and walk away. That I could leave that which no longer brought me joy in search for what could. After the tears I got pragmatic, hyper-rational. I had all the questions.

What if this doesn’t work out?
What if I become broke?
What if I lose my new apartment?
What if I break every connection I’ve made over the past 3 years?
What if this is a decision that I regret in 3, 5, 10 years? –From Sean Smith’s
“The Truth About ‘The Right Time'”

What if I fail? I said. Impossible, my mentor said. And then he corrected himself. Over the course of my life I will fail. I will face-plant onto the pavement and I will have to sometimes rely on splints and bandages. I may even need a walker. But choosing to live my life instead of sleeping through it was the antithesis of failure. It took me until now to see that. It took me quitting my job without a safety net or familial financial assistance, and breathing through the months I sometimes had to use my credit card to pay for my rent, to realize that the road to joy is winding, circuitous, and sometimes painful. Periods of darkness and uncertainty are inevitable but if you remind yourself that all of this is temporary, necessary even (as David Cain posits) , you will get to a better place. The optimist in me believes that.

Figure credit: David Cain, Raptitude

Figure credit: David Cain, Raptitude

I’ve been thinking about cliff dives, fear and the agony that is uncertainty. I’ve also been thinking about time. Over the next few months I plan to play a tourist in my home. I plan to do all the things I’ve largely ignored as a born New Yorker because I’ll get to it. There’s time (not really). I plan to travel to Asia before my move out west because being in Asia gives me the kind of clarity and quiet I rarely achieve elsewhere.

And then I plan to follow my gut. To ignore making the “right” decision because I don’t quite know what is right, only other than the fact that I need to leave. As of this moment, I’ll be moving to Santa Monica. If over the course of the next few months I change my mind that’s cool too, because I know I’ll have to live through questions in order to wade my way home. I have to find my own room and I can only do it by living moment to moment, tuning out the periphery opinions and noise, and cleaving to that which brings me joy and shelter.

Ultimately there’s no escape from living with uncertainty, for anyone. No matter how often you compare yourself to others, or check your email, or read the news, no matter how much you worry, you’ll never know what happens after you die, or what other people really think of you, or what your life will be like in five years. So it helps to get comfortable with the small uncertainties, too. Then, at least, you’re used to it. –From Julie Beck’s “How Uncertainty Fuels Anxiety”

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, with modifications
For the balls
1 1/4 cups (250g) cooked puy lentils
2 zucchini, grated (about 275g)
1 cup (100g) almond meal
4 1/2 oz goat cheese
1 tsp minced garlic
Finely grated zest 1 unwaxed lemon
1 red chilli, chopped, or a pinch dried chilli flakes
Bunch fresh basil (or mint), leaves picked and roughly chopped + reserve greens for topping
Olive oil for drizzling

For the pistachio pesto
Handful pistachio nuts (about 1/2 cup)
Small bunch fresh basil, leaves picked
4 tbsp olive oil (I used 2 tbsp pistachio oil because I ran out of olive oil and had this on hand + 2 tbsp olive oil)
3 tbsp water
Juice ½ lemon

DIRECTIONS
The hardest part of this recipe is all the annoying prep work (cooking the lentils, grating the zucchini) because this is a one-bowl dream. Mix all of the ingredients for the balls until completely combined. Allow the mixture to rest for 20 minutes while you preheat an oven to 425F.

Roll the balls into small meatballs (you can get 24 small bowls out of this mixture, but I prefer fat balls so I managed 18) and add them to an unlined baking sheet. I made the mistake of lining one of my trays with wax paper and the balls stuck to it which made removal a nightmare. Drizzle with olive oil on all sides and cook in the hot oven, rotating once, for 22-25 minutes until browned.

While the balls are cooking, blitz all the ingredients for the pistachio pesto and set aside. Once the balls are done, dress them in this delicious sauce and eat with a pile of greens or quinoa cooked in vegetable stock. Trust me, you won’t be able to eat just FIVE.

Mint, pistachio and zucchini meatballs.

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