on imposter syndrome + being a student

writing

We’ve all read about imposter syndrome, ad nauseam. Some argue that it doesn’t exist, that we’re right to experience self-doubt because we’re grappling with the reality of our limitations, that there will always exist things we know and don’t know, and our paralysis comes from confronting that fear. We’re taught that women experience imposter syndrome more than men because we’re told, straight out of the womb, all things we are and not. We’re taught to recede, to stand behind, to support. We watch old shows and movies where women are diminutive and deprecating, where they either pander to their beauty or folly. We tell our girls that they’re pretty before we praise their intellect, curiosity or artistic temperament. Even now, even after all this supposed change and time, women are still, in some respects, considered lesser than. I had a significant other who once tried to explain derivatives to me as if I was a small, developmentally-deficient child while I quietly reconciled his financials and made all his numbers foot.I have a journalist friend who studied engineering and she’s routinely talked down to by people who have nowhere near the amount of education and experience she has. In my last job, I spent more time trying to appease and be liked while my male peers’ acerbic and abusive behavior was tolerated and even accepted. And I’m not the only one. Women have to balance respectability with likeability on top of all the actual work they have to do.

I hate the word “ladylike” because it implies limitations, a way women should behave. So is it a shock that we doubt ourselves simply because we’re reconciling all the ways we should and should not be before we even evaluate our level of acumen and experience?

The things we carry.

I’ve been privileged in the sense that I’ve had a lot of wonderful professional opportunities and I’ve made a career over the past twenty years based on what I can build. I’ve built companies, brands and mentored hundreds of people. I’ve published books and a literary magazine and started an impact organization that aided disadvantaged women in Bed Sty, Brooklyn. And yet, whenever I start something new–an article, a book or a new project–I suffer from crippling, abject terror. Even if I’ve done what I’ve been asked to do dozens of times before, I still get anxious. I still wonder: can I do this? Still.

I read somewhere once that women won’t apply for a job unless they meet 90% of the criteria while men will apply if they have at least 60% of the required experience. I’ve built my career on overcoming fear and, on paper, I was never qualified for every job for which I’ve applied. I was all about positioning and side hustles. I was hired for a marketing role in book publishing because I had built and marketed a successful literary magazine online. It also didn’t hurt that I was a writer who was a voracious reader. I won a senior role at an agency because of my curious, non-linear CV. I tell people that I go to the challenge, even though it momentarily terrifies me. What did I know about managing clients after spending over 11 years on the brand side? What did I know about marketing business and diet books when I never read or enjoyed either? What did I know about starting an impact organization or a literary magazine? I’d start every venture taking inventory of all the ways in which I wasn’t qualified for the challenge put in front of me.

The one thing I truly know how to do, the one thing in which I have confidence is my ability to tell stories. Stories always start with a fixation–writers exorcise their obsessions–what gets them hot. A kind of primal attraction. Then there’s an outline for the three acts or movements, and the realization that although you may have an idea of where the story will go, it never goes where you intend it. The mark of a confident writer is the acceptance of the unknown, of all the factors that are beyond your control once you dive in and wade your way through your fixation. So I like to think of every new opportunity in the same light–I focus on the aspects I do know, the things I can control, and then I play it as it lays. I’ve also come to realize that failure is part of the process. There will be books you will write that will end up in the bin. There are projects you will take on that will be a disaster, and it’s important to separate your self-worth from what you do because who you are is not what you do.

It took me forever to realize that.

Image Credit: Gemma Correll
Image Credit: Gemma Correll

When someone says they’re an expert or a guru, I do this squinty thing with my eyes. Both imply there’s nothing left to learn, that one is now and only a teacher while I believe that everyone, regardless of age and tenure, is always a student. There’s always more to learn. A yoga teacher told me once that the mark of an advanced yogi is someone who repeatedly returns to the basics classes to re-visit and re-learn the foundation poses. After twenty years of practice, they swallow their ego and re-learn downward facing dog from the ground up.

I think I’ll always panic right before I start something new, whether it be a writing project or a project. However, what comforts me is that this feeling inevitably passes because like writing a book, I break down the story and tackle what I can, day by day. If you consider the whole the possibility of you being subsumed by it is greater than you saying, ok, today I will do this one thing. I break everything down to its component parts, and I’ll tackle each part knowing that I’m moving to the whole.

What also gives me comfort is the fact that I go into everything with the perspective of a student. At the moment, I’m bidding on a major brand project and I’m also downloading newsletter marketing tutorials and listening to podcasts about how to build Facebook ads. One would think that I’m at the point in my career where I’m passed the tactical. Yet, I don’t see it this way. I see it as coming back to the mat and re-learning my poses. I see it as always taking the role of the open and receptive student instead of the arrogant, closed teacher.

Top Image Credit: Pexels

the gathering kind

the best smoothie ever: banana almond + date

Banana almond date smoothie

After a few morning calls and a hot yoga class, I came back to my apartment drenched and starved. Since a few of my clients are on the east coast, I keep early morning hours so the notion of having lunch at 10am is often a reality. In an effort to prevent me from gnawing at my own hand, Hannibal Lecter style, I’ve been making mid-morning smoothies.

When I first started seeing a nutritionist, she analyzed my food diary and told me that the smoothies I’d been making were appropriate for athletes and men. While the smoothies themselves were healthy, they were packed with fat and calories (hello, several scoops of peanut butter!) As a result, I got smart about controlling my sugar intake and scaling down on fat without sacrificing flavor.

I just finished this banana almond date smoothie and it was the TRUTH. Basically, this tastes like dessert and gives you enough protein and potassium for a post-workout, pre-lunch snack.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk
1 small banana
1 heaping tsp almond butter
3-4 dates
1 tbsp vegan protein powder
1 cup of ice

DIRECTIONS
Blitz all the ingredients until smooth. Kick back and enjoy!

smoothie recipes

the captain awesome dinner party, chrissy teigen style

pasta a la norma chrissy teigen cookbook

Last night was a photograph worth taking. Ten incredible women feasted on cheesy pasta, brussels sprouts salad and grilled chicken and kale salad. I planned the party last month before I secured two incredible projects. Before my life resumed any sense of normalcy. Sending out the invites was a bet on myself, on my comeback. So much of my life feels tethered to the east coast, and last night was the first time I feel as if I’d established roots. I was surrounded by mostly New York transplants–people who wanted a different kind of life, women who wanted to break ranks without breaking themselves down–and it felt good to see my friends trade numbers and friend one another on Facebook. It felt good to have my friends Merrill and Meghan linger after everyone had left and we talked about the New York we used to know and the women we were a decade ago.

I take none of this for granted.

While I slowly work to pay down my debt, repay my friends, and get some semblance of a real budget in order (I’ve resolved that this will be the year I get my proverbial house in order, I’m making it my point to help as many people as I can. Experiencing random acts of kindness from friends and strangers saved me, and I want to be able to share that compassion and kindness with anyone whom I can help.

To be honest, I’m exhausted, but I wanted to share the culinary highlight of the evening–Chrissy Teigen’s pasta a la Norma. I passed around Teigen’s cookbook and everyone paged through the recipes and called out their favorites while feasting on this cheesy dish. And while I couldn’t eat a bite, it made happy to see my friends fawn over this dish. It made my night seeing them leave, stomachs full, new friends made.

It’s good to be home.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings
For the eggplant:
1 cup olive oil
2 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp red pepper flakes

For the baked ziti:
1 pound ziti or penne pasta (with ridges)
Perfect Tomato sauce (recipe below)
2 cups goat cheese
1 1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella (buffalo)
1 cup basil leaves (hand torn)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes

For the Perfect Tomato Sauce:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onions
2 tbsp finely minced garlic
3 1/2 pounds juicy ripe Roma (plum) tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
For the eggplant
In a large skillet or a wide soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When you can see little waves in the oil, carefully add the eggplant and sprinkle on the salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook stirring once in a while, until the eggplant is soft and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

For the baked ziti
While the eggplant is cooking in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the ziti to al dente according to the package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Preheat the oven to 400F. Add the eggplant (and any oil from the skillet) to the pasta along with the tomato sauce, goat cheese, two-thirds of the mozzarella, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, the black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Dump the mixture into a large baking dish and top with the rest of the mozzarella, gently pressing the pieces into the pasta.Bake until golden and bubbling, about 1 hour. Let stand for 5 before serving.

For the Perfect Tomato Sauce
In a 4 quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until translucent and beginning to turn golden, about 13 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and then 1 minute longer. Add the tomatoes, oregano, thyme, remarry, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens slightly, 25 to 30 minutes for fresh tomatoes, 20 to 25 minutes for canned.

brussels sprout salad chrissy teigen cookbook
cooking from chrissy teigen's cookbook
grilled chicken kale salad
brussels sprout salad chrissy teigen cookbook

cookbooks pasta recipes

cookbooks worth coveting: a roundup

cookbooks

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

That’s when the exploration really began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cookbooks

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

meat lover's pesto arugula pizza

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

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

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

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

Back to basics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIRECTIONS

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

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

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

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

pizza

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

finally!

fucking finally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

depression

guest post: alexis farah, random acts of lipstick

AlexisFarah

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Random Acts of Lipstick on Twitter and Instagram.

freelance life + careers

chrissy teigen's lemony cacio e pepe

chrissy teigen's cacio e pepe

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

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

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

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

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

Untitled

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

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

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

chrissy teigen's cacio e pepe

gluten-free pasta recipes

the best tomato carrot basil soup

tomato, carrot and basil soup

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

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

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

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

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

DIRECTIONS

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

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

tomato carrot and basil soup

gluten-free soup recipes vegetable recipes

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

Death_to_stock_photography_Wake_Up_2

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, I can.

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

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

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

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

freelance life + careers