la boqueria + an ode to food: the thing that nourishes us, binds us, sustains us

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You learn about a country by eating its food. And I’m not talking about the starred Michelin restaurants and hosts who stand for hours on end clutching menus–all in hopes that you’ll be seduced enough by their calls of pasta! pizza! paella! to come through–rather, I’m talking about putting on comfortable shoes and weaving your way through frenetic markets. I’m talking about how to ask for vegetables in grams and kilos as opposed to ounces and pounds. You fall in love with a country when you can see it through the eyes of the people who breathe its air every day, who treasure cuts of meat that make others writhe in disgust. Notice how people talk about their food, how they prepare it and preserve it. Ask them, even if you can never imagine eating lamb testicles or tripe, how they season it (dried or fresh herbs, encrusted in a brick layer of salt?), when they eat it (holiday, family gathering, a quick shoveling between their two jobs) and with which foods they pair it. Suddenly, two people are not one and the other, but they’re two halves of one whole because they’re talking about the thing that sustains them, nourishes them, that thing being food.

Whenever I land in a country, I immediately seek out its markets. I’ll learn simple phrases about the weight and cost of food. I’ll watch locals pick over the produce, the way they organize their bounty, and their gentle, or in some countries, brusque, art of negotiation. In Provence, market proprietors treat their wares as if they were high finery and the negotiations are informed, respectful. In Cambodia, stall owners often sleep under their stalls because the journey home is too exhausting and expensive. In Taichung, buyers bark their orders and negotiate to an extreme, but still there is this informal mutual understanding of respecting pride and face. Watching the art of food commerce and conversation, in this way, I’m the other, an interloper intruding a private space. It’s only when I move past observation and curiosity to participate that I feel as if I’m actually part of the country, its rhythms, ebb and flow. I’ve become part of the exchange that binds people, and I leave a country with a deeper, more meaningful understanding of how people eat, how they live.

I love Spain. I feel very attached to Barcelona. Maybe it’s because Spanish is one of the few languages I understand well and speak decently. Or maybe because their ham is aged for 5 years while prosciutto is aged for 18 months. Or perhaps it’s the fat, violet figs and curved cubes of coconut that issue their siren call, but never have I loved a market as much as La Boqueria. Once a church located outside of the walls of Barcelona, free from the King’s tax and protection, La Boqueria became a humble trading place for the poor, and now it’s the largest open market in Europe. Here you’ll find spices, scores of artisanal and simple sweets, cuts of fish I’ve never seen, and the innards of animals in all their rich, sanguine glory. Maybe I should have visited the Picasso Museum, but instead I keep coming back to the market, the simple symphony of food and the people who adore it, need it.

Today I booked one of the best tours I’ve taken to date, with Food & Wine Tours. The tour was billed as a 3-hour tapas tour, but it was so much more. Our exceptional tour (with the exceedingly knowledgeable and kind, Nico, who made a point to accommodate my gluten & dairy sensitivities) started at the market, but over the course of over four hours, we stumbled upon a wedding, a Ukrainian opera singer, whose voice will make you shudder and weep, and hot chocolate so thick you need a spoon to consume it. We wove in and out of back streets and alleyways from La Rambla to the Gothic Quarter, and ate our weight in tapas and pinchos. Food somehow opened a window for our small group to talk about politics, money, children, our respective homelands, and it allowed us to laugh at the Catalan holiday tradition of caga tiÓ. Have you heard of this? Brief parenthetical. You will appreciate this.

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In Catalan, but not in all of Spain, there is no Santa Claus. However, there is caga tiÓ, a shitting uncle/log. Yes, shit. As the story goes, families wished for fertilizer so that they would have abundant crops. Crops meant money, food, and comfort for the family. So children were taught over time to “beat the shit” out of a log for abundance. Three hundred years ago this would’ve meant fertile land, but now it’s a shitting Shakira, a Hello Kitty that poops pink—now, it’s children surrounding a log with sticks in hopes that beating it will “poop out” sweets, toys and the like. Abundance of a different kind, I guess.

Food opens every door, and I can’t help but think that my tour tonight wasn’t just about tapas, it was a journey through a few streets in Barcelona but in a way that I hadn’t previously experienced. The story started with a meal you held in your hands and morphed into a virgin who survived thirteen martyrs, the precarious Spanish economy (how does cutting education and healthcare in this world of European austerity make any sense?!), and a brief conversation with Nico about how having a seven-month-year-old daughter changed him in ways he never conceived. Food creates a sort of intense intimacy, and when I came back to my apartment and surfed the web to find people cataloging their possessions instead of cultivating new experiences, of feeling their connections, seeing the world, I sometimes feel that I speak a different language with those who live in my own country. Sometimes I feel subsumed by people who so assiduously seek to acquire and consume objects rather than creating, building our own private house, brick by brick.

Isn’t that what we should desire: compulsive curiosity instead of casual complacency and obsessive acquisition? In the past twenty years my travels have brought me to Russia, Thailand, Bali, Spain, Fiji, France, Italy, England, Prague, Cambodia, China, Australia, Mexico, Denmark, Belgium, Korea, Ireland, and India, and I feel richer for it. Even when I feel there is so much more I need to learn. When you cultivate honor and respect for something as fundamental as how someone eats, you see them as human, a deviation from your familiar, but human nonetheless, and that base level of compassion somehow extends itself to the larger divides that previously seemed impenetrable. While I’m not saying that food will solve the world’s problems, undo religious wars and political divides, I am proposing that we find small ways to see the human frailty in others; we cultivate empathy. So while people might shriek over the first picture at the beginning of this post–wild gooseneck barnacles, which are an expensive delicacy in Spain–I was captivated by the risk people take with their lives to farm these particular breed of barnacles, which are not affixed to harbor ships and rocks, instead they’re in roiling surf in certain seas. I also had to smile as I’ve developed a strange obsession to barnacles, an image I’ve been using a lot in my novel to signify unhealthy attachment. So while I may not want to get a sack of these, I can appreciate and respect those who will pay a princely sum to feast on these crustaceans.

Tomorrow I leave Barcelona for Granada, Seville and Cordoba, and I can’t wait to plant my bags and wander through Andalusian markets!

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the salvador dalí theatre museum + dalí’s jewels, figueres, spain

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I might have fallen in love with Salvador Dalí the first time I saw Un Chien Andalou, his masterful short film collaboration with another famous Spanish surrealist, Luis Buñuel. The film opens with a score befitting a circus–very pomp, parade and the like–and then you see a man (Buñuel) casually smoking a cigarette while he sharpens a blade. A woman, practically muted, endures the severing of her eye by this man and this blade and so the film begins. It’s not really a real eye, rather it’s the eye of a calf, no less horrifying, but the optical illusion will become one of Dalí’s many talents.

From sadism, confused priests, the peanut-crunching crowd, rotting donkeys and ants pouring out of a severed hand, the film is less a meditation of the grotesque and more of a celebration of a mind left to its own devices. You imagine the unfathomable and make it come to pass. You imagine a voice smothered rising above the din to a shout to a curdling scream. I remember watching the film while I’d started reading T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and watching Weimar films. I was young then, 23 or 24, and I felt a strange kinship with these oddballs. Poets talking about people spouting out of the dead land as if they were harvested, and a piano being hoisted up in a living room as if this was the sort of thing that happened.

What I loved about surrealism and the poetry and films of the teens, 20s, was that it challenged our perception of what was normal. We are trained to believe what we see. We’re realists, pragmatists–we look for the plain and simple, yet some of us look beyond what is in front of us and see something altogether different. You see a woman walking down the street and she’s a woman, but I see her as a container, a vessel, a house filled with drawers and windows–some whitewashed shut, others flung open, and so the story begins.

The story always begins when you dare to venture just beyond your reach. Beyond what your mind instinctually tells you what your eye sees.
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barcelona, spain: just when you think you can’t fathom having mas jamon, spain invites you to rise to the challenge

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The first time I flew to Europe my plane ticket cost $250 and was procured through a travel agent. Back then we carried our paper tickets, accordion maps and guidebooks in our hands and changed dollars for pounds. This was 1996, and my friend and I flew across the Atlantic to visit our roommate studying abroad, and my god, British food was terrible and everything was expensive. Little did we know we booked what we thought to be a fancy hotel in a posh neighborhood when really it was a hovel where we paid a pound an hour for heat and a communal bathroom was located on every other floor.

We took an overnight flight and I remember the cab ride to the hotel–how we pressed our faces to the glass just to see everything, and we did the thing we weren’t supposed to do: we dropped our bags and collapsed into a deep, uninterrupted sleep. Come nightfall we woke, ate and drank, and we proceeded to do that for the days that followed; our bodies never really adjusted to London time.

Perhaps this is a long-winded way of saying that after 18 years you would’ve thought I learned something because the first thing I did when I arrived yesterday morning in Spain was SLEEP. I’d sleep for two hours, walk to the supermarket, ramble in Spanish, walk home, eat, sleep, edit my novel (how?) and sleep again. I woke at seven to darkness and I spent thirteen hours combing Barcelona and falling in love with a city that reminds me of Paris, minus the caustic attitude.

If there’s one thing I hate doing is planning an itinerary before I go on holiday. While this may sound odd for someone as Type A and methodical as me, however, vacation is the one time I have when I can play my days as they lay. I can wake to a new city waiting to be discovered and there’s a thrill in that, moving amongst strangers and navigating a language that isn’t your own. Yet, I booked two AirBNBs (one for Barcelona and another for Granada), and I decided the day before I left New York that I would book a couple of excursions and I’m glad I did.

After scanning the web, I came across Julia Tours, a reputable, well-rated tour service that covers the basics and beyond. Today, I took a full-day tour of Barcelona, and I’m presently lying supine on the couch with my feet propped up on cushions they ache so much. But it’s a good ache, and today was a magical day.

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We started out wandering the medieval streets in the Gothic Quarter, where most of the buildings date back from the 15th century, including the Barcelona Cathedral. We headed toward Plaza Sant Jaume to view the political buildings, including the the Palace of Generalitat and the Town Hall. Most of the tour was on foot, and our expert guides were funny, deft, and shared little known facts about the sites we were seeing. We heard a story about a virgin martyr, Eulalia who was left naked in the city square and then the snow fell, miraculously covering her nudity. She was buried in the crypt of the Barcelona Cathedral and 13 geese are kept in the cloisters to honor her sacrifice.

Leave it to me to remember the macabre.

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Back on the bus to take in views of the Mediterranean Sea and the Barcelona Coast on the way to the Olympic Village, home to athletes during the Olympics, and the Port Olympic. Nearby, we took an aerial cable-car and I was in awe of such a beautiful, vibrant, yet oddly serene city. Perhaps it’s the fact that Barcelona is married to so much water. I’ve always been partial to the ocean. Finally, we visited the Spanish Village (Poble Espanyol) to see typical architecture and traditional crafts from different regions of Spain. I managed to sneak in some chorizo, potatoes with aioli, and copious amounts of dark chocolate.

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We broke for lunch, and I need to tell you that I nearly ran down to Las Ramblas–all to see La Boqueria in all its glory. And BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY THAT THIS OPEN-AIR MARKET DID NOT DISAPPOINT. Yes, I used all caps because The Boqueria deserves nothing less than bold font. It’s a market I’ve never seen. Rows of tapas bars with hundreds of people pulling apart shrimp and oysters with their slicked fingers. Beer spilling, the quick slicing of raw fish, the sizzle and hiss of pork hitting multiple skillets, and throngs of people sipping on psychedelic-hued juices–the cacophony of the music the food made and the people who gathered around it was unlike any I’d ever heard, and I felt dizzy wandering the stalls, sampling scores of ham and ham, and oh by the way, the juiciest figs I’ve ever had. Cut open, they were practically violet.

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Some people travel to see architecture. I travel to fondle fruit. I travel to have six meals a day–just so I don’t miss a taste. I was so delirious I photographed a MUSHROOM. And you guys know how I feel about the WRETCHED MUSHROOM. Of course I didn’t touch it or taste it, but I did admire its composition. I was feeling generous, you see.

Later on, I boarded a bus to survey the façade of La Sagrada Familia (the line to get in was bananas foster, so I plan on returning so my photos don’t honestly do this basilica justice), and continued on to enjoy more of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces, including the sculptures, terraces and mosaic-embellished walls at Park Güell. To say I fell in love with the modernist pieces–many of which influenced a young Picasso and many other cubists–would be an understatement. I was particularly drawn to the Gingerbread House (shocker, the macabre fairytale I adored as a child) and how the roof was adorned with inverted coffee cups, symbolic of Gaudi giving up coffee in his 70s.

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After thirteen hours, I hobbled home, fixed a HUGE salad (salads, as we know it, aren’t really big here) and some gluten-free pasta with sausage, sundried tomatoes and fried chickpeas.

Tomorrow I’m off to Dali’s seaside hometown and museum. Bring me all the surrealism.

By the way, I’ve consumed more pork today than I have in the past year, and I’m not tired of it yet.

By the way, way, I’m posting a pile of my photos on Instagram. Follow me!

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you’ll never find me consuming airline food // the contents of my food bag revealed

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Unless TSA agents have confiscated my food bags in some underhanded attempt at mind control, or my bag mysteriously disappears into the abyss that is the seat pocket, I never, ever consume airline food. Packed with sodium and preservatives, airline meals are never a memorable event. Mostly you find yourself playing the role of an investigator, sleuthing through the contents of your tray–all the while wondering if that misshapen blob hidden beneath a layer of opaque sauce is indeed chicken.

Ignore the lies the flight attendants tell you. It’s never chicken.

Many of my friends make poking fun of my food bag a national pastime, however, invariably, they’ll crave a piece of my homemade cookie, beg for a carrot, or express heartbreak over not bringing aboard an almond-crusted chicken of their own. For international flights, I tend to pack a carry-on filled with snacks, a proper meal, fruits and cut vegetables. I also pack a couple of bars for when I’m walking around all day or I’m in a pinch between European meal times. And over the past year, I’ve booked AirBNB apartments so I have the option of either dining out or cooking up a dish with local ingredients from the market.

Today I’m leaving for Spain, and to say that I’m jubilant is an understatement. I AM OVER THE MOON. Two weeks without the company of people is glorious, and I intend to trek to Dali’s house and museum and eat all the gluten and dairy free tapas a woman can endure in one sitting. I’m all packed (one small rolling bag, a purse and one carry-on bag), with the small exception of gathering some fruits (apples, raspberries + blackberries) + cut veg (carrots, edamame) for the flight.

The contents of my food bag are abundant. I tend to overpack because you just never know if your flight might be diverted and you end up having an Odyssean layover in some airport where the main culinary attraction is the rotating hot dog (Exhibit A: Fiji’s airport). I focus on GMO + gluten-free snacks that pack a protein punch, teas, nuts, fruit, vegetables, treats (my lemon poppyseed cookie + some dark chocolate-covered almonds), as well as packing a full meal. Today, I’ve got these DELICIOUS sundried tomato meatballs, which are just as good at room temperature versus heated, and I plan to pick up a plain green salad at JFK. I always check the food options at the terminals in advance of my flight. Most places will sell a simple green salad.

Want to make these meatballs? Super simple. 1 lb ground sirloin | 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes | 2 tbsp parsley | sprigs of rosemary | 1 egg | salt/pepper. Blitz the sundried tomatoes, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper in a food processor/blender. Add the mixture + egg to the meat, mixing with your hands, gently. Shape into meatballs. Add them to a large oven-proof baking dish. Cover with your favorite tomato sauce and cook at 400F for 25 minutes.

This post was inspired by my friend Hitha, and her enormous propensity to make travel simply luxurious.
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leaning tower of lemon poppyseed cookies (gluten-free)

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Truth be told, I can’t really think of anything else but Spain. Tapas, Dali museums, cathedrals, bike rides and gothic architecture and seaside towns, I’m looking forward to two weeks of unadulterated quiet. I plan to finish the last revisions of my novel, relax, cook up some delicious food in my AirBNBs in Barcelona and Granada, and possibly take a one-day sojourn to who knows where. Part of me wans to return to San Sebastian, another part wants to fly to Toledo–we’ll see what transpires and where the day takes me.

To that end, I’m packing for my trip tonight and since I never, ever eat airline food, I’ve already made delicious chicken and savory meatballs for the ride, and have packed copious amounts of sweets + treats, including these delicious cookies.

I made some modifications to the original recipe because the dry and wet ingredients felt incredibly imbalanced, rendering a too-wet cookie dough. My cookies came out feather-light, slightly sweet and tangy with lemon. Since lemons are on my verboten list, I naturally got a few hives on my arm after chowing on one of these jams. Whatever. These cookies are worth the itch.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Paleo Kitchen
1 1/2 cups ground almond meal/flour
2 tbsp sifted coconut flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of sea salt
2 large eggs, whisked
1/4 cup organic honey
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled
1 tsp almond extract
juice of 2 lemons
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp poppy seeds

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the almond and coconut flours, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, honey, coconut oil and sugar, almond extract, lemon juice and zest.

Using a spatula, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well. Fold in the poppyseeds. Using an ice-cream scoop (filling it 1/2 way), drop 9 cookies onto the baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cookies have slghtly browned. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes before chowing down.

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sage + shallot delicata squash soup with crumbled sausage

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Have you ever walked hobbled out of spin class to then tell your friends that you’re going to order those damn pancakes for brunch because you earned it? Did you ever suit up for a run because how else would you justify that one cookie (or four)? Have you ever “doubled-up” on a workout simply to say, with a straight face, that you can eat anything you want?

Lately it feels as if I’m surrounded by people who exercise as a means to justify a basic human function: eating. Last week I read an article where the women interviewed had no qualms about spending $1400/month on their workouts, burning their way through 2+ hours a day in group fitness classes–all in an effort to keep things in check, micromanage their diet, and when things go asunder, when their precarious plan starts to show signs of disrepair, they race to the altar that is the juice cleanse: a very expensive and sophisticated means for self-denial, punishment, starvation. Because why rely on your organs to perform the function they were designed to? Why suit up for the long game of being present in your food choices, when you can wash your worries away with sugar-packed juices whose costs rival a resplendent home-cooked meal. When given the choice, I’d rather fork over $12 for a 4oz filet I can cook at home than a sugary “green” juice.

When given the choice, I’d rather focus on being healthy, because let’s be honest: the twice-daily workouts, juice cleanses, and meticulous dietary vivisection–these choices are not about health, they’re about vanity. So let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? Let’s just say many care about whether they look good in their jeans or whether they’ll tear out their GI tract in ten years time. Oh, we’ll just deal with that later.

In the film adaptation of Less Than Zero, Andrew McCarthy asks a coked-up Jami Gertz, Are you happy, Blair? You don’t look happy. To which she responds, But do I look good? He says, Always.

As someone who used to run 7 miles a day and subsist on Lean Cuisine and Starbucks, I’ve given a lot of thought into fueling my insides. My food sensitivities, contact dermatitis to god knows what–but we’ll find out when I return from Spain–is a result of a succession of bad choices in response to an insurmountable amount of stress. I replaced my bottles of Sancerre with boxes of penne and thought I was the better for it. It was as if I regarded my body as a house I was desperate to burn to the ground, and now, I’m in the state of repair. I’ve dealt with the insurance claims and adjustors, and I’m rebuilding, brick by brick.

This is all to say that I now think about what I eat before I exercise because I want to make sure I can get through my workout and perform at my best. I don’t create reward systems for food or obsessively count calories (an appalling weight loss story in this month’s Shape magazine had me aghast), rather I think if I do right by my body, if I’m consistent and present in my choices, my body will thank me for it.

I’ll have you know that I came home from a pile of errands later than I thought (1:30), and by the time I sat down for my late lunch of this lovely squash for one soup, I felt so GOOD. The soup has the texture of cashmere, and the apple sage sausage I decided to fry up and crumble into my soup made for an excellent addition.

Life is strangely simple: If you do good, you’ll feel good and look good.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen, modified slightly (The recipe says it serves 4. I mean, I guess if you were serving these in ramekins? However, this makes for a delicious full lunch for one, light eat for 2.)
2 delicata squash (3/4 lb or 340g), or you can use any squash, really
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp fresh sage, roughly chopped
pinch of sea salt + fresh pepper, to taste

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DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Cut the squash in half, lengthwise, and place, face-down in on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until soft. Use a spoon to remove the seeds, discarding them, and then scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic to cook for 2 minutes, or until the shallots are soft. Add the squash, broth, sage, and salt and pepper and mix to combine.

Either using an immersion blender or a regular blender, blitz until creamy. Garnish with sage leaves, or you can be like me and garnish with a link of apple sage sausage from Flying Pigs Farm. Just sayin’

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my results from my ancestry.com DNA kit are in…and…whoa

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I realize I am the last of my kind. The last Sullivan to carry this name in this life, and over the years I’ve come to terms with this. I’ve no interest in having children–I prefer to fawn over my friend’s progeny–and I’m an only child, with the exception of a teenaged half-sister, and please don’t ask me to talk about it because I won’t, and I can’t imagine I ever will. But this girl doesn’t have my name or my history–we have only our mother in common, a mother whom, in some respects, is a better storyteller than me. Masterful, maybe.

The origins of my real father change depending upon her mood or appetite for melodrama; it was a scalpel she’d deliberately wield, and her words always felt like cuts inside my cheek. Incisions. When we spoke some years ago, the first time in 14 years, and she told me I could her ask her anything, nothing was off-limits, I said plainly, Tell me about my real father. And as I read these test results, I can’t help but laugh over her taste for fiction. I am indeed my mother’s daughter, except the stories I tell find their way into books, not used as ammunition to wound and maim.

So when my friend Amber told me about this DNA test, I was curious. I remember sitting in her kitchen and she talked about how the results confirmed what she already knew–she was a European Jew–but it told her things she didn’t. And all I had to do was spit in a cup, send it to a lab and wait for the email.

I woke today to the email and the results.

My last name is Sullivan, but I’m not even Irish. Not even close. I’m Italian, Greek, Spanish, Finnish (???) and African (specifically, Nigerian). I always knew I wasn’t completely white, I can’t explain it; it’s just something you feel. And while I have no issues with the results (they’re exciting in the sense that I’m this rich melange of beautiful continents), because it quietly confirmed what I already knew, however, part of me is just really angry that my lineage has been hidden from me for 38 years. All this time I’ve been part black, but do I even claim it? Can I? Do I have the right to step into these new shoes? Do I have the right to own blackness? Part me says, yes, of course, of course, this is who you are, but this isn’t what I’ve been for 38 years.

This is all raw and new and confusing, and I think I need to sit with this for a while. Privately. Offline. To see what I can do, what I do feel, what this new truth reveals, alters, creates.

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the triumphant return of the groat!

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When I made a seismic shift in my diet two months ago, many were aghast. The top five questions, in no particular order, were (and continue to be) as follows:

1. Aren’t you hungry?
2. No really, aren’t you hungry?
3. So, what do you eat?
4. So, you eat mostly vegetables, because gluten is in everything?
5. So, you can only eat rice and potatoes? Whoa, that’s sad

There’s a thread to these questions–some are filled with curiousity and wonder, and others are trying to imagine the unimaginable–but all of them consider my life change from the perspective of subtraction rather than addition, or dare I even suggest…multiplication. In food, like life, there are additions that are not purely mathematical. For years, I relied on a handful of dishes and foods to sustain me, and know that the irony of this–someone who eats by rote and routine–does not escape me, self-proclaimed foodie. I think it’s because we’re only present for the moment we consume, rarely do consider or tally up the totality of what we’ve consumed until we open our closets one day and collapse under the avalanche of what we’ve collected over time. Until the moment when you fill three huge boxes of food, all of them gluten-based.

Through constraints, you find abundance. You become agile, creative, and I liken this to writing prose, really, because prose requires that you look the world through a different prism. Writing is about what you see when everything else about a object has been stripped away. It’s like looking through the kaleidoscopes you had as a child. The world was filled with color, glass and beads, and as you look through one end, light floods creating patterns based on the reflection off the mirrors. Your whole point of focus has been reduced to the light coming in through the tube, and there were people who recited the list of things they saw, while I always imagined something other. I saw what wasn’t there; I saw the barest thing and from that I fashioned something so far from the collection of random objects. I saw the beauty beneath and beyond, if that makes any sense.

And so after a few weeks of whining and the like (I’ll have you know that my whining now revolves around my skin condition), I decided to reframe and think of all the things I can have. I imagine all the variations on a single food (cauliflower! kale! chickpeas!) and build and mutate, build and mutate, until what I have is so much greater than what I’ve lost. Make sense?

That’s a long-winded way (shocker, this is me we’re talking about) of saying that I can have rice (so many kinds and colors!), lentils (rinse, lather, repeat), quinoa, beans, buckwheat groats, and the list goes on. But beyond that, all the vegetables, meats, fruits, flavors, spices, herbs! It’s like taking a noodle and in one country, it’s Italian, in another it’s Greek, Indian, and so forth.

So I found a few recipes for my beloved groat (ah, the couscous of our gluten-free time!), one of which is this lovely side dish that has a very Indian feel (ginger, turmeric–though, I substituted for curry as I didn’t have turmeric on hand, cinnamon, orange flavors, cilantro), and I plan on hoovering this tonight with vegetables.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gluten, Wheat, & Dairy Free Cookbook, a gift from my dear friend, Amber. I modified the recipe slightly.
2 cups gluten-free vegetable stock
1 1/4 cups toasted buckwheat groats
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric (or curry)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup raisins
2 carrots, coarsely shredded
1/3 cup pine nuts (I nixed this)
Salt + pepper
1/4 cup cilantro and orange zest, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
Bring the stock to a boil and add the groats. Simmer for 5-6 minutes on medium heat. Add one tablespoon of oil, cover, and let cook for 8-10 minutes, until tender and all the water has been absorbed.

Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil and saute the shallots with a pinch of salt over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and slightly browned.

Add the garlic, ginger, and stir for 1 minute. Then, stir in the turmeric (or curry), cinnamon, orange juice, raisins, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the carrots, cooked buckwheat, and pine nuts, and stir until evenly heated. Season to taste with salt + pepper. Add chopped cilantro + orange zest for garnish.

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my life as of late: “you know that couch. totally toxic.”

A week wouldn’t be my week if I was itching or ensconced in a doctor’s office, reciting my medical history as if it were an epic poem. Right now, as I type this, I’m reacting to something from the huge, uncomfortable patch on my back, which I have to wear for another day before I deliver it to my allergist for further testing and diagnosis. I’m also recovering from a skin biopsy because when I’m in an office and I’m told that I can be allergic to anything from my Jawbone to my moisturizer, I start to feel as if I’m Julianne Moore in Safe. Everything is the culprit. The world is apocalyptic and unsafe.

The good news is that I’m not allergic (although I may have sensitivities) to any one food. Food isn’t the cause of this, however, I’m prone to think that my recent gluten reaction and leaky gut have opened the floodgates to allow the wrong ones in. I have contact dermatitis, which means by skin is reacting to something with which it’s come into contact. The reaction could be recent or cumulative (built up over time), but when my allergist saw my skin yesterday and compared it to the hives when I had my gluten reaction, she told me that this, my skin right now (forearms and calves, specifically), is worse.

At least I have a topical steroid that helps with the itch (hmm, not really, considering I’m reacting right now to something).

The good news is that I don’t have to eliminate yet another food from my diet, and hopefully I’ll get my results before I leave for Spain.

My doctor assures me that this will be over soon, that this itch will go away, and that everything will get better. My god, I hope so. And yes, I realize that I don’t have a major disease and this isn’t cancer, but that knowledge doesn’t diminish this experience.

the cauliflower bonzana: creamy soup + coconut rice

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You may have noticed that I’ve gotten a little cauliflower crazy around these parts. When gluten and dairy have been violently excised from your diet, one has to find alternatives. You should know that I lived a cauliflower-free life for the greater part of 37 years. It resembled a bleached-bone plant, and somehow I’d always associate the cruciferous vegetable with my mortal enemy, THE MUSHROOM.

KNOW NOW THAT I WILL NEVER CONSUME THE MUSHROOM. EVER.

But I digress. Lately, I’ve found a host of recipes that make inventive use of this veg, so much so that I uttered the phrase, You know you’re an addict when… after I found myself consuming cauliflower twice in one day.

For lunch, I hoovered this super-simple creamy soup. Don’t skimp on roasted cauliflower because it becomes tender and sweet, and melts beautifully when blitzed with coconut milk. My soup reminded me of mashed potatoes, but I’ll take it. Especially if I’m pairing it with homemade chicken tenders, which I dredged in almond meal and coconut flour. (SWOON!)

For dinner, I ran back with open arms to my beloved veggie burgers and paired them with blackened cauliflower rice, which is a fancy way of saying I burned the rice while answering emails. And naturally I played the part of a five-year-old, mashing up her veg burger and mixing it with the rice and getting all giddy and the like.

However, what’s on my mind, aside from the itch that has slightly abated, is the fact that I’ll be in SPAIN in less than a week! If you’ve been to Barcelona, Granada and Seville, please send all your tips.

On to the recipes!

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INGREDIENTS: Creamy Cauliflower Soup Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen, modified slightly
1 large head of cauliflower (2 1/4 lbs) cut into florets
1/4 cup melted coconut oil, divided
1/4 tsp of coarse salt, plus more for taste
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 can full-fat coconut milk
freshly-ground black pepper, for taste
1/4 halved pecans + 1 tsp olive oil, for garnish

Note: I halved this recipe, since I only had a pound of cauliflower, and it worked beautifully!

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 450F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Add the cauliflower to a large bowl, drizzle with two tablespoons of coconut oil, and sprinkle in salt. Toss to coat. Arrange the cauliflower in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 40 minutes, or until tender and brown, stirring once after the 25-minute mark.

Heat the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add the onion + garlic and saute for five minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the cauliflower, broth, and water, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and add the coconut milk, salt and pepper to taste. Blitz to smooth using an immersion blender or a standard blender. Serve in soup bowls with garnish + if you’re up for it, some chicken tenders (dredged in coconut flour + almond meal, flash-fried in a plan for color and finished off in the oven).

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INGREDIENTS: Cauliflower Rice Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen
1 large head of cauliflower (2 1/4 lbs) cut into florets
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/3 cup vegetable broth
Coarse sea salt + black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS
Since I’ve no idea how to use the shredding attachment on my food processor, I used a box grater to mince the florets into rice-sized pieces. It took forever. Note to self: learn how to use the attachments for the food processor.

Heat the coconut oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cauliflower rice to the pan and stir for 10 seconds, then add the broth and stir until combined. Cover and cook for 5-8 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, mix well, uncovered, for 5 more minutes, stirring every minute or so to prevent the rice from sticking to the pan.

When done, serve with my FAVORITE VEGGIE BURGERS.

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creamy tomato soup with roasted chickpea croutons

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Truth be told, I can’t wait to see my allergist on Tuesday, because this itch (a reaction to god knows what) is OUT OF CONTROL. I’m told that I have to nix the antihistamines three days before the appointment, but know that I’m taking my Quercetin supplements because going to bed feeling like you have the chickenpox is not fun. Some have told me that this is all the garbage making its way out of my body (two weeks of unknowingly eating vinegar in my Sakara meals dressing + drinking Kombucha — both of which have yeast, another sensitivity), still, but my doctor and nutritionist think I’m reacting to something else; they just don’t know what.

Another thing I’m learning: don’t take cookbook recommendations from people who don’t have food sensitivities/allergies/conditions because the books will invariably have a pile of recipes I can’t eat. Frustrated with having purchased a pile of gluten-free cookbooks that are loaded with dairy-rich recipes, I decided to hit the bookstore and find tomes like The Oh She Glows Cookbook, books that I will sully and stain after a few days of use. For me, the mark of a successful cookbook is yelping in the kitchen over the fact that I got it wet (my counter space is MINIMAL, at best), or that I’ve managed to spill some sort of sauce all over the pages.

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So I broke down and bought a PALEO cookbook. WHO AM I? Someone who’s plagued with a Twilight Zone-level of itch, apparently, lest I forget. At my local bookstore, paleo books practically have their own shelving unit, and after grimacing to an extreme, I picked up The Paleo Kitchen. Thumbing through the book, I found myself nodding along, thinking, I’d actually make this. I’d actually EAT this. Scores of soup and salad dishes, grand entrees and desserts that didn’t send me fleeing in rage from the oddity of it all. There’s a creamy cauliflower soup somewhere in this book, and you know me and cauliflower are epic lovers, the Romeo + Juliet of our time.

This means I will have to tear myself away from The Oh She Glows Cookbook, which is, quite frankly, the gift that keeps on giving. Every recipe works and every dish is GLORIOUS.

Last night I made a huge bowl of this creamy tomato soup, and although I was temporarily freaked out by the soup’s pinkish hue (as a result of the creamy cashews), I love the richness of this soup and who can refuse a chickpea. (Parenthetical: If I’m allergic to chickpeas, it’s over, kids. I give up). The soup is filled with all the frees: dairy, grain, gluten, soy, and will keep you full and sated for DAYS.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook
For the chickpea croutons:
1 (15-ounce/425-g) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp (5 mL) grapeseed oil or melted coconut oil
1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried oregano
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) cayenne pepper
1 tsp (5 mL) garlic powder
1/4 tsp (1 mL) onion powder
3/4 tsp (4 mL) fine-grain sea salt or Herbamare

For the tomato soup:
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 small to medium yellow onion, diced (1.5 to 2 cups/375 to 500 mL)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup (125 mL) raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 3 hours
2 cups (500 mL) vegetable broth
1 (28-ounce/793-g) can whole peeled tomatoes, with their juices
1/4 cup (60 mL) oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
3 to 4 tbsp (45 to 60 mL) tomato paste
1/2 to 1 tsp (2 to 5 mL) dried oregano
3/4 to 1 tsp (4 to 5 mL) fine-grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1/4 to 1/2 tsp (1 to 2 mL) dried thyme

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DIRECTIONS
For the chickpea croutons: Preheat the over to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Line a large rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. Place the chickpeas on the paper towels and place a couple of paper towels on top. Roll them around until any liquid on them has been absorbed. Discard the paper towels.

Transfer the chickpeas to a large bowl and stir in the grapeseed oil, oregano, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and then spread the chickpeas in an even layer on the baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes. Give the pan a shake from side to side and cook for 15 to 20 minutes more, watching closely, until the chickpeas are lightly charred and golden.

Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes. The chickpeas will crisp up as they cool.

For the tomato soup: In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

In a blender, combine the soaked cashews and the broth and blend on high speed until creamy and smooth. Add the garlic-onion mixture, tomatoes and their juices, sun-dried tomatoes, and tomato paste and blend on high until smooth. Pour the tomato mixture into the saucepan in which you cooked the onions and set the pan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then stir in the oregano, salt, pepper, and thyme, all to taste.

Gently simmer over medium heat, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the flavors have developed.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with 1/3 to 1/2 cup (75 to 125 mL) of the Chickpea Croutons. Garnish with minced fresh thyme, a drizzle of olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper.

Tips: The chickpeas will lose their crispness in the soup, so be sure to add them just before you sit down to eat — or you can even add the chickpeas as you eat the soup.

If you have leftover chickpeas, make sure they’re cool, then pop them into a baggie or container and throw them in the freezer. Freezing the chickpeas seems to retain their crispness better than leaving them at room temperature. To reheat, simply pop the frozen chickpeas into the oven at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 5 minutes or so, until thawed. Voila — instant roasted chickpeas!

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almond coconut chocolate chip cookies (gluten/dairy/grain-free)

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Here’s the thing–I’ve always approached vegan desserts with reticence because most recipes prattle on about how this cookie, muffin, cake, tastes just like the sweets from your childhood, when, in fact, that vegan muffin doesn’t come close to what you’ve had before. I grew up devouring saccharine sweet Little Debbie cakes, whose ingredients were questionable at best, and I eased into adulthood baking flaky French pastries, two-tier birthday cakes, and cookies that forced you to close your eyes and weep.

You don’t understand the rage I felt when someone would suggest I substitute applesauce for butter. And please don’t even suggest it now unless you’re making an apple cake. Regardless of my gluten, dairy, yeast, and the 500 other things I can’t eat, I’m still an ardent evangelist of full-fat baking. The phrase low-fat doesn’t exist in my vocabulary, as it’s just another way of saying, let’s fill the recipe with a pile of sugar, which inevitably will convert to garbage in your liver. I still believe in baking beautifully but consuming mindfully.

Funny thing, I’ve noticed. I don’t hoover like I used to. Since my diet is heavily plant-based, I’m surprisingly satisfied with just one cookie, 2 heaping tablespoons of dairy-free pistachio ice-cream (and trust me, the coconut and cashew milk are fat enough). I enjoy a small indulgence as much as I can, and then I wrap up the goods and save them for another day, or friend.

I fell in love with the magic that mixing a few ingredients can bring, and when I was forced to shift my diet, baking initially fell out of favor. The stove, rather than the oven, became my new best friend, and I neglected the new flours and ingredients in my pantry. However, lately, I’m finding that I’ve struck a nice balance between discovering new ways of cooking cauliflower (and there are SO. MANY. WAYS.) and finding new flavors in old favorites.

Take the chocolate chip cookie. I’ve baked A MILLION COOKIES a million different ways, and I initially regarded this recipe with disdain. However, when they came out of the oven and I took my first bite, I wasn’t comparing this cookie to a buttery, semi-sweet chocolate chip one, rather, I felt as if I’d encountered something altogether new. I can’t explain it just yet, but it was a different cookie, a richer, smokier, heartier one, and if given the choice I might choose this version over what I’ve had previously because it’s not a pale-down version of the original or a variation on a single theme, rather it’s a new song, a blank page ready for this first word.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m less interested in re-creating than creating. I don’t need a slew of bad ingredients to take me closer to where I was because all it does is reminded me of what I can’t have. This cookie pushes me forward, makes me think of all new flavors I CAN have.

BANANAS, right?

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Oh She Glows Cookbook
1/4 cup of melted coconut oil
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp of almond butter
3/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups of almond meal
1/4 cup of dark or vegan chocolate chips
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend coconut oil and nut butter until combined. Add both sugars and beat for 1 minute more. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until combined.

One by one, beat in the baking soda, baking powder, and almond meal. The dough should be slightly sticky. If your dough is dry, you can add a tablespoon of almond milk to thin it out. Fold in the chocolate chips and coconut flakes.

Using cookie scoop or spoon, scoop 1-inch balls onto prepared sheet. Leave 2-3 inches between each cookie as they spread. There is no need to flatten the dough before baking.

Bake for 12-14 minutes until golden brown on the bottom. The cookies will be soft coming out of the oven, but become chewy and crisp when they cool.

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