Posted on September 9, 2015
I’ll never again take lying in a bed for granted. We slept the sleep of children last night–me curled up next to Felix. I love Santa Monica because the skies are perennially pink come nightfall, and the air is cool and crisp. I’m near the ocean and I sleep with my windows open, which is a luxury, really, because not too long ago I was enduring relentless heat and humidity. I lived in a home where false cold air blew in.
My furniture finally arrived yesterday (it’s been a month in the making), and I spent five hours cutting up boxes and unpacking. 39 of the 49 boxes contained books, and I’m still sore from moving them around my apartment, trying to make room for all that I’ve collected over the years. A friend sent me a note last night, asked if I’d seen the sky. She was driving home from Marina Del Rey and caught sight of it. I paused and walked downstairs and saw the sun settle into the horizon, and there was a kind of purple haze to it, a cool fire, and I felt the word home.
I fell into bed around 8:30pm, aching, exhausted–hands all cut up and bleeding–but happy that everything I love occupies this space. I don’t have my couch yet, but you can sort of tell from the mess below it’s coming together. Slowly, but surely.
I’ve been on work calls since seven this morning, and I finally had some time this afternoon to bake. I bought three pints of fresh strawberries for $7 and couldn’t wait to make a crisp.
Odd thing is, I wasn’t excited about photographing this. I brought the plates, napkins, and marble slab out onto the deck and it felt…false. I can’t explain it. I brought everything back in and set the dishes on the counter and took photos with my phone. I guess it felt more real to me–a first home-cooked meal in a new house. It felt like, okay, this is it.
I live in California.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, with modifications
1 pound hulled strawberries, cut into halves and quarters
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic cane sugar sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup almond flour
1 cup gluten-free steel-cut oats
5 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut into cubes (I found goat butter in my local market and it is INSANELY good)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Put the strawberries into an ovenproof dish (a pie pan is a good size) with the 2 tablespoons of sugar, orange zest and almond extract.
Mix the almond flour, oats, and the rest of the sugar in a bowl.
Break the butter into little chunks and add it to the bowl or pour in the coconut oil and then use your fingers to rub the mixture together, lifting them out of the bowl to get some air into the crisp topping. Once the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs and there are no big lumps of butter, you’re golden. I used an old fashioned pastry cutter.
Pile the mixture on top of the strawberries and bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes, until the top is golden and the strawberries have shrunk and started to caramelize around the edges.
Posted on June 16, 2015
I feel like my journey through the in-betweens has been a constant refrain, but I can’t help it. I’m feeling the impermanence of my surroundings as I start making dates with all the people I want to see before I leave. I regard my carpet, my couch, much of my possessions with this odd detachment because I know they’ll soon be gone, put up for sale on Craig’s List and removed from the home that will no longer be mine in a few month’s time. I hit refresh on an apartment complex, hoping to find my new home (I’ll imagine this will be my plight when I’m in Asia and I’m more than prepared to leave in August). I sit in my friend’s bedroom while she packs for a business trip and while I adore her wardrobe, I think, so much black. Strange coming from someone whose wardrobe was once the color of night. Yesterday I tell an old friend over dinner about how I’m surrounded by predators posing as house pets, that I’m drowning in mediocrity, and that I need to move to a place that hasn’t been ruined by tourists. I need to not be in a maelstrom, on the verge of frenzy. I’ve abandon red lipstick and consider softening my black hair, and another friend quips that I’m becoming Red from OITNB. Today I think: why do I still own Ina Garten’s cookbooks? I order a story collection penned by an old friend who was my trigger, my drinking buddy, and I’m reminded of a time before we wrote books. We wrote stories and drank and talked about the stories we wanted to write. She’s published them while I’m trying to sell the world on the kinder, gentler psychopath. I think, there was a time when we were on the verge. And now I think that everything that was going to happen has happened and there’s nothing left to happen until I happen to be somewhere else. But I’m stuck here for two months with a trip to Asia breaking up the in-betweens and I’m anxious for what’s next.
This is chrysalis and it’s really fucking strange.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook, modified to exclude gluten/dairy ingredients, and I changed the whipped cream recipe.
For the cake
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup almond yoghurt (plain)
3 tbsp coconut, melted and cooled slightly
2 cups almond meal
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1/3 cup cane sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp sea salt
For the strawberries + coconut cloud cream topping
1 15oz can of coconut cream
1 tbsp honey or agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups sliced strawberries (sliced)
Turn your can of coconut cream upside down and place it in the fridge to chill. Pre-heat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 9-inch round pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. (To do this, just turn the pan upside down on top of the paper and trace with pencil. Cut-out and insert).
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the eggs well. Add vanilla, yogurt, honey, coconut oil, and whisk. In another bowl combine and mix together the almond meal, flour, sugar, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add to the wet ingredients, mix, then pour into the prepared pan. Bake until a inserted toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool completely.
While the cake is cooling on a rack, start the cream. Take the chilled coconut out of the fridge, scoop out the thick top layer and add it to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the honey and vanilla and whisk until thick, like heavy whipped cream. Put in the fridge to chill for 15-20 minutes.
Pile the cream on the cooled cake, along with the strawberries and DIVE IN.
Posted on June 3, 2015
But I opened my eyes too suddenly, for no reason at all, and the beach at East Hampton has vanished, along with Bluebell and the cats, all of them dead for years now. The Turkish towel is in reality the white nubbly counterpane of the bed I am lying in, and the cool ocean breeze is being provided by the blessed air conditioner. It is ninety-three degrees outside — a terrible day in New York City. So much for my daydream of sand and sea and roses. The daydream was, after all, only a mild attack of homesickness. The reason it was a mild attack instead of a fierce one is that there are a number of places I am homesick for. East Hampton is only one of them. –From the Preface of Maeve Brennan’s The Rose Garden
I want to go. Now. My landlord asks me if I can send him my utility bill for a rebate. In response, I turn off my phone and bury it under a blanket. At home, where I’m lulled into an odd delusion of serenity, horns blare for five hours straight. Amidst all of this anger, all of this come on, now. All of this I have to be somewhere and why can’t the ant that is your car inch forward? Just drive. Why can’t you move your fucking–? Heel of the hand pumps hard. I’ll show them. I’ll beep this horn longer than they think I can. A woman shouts out her window, you’re a real big shot. You know that? And I don’t know if she’s talking about the dozens of ants in their cars honking or if she’s making small talk. There’s another woman who sometimes paces my block and she talks about how her face is peeling off. Her only salvation is Jesus Christ, so it’d be real good if you people could accept the Lord as your goddamn savior so my face can get back to what it was. I live in a neighborhood forever in repair. I live in a place where people move the curtains to one side, curious. Is her face really off? The woman bellows, can you hear me?
Oh, I can hear you. I think the only thing that can take off your skin is you smoking in the heat. Snakes like the desert; they prefer the heat.
Silence is a tree, I say once. In a forest, my pop says. Where no one’s there to hear it, I complete. I don’t buy that, my pop says. There’s always someone in the forest. A bird, an insect, a body covered in cool leaves–there’s always signs of life, my pop tells me. You can’t erase life out of a forest. One can’t unsound. And I say it’s not about the life which occupies the inside and perimeter, rather it’s our distance from it. So why a forest? Why not a boat in the ocean? A graveyard, he laughs. Ha ha. And I’m all straight when I say there’s probably more life among the dead than among the living. Look at the obsequious somnambulants–all of them–sleep-waking into their phones!
And so it goes.
Over the weekend I watch a funny movie about suicide. Trust me on this one. After the film, I keep thinking about the main character, Sophia, and how I have ashes of my Sophie on top of a bookcase and would it be cruel to put her away, somewhere quiet (but we’ve determined there is no quiet, no unsound, no fucking forest) because maybe it’s time? But this: I remember the rise and slump of her chest, how I held her–all four pounds of her–in my arms. I still own the sweater from the day when I last held her and I think about burning it. Would I keep those ashes in a tin nearby too? Is silence me in a bedroom crying into a chest where a heart no longer beats while a man with a needle and a woman with a towel wait patiently on the other side? Is silence the door that divides the two? Are we nothing if not the architects of our own forest, the makers of our own doors?
There’s a book on the floor, one I’ve been meaning to read–Half a Life. Tick toc, tick toc, toc.
I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life, a woman weeps. What is this, I think. I’ve become the sort of woman who cries over sentimental movies. I never used to be this way. I never used to cry. I used to go through my life not feeling much of anything.
I’m told that neural mirroring is a sign of empathy. Sit in front of a psychopath and yawn. For most, a yawn is contagious–people unconsciously mimic as a sign of compassion. Yet there are those who will sit across from you; they’ll engage in polite conversation and ask if you’re tired, and then you realize you’ve met someone who’s not interested in playing your yawning game. They’ve got their own forest. Their own locked doors. And then you wonder if rationality is standing behind your gossamer curtain, face up in flames. Because you’ve got the itch. Your skin is peeling if only you would just say the words. Give in to Augustine and Montaigne, into a book that foretells a white kingdom where only a privileged few are given trespass.
When I was younger I had a habit of chewing the ends of my hair. I quit it during college because eating one’s hair is the sort of thing that makes you stand out and the irony of college is that the training wheels have come off and being an adult becomes a precious exercise of blending in. Four years later I’m at a party in an apartment where the floor threatens to give way and Cate arrives with a white kingdom in a glassine bag and I’m still Christian. Back then, I still believe in a god but after that first line, after I twirl in a bathroom and maw at my ends, do I wonder if this vast white forest supersedes an old story in the oldest book.
I tell the story of silence like a knock-knock joke. I text my pop, what’s silence. We play this game. We’ve gotten good at it over the years. We rearrange the furniture, dust the curtains and put out a tray of stale cookies. Silence is the sound of holding your breath. Still looking for your forest, he says.
I suppose so. I suppose I will grow homesick for this forest when I make passage to another.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from A Modern Way to Eat (I’ve altered the recipe quite a bit)
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 cup seeds (1/3 cup hemp seeds, 1/3 cup sesame seeds, 1/3 cup black sesame seeds)
1 tsp baking powder
3 medium bananas, mashed
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp coconut milk (full-fat)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat your oven to 400F. Spray a loaf tin with coconut oil and dust with coconut flour.
Mix all the dry ingredients (flours, sugar, seeds, salt and baking powder) in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
In a separate bowl mash the bananas, then stir in the olive oil, coconut milk, vanilla extract and eggs.
Gently mix together the wet and dry ingredients, just until there are no pockets of flour left. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, then bake a little lower down in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the loaf comes out clean.
When the loaf is cool enough, transfer to a cooling rack. This is pretty yummy still warm, but also good at room temperature or toasted and spread with either butter and a little honey or almond butter. You can also use this as French toast or in bread puddings.
Posted on April 9, 2015
We need to talk about this cake and the fact that you should have already baked it. Over the past few weeks I’ve been slowly adding dairy back into my diet (small pieces of cheese), but gluten is still verboten. Quite honestly, I will probably continue to live gluten-free with the exception of an extraordinary piece of crusty bread or homemade pasta. I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would, and I’ve discovered so many new tastes and flavors that I never want to fall back into a rut of food complacency.
As I’ve mentioned, ad nauseum, gluten/dairy-free baking has been a challenge for the past eight months. I’ve purchased dozens of cookbooks to only discard them (purchasing your special blend of gluten-free flour is a prerequisite for baking any of your recipes? No thanks, I’ll pass) because either the recipes rivaled a science experiment or the results were gritty and tasteless. I’ve discovered few cookbooks that truly deliver on flavor and texture, and Flourless is one of them.
So far I’ve made half a dozen recipes and the cakes and muffins do not disappoint. In particular, this almond cake is the sort of dessert that has drawn me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning, eyes filled with sleep. Somnabulent-style, I’ve stumbled into the kitchen to pry a piece out of a plastic tub in the fridge. This cake is THAT GOOD. I love the light cream and soft berries juxtaposed with the crumbly almonds. Perfection.
And to think I randomly picked up this book at Anthropologie!
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Nicole Spiridakis’s Flourless (a hodge-podged a few of her recipes together to bring this cake to life), modified to eliminate dairy
For the almond cake
3/4 cup coconut oil, softened but not melted
3/4 cup cane sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
2 1/3 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
For the coconut cream
1 13.5oz can of full-fat coconut milk
3 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Chill the can of coconut in the fridge, up-side down. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper and grease the bottom and sides with coconut oil. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the coconut oil and sugar until fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until completely combined. Add the coconut milk, extracts, and blend until all ingredients are combined.
In a medium bowl, mix the almond flour, salt, baking powder. On low speed, mix in the dry ingredients into the sugar batter until combined.
Pour the batter evenly into the pan and cook until the top of the cake is browned and a tester inserted in the cake turns out clean, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the springform pan for 20 minutes. Carefully turn out the cake and allow it to cool completely, approximately 1 hour. The cake will be delicate since you’re not working with gluten flour and its magical binding properties so be gentle with the cake, k?
While the cake is cooling, drain the cooled can of coconut milk through a sieve. Discard the liquid and add the solid coconut to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the sugar and extracts and beat for 3 minutes.
Dollop the cream on the cooled cake and add a pile of berries. I had strawberries, raspberries and blueberries on hand, but I can imagine that this would be INCREDIBLE with figs and blackberries, as well.
Posted on February 7, 2015
Today I spent the morning with one of my closest friends. Angie’s one of the few people with whom I can completely be myself. We’re quiet when we speak, there’s no artifice, and I often show up to her house in leggings, hair undone, face scrubbed clean. She has two beautiful and brilliant children, and some of her time is spent tending to them, swapping out the books they read and giving them seaweed and rice when they’re hungry. I admire her tenderness, the incredible way in which she’s able to remember the details. Although I don’t harbor any desire for children of my own, I love watching the love that binds her family. It’s this love that she brings to our friendship, one that has lasted for over a decade. I’ll walk through her door and remind her that I’m 4% Asian, to which she responds that’s nowhere near Asian (she’s Korean), and after we laugh over our private, long-running joke, we talk about our day.
I tell Angie I love her as often as I can.
What I don’t tell her enough is how much I enjoy how we pass our time. She’s busy, an ambitious executive who’s also a devoted mother and wife. I know her time is scarce so I tell her that I don’t care how we spend it, as long as it’s us, talking. And I know this may sound strange, but she has a car and nothing pleases me more than to be in it while she drives. It reminds me of childhood, how I’d spend hours in a car with my pop and we’d talk about everything and nothing all at once. Angie’s like this, and I realize most of our time is spent in her car or in her dining room (I’m sitting; she’s in the kitchen), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Today, I came for breakfast and I brought her this bread and it shocked her that something that’s gluten and dairy free could be so light, so moist, so holy-shit good. I spend time with her husband because he and I are so similar, and we always have something to talk about–our shared love of books (I envy their library), food and films. Today I told him that Angie saved my life. Did you know that? Your wife saved my life? That I was determined to drink and ruin, and she got me straight again? She drove me to Felix? Did I tell you about your incredible wife?
But then, the drive! As soon as she told me that she needed to make a run to Whole Foods for a dinner she was preparing for tonight, I was JUBILANT. She apologized for inviting me along for an errand with her son, and I told her that she’s crazy. Food, a car, my closest friend and a little boy who loves books–this is how I wanted to spend my morning.
I’m starting to realize that as I grow older I become conscious of time. I become conscious of getting lean. I don’t need a fancy dinner out or something to do, rather sometimes it’s really nice to spend the morning with your closest friend, eating banana bread. Sometimes the world is as simple and beautiful as that.
INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Paleo Kitchen Cookbook
3 large bananas
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
2/3 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 cup coconut flour (you may think this is not a lot, trust me, coconut flour needs a ton of liquid to absorb)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
Pinch of fine-grain sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch metal loaf pan and line it with parchment paper.
Combine the bananas, eggs, coconut oil, sugar, and peanut butter in a food processor or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until the ingredients are well blended. Add the coconut flour, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, and salt and continue to mix until all the ingredients are well combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. Circulate half-way through. If the bread becomes too dark (somewhere around the 30 minute mark), tent with tin foil. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.
Posted on January 29, 2015
My story this week is one of exhaustion, but a good kind of tired. I’m not talking about the tired that comes from living a life in a conference room, clock-watching, because I’ve been there, done that, and have the war wounds to prove it. Rather, I’ve taken on two exciting brand projects and a large-scale strategy project for a national franchise restaurant brand–all of which require a lot of heady thinking, collaboration and planning. I’ve spent most of this week in meetings listening and talking to people, and the bulk of today holed up in my apartment, creating. All of this put me to thinking about a piece I read this week espousing the benefits of flexible schedules. I spent 16 years chained to a desk and tethered to a computer with the expectation that I produce swiftly and brilliantly. No one ever took into account that people have different or more productive ways of working, and I feel privileged that I’ve designed a life where I get to have the necessary solitude in which to think, balanced with the deep need to connect and learn from people.
But I’m still a little tired.
Now more than ever do I recognize the value in shedding unhealthy attachments–those intent to cleave, drain and smother. I don’t have time for the extraneous, the superfluous, the dramas and intrigues. I only have room for those whom I love, friendships that need tending to, and my own self-care. Everything else is periphery, background noise.
In this life I’ve designed for myself, I’ve recognized the need for “me” time. I’m not talking about staring at my phone or refreshing my Twitter feed (as I’m wont to do), but it’s more about doing something tactile, creating something with my hands. So every Thursday afternoon, regardless of my schedule for the week, I make something. I spend a few hours in complete silence chopping, whisking, mixing, stirring. It’s a moving meditation of sorts, allowing me a break from the writing, the marketing, the stories, the people, and allows for something, anything, to come in. I get clarity when I cook or bake–I find new ideas of simple salves for old problems. Or I just make something really lovely to eat, and today is no exception.
I haven’t made a mirepoix base for a soup in some time, and I enjoyed the earthy feel of this soup and its depth of flavor with the two potatoes and varying textures (creamy and crisp), and I never met a squash soup that I didn’t love.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Small Plates, Sweet Treats
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
1 small butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded and diced (about 3 cups diced)
1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced
6 cups chicken stock (replace with vegetable stock for a vegetarian version)
2 small purple or yukon gold potatoes, very thinly sliced
For the soup: In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper. Cook the vegetable, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until tender but not mushy.
Add the red lentils, squash, russet potato, chicken stock, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simMer for 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. Puree the soup in a blender. Adjust the seasoning if needed and keep warm.
For the potato chips: In a small sauté pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the thinly sliced potatoes in batches and cook until golden. Drain them on paper towels, reserve.
Posted on January 22, 2015
Believe me when I say this isn’t a story about age–the start of one career and another in media res. Rather, this is a story about work and how beauty can’t be found while living in the extremes.
I bear quiet witness to two extremes. A young woman submits to an interview for a stylish blog, and over the course of a few questions we learn that the only job she’s known is one in front of her computer. A college hobby has morphed into a career, replete with sponsors, giveaways and outfits of the day. I read a post where a young woman doles out career advice as if they were miniature sweets wrapped in arsenic (or perhaps that’s my interpretation)–preparing the impressionable for the “real world,” where posts are artfully styled, emotions are choreographed and authenticity…well, you know my thoughts on that one–although I will say Emily gives a measured, refreshing take on the matter. On the either end of the spectrum, a friend tells me about a billion-dollar company that seeks to transform itself, and would I be willing to play a senior role in that transformation and sit tethered to a desk five days a week? Ah, so this is the life revisited, where I cram the whole of my errands in Saturday morning, spend a few precious hours on Saturday night resting, and prepare for the inevitable Monday come Sunday. A company seeks the sheen of the new and the brilliant and the creative, but would I be willing to chain myself to an office badge? Would I be content to make perfunctory conversation with someone while refilling my water bottle (knowing how I feel about small talk)? Could I bring brilliance to the table while ensconced under the glare of overhead fluorescent lights?
I attended a conference once where everyone was thick in the business of self-promotion. Many spoke of their online spaces and how popular they had become. Yet one wonders how does one harness such fame? How does one create more efficiency, tackle that ever elusive labyrinth that is their inbox? I felt a curtain come down over my face and I asked, in the biting way I sometimes do, what is it that you actually create? What do you do? More importantly, who are you? And they talk to me about content; they use terms like utility. Their hope is one of inspiration mixed with a healthy dose of practicality, and this whole performed puppetry reminds me of Lloyd Dobler’s garbled, yet endearing speech in Say Anything:
I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.
And while there was nobility in the idealistic Dobler’s speech, what I get from others is a mouthful of stale air. It feels rehearsed, vaguely Stepford. I get: I want to be famous for being me. Honestly, I don’t understand the notion of the full-time blogger who doesn’t seek to create something which goes beyond the four walls of their home. I tell people it’s the difference between a lithe girl who posts a dozen photos of her in the same outfit in a slightly different pose versus, say, a design.sponge. Create something beyond your singular experience. It may not be large in the grand scheme of things but the lens can’t consistently gaze at one’s navel. Because there will always be other navels, other girls sporting expensive finery, but there are only few who break ranks, create something meaningful beyond the extent of their reach. Or, as Meghan Daum posits,
Obviously, everyone defines confessional in their own way. For me, being confessional would be just kind of revealing your secrets and not processing them in any way, just kind of presenting your diary, for instance. I really am not interested in sitting down to write something personal unless it’s going to transcend my own experience and talk about something larger. That, to me, is the difference between putting yourself out there and letting it all hang out. “Putting yourself out there,” to me, has to do with using my experiences as a lens through which to look at larger phenomena.
Although Daum is speaking specifically about memoir writing, I can’t help but apply this idea of one’s life as lens to nearly all aspects of one’s life. There is a shelf life for the thousands of hopefuls who post the tired, stylized photos and pen an awkward personal story to make a sponsorship post that much more relatable. And while I see blogging as an interim play between one venture to the next (a strategic side hustle, a means for creative testing and exploration), I struggle with people who start off their career this way and think they have the ability to counsel others (I shudder to imagine the performance review: Haters! All of them! Why do I keep getting all of these mean constructive comments?!), and I really struggle with those who act as if their blog is this echelon of greatness, when it’s really not. For many, it reads like a simple experiment in myopia. Every navel gaze invariably meets a dead end–the question then is: Who are you without your online presence? What are you creating? What are you cultivating?
Always the same. The deliberate consciousness of Americans so fair and smooth-spoken, and the under-consciousness so devilish. Destroy! destroy! destroy! hums the under-consciousness. Love and produce! Love and produce! cackles the upper consciousness. And the world hears only the Love and produce cackle. Refuses to hear the hum of destruction underneath. Until such time as it will have to hear. –D.H. Lawrence
I think of this quote often. Lawrence is critiquing Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and the American psyche. Without the balance of destruction and creation, there is no chrysalis, instead we slowly devour ourselves in our own demise (ah, The Ouroborus returns!). If we don’t reconcile and balance our internal division (or duality), we will never truly have knowledge, understanding and wisdom. We will never grown beyond ourselves.
You’re thinking: what the fuck does this have to do with bloggers who preen all day and get paid for it? GOOD QUESTION.
I think some bloggers are one example of the type of people who are content to dwell within their own dominion. They produce and produce and produce at the expense of themselves. Rarely do they seek to reconcile the real and the artifice within, and we only see one side of the face, a clever mask on display. The danger lies when one doesn’t create beyond oneself, or present both sides of that one face. This is true of bloggers, artists, and people who sit behind a desk, content to clockwatch. I see talented writers write themselves around their own self-imposed prisons. I’ve done this, I did it for years. I wrote what I knew because that’s what the books told me to do. That’s what my MFA program told me to. But it was only when I went beyond myself, beyond the story of me, did I find something powerful. My writing truly got better, ferocious. I was still me. I was still pulling the strings and breathing life into characters on a page, but these were people I’d never known and encountered and this new territory was thrilling. It doesn’t matter if my book will ever be published–I take solace in the fact that I sought out a larger truth beyond the one I’d always been pedaling. And this is the reward, the work.
Know that I’m just as critical, if not more so, of the other side.
Even though I’ve worked hard every single day of my life, even though everything I own has been bought and paid for with this hard work, there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t appreciate my privilege. For nearly 18 years I spent the bulk of my life in offices. Some were ramshackle, others sleek. Some were in office parks, others in fancy buildings and grand towers, but the feeling was always the same–I am a prisoner for 8+ hours a day. There go the shackles around my ankles. Let me carry them from conference room to conference room. I forged a working permit at 13 so I could work. I spent the bulk of my college years interning in investment banks. And I went from someone who filed folders (yes, paper) to building multi-million dollar companies and leading teams. I’ve been working in offices for 18 years and it’s only in the past two that I’ve grown beyond measure.
Because I haven’t been chained to a desk and computer for five days, 80 hours a week.
I take on projects that don’t require me to be in an office for an extended period of time (I’ve written in contracts that my days on-site won’t exceed X and my hours won’t exceed Y) and the deliverable remains the same. I prioritize my weeks where I do a lot of the execution, interviews and face time in an office and I do the “thinking” and creative work at home. And not only have my skills in brand marketing increased exponentially, I’ve managed to conceive of creative solutions for basic problems. I see the world differently. I come back from traveling and the work I do is imbued with a global perspective. I work from home and I do my best thinking when I’m baking or walking around the park. I break complex problems down to its simplest parts and then tackle those parts. I’m Socratic in the way I think and I’m constantly asking questions and tearing down walls when I hear, this is how it’s always been done. People who meet me now tell me how I’m cool and collected–calm and measured through crisis. Ask people who worked for me two years ago and I guarantee they’ll tell you a different story.
I’ve been a successful consultant for almost two years and it’s because of an imposed flexibility.
The response? Can you come join this company to do the thing that you’ve been doing without doing the thing you’ve been doing? Can you be creative and innovative without all that fluffy flexibility? Can you create something new using these tired old modes of living, of thinking? Can you work five days a week, take only four weeks vacation, and be accessible via every electronic device? Can you brainstorm in conference rooms named after pop stars (because we’re clever like that!)? Can you think outside of a box even though we’re trapping you in it? Because come on, everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be CMO. Everyone wants to lead global teams at a billion-dollar company. Because, Felicia, you have to settle down sometime.
To which I respond: are you fucking kidding me with this? Rewind the tape and play this shit back to yourself and you tell me if it’s not the very definition of insanity.
I made over $200,000 a year. I had a fancy title and nice handbags and the means to stay in fancy pants hotels. You know where that got me? Stressed out, exhausted, depleted, burned out, angry, bitter, and spending six months of a year chained to a doctor and nutritionist. I had big. I was bombastic. And I wasn’t the better for it.
I read articles where people can’t be bothered to care for the most primal of needs, but they’ll track their follower counts like a shuttle launch and want the fame without actually doing the work. I read about kids making $15K a month for posting photos of themselves on Instagram and their greed and vanity are what they wake to. And I read idyllic pieces about co-working spaces in exotic locales for that jetsetting freelancer.
I read a lot of articles about work, and I’m exhausted.
I keep coming back to this simple question: Who are you? Tell me about your character. Tell me what wakes you up in the morning and makes your race to sleep eager to wake the next day? Tell me what you live to do and how you live. Tell me how you’re building and destroying. Tell me how you’re sharing your face, all of it. Tell me about you love and how that imbues what you do and vice versa.
Because both of these examples: the preening blogger and the executive hungry for the shiny object create nothing of value to me. They recycle, regurgitate big words to make them feel safe; they throw glitter on shit and talk about its earthy beauty.
I want neither. Rather, I want to dive, head-first, into the betweens. I want to create for myself (privately) and for others (publicly). I want to read, live, laugh and love vicariously. I want to walk into an office when it’s necessary and leave when it’s not. I want to work from the inside of a shitbag motel or from a deserted island. I want to write and revise. I want to get better, always.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Vibrant Food, with slight modifications
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup gluten-free flour
1 cup lightly packed coconut cane sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup vanilla soy yoghurt
1/4 cup applesauce
2 small red apples, cored and diced
1/3 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 tbsp gluten-free flour
1/4 cup lightly packed coconut palm sugar
2 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted vegan butter (I use Earth Balance), cubed
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the brown rice and gluten-free flours, coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg and whisk with a fork until blended.
In a separate bowl, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, olive oil, yogurt, and applesauce. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. Gently mix in the diced apples. The batter will be quite thick, especially if you are using all-purpose flour.
To prepare the topping, in a bowl, mix together the oats, walnuts, flour, coconut sugar, sage, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Using your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture is well combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the batter.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes before serving.
Posted on January 19, 2015
The innocent mistake that keeps us caught in our own particular style of ignorance, unkindness, and shut-downness is that we are never encouraged to see clearly what is, with gentleness. Instead, there’s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, then we would be happy. –From Pema Chödrön’s The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness
I never understood this inclination or desire to flee from darkness, to live anesthetized through your waking life. I once knew a woman who proudly told me that she never consumes anything that makes her upset or cry. Instead she paints herself a world of pink and tulle, and lives in her kingdom where nobody dies and everyone sings pop songs. This is a world where the whole of one’s life is reconciled in a neat 30-minute television episode. Another woman tells me, in passing, that she can’t bear to know what’s going on in the world. How do you do it, she asks, read those articles every day? The rapes, mutilations, pillaging and murders–all of it is too much for her to manage. So instead she reads enough for casual conversation, enough to appear informed, and I tell her, without hesitation that this is actually worse. Hitchcock once talked about fear being afraid of the jump instead of the actual jump. You walk into a room, slide up against a wall and the moment before the lights flick on is the worst of it. It’s the anticipation of the fright that makes the fear scarier than it actually is. Because the lights go on, it never is as scary as you imagined it would be. So imagine living your whole life right before the jump, skirting the edges of doom instead of breathing through it. The fear of reading past the headline, of seeing that horrific image–this is the constant state of anxiety because you’re not equipped to process and understand darkness. And how, I wonder, can you ever make it out onto the other side? To true and breathtaking light?
If people exist simply to shuttle themselves from one happy moment to another careful television show to another sweet song, what is it that they’re escaping? For me, this seems like a sort of prison, a like life. Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are. Perhaps because I’ve spent most of my life holed up darkness, building a home it, harvesting a garden in it–I don’t fear it as much. You could say I’m comfortable in it–I write mostly from inside of it or from the memory of it. However, I see the danger in this extreme, too. A home you so assiduously built burns to the ground as you flick a lighter (on, off, on, off) and get lost in the flame. Your thumb burns from the friction of hot metal. Limbs buried deep, painful memories locked six floors down, have no other place to sprout and grow but up, up, and around you. Until you’re tangled in it. Until you become smothered by it. Until you think the fall is bottomless, and your breath is what gives it away.
When I was younger I used to write stories where everybody dies because I thought that was the natural order of things. A man kisses her wife goodnight and he dies. A woman drives in the night and dies. A child lays her head down on the earth because she thinks it has a heart that can beat, and when she hears no sound, no thump thump, she becomes absorbed from the place from which she came. I wrote stories about people dying because everyone does, and this was the mark of my own imprisonment. Where my body was a house was an abattoir, and there was no room for life or light. I used to think that a life lived was one where one mastered the art of breathing underwater. Instead, imagine this:
“Then the children went to bed, or at least went upstairs, and the men joined the women for a cigarette on the porch, absently picking ticks engorged like grapes off the sleeping dogs. And when the men kissed the women goodnight, and their weekend whiskers scratched the women’s cheeks, the women did not think shave, they thought stay.” ― Amy Hempel, “Weekend”
Imagine seeing the world, the moment, as it happens. Imagine a life without the need to perfect every waking moment of it, without having to build ourselves into fortresses of our own discontent, denial and ignorance. We are human, infallible and flawed. We will oscillate wildly–from dark to light and back again–and the wisdom comes from balance, from understanding that equilibrium exists in the space between light and dark, that nothing good comes from being tethered to one extreme or another. Joy doesn’t come from something wrapped in a box or a denim size or letters after an altered name–it comes from a scratch on a cheek, it comes from the person, friend, beloved who stays.
That is the moment. Everything else is just background noise.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Hemsley & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well, with modifications.
3 ripe bananas
1/4 cup coconut oil, at room temperature
3-4 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cups (7oz) ground almonds
1/4 cup tigernut flour (If you don’t have this, use another 1/4 cup of almond meal)
1/4 ground flaxseed
1 tbsp whole flax, for sprinkling
Over the years, I’m realizing that I’ve fallen out of love with the saccharine sweet taste of the old banana breads packed with buckets of sugar and butter. But I’m also fleeing the rough brick-like texture of the whole wheat varieties. So here’s my balance. A loaf that’s got some sugar in the form of maple syrup, virtuosity in terms of the flax and nut bread, but flavor and fat because…nuts.
Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a loaf tin measuring about 9in x 5¼ in with enough baking parchment to double as a wrap for storing the banana bread (if it lasts).
Mash the bananas and coconut oil in a mixing bowl to a pulp with a fork. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, eggs, baking soda, and a small pinch of salt. Mix well with a fork.
Add the ground almonds and ground flaxseed and mix well. Or, even speedier, you can throw all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and blitz together.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle with the whole flax and bake for 1–1¼ hours. It’s ready when a skewer inserted at the centre comes out dry. If your bread starts to look quite brown after the first 30 minutes, then cover the top with baking parchment until it has finished baking.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool a little. Serve warm or at room temperature with some lightly salted butter, jam (I absolutely recommend jam for those who have a sweeter tooth as this isn’t the banana bread loaded with sugar and butter of which you’re probably accustomed) and a cup of tea. Store the bread, covered, in the fridge (remember there is no sugar or preservatives) for up to a week or slice and freeze (that way you can enjoy a slice at a time reheated under the grill).
Posted on December 25, 2014
Merry Christmas! This morning I woke with a heart filled with joy, gratitude and love. I’m so humbled by all the wonderful people in my life, the great life I’m privileged to have, and an insouciant cat who believes that 3AM is a proper waking time. I’m spending the day with loved ones, feasting on this delicious loaf cake. Hope you’re spending the day with your beloveds. xoxo
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table Cookbook, with slight modifications.*
2 cups gluten-free flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 cup organic cane sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp (5 tablespoons) coconut oil, softened
1 large egg
1 tbsp grated orange zest
3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (2 large oranges)
*The original recipe called for a streusel topping, however, I think there’s an error in the recipe because the streusel doesn’t include a binding agent (oil/butter), so my streusel melded into the bread (causing it to sink a little at the center) instead of maintaining its integrity. A bit of a bummer, but the loaf was delicious nonetheless. I also dialed down the amount of cranberries from 1 1/2 cups to 1, since it seemed to overwhelm the gluten-free flour.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 8½” x 4½” x 2⅝” standard loaf pan with coconut oil and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Gently stir in the chopped cranberries.
In a standard mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar and coconut oil on high speed for 2-3 minutes. Add in the egg and beat until combined. Add the zest and juice, beating to combine. The mixture will look curdled–don’t freak out. All will be well in the end. You just have to believe, people. Dialing down the speed to low, gradually incorporate the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. I like to do this in 3-4 batches, ensuring that the dry ingredients are fully incorporated before adding in more of the flour mixture.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan with a rubber spatula. Bake on the center rack of the preheated oven for about 45-50 minutes (rotating the pans halfway through) or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes, then remove from the pans and continue cooling directly on the rack for about 30-45 minutes before you slice into the cake.
Posted on November 22, 2014
It’s strange to fall out of love when you least expect it. When the object of your affection has lost its sheen, and you find yourself playing the part of a child again, sorting through your toys and falling madly in love with a shiny new doll to only abandon it when something new comes along. But you remember in those few halcyon moments how that doll consumed you, how you couldn’t imagine loving anything else with such ferocity, and you become surprised by just how quickly that love wanes, becomes dull around the edges, and one day you regard that doll with nostalgia. I once loved you, you might have said, and then you placed the doll on the shelf with the others, not even noticing the way its clothing fades. How the dust settles over its hair and face. Admittedly, you’ve become neglectful, careless, and one day the doll falls (you might have been running around, as you were prone to do) and its face shatters. For a moment your heart swells and breaks, but as quickly as that nostalgia comes it fades and what you remember is the bits of its face in the garbage bin.
Someone asked me about my love of food and how I write about it. I said that I loved how we have a propensity to be our truest selves when we settle down to a meal. I love the intimacy of eating, of sharing a primal need with someone else, and the kinds of stories that get told as a result of that connection. And while I love what the food is, I linger more on what the food can do, if that makes any sense. Food binds, creates, connects, and some of my most beloved memories have occurred while sharing a meal. I remembered sharing an early dinner with my friend Amber while we were in Bangkok. Evening fell, and we sat in the pool in the space between when parents and their children splashed their way around and when women in gossamer dresses and men in their cotton pants would order cocktails, light their smokes. Amber and I had two watermelon drinks and a meal off the pool menu, but I remembered feeling sick because we had laughed so hard. That we told each other private things about ourselves–the kind of stories you share when confined in a space for long periods of time. We left that trip better friends than when we arrived, and I can’t help but think that food was at the center of all that magic. As it continues to be.
So, this shiny doll of which I spoke–what of it? I never imagined that I wouldn’t love baking. That the alchemy of simple ingredients would cease to please me, but over the past few months this is precisely what’s happened. Perhaps it’s because I still haven’t truly accepted baking without gluten and dairy. Because while limitations have liberated me in terms of cooking, I feel shackled when I turn to baking. And while some recipes have surprised me by their taste and flavor profiles, I can’t help but think this:
Gluten- and dairy-free baking simply isn’t as good. I’m sorry, it just isn’t.
I’ve made extraordinary cookies and loaves with coconut oil (an oil I do love and used even before I was diagnosed with my food sensitivities); I’ve performed magic tricks with almond and coconut milk, but still. Not the same. Never the same. So I’ve been baking a little less, as you might have noticed. Cooking has been that new glinting object, and I only hope that when I can eat gluten and dairy again, I can return to the kitchen with a newfound affection, even more so because I’m forced to regulate how much gluten and dairy I eat for the rest of my life. So the pastry I make better be worth it because another one won’t come around for a couple of weeks. No more of the random cookie or the pumpkin loaf on the regular. The stakes are higher now, I suppose.
It’s true what they say that you crave what you consume. If you eat garbage, you crave garbage–it’s as simple as that. With very minor exceptions (read: accidents), my diet has been free of gluten and dairy since July, and I don’t crave pasta, bread, cheese or cookies the way I use to. I may pass a bakery and get a waft of fresh bread that will momentarily put my heart on pause, but as quickly as that need comes it dissipates. So it’s natural that when I broke down this week and savored a piece of crumb cake (the real stuff) the size of my thumb (literally) and dealt with the relentless four-hour itchfest as a result (true life), invariably I craved coffee cake.
So I made it and tried to dress it up in finery, and it was good, yes, but not the same. I felt mechanical in the kitchen, and when it was time to have my small piece of cake I had it and moved on. Perhaps it was because I didn’t savor it in the context of time spent with someone, but baking left me cold. And I’m not sure if this is something temporary or the definition of forever. I just know, right now, if given the choice, I’d rather be cooking.
INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Fork & Beans
For the cake
1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond (or coconut) milk
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 cups gluten-free flour (I recommend Cup4Cup so you don’t have to worry about xanthan gum)
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled
For the crumb topping
3 tbsp + 2 tsp gluten-free flour
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tbsp cane sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp. melted coconut oil
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted coconut flakes
Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the almond (or coconut) milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle. This should take seven minutes.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugars, baking powder and salt. Whisk the oil into the milk and vinegar mixture. Using a fork, add the combined wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing well. Warning: the mixture will be a bit thick and not as fluid as normal batter, it’s okay. Breathe it out. You’re just not in the fanciful world of gluten anywhere where every cake made sense. You’re in the world of vegan, a world of which I’m still trying to navigate.
Pour the mixture into a well-greased 8inch cake pan (I use coconut oil), and, using a spatula (or fork), smooth it out until the batter covers the pan and is even. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the flour, sugars and salt. Add in the melted oil and mix until you form clumps. Add the mixture (you won’t think there’s enough, and it’s okay, really), chocolate chips and toasted coconut flakes to the cake.
Bake 25-30 minutes or until knife is clean when inserted in the middle. Rest on a rack until it is cooled completely, approximately 1 hour. Use a knife around the edges and turn the cake out onto a dish. Serve at room temperature.