chocolate swirl coffee cake (vegan/gluten-free)


It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. —Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark

In March, I wrote about the desire to focus on hope rather than blind positivity. We’re constantly told to swallow our voice. We could practically hear the shouts of Be happy! Be positive! drowning the reality of our waking hours. We’re admonished for feeling blue–sorrow is a demonstrable sign of weakness, of laziness, not to pick ourselves up and shake off our sadness even when it feels as if we’re choking on sunshine. When you’re told to be a binary, it’s not realistic or helpful, rather, it’s a temporary salve that gives others comfort because we live in a culture that is repelled by discomfort. And then you feel even more paralyzed because now you’re not only carrying the burden of your own sorrow, you’re now responsible for what others carry. While everyone scrambles to fulfill a social contract of being fake, no one actually feels better.

We’ll do anything possible not to feel uncomfortable because who wants to sit in sadness when we can snap filtered photos of ourselves living our best lives, right?


Blind optimism and pessimism are binaries that don’t require action, whereas hope gives you the power and possibility to alter an end result. Everything may not be okay, but at least you’re in the proverbial driver’s seat instead of closing your eyes while someone else drives. Hope is realistic. Hope gets you through the day. In March, my psychiatrist asked me how I felt after a month on meds and intensive therapy and I said, hopeful, which is a hell of a lot better than helpless.

In the midst of my depression, I remember someone telling me that I wasn’t being positive enough. Be happy, someone wrote on my Facebook wall, to which I shouted, what the fuck does that even mean? How does “be happy” solve the real problems in my life instead of throwing a convenient blanket over them?

I’m thinking about this today not only because I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s slim, yet extraordinary, book of essays on hope, but I have a lot of uncertain days ahead. I don’t know if I’ll find the right partner, or how my book will be perceived, or how my life in Los Angeles will pan out. But I do have hope and at least that gives me a path to action, possibility.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Maya Sozer’s Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches
For the dry ingredients
2 cups gluten-free flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder

For the wet ingredients
2 bananas, mashed
3/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used coconut nectar)
2 tbsp almond butter (or any nut butter)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 350F. This recipe couldn’t get any simpler. Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl except for the cocoa. Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Pour 2/3 of the batter into a small loaf pan (5×7). Mix the cocoa into the remaining third of the batter and add it to the loaf pan. Using a fork, create a marbling effect by swirling the fork between the two layers. Bake for 45-50 minutes, but start checking after 40 minutes.

Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack. Allow to cool for an hour before diving in. I didn’t obviously, because who can wait an hour?

cake + sweet loaf recipes gluten-free

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

I’m turning 40 this week (Friday, to be specific), and for some reason, it’s all I can think about. I’ve been waxing nostalgic lately–listening to bands I loved in college (Nirvana, Pearl Jam–yes, I was into grunge and wore flannels and Docs) and watching movies from the 90s–a time when everyone considered the internet as this cute little fad that no one took seriously. We had brick phones and we worried that Y2K signified the end of days. We worshiped at the alter of Olestra and fat-free, and we started to realize that it was possible to drink for taste as opposed to pre-gaming to get wasted. [We still got wasted.]

I also think of that time as when I felt possibility. After graduating from college, I was frightened, excited yet filled with wonder. Anything was possible even if we were the generation jutting up against the boomers thinking we were different until we encountered the generation that followed, which proved to be really different (and remarkable). Two decades later I think about that time and how much I’ve learned, accomplished, endured and experienced in between and I feel like multitudes. Already, I feel the weight of my years, and this is a good thing because I’m okay with the fact that I’m no longer young. I come to this age with, what I’m realizing is, a different kind of wonder. Twenty years ago I wanted to be accomplished, achieved. I wanted escalating zeroes at the end of my paycheck; I wanted a title; I wanted degrees and other signifiers of success. Now, I see all of that for what it is–lacking. Accumulating things, ticking off items on a list doesn’t mean that I wake to purpose. An Ivy league education doesn’t necessarily guarantee fulfillment. I did what I thought I needed to do and I wake, quite literally, in the middle of my life and realize that I need something other.

I think about mortality in a way that’s less chilling but achingly real. And I keep returning to Oliver Sack’s essays because he was a man who felt his years. He was a man that lived his life with purpose, a man who went out seeking wonder, even as he lay dying. In “Sabbath”, Sacks wrote:

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself.

In one of my favorite essays, “My Own Life”, he wrote:

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

There exists so much bitterness, complacency, false idolatry, and fear in the world that it can smother you if you allow it. So I’m making a resolve from now until the end to wake every day and consider how I can create something meaningful without the desire for recognition or the remunerative rewards one seeks for what one makes. I plan to explore how I can continually find wonder, be surprised and surprise others, and how I can be as kind to myself and the ones I love as I can be.

For now, I’m making myself a pre-game birthday cake. Though, I forgot the 40 candles. Haha.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications. If you live outside of the U.S., here is a metric version of the original recipe.
for the ganache
2 13.5 oz cans unsweetened full-fat coconut milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
5 tablespoons agar flakes (or 5 teaspoons of gelatin powder, if you’re not vegan or you’re like me, and couldn’t find agar flakes at my supermarket)
pinch sea salt
3 1/2 oz dark chocolate (70% cacao content), broken into pieces
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the cake
2 cups toasted hazelnuts, divided
2 cups whole spelt flour – divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup ground flax seeds (also known as flaxmeal)
1/2 cup melted extra virgin coconut oil, plus more for oiling the pan
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup honey
1 teaspoon unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
4oz chopped semi-sweet chocolate (addition to original recipe)

for the filling (a simplified version of the original recipe)
3/4 cup cherry preserves
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds


to make the ganache
1. Whisk together coconut milk, maple syrup, agar flakes and salt in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, whisk often. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, covered, whisking every 5 minutes.
2. Remove from heat, add chocolate and let it melt for 2 minutes in the covered pot. Whisk until smooth. Pour into a shallow bowl and allow to cool until it stops steaming. Put in the refrigerator for about 2 hours, or until cold and completely hard.
3. Roughly cut ganache into 1-inch pieces and add to a food processor with orange juice and vanilla. Blend until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until cake is ready for frosting.

to make the cake
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Oil two 8-inch cake pans and line bottom of each with a parchment paper. Timing wise, I started the cake as soon as I cooled the ganache. After the cake cools for an hour, the ganache is ready and prime for spreading.
2. Add 2/3 cup of hazelnuts and 1/4 cup of spelt flour into a food processor and grind finely (takes about 30-45 seconds). Transfer into a medium bowl and sift in remaining 1 3/4 cups spelt flour, baking powder and baking soda. Stir to completely combine, set aside.
3. Whisk cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth in a large bowl. Add ground flax seeds, coconut oil, maple syrup, apple vinegar, vanilla and salt, whisk until thoroughly combined.
4. Add flour mixture to liquid ingredients and whisk to make a smooth batter. Fold in chopped chocolate. Divide the batter between prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.


to assemble the cake
1. Spread remaining 1 1/3 cups of toasted hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a rolling pin (or jar) crush with nuts slightly. Set aside.
2. Invert first layer on a cake stand or a plate. Remove parchment paper. Spread 1 cup of the ganache, leaving 1/2 inch untouched at the edges to avoid spillage when you layer the cakes. Add the preserves on top of the ganache and pomegranate kernels.
3. Invert second layer on top, and remove parchment paper. Frost top and sides and press the remaining hazelnuts along the top + sides. Keep in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours. The cake is actually best served the next day to allow for all the flavors to meld and set.

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

cake + sweet loaf recipes

glitzy chocolate pudding (gluten/dairy-free)

At the height of my hoarding, I owned 300 cookbooks. I stacked them wherever there was room, wherever I could find space, until last year when I started letting them go, one by one, and I now I’m down to 50. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to no longer be consumed by the things you own, to not be tethered to clutter. Now when think about acquiring something new, I ask myself: Do I need this? Do I love this? Can I live without this? Would I be willing to pay to move this? Life suddenly holds a considerable amount of clarity and my home a lot more space.

Over the past year, I’ve been cooking from a fixed amount of books because I’ve had to relearn how to eat without gluten or dairy. I couldn’t be tempted by the pages of pasta recipes or dishes smothered in cheese, rather I had to force myself to explore new flavors and foods. As a result, I’ve realized that abundance exists when you live within constraints. I’ve lived seven months without gluten and dairy, and with the exception of an occasional pizza and bread basket craving, I’ve managed to do the unthinkable–live without pasta.

Yet, I miss some of my old mainstays. While going through another book edit, I found myself poring over the tomes I used to cook from and love, and I discovered this incredible chocolate pudding recipe from Nigella Lawson. With a few simple adjustments, I managed to make this work for my diet, and I cannot tell you how much you won’t even miss the butter and white flour. I made this dessert for a dear friend last night and it was a success! She didn’t even notice I used vegan butter!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Nigella Express, modified.
For the pudding:
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
½ cup soft vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup gluten-free flour
¼ tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

For the glaze:
5 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 tbsp vegan butter
2 2.1-oz Butterfinger bars, broken shards (I nixed this)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Break up the chocolate and melt it with the butter in a bowl in the microwave or over a double boiler. Once it’s melted, sit the bowl on a cold surface so that the chocolate cools.

Preferably in a freestanding mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale and moussey, then gently fold in the flour, baking soda, and pinch of salt.

Fold in the slightly cooled chocolate and butter mixture and then divide among 8 ramekins or custard cups. Put in the oven to bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, get on with the glaze by melting the chocolate and butter in a microwave (or double boiler), then whisk to form a smooth glossy mixture and spoon this over the cooked puddings.

Decorate with Butterfinger rubble: you can just put the bars in a freezer bag, set to with a rolling pin, and strew over the top. I nixed this as I don’t eat processed candy bars, but rock it out if this is your bag. However, you can top this with candied ginger or honeycomb–that would be divine juxtaposed with the bitter chocolate.


dairy-free recipes gluten-free pudding recipes

gluten-free chocolate chip cookies


Truth be told, I gave these cookies a bad rap because nothing compares to a cookie made with creamed salty butter and thickened white flour. Try as you might to convince me otherwise, but as someone whose baked for years, I know nothing beats the original. Over the weekend, I adapted a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks and was a tad disappointed with results as soon as the cookies cooled. They resembled changelings, a deformed flattened disk of sugar, and it wasn’t until I waited a few hours did I really appreciate the simplicity of this gluten-and dairy-free chocolate chip cookie. While the original recipe calls for letting these cool in the fridge for at least an hour, I had these cooling for over 4 hours since I didn’t want them to melt completely into the parchment paper.

If anyone has a stand-out gluten and dairy free cookie recipe, give this woman a shout!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table Cookbook, modified. Makes about 3 dozen cookies
1 stick unsalted vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
1 stick salted vegan butter
1 cup coconut palm sugar, packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 16-ounce package dark chocolate chips

Soften the butter in the microwave (or on the stovetop) until nearly melted, about 1 minute. Since I don’t have a microwave, I melted the butters on the stovetop on medium heat. Let cool slightly. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on high, until blended, 2-3 minutes. The mixture will be pale brown and creamy. Add the egg and the yolk, and mix to combine. Add the vanilla and and mix to combine. In a separate small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat on low until no flour streaks remain. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Cover the dough with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Drop tablespoonfuls of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet (about 2 inches apart) and place in the oven. Bake for 11 minutes for soft cookies or 13 for crisp ones. The cookies should be slightly brown and puffy. Let the cookies sit on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes to cool before removing to a cooling rack or a plate.

cookie recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free

chocolate coconut crumb cake (vegan + gluten-free)

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.


cake + sweet loaf recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free sweet recipes

chocolate almond banana acai bowl

Let’s talk about the Avocado Consumption of 2002. 2002 was the year I discovered the avocado, consumed it at every meal (I practically subsisted on guacamole), and ended up developing an allergy to it. If you’ve been a long-time reader of this space, you’ll know that I have an addictive personality. If I love something, I love it HARD until it becomes something that I hate, something that my body is desperate to reject. When I think about it, I’ve always been this way. When I love something so much I have to undress it, dig deep and burrow myself all the way in there. I have to know something until it’s completely familiar, until there’s nothing else to know.

Moderation is a joke, because I tend to skirt the extremes. But I’m trying. Hence, the nutritionist I’m seeing this week. But I digress.

I recently discovered the acai bowl. Believe me when I say that the feeling I had for my first bowl was like church. Light streaming in through the glass, cold pews, crisp paper–all that jazz. In short, I’m returning to the Avocado Consumption era. Luckily, I think I’ve hit a wall after having realized that I can’t LIVE ON ACAI. Naturally, this happened after two days of eating nothing but acai smoothies and bowls. Sound familiar?

Anyway, I love this bowl. Don’t be deceived by the look of this recipe because it’s not saccharine sweet. While the dates and banana lend some tenderness, the cacao is a bit bitter and the acai fruit isn’t your quintessential raspberry, which is to say that this bowl has wonderful balance. Not only is it insanely healthy, but you will be sated for HOURS.

HOURS, PEOPLE. Let that sink in.

Know that I’ve got a few more acai recipes cooking, so this won’t be the last of my beloved bowl.

1 large banana
2 Sambazon‘s Immunity Smoothie Acai packs (New Yorkers, this is on Fresh Direct)
2 tsp coconut oil
1/2 cup rice milk (coconut/almond milk will do just fine here, as well)
1 tbsp cacao
2 dates
1 tbsp almond butter
1 tsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup your favorite granola
1/2 cup fresh blueberries

Blitz all the ingredients (from the banana to almond butter) in a high-powered blender/Vitamix, with the banana being at the bottom as a buffer for your blades, until smooth. Pour into a bowl and add the coconut flakes, granola + blueberries on top. Dive in with a spoon and weep.


pancake + breakfast recipes savory recipes sweet recipes

chocolate banana chia pudding

Welcome to my new breakfast. After months of blitzing up my almond butter cup smoothie to only indulge in a scone once I hit the train station, I’ve finally found a breakfast that keeps me stuffed until lunchtime–no small feat, I assure you. Inspired by TV Dinner’s post + devouring expensive, yet insanely delicious, acai bowls at Tiny Empire, I decided to fix up a chia pudding of my own. Not only does this recipe feel like I’m having dessert for breakfast, but the protein and potassium boost give me enough energy to tackle my day. I’ve had this pudding three days in a room + I’m hooked.

So, friends, my gift to you.

1 cup enriched vanilla rice milk
3 tbsp chia seeds
2 tsp vanilla extract {coconut extract would also be lovely!}
2 tsp cacao powder
1 tsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp Truvia/stevia
1 tsp almond butter
1/2 ripe banana

In a mason jar or a small bowl, mix all the ingredients except for the banana and almond butter. If you’re using a bowl, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and store your pudding in the fridge overnight. In the morning, uncover, mix, and top with almond butter and banana slices.

sweet recipes

the perfect chocolate chip cookie + a novel update


Writing a novel is torture. If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re pathologically insane or basking in the afterglow of having written a novel instead of being in the throes of it. It’s a feeling I imagine women who have children feel–they tend to forget the cruel pain of labor because the result, a small life held in one’s hands, erases everything that came before. You say to yourself, This is worth the stretch. This thing I hold in my hands is all that matters.

Yesterday, an old friend came by and lured me out of sleep with a baguette, cheese and chocolates. I’d just woke from a long nap and I was disoriented, eyes filled with sleep, and he asked me, several times, if I was okay. Give me a moment, I thought, to get accustomed to the light around me. Give me a second to let the world come into focus. We found a bench near my home and sliced cheese with plastic knives, discussing our mutual projects, both four-year-long Odysseys. I told him about a private Facebook group I’d just joined, and how talking to strangers was oddly comforting. A few nights ago I had a terrifying thought. What if this novel isn’t good? What if it’s meaningless, ridiculous, pomp, and overwrought? Have I been entertaining a four-year flight of fancy? You can’t understand the terror I experienced as I regarded my 218 pages with dread. Had my child, along the way, developed some sort of incurable illness, a deformity, that I only just noticed? Had I woke to lift the blanket and discover something gruesome? I posted something along these lines on Facebook and Twitter, and while scores of friends wrote notes and comments–all coming from a place of kindness–they were the exact opposite of what I needed to hear.

I didn’t need validation. I didn’t need to hear the words, you’re such a good writer, because it’s something I already know. Good writers, even great writers, write bad books. What I needed to hear was that my feelings were normal. Doubting one’s work is normal. I love this world and these characters I’ve created, so much so that the risk of my novel being permanently flawed is entirely too difficult to bear. Never in my life have I been committed to a cast of characters for so long, never have I enjoyed a sort of demi-permanent solitude without the ache of wanting to move to something shiny and new–my god, I even grew tired while writing my memoir–and the thought of this book not seeing the light of day was unbearable. I’ve experimented with form; I’ve meditated on mental illness and how we vilify people who do monstrous things; I’ve attempted to write about hurt, in all of its forms, as quietly as I possibly could. But what if it wasn’t good enough? What if I’m failing?

What I needed, I told my friend, was the comfort of strangers. I needed objectivity. I needed validation of the process, and this anonymous group gave it to me.

My friend talked to me about his project, and I admired him for his ability to be so wholly present in the process. Regardless of what happens to his book, setting aside the circus that is the business of publishing, he’s celebrating the fact that he spent years writing and editing what is now this great work. I watched pride wash across his face, and I realized I needed to swallow some of the sermon I’d be preaching. What I’m enduring is the fall to the ground and the taste of my own blood, and what I’m feeling is the space between the pain of my fall and the rise to my feet. I’ve got to feel this, every moment of it, in order to get up and keep going.

Last night I stayed up late, a rare thing for me to do, and baked these cookies and read through my manuscript as calmly as I could. I read it without pen in hand, poised to edit. I read it without judgment. I read it without comparing myself to what other great writers are doing. I read it for me and I ended up loving it more. So I tell myself that regardless of what happens to this book, at least I wrote it for me. At least I created these people for the express purpose of formalizing so much of what I want to say but can’t articulate without prose.

So here’s me, being present, moving toward the final chapters of the novel. Breathing it out.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Cooks Illustrated
1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8¾ ounces)
½ teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter, divided
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) dark brown sugar
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes before rolling into balls.

Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use a #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.

Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.


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chocolate swirl coffee cake


There’s always a moment when I start a new project when I think: I can’t do this. I’m crippled with self-doubt and I feel like a fraud waiting to be found out. Even when confronted with the simplest of tasks, I always go through this moment of terror, and then it fades just as quickly as it arrives. Then I say that I can and I do, and the experience always ends up being wonderful. I thought about this yesterday as I met with a new client and was delivered a project which, at first glance, seemed tremendous. A global company, multiple divisions, endless processes + procedures {remember the halcyon days of completing a requisition form for a pen?!}, and a sizable budget. My client reports into the President of North America, who also knows my work, and the visibility is tremendous.

In short, this project is a BFD. It’s exciting in magnitude and scope, and I’m always thrilled to seek out the things that challenge me, or transform how I think in a particular way. But…But…this project is BIG.

So I went through my terror, which was the total sum of fifteen minutes, and then I paused. I broke down the project into manageable parts, and within those parts I dissected further. When you start from the smallest and simplest place, things don’t seem as daunting. Now I have a village of smart parts that cling to the hem of a whole, and the panic receded. OBVIOUSLY I can do this I said to myself on the train ride home. And it occurred to me that this doubt comes from a mixture of seeing the largeness of something {its vague, obtuse and grand nature} coupled with insecurity.

Over the years I’ve compiled a list. This list is for my eyes only, and details all of what I’ve achieved. From practical and measurable successes to the triumphs that are smaller in nature, I’ve written all of it down to remind myself of what I’ve done, and what’s left to do. I return to this list often, and it’s like having a drink with an old friend. Reading my list, and creating little houses of projects within the overall village that is my assignment, transformed something that was once frightening to something that is terribly exciting.

I fist-pumped on the train and rushed home to make this chocolate swirl coffee cake as a celebration.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Godiva, modified slightly
For the streusel + filling
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup pecans
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 bar (1.5 ounces) chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 tbsp unsalted butter

For the cake
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan. Dust pan with flour, tapping out excess.

For the streusel + filling: Place sugar, pecans and cinnamon in food processor. Cover and pulse until nuts are coarsely chopped. Transfer 3/4 cup of mixture to small bowl and stir in chocolate for filling. To remaining mixture in food processor add flour, cocoa powder and butter and pulse until mixture is crumbly for topping. Set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into medium bowl; whisk to combine and set aside.

Beat butter at medium-high speed in mixing bowl for 1 minute or until creamy, using electric mixer at medium-high speed. Gradually add sugar and beat at high speed until well blended and light, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Beat in vanilla extract. Reduce speed to low and alternately add dry ingredients and sour cream, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and mixing just until combined.

Scrape half of batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Sprinkle with filling. Scrape remaining batter over filling and smooth top. Sprinkle with topping. Bake 65 to 75 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean and cake pulls away from edge of pan. Let cake cool in pan set on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool completely.


cake + sweet loaf recipes sweet recipes

chocolate orange buttermilk cake

It occurs to me that I’m going to Dublin in three weeks with my pop. This is a trip I thought we’d never take, a week spent with my father seeing his home through his eyes. Although we’re staying in a hotel and I’ve drawn a list of places where we’ll eat, I know a great deal of our time will be spent walking alongside of him, seeing the shape of his face change as a result of memory. My pop and I are fussy people; we’ll likely winge and argue like we always do, but this is something I look forward to — how we take comfort in resorting to our familiar roles.

For as long as I could remember, I’ve always been partial to sweets. From vanilla bean ice cream to fudgy brownies and warm cookies that broke apart in my hands, I’m drawn to the alchemy of baked goods, and how a few simple ingredients can yield something that elicits a kind of bliss that warms us from the inside out. My pop wasn’t into sweets; he remained indifferent by my Tollhouse cookies and deli-made crumb cakes. However, he bought boxes of biscuits, shortbread cookies filled with jelly, remnants of his childhood. He didn’t know why he loved these cookies, he just did. Growing up in a small home in Dublin with seven brothers, biscuits were a stolen treat. A cookie folded into his hands for a job well done. My pop was the youngest, the most sensitive; he’d cleave to the fabric of his mother’s dresses. Even as an adult he exercises a sort of kindness that I sometimes wish would come naturally to me. He was raised with love while I grew up suspicious with one foot off the bed, ready to run. My dad had biscuits and I had chocolate.

Miniature cakes sealed in plastic and cookies slipped into parchment paper bags, I remember getting frosting on my fingers. I remember chocolate chips melting in my palm. We rebuild and reconstruct from memory, and while my childhood wasn’t the sort I’d want to revisit and my home wasn’t a place you’d want to board a plane to, my affection for sweets is worth preserving. This is the sort of cake I want to make for my pop before we take a trip back to his childhood. This is the torch that illuminated the darkness.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Son is Food, with modifications.
1 1/3 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup cane/raw sugar
2/3 cup good quality baking cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
Zest/juice of one medium orange
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tsp almond extract
3 tbsp safflower or grapeseed oil
3/4 cup hot water
Confectioner’s sugar, for sprinkling
Butter to grease the pan

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and grease a 9×2 inch round cake pan.

In a bowl sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar. Set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs on medium speed. Add the buttermilk, almond extract, oil, orange juice, and zest until combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined. Stream in the hot water and mix until completely combined. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The center will appear a little wobbly — don’t worry. The cake will come together as it cools.

Let cool on a rack for 20-30 minutes and turn out to dish + serve with powdered sugar.


Worth noting: I snapped these photos in the evening, using a Lowel EGO Digital Imaging light, on a solid tip from Pinch of Yum.

cake + sweet loaf recipes sweet recipes