spaghetti squash chicken fritters (paleo/gluten-free)

chicken and spaghetti squash fritters

It’s rare that you’ll find me buying cut flowers. While they’re lovely in all their hue and plumage, I consider it a waste of money to have something in your home that will expire in a week. I’ve a long history of killing plants–I was notoriously responsible for the Cacti Famines of 2004 and 2007, respectively, and while I long to have life in my apartment the only thing I can manage is a cat. Felix is vocal about his wants and he always has something to say. I can’t get the kid to shut it!

So it was odd that after a long walk this afternoon I bought a bushel of lilacs. Lilacs are my favorite flower–I fell in love with them when I was 19 and reading “The Wasteland.” I remember the long walk to my college dorm and how it was eclipsed by a lilac bush; I practically buried my face in it I was consumed by its fragrance. There’s something beautiful about limits, memory, and desire, and when I came home I realized that my time in New York is limited and beautiful, too.

Would you believe I’ve lived here my whole life and there’s so much I haven’t seen, still? I haven’t been to The Four Seasons. I haven’t visited every independent bookstore. There are so many nooks and crannies left to explore, and I remember a reader who commented a few years ago, suggesting that I look at my home with fresh eyes–photograph it like I was a tourist (thanks, Barb!).

Over the next few months I plan to do just that. I’ve pared down my social commitments considerably to only spend time with my beloveds. And on the days reserved for me (my introvert time), I plan on having my last looks. I plan to look and then not look back.

You can’t know how excited I am to be leaving.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen, modified slightly.
1 small spaghetti squash, approximately 2 lbs.
2 cups finely chopped, leftover rotisserie chicken
1 fat shallot, minced
1 cup almond flour
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Pinch of coarse sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
2-3 tbsp coconut oil for frying

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and place it cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until soft to the touch. Remove from the oven and let rest until cool enough to handle, then use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds. Use a fork to remove the spaghetti squash strands. Measure out 2 cups of the strands and place them in a large bowl.

To the squash, add the chicken, shallot, almond flour, eggs, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Mix well and form 8 patties, similar in shape to burger patties.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 2 to 3 patties, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Cook on both sides for a total of 4-5 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the patties, adding more oil to the pan as needed, until all the patties have been cooked.

I’m going to drop some truth right now: THESE ARE THE BEST FRITTERS I’VE EVER MADE. I can’t stop eating these. Like, really. I can’t stop. Promise me you’ll make these and share all the sordid details.

chicken and spaghetti squash fritters

caramelized banana and coconut ice cream

caramelized banana and coconut ice cream

I had such a wonderful weekend! I’ve a dear friend (and client), who launched a successful marketing communications collaborative, and it’s been a joy and privilege to work with her. It’s the kind of work where you don’t mind late-night emails or weekend brainstorm sessions, because the work is interesting and the clients, reasonable. We spent the day talking about a big client idea as well as bigger ideas for her business. After a snuggle session with Felix, she left and I spent the rest of the day blissfully alone.

I can’t tell you how much I need and value solitude. I’m reading Kate Bolick’s Spinster, and I feel her a mix of literary sister and kindred spirit because the idea of marriage gives me vertigo, while the notion of complete and unabashed freedom gives me shelter. Solitude allows me to recharge, to plan, and think, and I often tell people I’m booked for the weekend even though I only have a handful of social or work obligations on the calendar. I explained to my friend that I am booked because my time is spent nourishing me, and what better gift can I give a friend than my undivided attention, most present and refreshed self?

The rest of the weekend I oscillated between reading and watching movies and managing all the details of my upcoming Singapore/Bali holiday. I had a minor heart attack over how much I’m spending on this vacation, but I’m trying to remind myself that this is my one life and I’m spending it seeing as much of the world as I can before my final breath slouches out.

On Sunday, I attempted to take an archery class but was so irked by the energy in the space (spoiled, privileged children and the parents who attended to their every whine and whim) that I left before class started and had lunch at one of my favorite spots and spent the day planning and making this divine ice cream.

Fist pump for the week ahead and fingers crossed in hopes that I score another project to pay for this epic holiday. GULP.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat
3 medium ripe bananas
drizzle of honey
1 15oz can of coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat oven to 350F. Slice the bananas into 1/2inch-3/4inch pieces and toss them with the honey in a baking tray lined with parchment paper. I made this recipe twice and the first time going without parchment made clean-up a NIGHTMARE. Heed my advice and don’t add any unnecessary stress to your life. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring once during baking, until the bananas are browned and cooked through. Scrape the bananas and any syrup into a Vitamix or food processor. Add the coconut milk (contents of the entire can), vanilla, lemon juice and salt, and puree until smooth.

Chill the mixture in the fridge until cold (about an hour). The original recipe notes that you can freeze this in the freezer sans ice-cream maker, but the texture was off and a bit too icy for my taste (and yes, I stirred this consistently). I’d recommend placing the mixture in an ice-cream maker and follow your maker’s directions. I did this on the second go-around and the ice cream came out like a dream, velvety, sweet and a little salty.

caramelized banana and coconut ice cream

zucchini, spinach + goat cheese fritters

vegetable fritters

I’ve never been good at keeping things under wraps–my excitement always gets the better of me. And I haven’t been this excited in quite some time. This feeling of eyes widen open, of awe, has happened in only a few key moments of my life: writing my new book, publishing my old one, leaving my job and finding a new one, launching a literary magazine that would go on to feature talented, burgeoning writers and great minds, and that one day, in 1999, when I decided to shift from an ebay powerseller in favor of launching a website (so new at the time!) where I sold designer clothing and accessories at a discount.

These moments are rare and as I grow older I realize the importance of holding on to them.

A few days ago I hinted at a new direction, and so many thoughts and ideas have consumed me since. It’s become such that I’ve become distracted because all I can do think about is the thing I can’t yet tell you about.

But it’s happening.

In the interim, I’m seeing friends who always have a way of inspiring me. And I’m cooking and baking up a storm. Here’s to hatching great plans. Here’s to living the questions and following a life of musts.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Anna Jones’s A Modern Way to Eat
9 ounces grated zucchini
2 handfuls (about 3 ounces) spinach or collard greens, finely chopped
4 tbsp soft crumbly cheese, such as feta or goat cheese (I used goat cheese)
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (I nixed this)
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A few sprigs dill or basil, finely chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
5 eggs (the original recipe calls for 5, but I would use 4 for a crisper fritter)
Olive oil for cooking

DIRECTIONS
Toss all the greens into a bowl. Crumble in the cheeses, garlic and zest with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Toss to mix. Crack in the eggs and mix well.

Place a large frying pan over medium heat and add a good glug of olive oil – you want to be generous with the oil here. Once the oil is hot, carefully lower generous tablespoons of the mixture and flatten to form little patties. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, then carefully flip and fry on the other side for a final 2 minutes, until the egg is completely cooked.

Place on a plate in a low oven to keep warm until you are ready to eat.

zucchini and spinach fritters

fig + millet muffins (protein-packed + gluten-free)

fig and millet muffins (gluten-free)

Last night I watched a woman pick up a shovel and hurl it at her door. On the other side of the door her husband stood mute. The woman’s voice was the loudest sound, and in the corner I could hear her small dog whimpering. My friend Alex urged me to call 911, call the fucking police and there was a moment between hearing my friend’s voice and me looking down at my phone and dialing three numbers. I can’t explain the moment other to say that it was a quiet ache, something old ghosted, lingered, and the whole of my building smelled feral, old. Something I desperately needed to leave behind.

Let me back up a few paces.

my sweet friend and my special guy.

my sweet friend and my special guy.

Let me tell you about my friend Alex. I was a partner in an agency and she was lead on a few key accounts. And while we always sat a few feet away from one another, our interactions were minimal, at best, and part of me is glad she never reported to me. We never had to endure the awkwardness that occurs when you leave a company and then start defining and re-defining your relationships. You look at people who inhabited your life for so long and wonder where they fit. Do they fit? Is there a place in your life for a person who used to go in on your Seamless orders (who’s getting Thai from that place with the good spring rolls?), a person who occupied the same space at the holiday parties you had to mime your way through to endure (you’d exchanged perfunctory pleasantries in passing and made your way to opposite sides of the room to be with your respective tribes), a person who would wait patiently for the conference room you occupied (we have this room. how long are you going to be?), and you’d deliver a look that was meant to convey apologies for a call that had gone over. Because you had become a person who would always be late. You were forever occupying rooms. You were wreckage, spillage.

Fast forward to a summer where Alex and I met for pancakes and coffee while everyone crammed themselves into subway cars. We didn’t know many freelancers so we cleaved to one another, scared, exhilarated. We were excited for what lie ahead even if we didn’t know what it was. I was no longer a partner, she no longer a lead on accounts–we were just two women eating pancakes. One morning I remember telling her that something was wrong with my cat. I’d been up all night with my Sophie, who wretched like I’d never seen. I remember telling Alex that something didn’t feel right. I think she’s really sick, I said in a voice that barely registered above a whisper.

Over the course of that summer my Sophie became sick, really sick, and Alex was no longer the woman who was the lead on accounts, she became my friend who asked the tough questions when I cried into Sophie’s whittled frame. Alex was the one who followed me home and showed me how to give Sophie her meds. Alex was the one who never judged when I relapsed and got drunk, really drunk, all the time. After Sophie died, after my puffer felt small and airless in my hands, after she was wrapped in a blanket and carted out of my home and down three flights of stairs, I text’d Alex. Words were impossible to harness and I think Alex respected that–how I couldn’t possibly talk. How the idea of a new sound that would eclipse Sophie’s final breath was unfathomable.

Alex became the friend with whom I could feel vulnerable, unafraid. I could be my most unmasked self.

Fast forward to last night. We sat on my floor, eating chips and guacamole, feasting on kale salad with pomegranates, and thick, creamy soup. We spoke of the cruel winter and I shared that these past few months have almost been more than I could bear. I wonder aloud about moving to Santa Monica instead of Santa Cruz because the former is a city I know well, could navigate, could be the bridge between the familiar and the foreign, and I was so relieved that she didn’t interrupt with what she thought I should do–like everyone who hears about my move is prone to do–and instead asked me what I wanted. While so many want to solve, make broken whole, Alex is content to breathe amongst the pieces. I don’t have to have everything figured out; I just had to be thinking, feeling.

And then I make an off-handed comment about how it’s never loud in my building. I’m responded to a thumping, a murmur of voices that ascends to a shout. Alex suggests that it’s probably the kids in my building, and then we pause because what we hear are not the voices or words of children. All we know is that my downstairs neighbor is screaming and trying to break down her door. We rush downstairs and we exchange a few words with my other neighbor who I’m sure had to tell her children to stay inside, don’t open the door, everything’s okay.

It occurs to me now that amidst the violence and the screaming, the three of us–Alex, myself and the other neighbor–are extremely calm. Alex manages the woman’s dog, who’s terrified and bounds up the stairs and flees into my apartment frightening Felix. I manage the woman who sits on my floor, obsessively apologizing (you don’t have to apologize). I tell her to breathe. I tell her I’ve called the police (this does not please her) because I don’t know what’s going on but couples don’t fight like that. She tells me, I’ll manage it, and takes her dog and leaves. She tells me I have a nice apartment, that it’s larger than hers. Beautiful, she says. And this unnerves me. Out of everything that’s transpired over the course of an hour, her comparing my apartment to hers feels…unsettling. I don’t know what to say other than to say thank you. Although now, thinking about it, those words feel misplaced too.

I think about all of this. I think about the woman and wonder if looking in on her would be a disruption. I know her mother came by. At one point the police and ambulance came and went. I know all of this information but wonder if I should do anything with it. And then I realize I’m a stranger. I also realize this: I, once the calmest of children amidst violence in Brooklyn, grew up to become a woman who calmly manages a domestic disturbance in Brooklyn, and I’m tired. I’m tired of familiar.

Bring me the foreign. All of it. I tell Alex that I’m moving to Santa Cruz because it’s time.

It’s time to wake up to my life. It’s time I let Brooklyn go.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good
2 cups gluten-free flour (I used Cup4Cup so I don’t have to deal with xanthan gum)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your flour already includes it)
1/2 cup raw millet
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
Big pinch fine sea salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/3 cup ground flaxseed
2/3 cup maple syrup (I used Grade B)
2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped dried figs (I used dried calimyrna figs)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, millet, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, and ground flaxseed. In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, almond milk, and olive oil. In a small bowl, toss the chopped dried figs with a spoonful of the dry ingredients (this keep the figs from sinking down to the bottom of the muffins, and keeps the figs from sticking together). Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, then fold in the figs.

Divide the batter into the muffin cups and bake until browned and a toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Mine got this brown at 22 minutes, so I’d suggest you start checking at 18 minutes.

fig and millet muffins
fig and millet muffins

tomato chickpea curry with rice

tomato curry chickpea and rice

You guys know that I’ll find any excuse to make the CHICKPEA. Note that at one point this year I had to issue a temporary fatwa on the beloved legume because every time I fall in love with something I tend to become addicted to it, so I had to lay off chickpeas for a while to get my life back on track. Because in no way, shape or form was I going to return to the avocado sensitivity I had for over 10 years–simply because I believed in eating avocado 14 times a day.

Now I enjoy a casual relationship with the avocado, hoovering only one every week.

For those of you who are wondering, I’m still off gluten. It’s been nine months and while I’m technically able to return to the land of bread, for some reason I’m hesitant. Maybe because I have flashbacks of a limited diet that once was, a body that was sluggish, run down, depleted. Maybe I’m still scarred by the literal plague of hives that covered my body this past summer. Or perhaps I’ve discovered new tastes, flavors and textures, that gluten has lost its sheen. I still can’t believe I no longer crave pasta. Sometimes I need to sit in a dark room, alone with this fact.

Over the past few months I took on a fun project, however, the stress from the commute and the long hours in an office had me returning to some bad habits. I was forever snacking on gluten-free garbage. I slathered almond butter on KIND bars (even though I knew KIND bars are the spawn of Satan) and I started to notice vegetables inching out of my diet.

So I made some changes.

Starting next week I’m giving myself a reboot by going on a week’s worth of meals from Sakara Life (yes, the million dollar meal delivery program), but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. (FYI: If you’re keen on ordering from Sakara, click here to get $50 off–and no, I don’t make any money from this–their referral program will basically pay the shipping for my million-dollar meals of which my friends are telling me I’ve no place ordering since I don’t lead a million-dollar lifestyle, so there’s that). I’m also returning to a more consistent workout schedule now that I have a project based in the city, and I’m slowly stepping away from all the baked goods I’ve been making as of late.

After scrolling through some recent posts I thought: WOW, FELICIA. YOU’RE BAKING A LOT. Tough times call for the third person.

That’s the thing about being healthy–it requires vigilance, constant care. I can’t be complacent in thinking that my healthy habits will survive the challenges that come my way, rather I need to be aggressive in course-correcting detours off the road. (Lots of driving metaphors lately…hmm….) When I see the sweet things subsume the savory I have to reign it in a little bit–not all the way, mind you, because one needs balance–and come back to eating the rainbow.

So this is me, sitting on my floor, surrounded by cookbooks and magazines, trying to find delicious meals that go the distance (I tend to have a cook once, eat twice mentality in an effort to save $ and time), and I couldn’t be more pleased to find this insanely tasty (and filling) chickpea curry recipe. The original recipe calls for including steamed kale, however, I had a smaller portion of this coupled with a large spinach and pomegranate salad. Balance.

All about balance. And awareness.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table, modified slightly
2 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 14.5oz can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 tsp honey
3 tbsp chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup basmati rice
1 cup vegetable stock

DIRECTIONS
In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Dust with a little salt so the onions sweat instead of burn. Saute until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for another minute. Add all of the spices, stirring constantly for another 1-2 minutes. Add the drained chickpeas and stir until the spice mixture completely coats the beans. And yes, there’s a lot of stirring involved in this recipe. At least you’re not chopping.

Add the tomatoes to the pan, along with the honey, and let the mixture come to a quick boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. While the curry is cooking, make the rice. Bring the rice and stock to a boil and simmer on low, covered, for 10-15 minutes.

After 10 minutes, add the cilantro to the curry. When the rice is cooked, add spoonfuls as a base in a small bowl. Cover completely with the delicious curry and you have permission to commence with the weeping. BECAUSE THIS IS SO GOOD. Bless Anna Watson Carl, creator of said recipe.

tomato curry chickpea and rice

Lunch

kale, chickpea, cherry + wild rice salad with spicy yoghurt dressing

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Maybe it’s the weather or possibly I’m bananas, but I bolted out of bed this morning with the feeling of so much possibility. Over the weekend I sent out notes to contacts in my network, alerting them about my pending move out west and I was so thrilled that so many folks responded with well wishes and offers to help once I get settled in. I also mailed out little gifts to my closest friends, people who continue to be home to me–friends who shouldered some of my difficult moments this year. And finally, I mailed out my tax payment checks, relieved that I don’t have to deal with the IRS until next year.

Lots of mailing!

And so much goodness happened over the weekend! I finally secured a project that will allow me to work closer to home so I can resume a normal feeding schedule and not be bound to a daily four-hour commute. Also, I caught up with some close friends and brainstormed new side hustles, and I made so much good food.

I know I sound a bit scattered and far from poetic, but I guess sometimes you have to express your joy plainly. Sometimes you have to post a delicious kale salad and be happy that you’re starting off the week, exhilarated!

INGREDIENTS
For the salad
1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed from the can*
¾ cup wild rice
2 cups baby kale leaves, de-veined, coarsely chopped (you could also use spinach for this)
¾ cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
½ cup pomegranate seeds

For the yoghurt dressing
⅓ cup coconut yoghurt (I used a dairy-free version, but I quite like Sigis’ line of yoghurts)
2 tbsp macadamia oil
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Sea salt, to taste

*If you’re using dried beans, soak 1/2 cup dried chickpeas overnight, rinse, drain and cook for 1/2-1 hour until tender. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

DIRECTIONS
Soak the rice in a medium bowl filled with cold water for 30 minutes. Drain, rinse and add 2 1/4 cups of water to a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes until the rice is tender. Drain and set aside to cool slightly. Now you’ve got a bowl of your chickpeas, chilling, and rice, resting.

Now on to the dressing! Whisk all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Season with salt and set aside.

Combine the rice, chickpeas, kale and cherries in a large bowl. Coat the salad with the dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and then add the pomegranate seeds.

Serve at room temperature or cold. This will keep in a airtight container for 3 days.

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almond cake with coconut cream and fresh berries

almond cake with coconut cream and fresh berries
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

DIRECTIONS
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.

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banana coconut cookies + some thoughts on food and friendship

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I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention. Experience in itself was never enough. The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it. –From Sarah Manguso‘s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

Remember when we got together in 2005 and you made that baked brie and the beef with the arugula salad? I tell my friend of twenty years that I remember every meal she’s ever made me; I’ve saved her mother’s recipes for fettuccine alfredo and Thanksgiving stuffing–recipes my friend wrote on index cards when we were in college–even though I haven’t made either meal in years. But I like to think that I could if I wanted to because I have the cards. And even though the years spanning from college through my late 20s are sometimes opaque from all the drink, even though my friend, one day over casual conversation, reminds me of the time I couldn’t attend a Pearl Jam concert in college because I’d a finance exam to study for–this is one of many memories with which I struggle to fit in the frame–I’ve always been able to recall, in detail, the food.

Food has the propensity to connect people in a way that’s visceral because we’re sharing our most primal desire with someone else. We’re our most awkward, unkempt selves when we steady a spoonful of liquid or twirl slippery noodles around a fork. As women, we are at our most vulnerable when we eat because we shoulder the weight of propagating bloodlines; we bear the burden of a society that dictates what we can and cannot eat. We live in a world where the amount of food we consume and the measure of our self worth are inexplicably, tragically, bound to one another. Food is the soft, nubby blanket in which we swathe ourselves. We hatch plans, weep, rage, talk our way through our darkness over a plate of hot pasta or a bowl of comforting soup. Food has an arcane ability to transform, bind, heal.

Liz and I, circa 1994. Mid-day drinking at its finest.

Liz and I, circa 1994. Mid-day drinking in college at its finest.

Liz and I, circa 2010. I still find it odd that I'm an adult.

Liz and I, circa 2010. I still find it odd that I’m an adult.

It’s hard to explain all of this to Liz–that I remember all of the moments that are visceral, intimate. That first meal we took in a diner in Easton after four years of silent estrangement, how she tactfully inquired if I was done with blow, if I was no longer the ticking that was the bomb. Across from me, I noticed how she examined me with her eyes. Was I really clean or white-knuckling it? Would I retreat back to the woman in 2001 who frightened her? While we waited for our food to arrive, until we had a means with which to busy our hands, we shifted uncomfortably in our seats. We spoke of our children–her son and my book–and also of memories and friends past. After the lunch, Liz invited me to her home because I suspected she knew how hard I was trying to regain her trust, everyone’s trust. So how could I explain two days ago that I remember that midpoint in our friendship–the shift from college roommates who were midnight marauders to adult women with children and burgeoning careers–through the brie?

This weekend, I spend time with my best friend’s husband, a man whom I’ve come to love in a way that you would love a brother, and he talks about the hot sauce recipe that took him fifteen years to get right. We dissect the word balance, and rhapsodize over his sauce as if it were a symphony–one false note, one errant cymbal crash, and the whole lot of it would fall asunder. The greatest gift you can give someone is compliment the food they’ve prepared for you. My only regret, I confide to Tim, apart from starting a game of Scrabble with the word “foe,” is the fact that I didn’t slather your sauce all over my chicken. I acknowledge the willful abandoning of the sauce as a rookie move, and I’ve since doused half the bottle on my roasted vegetables and on my eggs the following morning. He laughs and proceeds to give me a jar of his sauce to take home, and how could I explain that this is the second greatest gift one could give?

Would they think me foolish? Sentimental? Getting all weepy over a jar of sauce, a strip of uncured bacon, a plate of herbed roasted vegetables?

Cause next thing you know Miss Anna May Wong got this sweet record on the Victrola and wearing this long shiny white gown and she hands you a champagne glass, and, honey, it’s all over. Not that she’d poison you. Worse. She gonna speak on your life and drop the truth in your lap. So real quiet and super-patient, the record playin out and the camera crowdin in on her face, she reveals how disappointed she is with you and your dumb self. And you realize you blew, but too late. Lloyd Nolan kickin in the door. But there she is, gorgeous for the occasion, so your life at its end will have good taste, though it has for a long time lacked good sense. —From Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love

But the real reason why I’m here, in Connecticut, is Liz. I’m here because of time. I’m here because I’m moving and it hurts and I’ll miss that while I don’t see my best friend as often as I’d like, I know that she’s only a train ride away. I’m here because I’ve built a fortress around my heart because I’ve so much to protect but here’s a key, one of a few, because I want you to come in, all the way. I’m moving but will I still have you? Can you believe I’m moving? New York’s the only home I’ve ever known. I’m here because I’m frightened of leaving but I know being here is an exercise in maths, that you’ll somehow make all the numbers foot. I’m here because, my god, your children have gotten so big. Remember that night with the brie and the wine (a time when I still drank) and we spent the night laughing because we had time, because your son had only just been born, and we had the hours? I’m here because now there are fewer hours. I’m here because remember that homemade ice cream and the pie you baked? I’m here because I want to commit to memory the chicken with the rub and the hot sauce and the peanut butter cookie in a cafe in Avon, and all the minor meals and bites we’ll share because there will come a time when we will share fewer of these moments.

I’m here because I’ve finally made a decision that is based on wanting to live a good life, needing to have good sense in which to live it, and I want to share all of this with you, my dear friend. I want to hold the hours close. I want to log the meals. I want this time with you before it’s squandered, before it’s too late.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts
3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup almond flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (I used almonds)
2/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the bananas and coconut oil. In another bowl, whisk together the oats, ground almonds, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix to combine. Mix in the walnuts and coconut.

Using a teaspoon measure, add the cookies to the baking sheets. You don’t need to worry about spacing them close apart since the cookies won’t spread all that much. Bake the cookies until they’re lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool n a wrack.

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on feedback: there’s a difference between constructive feedback + vitriol

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Believe me when I say that I had a plan for today. After having finished Toni Cade Bambara’s astonishing story collection, Gorilla, My Love, I’d plan to share parts of it here, weaving her words throughout the post and allowing them to settle. I’m privileged to be able to be home on Thursdays, so I typically spend the day decompressing from the office, doing all of the errands that were once relegated to the weekend, and working on a freelance project for a financial giant located in the Midwest. Thursdays are my quiet time. I cook and photograph food to share on this space; I watch old films, read books, magazines and blogs.

And all was well with the world until a few clicks landed me on a fashion/lifestyle blog, and then the rage blackout ensued.

I hadn’t intended on reading the comments of this particular post–one that featured a series of pretty dresses from an affordable clothing brand–however, I found myself scrolling through notes left by many disappointed readers. While I read scores of blogs and know that sometimes what one writes won’t always appeal to the common denominator, I was startled to see just how many people were heartbroken over how the author, who was once effusive, creative and relatable, had quickly devolved into someone who peddled sponsored posts like cheap trinkets. Long-time readers of this particular blog expressed frustration over the forced shill after shill (after reading through some of the most recent posts I’m inclined to agree), and instead of accepting this constructive feedback with grace, the blogger TORE INTO her readers in the comments section.

Awkward.

Lately, I’ve been reading posts that espouse the notion of playing nice; bloggers parade out the old adage if you can’t see something nice, don’t say anything at all, and talk about uniting to create a kinder, gentler community. I’ve seen comment wars where people who leave heartfelt constructive comments are immediately devoured, called bullies and haters. Many toss around the term, mean girls, without realizing the weight of the words they’re using.

Let me make something crystal clear. There’s a difference between someone who routinely stalks another person’s site and social channels in an effort to terrorize them versus someone who leaves a snarky comment. There’s a difference between someone who ridicules someone else’s appearance, gender, age, or sexual orientation versus someone who expresses despair over the fact that the business of blogging has changed the blog they used to love. There’s a difference between being cruel and constructive. There’s a difference between vitriol and the tough words you may not want to hear.

Over the course of my nearly twenty-year career, I’ve had to shoulder some tough conversations about my attitude (I had a problem with authority early on in my career, among other things). I had to sit through annual performance reviews where my weak points were spelled out in excruciating detail. I’ve had direct reports who’ve told me that how I managed a situation was not okay. For four years my mentor (now, dear friend) routinely called me into his office to give me feedback on how I could have managed a meeting, call, staff member, or crisis, better. A friend once told me I was impenetrable. A great love told me, point blank, that I was a nasty drunk. My yoga teacher once told me that my ego was getting in the way of progress in my practice. Must you hold on to your anger so hard, my dad once said. Another time, he shook his head and regarded me with sorrow. Always with the hangovers, the damn wine lips.

Over the years I’d cry in bathrooms or sit in front of the television, catatonic, clutching a box of pizza. Words are like barnacles–they have the propensity to bind and sting. More than once I’d complained to my friends. Fuck them. They don’t know the whole of me. Not really.

Actually, they did.

If I’d only perceived feedback coming from a place of hate versus help, how would I have been able to grow personally and professionally? If I’d ignored the advice from people who wanted my success, yet felt it important to show me that sometimes I put myself in my own way, how would I be where I am now? People who care take the time to deliver constructive criticism because they want you to be the very best you. You will never move forward if you’re constantly tending to your ego. You will never progress if shut your eyes to words you don’t want to read simply because you find it hard to read them. Criticism isn’t meant to be painless–it’s a bandaid you need to keep ripping instead of inching it off ever so slowly. The sting eventually goes away. Once it does, be honest with yourself, really honest. Why is it that you felt the need to respond so defensively instead of with calm, compassion and presence? Is it because there there’s a kernel of truth to what people are saying, and you don’t want to admit it because admitting to it will require a shift or change for which you’re not quite ready? Or maybe you don’t know how?

I remember snapping at my mentor once to which he responded, laughing, I don’t have to invest in you. I can use my time on someone who’s willing to work on becoming a better manager, an effective leader. His words remained with me and I’m grateful for his feedback because it is an investment. In me. Another time, I received anonymous feedback from my team that my early morning emails made them anxious. They felt compelled to respond to my 7AM requests lest they be penalized. I was shocked, actually, because I simply sent emails in the morning because that’s when I do my best thinking. I never considered the effect of my actions, and instead of snapping at my staff I thanked them. I told them while I won’t be able to change overnight, I am listening and I will make changes.

If your blog is your business, you have to treat it like one. You have to be prepared to accept feedback in order to be successful. Not every comment is going to be filled with glitter and orange kittens. This is the real world and in the real world people will criticize your work. If it’s constructive, comes from a good place, and is meant so that you can get better at what you do, take it seriously. Suck it up. Have humility. Set your ego aside. After the dust clears and the emotions pass, allow yourself to digest what is useful and make small, measured changes in response.

Don’t be defensive. Don’t act like a petulant jackass in the comments section.

In other news, while I was chatting about this post to a host of friends this morning, I managed to make some incredible almond flour-crusted chicken cutlets and this extraordinary saffron herbed rice.

INGREDIENTS: Saffron rice with barberries, pistachio + mixed herbs from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter (I used Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
2 cups white basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained well
2 1/3 cups boiling water
1 tsp saffron threads, soaked in 3 tablespoons boiling water for 30 minutes
1/4 cup dried barberries, soaked for a few minutes in boiling water with a pinch of sugar (I used currants)
1 ounce dill, coarsely chopped
2/3 ounce chervil, coarsely chopped
1/3 ounce tarragon, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup slivered or crushed pistachios, lightly toasted
salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice, making sure the grains are well coated in butter. Add the boiling water, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Mix well, cover with a tightly fitting lid, and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to uncover the pan, the rice needs to steam properly.

Remove the rice pan from the heat. All the water will have even absorbed by the rice. Pour saffron water over one side of the rice, covering about one-quarter of the surface and leaving the majority of it white. Cover the pan immediately with a tea towel and reseal tightly with the lid. Set aside for 5 – 10 minutes.

Use a large spoon to remove the white part of the rice into a large mixing bowl and fluff it up with a fork. Drain the barberries and stir them in, followed by the herbs and most of the pistachios, leaving a few to garnish. Mix well. Fluff the saffron rice with a fork and gently fold it into the white rice. Don’t over mix, you don’t want the white grains to be stained by the yellow. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer the rice to a shallow serving bowl and scatter the remaining pistachios on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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kale fried rice + “being an adult”

kale fried rice

How old are you? My accountant for nearly a decade rises from his chair and asks what he already knows. He moves into another room where I can’t see him. I buy time, ask what he’s making. Pasta fagioli, he says. The way he speaks reminds me of Italian matrons holding court in Bensonhurst, severing vowels at the end of sentences. Fagiol. I stand outside of his kitchen, but never dare enter it, because it would be rude to trespass this space. I think about a profile I recently read on Italo Calvino, penned by his English translator for The Paris Review. For nearly twenty years the two were colleagues, Calvino trusted Weaver with his work, yet the two spoke to one another using the formal address, lei. Even though I make the annual trip to my accountant’s home, even if I sit on his couch and use his pens to make notes along margins, stepping into his kitchen feels like an intrusion, a shift from the formal to the intimate and informal.

I don’t tell Paul my age but I lay down a few cards (not the whole hand, mind you), and reveal what I’m close to, what’s nearby: 40. To which he responds, You make this money but where does it go? Because you don’t strike me as the spendthrift type. He pauses, tries a joke on for size: Are you like the kids? What is it, weed? Alcohol? I laugh and consider the woman of ten, fifteen years past. A woman who loved her red wine and her coke cut into fine lines. She would be unrecognizable to both of us, but perhaps she lingers just beyond my reach. Perhaps she’s someone, if you look close enough, you can still see.

Or perhaps I strike him as the kind who would be anaesthetized with things that are ephemeral rather than the things that collect dust and fade over time. But this isn’t about blow or booze, not really, this is about being an adult. About having your house in order. About making a healthy six figures and still find yourself choking on an even healthier five-figure tax bill. This is about not having a house yet. Not being married yet. Not having kids yet. This is about a woman who spent years in banking but who can barely balance a checkbook.

I tell Paul that I’m still paying the debt from a previous life. I’m paying for the life I thought I needed, a life I felt I deserved. And that life was rife with finery, pretty things that stockpiled in tiny closets. I bought a life that was about to burst and here I am, years later, still paying the debt for all the things I have given away. Because by the time I realized what sort of life I really deserved, it was already too late.

I’m happy, truly happy, but I sometimes find myself bound to the traditional notions of what it means to be a grown-up. I am mature, I’ve the weight of years, knowledge and experience, but I don’t feel it. I look in the mirror and I don’t see 39. And when I look at bank account I certainly don’t fit the role of 39.

Part of me thinks I’ll always be this way–mercurial, nomadic, odd, strong, yet unable to reconcile an income statement. Part of me will always feel as if I’m straddling a strange middle between childhood and adulthood–some kind of curious adolescence. What is it mean to be an adult anyway? I never understood the dictionary with its binary definition of every word. The weight of the word feels unbearable, something to which I can barely live up. Instead I focus on what’s ahead–paying taxes, securing projects, saving for California. Focusing on a new home, hopeful for a new love, a quieter life.

Maybe one day I’ll get this money thing together, I say, collecting my bulk of papers and forms I need to sign with checks I need to mail. We exchange looks that say the unsaid, the very opposite.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow, modified slightly
2 cups baby kale, stems discarded
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
2 clove garlic, peeled and very finely minced
3 large scallions, cut into 1/8 inch diagonal slices
2 ½ cup cooked brown rice
1 tbsp + 1 tsp tamari sauce

DIRECTIONS
Cut the kale leaves in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into very thin ribbons (chiffonade).

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic. Raise the heat to medium and add the steamed kale and scallions. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the greens have wilted, and then add the rice and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring. Add the tamari sauce and cook for 30 seconds more.

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banana cocoa muffins

Banana cocoa muffins.

We came from zero, and on a long enough timeline we’ll return to that from which we’ve come. Zero. I think about this a lot–life, death–perhaps maybe more than I should, more than what’s deemed healthy, but I can’t help it. I think about planes sometimes, how my greatest fear is being on a plane that dives into an ocean. Sometimes I imagine closing my eyes and humbly crawling back to the cool dark, because although this is the one thing I don’t remember (that one head pushing out, those eyes that opened wide to the first light, and the mouth that screamed so valiantly, even through the terror of being born), it brings me an unexplainable comfort. It’s as if by living through the cycle of life and death I’ve conquered it, and for a time I’m okay until the moment I think about it all over again.

I also think about time. How I’ll never have enough of it, how it’s always running out. I used to wear a watch and have a clock in every room–the old fashioned kind, the sort that ticked. And then time passed as it’s wont to do, and I move through rooms with my phone, checking it every now and again, just to see how much time has passed. How much I’ve spent (or squandered, depending upon the day) from the last moment I checked to the next.

Aren’t you afraid of it? I asked my pop last week. Of what, he said? Death. Dying. Not really, he said and paused. Maybe a little but not a lot. I don’t think about it as much as you do. How is it possible that he’s not frightened? Like me, he’s not swathed in faith–he doesn’t believe in a white kingdom and a god who will carry you all the way home. Like me, he’s spiritual, sees the world as this magical, miraculous place, but we’re not tethered to a faith. Nor do I suspect we ever will be. We don’t have that warm comfort, and while I sometimes agonize over the certainty that these two feet on this floor will no longer be, my father goes about his days undisturbed. He tells me that death is inevitable so why get worked up over something that you can’t control?

The thing is, I like control. A lot. But I’m learning to let go of it, piece by piece.

Illustration Credit: Taro Yashima

Illustration Credit: Taro Yashima

Time is slippery, and since I’ve made the decision to forgo having children, of not establishing a legacy, I look at my work as one of the tangible things I’ll leave behind. I ache to produce and find that this space brings me so much joy because I can write the smaller things here while I consider the bigger things on a blank canvas. I use books (and life) as a bridge between the minute and known (blog) and the great unknown (novel). Lately, I’ve been ordering children’s books at a ferocious clip. Maybe it’s the fact that as a child I never appreciated the complex simplicity in books where a few words and illustrations are forced to convey SO MUCH, or perhaps I see the extraordinary juxtaposition between the size of a book and the length of its words versus the magnitude of its meaning. Children’s books are magnanimous in the sense that they don’t patronize or take a pedagogical approach, rather they allow you to dive in and find your own beauty, at your own time, on your own terms.

After poring over these illustrations (don’t the colors just DO YOU IN?!), I decided to order Umbrella because it’s such an magnificent expression of the tension of time. Of feeling anxious to move from one space to the next. But it’s also a meditation on time and being present, of savoring these moment of being alive. I need a little more of that in my life.

Today, I turned off the television, silenced my phone and kneeled down to play with Felix. For fifteen minutes, I heard the sounds of his purr and breath and all the noise in my head fell to quiet. All that existed was a woman and her cat. I don’t know what that means in terms of legacy, of pragmatism, of leaving something you can hold in your two hands, behind. But what I do know is that holding his small neck in my hands felt wonderful.

Drawing lines, drawing outlines. Unfurling maps.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts
2 large eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup ground almonds (almond flour)
1/2 cup ground gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whisk the eggs, maple syrup, and olive oil until completely combined. Add the bananas and beat until combined. In a large bowl, whisk together the ground nuts, oats, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make sure you have all lumps pressed out (almond flour tends to clump up) before you add to the wet ingredients. The last thing you want is a bit chunk of nut flour in your mouth. I’m saving you, people.

On low speed, add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold until combined. Using an ice-cream scoop, add the batter to the tins and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool for ten minutes on rack before turning out to cool completely.

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chocolate chip almond cookies (grain/gluten free)

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Yesterday, my father took me to the water. Passing a bag of cookies between us, we drank coffee in his car and watched the tide come in. It’s high, he says, look at the waves. I nod. We’re still like this for a time and I love him for this–the ability to share a comfortable silence. My pop and I love the quiet, worship at the altar of it. We are in Long Island watching swans on the pavement and seagulls overhead and I talk about India, how encountering Delhi for the first time felt like an assault of color, of beauty. My pop inquiries about the countries to which I’ve traveled and I speak for a time and then I pause and ask if I’ve gone too far, said too much. Are you bored? I ask. He says no. He tells me that he likes to close his eyes and imagine the countries I’ve been. He likes the words I choose and the spaces I create between them. Through me it almost feels as if he’s been. So I talk about Jaipur, a city painted vermilion and blush pink, and the fumes that plumed up from a volcano in Masaya. I tell him about the parakeets that make a home in the crevices of the volcano, that they can somehow withstand the fumes I could barely stomach.

We spend some time in the car talking about what we can endure.

Yesterday I watch my father run. I’m standing inside a restaurant and a pane of glass comes between us. He legs move swiftly, effortlessly–this is a man who once had to crawl up a flight of stairs because the pain from his hips was more than what he could endure. From inside, I bring my hands together in prayer; I’m thunder, and when he swings open the door I hold him so tight. I practically fall into him because this is the first time in years he’s been able to walk properly, much less run. We take this for granted, I tell him. The fact that we have two legs. The fact that we can use them.

Tell me about your new home, he says. We pass plates of food between us because we’ve always shared food. We’ve always picked at the contents of one another’s plates. We’ve held food in our hands and presented it, as gifts, to one another.

I tell him about the place I want to live and we talk for a while. He understands why I want to leave New York, the place I’ve called home for nearly 40 years, but he’s heartbroken–I can tell. I’ll miss the days we’ve spent doing nothing but feeling the enormity of something. I tell him that I’ll miss sleeping while he drives. I’ll miss our two chairs facing a television and the fact that we talk through every show. I’ll miss the timbre of his voice when he says, Coffee? I’ll hold a mug in my hands out of love, habit, and I’ll miss the slow sips, the deep quiet.

I’ll miss you tremendously, I say. We’re at the train station when he laughs, pulls me close and tells me that he’ll miss me too.

INGREDIENTS
1½ cup almond meal
2½ tbsp melted and slightly cooled coconut oil
¼ cup cacao nibs
3 tbsp maple syrup
1½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp baking powder

DIRECTION
Preheat oven to 350F. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix all ingredients until completely combined. Using a tbsp measure, portion onto a lined baking tray, press down slightly in the center with your thumb.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch the bottoms so they don’t burn. Set on a rack and let cool for 20 minutes before diving in. You can keep these in an airtight container for 3-4 days but they will get crunchy over time.

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