raspberry + cherry granola bars (vegan)

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Tomorrow is my birthday and I’ll probably get yelled at by my nutritionist for eating (read: overdosing on) coconut peanut butter. Thankfully, I can’t veer too far into the splurge zone because all my mainstay treats are in the gluten and dairy camp (ah, the glory days of almond croissants, buttered Brooklyn bagels, pumpkin pancetta pizza and pasta pesto!). Now my binges include the occasional plate of fries, popcorn, dark chocolate covered almonds and vegan/gluten-free treats. Since I firmly believe that most bakeries in New York are run by amateurs, and the gluten/dairy-free sweets are less abundant and often unsatisfying, I’ve decided to bake my own birthday sweets because if they blow, I only have myself to blame.

Friends, these bars do not blow.

I love, love, love fruit bars. Smearing preserves on a buttery dough gives me LIFE, and although these pale in comparison to their white flour and creamed butter counterpart, the vegan option is still pretty stellar. Enough to shove a pile of candles into these bars tomorrow, and toast myself after a grueling #4daysfor30days Brooklyn BodyBurn workout.

INGREDIENTS
8 tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter
4 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour (I love Cup4Cup)
1 1/4 cups gluten-free rolled oats (There is still gluten in GF oats, but if you’re celiac, you can rock this recipe; if you have a sensitivity I would back off)
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp organic cane sugar
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup raspberry preserves
1/2 cup cherry preserves
(Makes 12 bars)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with coconut oil and line the bottom with parchment.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and coconut oil on low/medium heat. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Cool the sheet completely on a wire rack.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, sugars, salt, baking soda, and nuts. Pour in the melted butter, and using a wooden spoon, mix together until well combined.

Transfer about two thirds of the dough to the prepared baking pan. Press the dough evenly into the pan, forming a firmly packed layer. Using an offset or rubber spatula, spread the preserves over the dough. Evenly sprinkle the remaining dough over the preserves. I love seeing a pop of blistering red poke through the topping, so don’t overdo it, as you’ll be shoveling bricks rather than bars.

Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until the top is golden brown and fragrant, about 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it cool completely. I actually put these in the fridge for an hour and then leave them out to come to room temperature because I’m that impatient. Then cut into squares. The bars can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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vegetarian chili (grain + gluten-free)

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Have you ever looked at your house and realized it was your home? I’ve spent the better part of my childhood and early adulthood as a nomad, moving from apartment to apartment, and home had become the place where my mail was forwarded. Until this year. Until I walked into another apartment in my building on a cold night in February and felt like I was finally home. My apartment is simple, spacious and although the kitchen is a bit smaller than I’d like, I’ve made some of the best meals in this space. I’ve toasted the success and comforted the pain of some of my closest friends.

On Thanksgiving, everyone prattled off a list of things for which they’re grateful. I felt odd doing this because I express gratitude, quietly, to myself, every day. I’m grateful for having changed perspective when it comes to my body–caring for it like a house I want to maintain instead of burn and ruin. I’m grateful for my health, my life and for the ability to write. And I’m most grateful for the fact that I’ve spent a decade cultivating a small group of close friends whom I consider a family.

One of those lights spent some time in my apartment last night, her visit was a needed respite as I’ve been editing like mad and going a little bonkers in my solitude. I made this chili for her and can I tell you she had three small bowls of it? It’s that good. THAT GOOD. This coming from two proud carnivores.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s My Father’s Daughter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 large red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3/4 tsp mild chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp chipotle in adobo
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
1/2 cup puy (French) lentils, rinsed and drained
1 14-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 14-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Big pinch coarse salt
3 tbsp tomato paste

DIRECTIONS
Heat the olive oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, & black pepper. Cook, stirring, for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Add the chipotle & stir to combine.


Turn the heat up to high, add the tomatoes and their juice, crushing them a bit with your wooden spoon, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low & simmer for 40 minutes.


Add the lentils and beans. Fill one 14-ounce can with water (or broth) & add it to the pot, along with the salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, & simmer for 40 minutes.


Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 20 more minutes, or until the lentils are soft and the flavors are melded.

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creamy tomato basil pasta (vegan/gluten-free…I know, but it’s really good)

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You should know that I used to be addicted to pasta. As someone who used to drink men under the table, under the floorboards, I know a bit about compulsion, about the need to feel anesthetized. To be here, but not really, and you know how it is. It got to a point where I went through several boxes of pasta a week. I’d have a pesto pasta for lunch and gnocchi for dinner, and I’d only post a photo of a kale salad or green smoothie, but you know all about that faux Insta life–it’s proliferated all over the internet to a point where one could call it a disease.

When my doctor and nutritionist broke the news, that even after these nine months of living gluten-free I can never eat like I had before, I was practically catatonic. I kept asking how did this happen? How did I allow myself to get to this place? How had I substituted a glass of red wine for a seemingly demure plate of cacio e pepe? Had I been asleep for the bulk of my waking life to only wake to a smack in the face? When I learned that I could only have gluten OR dairy once a week, that pasta would soon be relegated to an occasion meal, it took a while to accept this. It took a good two weeks to overcome my withdrawal from gluten.

Even now, even when there are so many terrific gluten-free pasta options (I found Bioitalia while I was in Spain and I’m hooked), I have to be careful. Because I’m swapping out gluten for rice, potato and other starches, which are fine in moderation but don’t for a healthy, balanced diet make. And I’ve got this thing for developing unhealthy attachments to specific foods (Exhibits A, B, C: pasta, avocados, chickpeas–all of which required individually-deployed fatwas). So know that when I post a pasta recipe it better be a DAMN GOOD ONE because I can’t have it for another week or two.

You should know that cashew/almond cream is the best thing to have entered my life since Cup4Cup flour. The combination yields the creamy texture and taste of heavy cream without the bloat and the sickening full feeling that invariably happens when you feast on any dairy-rich dish.

Trust me on this.

Part of me wishes I’d never found this recipe because now I have leftovers in the fridge that I can’t touch until the end of the week. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE GLUTEN STRUGGLE? It’s real, friends. Real.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook, with modifications
1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews (soaked for 2 hours, or overnight)
1/2 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
9 ounces uncooked gluten-free pasta (basically 3/4 of a package)
1 tsp olive oil
1 small shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes, drained (I use San Marzano)
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
3 handfuls baby kale
1 cup packed fresh basil, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Start by soaking the cashews. Place the cashews in a bowl and add enough water to cover. Soak for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Drain and rinse. Blitz the nuts and almond milk in a high-speed blender until smooth and creamy (approximately 1 minute). Set aside.

Boil water and cook pasta according to instructions on package.

In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onions and garlic for 5-10 minutes, until translucent. Add tomatoes and kale and continue cooking for 7-10 minutes over medium-high heat, until the kale is wilted.

Stir in the cashew cream, basil, tomato paste, oregano, salt, and pepper, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until heated through.

Drain the pasta (reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water) and add it to the sauce. Add the reserve pasta water, and stir to combine well, cooking for a few minutes until heated through.

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gluten-free almond honey cake

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It always amazes me how the smallest of lights can shine so brightly. While I spent the week moping, lamenting for a life that could have been but isn’t, I came across this article in Publisher’s Weekly, a trade mag for those who geek out on publishing stories. I’m not entirely sure how I discovered Anna Watson Carl, but I remembered admiring her photography and being enamored by her food philosophy–food being the thing that binds people, and how meals have this arcane way of cultivating lasting, rich relationships. Food is primal, and the fact that we share our basest of needs with someone else means something. Or at least it does to me. And Anna.

I also admired Anna’s spirit, her desire to not be tethered to publishing schedules and editorial conformity. Rather, she would create the cookbook she wanted, on her own terms, on her own schedule. I supported her Kickstarter, and was jubilant to have received her book a month later.

Friends, this book is worth owning. These are the kind of meals you make for gatherings, for your beloveds. You toast minor victories and major celebrations with the dishes in Watson’s cookbook. From rosemary biscuits with fig jam and prosciutto (alas, there is gluten in this book, but there are plenty of gf options) to spicy black bean soup and roasted winter squash with kale and pomegranate seeds–you will want to cook everything in this book. The photography is simple, clean and austere, yet the food is welcoming and warm, and this juxtaposition–the beauty of food and the warmth of it–always confounds me in the best of ways.

Reading her journey to publication inspired me to think about my book (and subsequent projects) through a different lens. Why must a book be a piece of cardboard binding several hundred pages? A story can take on many forms–visual, audio, text, and the magic is how we make all of it cohere. The magic is in the ingredients, the assembly. Much like cooking, I guess.

The beat is turning around, my friends, and I toasted the end to a rather long week with a fat slice of almond cake.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table Cookbook
4 eggs (room temperature), separated
1/2 cup lavender honey (or wildflower/raw honey)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups almond meal

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with coconut oil cooking spray. I either use the kind from Spectrum, or I use softened coconut oil. Even when I return to dairy, I’ll continue to use coconut oil for the mild flavor it imbues and it’s silk texture is TO DIE.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks, honey, vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Whisk until smooth. Add the almond meal and whisk until smooth. At first, you’ll likely freak out (as I did) that you have too much meal and not enough liquid, but don’t fret, whisk for a good minute and the goods will come together beautifully.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high until they are foamy and white, with soft peaks (not stiff). This will take 1.5-2 minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the almond mixture with a spatula. This will take some time as you have a lot of whites and a thick cake batter. Make sure you fold gently, yet incorporating all of the almond meal.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out smooth. Let cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the edges of the cake and remove the outer ring. Let the cake cool completely before serving.

Gently remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan with a spatula. Serve with fresh berries, confectioner’s sugar, or pistachio ice cream. I had this on its own and it was DIVINE. Slightly sweet and crumbly.

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nine minutes of gratitude (a practice)

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The past month has been a trying one, to say the least. I coped with occupying a space with someone who had toxic energy, the kind of anger that leaves an indelible mark. The experience exhausted me, causing me to further retreat into solitude because I hadn’t the tools to deal with this kind of energy, which felt like an invasion. All the while, I’m in-between projects and feeling the sting of the constant refrain of you’re a brilliant and serious writer, but you’re too dark, too smart, too fill-in-the-blank-adjective-that-implies-your-reading-audience-will-be-small from publishers. As a result, I’ve been moody, introspective, quiet, and blue.

In yoga, there is a word in Sanskrit, spanda, which translates to vibration, heat, the sacred tremor of the heart. I’ve been practicing a form of Iyengar/Anusara yoga for well over a decade and have encountered this word repeatedly in my practice, but it’s only until this week that I feel as if I’ve finally understood its meaning. The notion of pulsation between two states of being (bear with me) between the shapes our bodies can take, whether it be expansion or contraction is something worthy of constant, studied observation. One cannot operate in the extremes. A yoga practice isn’t about rocking out in a handstand or lying supine in savasana, rather it’s about finding balance between feeling the need to retreat and to rock out.

It should be no shock to you that I sometimes operate in the extremes. Years ago I was more of my mother’s daughter and I would rage and scream at everyone in my wake. My words were a wielding knife that would cut and maim, and it took me years to realize that you find no peace by wounding others. However, I oscillated to the other extreme where someone’s hurtful words or actions would cause me to shut down, get cold, retreat. I would excise people as quickly as I’d warmly usher them in, and I’m finding that this extreme delivers little peace, as well.

So I’m looking for the middle. The space that exists between here and there, the space where you can feel both the light and the dark, but not be shuttered by the extreme nature of either state. I’m trying to find love in existing in the middle of the day, the distance between the blue morning and the actinic dark, both spaces which are heartbreakingly familiar. I’m trying to not live out the painting I’ve made for myself where I exist only under the glare of the sun or the cold of the darkness.

This shift is really hard. Like, really hard.

Today I saw my nutritionist for the first time in a month, and I told her about the events of the past month and how they wore me down, how I allowed some bad habits to creep in (popcorn binge, anyone?), and she encouraged me to embark on a daily spiritual practice. I spoke of spanda, but also of svāhā, the art of releasing, of letting go. In fire ceremonies, you shed the superfluous, the darkness, the skin that bears so much weight on your body. And if I’m to embark on a deeply spiritual practice in an effort to use this as a tool for living, then I have to take in the good but also have to learn how to let things go. You find no peace holding on to your anger so hard.

So today starts my daily nine-minute meditation. Every morning I’ll wake to three minutes of movement to a soothing playlist (of which I’ll share shortly) composed of Indian and African rhythms. The next three minutes I’ll say aloud all the small and grand things from which I’m thankful. The final three minutes are for expressing gratitude now for that which has not come to pass. I’ll talk about how humbled I am for all of the future readers of this space. I’ll talk about how I’m excited to have given my heart so freely to someone in my life. I’ll talk about being grateful for have created art that breaks ranks, even if my readership amounts to a number of people I can count on two hands.

Nine minutes, every day, of allowing the light in. At the same time, I have to remind myself to let go. To stop speaking ill of those who have wounded me. To not be as angry that a particular outcome wasn’t what I had anticipated. To learn to play the hand as it lays. To be okay with the fact that extended side crow might not happen on a particular evening, but be grateful that I have a body that can move.

Make no mistake, this practice is intricately bound to what I eat and how I nourish my body. If I start off my day mindfully, I’ll make smart choices and treat my body as it were a house I so assiduously want to make a home. Nine minutes of spanda, of feeling the space between taking in and letting go.

Let’s see how this goes.

anjou pear + apple crisp (gluten-free/vegan)

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I hope you’ve sufficiently recovered from yesterday’s food debauchery. Although every year I make the trip to Connecticut to visit my best friend and her family, this year I decided to stay home and feast on carbs and Korean revenge films. I started off the day valiantly with homemade buckwheat pancakes and maple-brushed applewood smoked bacon, however, by the time I shoveled down my gluten-free pasta with sage sausage for lunch, I was STUFFED and missing all the greenery.

This is what happens when you eat virtuously–you can no longer rock the carb casbah like you used to.

It was also serendipitous that I’d open an email from Lucie and read her incredible, inspiring blog post while eating this homemade apple and pear crisp. To be honest, I write on this space mostly for me, and while I do have you in the periphery I never assume that my words have an impact. Unless I’m physically present in your life, I never conceive of the possibility of virtual influence, and I’m always humbled (deeply so) when I hear that I’ve made an impact in your life, albeit in the smallest of ways. I love Lucie’s blog because you can tell how much care she puts into her words. Every post reads deliberate and thoughtful, and as she writes about her journey to cut sugar out of her life, I found myself nodding along.

Here’s the thing about taking trips–you may have booked the airfare and hotel, but you’ll never know where you’ll end up until you get there. A journey never is what you want it to be. Sometimes the trip changes you, takes you to places you hadn’t imagined visiting and other times you simply travel back to where you’ve come, and you book more tickets, more itineraries in hopes that you’ll not simply arrive at your destination, but rather you experience the space between where you are now and where you want to be.

If you asked me a year ago if I’d live a life without gluten or dairy, my laughter would have been louder than bombs. SURELY, YOU JEST. SURELY, YOU DON’T EXPECT ME TO GIVE UP MY DAILY BUTTERED BROOKLYN BAGEL AND MY PASTA ON THE REGULAR? Blasphemy, I’d say, among other things. Yet the distance between then and now has been remarkable. I had to make the commitment. I had to decide to change my life. I had to have the discipline. I had to sit in months of discomfort and pain. I had to feel those burning hives on my skin to know that the house I so assiduously built was burning down from the inside out.

Along the way, I dealt with a lot of people. People who had OPINIONS and had no problem sharing them. People who read magazines at length and thought that empowered them enough to play doctor and therapist. At first, I was confused, disoriented, and then I told everyone to please STFU. I have a real doctor, a real nutritionist, and I’m paying both handsomely to guide me safely through my journey. Because would I rather travel with someone who has a map, compass and the knowledge of having travelled through a seemingly unnavigable country, or do I take a trip with someone who has simply read an article about this country and is content to feel their way through the dark? I got myopic, focused, and now I’m at a place that feels normal.

What’s ironic about reading Lucie’s post yesterday is that I was feeling the negative effects of eating sugar while reading about her journey to sugar-free. Since my diet is composed of mostly vegetables, lean proteins, good carbs and wholesome snacks, save for my daily piece of fruit (I’m okay with the fructose because eating an apple that also has fiber is markedly different than downing a soft drink), I rarely have sugar. So while this crisp was BANANAS DELICIOUS, I winced after a few bites and had a bit of a headache. I had to take a nap and I only felt better when I made myself leave the house for a four-mile walk. I noticed later that when I ate more of the crisp, my taste buds had adjusted and I found myself going in for more bites, and then a little more–addict behavior–until I woke up and told myself to STOP. I put the crisp away and chowed on some cashews instead.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying thank you for letting me know that my words here matter. That they have an impact. That you’re making mindful changes in your life based on reading the words of a stranger. You can’t know how wonderful that makes me feel.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Minimalist Baker
For the crisp
4 medium-large apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I used pink lady, honeycrisp and gala for this recipe)
2 anjou pears, peeled, cored and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar + 1 tbsp organic cane sugar
1 tbsp. arrowroot
heaping 1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

For the topping
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp gluten free flour (I prefer Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp gluten-free old fashioned oats*
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/8 tsp of nutmeg
pinch salt
1/3 cup or 5 tbsp. vegan shortening (I use Earth Balance), melted over low heat. Alternatively, you can use coconut oil, but I love how the shortening makes the crisp, well, crispier

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 9×9 baking dish.

In a large bowl, add the apples and pears. Add the lemon juice, sugar, arrowroot, cinnamon and salt. Toss to completely coat the fruit. Add the fruit mixture to the prepared dish and set aside. Also, don’t fret over the apples/pears being too dry, or feel you have to add more lemon. The fruit will emit juices as it bakes, so trust me, this will be delicious.

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt. Add the melted shortening and mix with a fork until you get the texture of coarse sand. Don’t worry if the mixture is a little too wet, it’ll crisp up in the oven.

Add the crisp topping over the apples and bake for 45-50 minutes. Let the crisp cool on a rack before serving with your favorite dairy-free ice cream.

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my nutritionist answers your food-related questions!

Dana James, Food Coach NYC
Dana James, Food Coach NYC

This year I made a decision to change my life. Tired of feeling sluggish, exhausted, fogged, confused, angry, and sick, I sought out Dana James to help me embark on a mindful health journey, one that required a commitment and presence. I had to confront some challenging aspects of my character (read: a carb addiction, using food as an anesthetic instead of fuel, etc.) in order to get to a place where I FEEL SO DAMN GOOD. Now, I’m present at every meal and I choose foods that nourish instead of deplete me. And I couldn’t be more grateful for Dana for her compassion, honesty and perspective. I’ve written a great deal about my health journey, and I wanted to share some of Dana’s wisdom with you guys. I’ve gathered a bunch of your questions, and she was kind enough to field responses, below. -FS

What are the best snacks that are portable and available on Amazon? Preferably on Prime? Snacks are there to keep the blood sugar levels from dropping too low. Most snacks on amazon (i.e package goods) are too carbohydrate-heavy and thus I don’t recommend them. Instead, eat fresh fruit, drink green juices and snack on raw nuts and seeds. One company on amazon that I like is Go Raw. They have inventive creations like flax crackers and watermelon seeds. Most of their products have less than five ingredients.

I’ve got a question re: pre or post workout snack not involving nuts. I’m a clean eater, but my husband is super allergic to nuts which means I can’t really eat them or have them in the house. Would love nut free suggestions. Unless you’re training for 90 minutes or more, I don’t encourage pre-workout snacks. You’ll burn more fat in a fasted state. For post workout snacks, time your exercise so that it immediately precedes a meal like breakfast, lunch or dinner.

What are her thoughts on the “I Quit Sugar” phenomenon? IQS is a Paleo diet with no fruit. Sarah Wilson has done an amazing job at creating an IQS community and this is extremely helpful when removing sugar from the diet.

How can you “retrain” the body not to crave starch and sugar but still eat them occasionally without throwing progress out the window? This is a big question and I covered it in a video course I created called “How to Ditch Sugar”. The principals apply to sugar or starch. It’s changing what you eat, why you eat, and rebalancing your biochemistry. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s worth the liberation that emanates from mastering this. This link is HERE.

I’d love to learn more about the impact of calories vs. how full you feel. Calories are an archaic measurement of food. They were valid when we believed that our fat cells were simply fat. Now we know that our fat cells are active organs which store not only fat but also produce hormones and inflammatory mediators. This means we want to eat foods that balance cellular inflammation and regulate our hormone levels as well as keep us actively burning fat. Protein paired with plant based foods (think steak with sautéed spinach) will turn on the body’s appetite suppressing hormones as well as decrease inflammation and stimulate fat loss.

How do I figure out false positives on my Alcat? I am working with a naturopathic doctor for my food sensitivities but do to cost of visits I have to spread them out. From my experience false positive include black pepper, vanilla and garlic. The mild can be completely ignored unless you know you are a sensitive to a food on that list. If you have lots of sensitivities it’s more likely you have “leaky gut” and the key is to repair the lining of the GI tract and not stress about taking out all of the foods that presented themselves. I suggest removing anything in blue and red and pick and choose from the orange column.

What are some easy changes I can make to my diet? Also what are done food dinner options? I don’t like to cook and dinner is the meal I eat too much or nothing. Think about assembling your dinner not cooking it. That means tossing together an arugula salad with cucumber, tomatoes, avocado and poached eggs or making a spinach salad with grated carrots, beets, sunflower seeds and Rotisserie chicken. Very quick options. All you need to do is commit to nourishing your body and having the foods available.

chocolate coconut crumb cake (vegan + gluten-free)

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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

DIRECTIONS
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.

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for the love of snacks

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Leaving a country where I feasted on sticky mangoes, seasoned tofu, charred chicken, and rice soaked in coconut milk was challenging in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Although parts of my recent holiday revealed stresses of which I hadn’t anticipated, it was still easy to make mindful choices when it came to food. Fresh fruit and vegetables were abundant, gluten and dairy were virtually non-existent, and when given the opportunity, choosing to indulge in coconut ice cream rather than a slice of sheetcake, seemed like the obvious thing to do. Every meal felt like a celebration (especially since our remote hotel was intent on not feeding us), and I didn’t have the triggers that would normally have me pining for crumb cake or slippery noodles drenched in pesto sauce.

And then I came home to a chill that settled into your skin and remained there. The days were mostly filled with rain and dark, and I vacillated between a hectic work schedule and checking in with my father on his upcoming surgery–all the while attempting to recover from jetlag. I’d envisioned that this Thai holiday would give me clarity, deliver me the kind of solitude that would allow me to make some important decisions about my life, what’s next, and the like, but my holiday wasn’t as peaceful as I would have it, and part of my recovery in New York was, ironically, recovering from my vacation. What I’d left still remained and the two weeks exhausted me. I had no desire to cook. I cancelled appointments. All I wanted to do was recede, sleep. As a result of this abbreviated hibernation, I became less present when it came to what I consumed and I found myself cleaving to potatoes and rice like it was the apocalypse. I started drinking soy coffees again, and yesterday, before a meeting, I had a bite of homemade crumb cake and proceeded to endure the inevitable itch for the rest of the afternoon. My beloved vibrant fruits and legumes had been replaced by root vegetables and I looked my plate and then looked at my photographs, and all I wanted to do was return to Thailand and start over.

It was only until this morning when I felt some semblance of normal. When I returned to macro bowls filled with cabbage, brown rice, kale, nori, beans, roasted carrots and squash. When I wandered the aisles of Whole Foods after a morning spent with a dear friend, and finding delight in having discovered herbed roasted cashews. When I finally tried kelp. When I finally ate something new (something once abhorred) to the point where I started to crave seaweed in salads. This is HUGE because I associate seaweed with FISH and I hate fish–not as much as the wretched MUSHROOM, but damn near close. Today I felt the need to replenish my snacks instead of eating sliced sausage and roasted chickpeas, and need I remind you that I had to issue a chickpea fatwa some time ago because I’d become addicted to the legume.

Snacks keep me sane, and I try to eat whole foods as much as I possible can. Snacks are my bridge between meals and I try to mix up my options so I’m never bored. I always carry apples and nuts in my bag (because you never know when you’ll be stuck underground for 45 minutes on your way home from work and hunger invariably strikes). I also stockpile on sugar-free dried fruit (read the labels. If something had multisyllabic ingredients, RUN), EVOlution or Go Raw bars, cut vegetables and hummus, and leftovers from meals (small portion of butternut squash soup with toasted pumpkin seeds). I’ve even purchased mini eco-friendly glass containers where I’ll store leftover, portioned eats for the following day.

In the midst of madness, I’m making my focal point, my place of calm, mindful eating–a source of strength and calm that will hopefully take me through the frenzy that are the holidays.

butternut squash + coconut soup with crumbled sweet sausage

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I live in a world where Charlie Manson gets married. I live in a world where a woman tries to “break the internet” by choosing to remove her clothes. Our clamour smothers the world’s collective sorrow, drowns out the massive achievements so many other women make. I live in a world where ISIS buys and sells girls as if it’s another day at the market. I live in a country where some people don’t own a passport, and have no wish to see beyond what they know. I live in a world where people prefer to live in a perpetual darkness but they resist the very thing they seek when it’s presented to them. I live in a world where people tell me I’m lucky when I’ve spent most of my childhood mothering my mother and my adult life working for every single thing I own. Luck? Huh. I live in a country where people tell me I should write a book and I laugh and say dark isn’t for sale, kids. What’s fresh in the market today? YouTube stars, people who can’t string a sentence together but they’ve got that blog, their audience and pockets flush with Reward Style affiliate money. Because everyone’s in the business of dealing. Who wants art when you can profit off your personal brand? This is the world.

And I choose to eat soup.

INGREDIENTS: Serves 4
2 lbs of butternut squash, chopped into cubes
Olive oil, salt and pepper
2 tbsp. coconut oil
3 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
3 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 lb sweet sausage, casings removed

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Add the squash, olive oil (just enough to coat the squash), salt and pepper to a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, turning the squash around midway through so all sides are browned and even. Remove the sheet and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large pot on medium heat, add the coconut oil, shallots, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the onions are slightly translucent. Add the squash and toss to coat. Add the vegetable stock and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk.

Using an immersion blender or Vitamix, blitz the soup until smooth. Allow to simmer on the stove on low while you cook the sausage.

Drizzle a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Allow to cook for 4-5 minutes and then stir the sausage in the pan until all sides are browned.

Add sausage to the soup + CHOW DOWN!

coconut pancakes + falling out of love with new york

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This is the New York I know: wrenching johnny pumps in the summer because who could afford air conditioning? (white people) We felt cool and slicked as our denim shorts and dollar-store t-shirts clung to our skin. We feasted on hot dogs and icy in Sunset Park, and swam from one side of the 16-foot pool to the other. In the pool, the boys were in the business of acquisition with their cat-calls of shorty, sexy, and dame lengue. What am I, a lizard? My tongue isn’t something I’d willingly give. New York was about flashing old bus passes when you cut class and forgot to pick up the new ones, and getting kicked off the bus because this month’s color was blue and you were still rolling with yellow. We hopped and crawled under the turnstiles because who was stupid enough to buy tokens for the subway? (white people) Come nightfall, we’d inch home and settle on the stoop while mothers braided hair, boys sipped on Colt45 out of brown paper bags and everyone was in the business of dealing. Everyone was working their after-school, after-second-job hustle. Back then, everyone had a plan. Back then, you were prosperous if you owned a color TV with a remote control. Because who could afford cable? (white people) Back then, you made friends with their girls whose mothers made the best rice. You hoped you’d be invited for dinner. You hoped you’d have to bring one of the chairs from the living room and plant it on the linoleum floor. Back then, everyone made room. Everyone ate with their elbows on the table.

The city? WHAT???!!! When you lived in Brooklyn, Manhattan was a whole other country. Uncharted territory, you’d need a compass and map to navigate it. We rode the elevated trains into the city and gawked at the people uptown (white people) and found our home downtown. Back then, you didn’t venture below Avenue A unless you rolled right (translation: didn’t roll white), and we trolled Broadway and hit Unique, Antique Boutique and pawed the spray-painted and sequined denim jackets we couldn’t afford. Boys dressed like girls, yellow cabs, hot pretzel carts and shopping bags–what an unreal city! I had not thought death had undone so many, wrote Eliot. The city glinted–someone in the neighborhood once told us that the sidewalks were paved with glass so we winced and closed our eyes so we wouldn’t be blinded by the glare. The city was clean even with the peepshows and pimps in Times Square, before Dinkins, before Giuliani, before the postage stamp of land in the 40s would transform into Disneyland for the peanut-crunching lot. The city was cleaner from where we’d come. Everyone knew whether you were from Brooklyn, the Bronx or Queens (I can’t tell you how we knew, we just did. I do remember someone asking me if I was Puerto Rican from Brooklyn because I wore red lipstick, but right now it’s been too long to remember how we knew), and we’d observe the hierarchy as our tribes wove the streets amidst the “city kids” — a mixture of LES Puerto Ricans and the rich kids who wanted to pass, who scored for tricks, and tried to roll with the poor kids for fun.

Quite frankly, the city was exhausting, and we were glad to come home although we’d never admit it.

When someone moved, we talked about it for months because no one was supposed to leave. Your whole world was reduced to a mile surrounding the block in which you lived. You had your church for those who wanted so desperately to believe; you had your Carvel, Gino’s Pizza and the Italian bakeries on 13th Avenue and in Bensonhurst; you had the boardwalk in Coney Island and the hot sun in Brighton Beach (although, if given the choice, we’d always choose Coney Island and Nathan’s Famous–a treat!); you had your C-Town supermarkets, your bodegas. You had your cemeteries, funeral parlors, parks, and drug dealers–and know that I’ve included all of these places, in this order, deliberately. Because back then what more did you need? (white people’s flights of fancy)

What I loved about growing up in New York was the smallness of it. Contrary to what the tourists and the people who’ve lived here for ten years (Who made up that rule that if you lived here for ten years you were automatically a New Yorker? Someone who didn’t grow up in New York, obviously) would have it, your whole world was in your neighborhood, and unless work or school took you somewhere else, the notion of leaving was unimaginable. I lived in Brooklyn for the first twelve years of my life and I never once set foot in Williamsburg. You had your tribe, and although I moved a great deal and attended a fancy college, everyone I knew until the age of 19 mostly hailed from New York.

Back then, no one thought of New York as a cupcake, an oft-quoted episode of Sex and the City, home to SoulCycle and drunks who brunch. Back then, no one personified New York (Oh, New York. You’re killing me!–Are you fucking kidding me with this syrupy stuff from romance novels?)–New York was the place in which we lived. We described it based on the people we knew and the places we loved, but not as a real person to whom we would speak or invite to shoulder our sorrow and grief. We were snobby, true, but not about those things. Mostly we complained about the subways, and the anger we felt when we discovered the places we loved shuttered, replaced by new places. Glinting places. Expensive places.

What I’ve grown to hate about New York is the largeness of it. What I’ve grown to hate about New York is memory. Things have moved around like pieces on a chessboard, and I’ll find myself in neighborhoods feeling lost. This used to be here. That used to be there. I suppose everyone who has come before me feels that too, although these mounting losses feel palpable. Everyone’s moved away and meeting someone who has grown up in New York is now a novelty when it used to be the norm. The rampant materialism, which I’m sure existed when I was small but wasn’t as exposed to it, is subsuming. Everything’s loud, everyone’s busy and the subway ride back to Brooklyn feels less comforting than it used to.

Maybe this is what happens when you grow older. You start complaining about everything. I acknowledge that.

Or maybe I’m just tired of living here. But this is home. This is all I’ve ever known. I went to college and graduate school here. I know most neighborhoods. I can make my way. I don’t have to drive. And although this place feels less familiar, it’s more familiar than any other place, I suppose. But do I stay because of the familiar? Do I leave because of the unheimlich? I find myself wondering why I work so hard each quarter to save up enough money to flee the country. I wonder about lots of things.

My return from Thailand this week was difficult. Returning from the glaring sun to the unwelcomed dark was almost too much to bear. I’ve only just recovered from jetlag, but I miss the the space in Thailand (ironic when there’s 12 million people in Bangkok compared to New York’s 8), the warmth, the quiet I was able to cultivate. And while you say, can’t you cultivate that same sort of quiet here, much like these pancakes you’ve recreated from your Thai holiday, I’ll say that I’ve tried and tried and the constant trying is what exhausts me.

I don’t know what this all means, which is to say that I don’t know if I’ll move away anytime soon or if I’ll be able to find my quiet and light in a place that feels like strange, unfamiliar, with the passing of each day. I miss my tribe. I miss how my home used to make me feel.

For now, I’ll have my coconut pancakes and warm home and keep writing my way out, to what’s next.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Foodie Fiasco
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp coconut flour
1 1/2 tbsp coconut sugar
1 tbsp coconut manna (purified coconut)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut milk (I use Thai Kitchen’s Coconut Milk)–make sure you stir the milk (as the ingredients will separate in the can) before you add to the batter)
pinch of salt

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DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, manna, baking powder/salt until completely combined. Coconut palm sugar tends to be gritty and the manna has a thick consistency, so you want to completely pulverize them. Add the beaten eggs, vanilla extract, almond and coconut milks and beat for a good minute on medium. To activate the coconut flour, you need to beat the mixture for longer than you think (don’t worry, you’re not rolling with gluten, so you won’t get hardened discs for pancakes). The mixture should be incredibly thick.

In a large greased pan (I melted some coconut oil), add a 1/4 cup mixture (to make large-ish silver dollar pancakes), making sure you have an inch between the cakes. Cook on one side for a minute or until the top starts to bubble a bit and the edges crisp and flip (gently!) to cook on the other side.

Serve with maple syrup, fruit and nuts!

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when you’re not eating rationed food at my hotel, food in phuket is GLORIOUS

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As I’ve mentioned previously, the chefs in my hotel are intent on reminding me of the eight pounds I need to lose. For lunch, I was greeted with two ounces of grilled chicken and six French fries in a thimble (you better believe I counted them). While I waited for the rest of my food to arrive–I might as well have been waiting for Godot–my friends and I grew flabbergasted over the fact that every meal, while delicious, is meant for residents of the Barbie Dream House.

Have I mentioned that I require copious amounts of protein and a rainbow of vegetables at every meal?

When you’re not eating at my hotel, food in Phuket is GLORIOUS. Since we’re close to sea fish is plentiful and my friends feasted on crab, shrimp and lobster while I inhaled grilled chicken, sticky rice and mango, noodles that texture of silk and my weight in watermelon. Fruit smoothies are the staple in Thailand, and in Phuket Town you’ll find no shortage of shops and carts that will serve up a blender mixture of fresh fruit, ice and simple syrup alongside grilled meats and fish. Here you’ll find fresh fruit and vegetables free of GMOs and egg yolks that are so rich and yellow they’re practically phosphorescent. And when you’re not feasting on rounds of fluffed rice and juicy crab, you’re clearly buying BAGS OF DRIED COCONUT, JACKFRUIT AND MANGO, because you are. And if you’ve never heard of jackfruit, please revisit my slew of S.E. Asia posts in 2012 which attest to its greatness.

Thailand is a gluten- and dairy-free paradise. Menus are filled with noodles made of rice flour, rice, vegetables and fresh fish and lean protein. The only danger is the soy sauce, however, soy isn’t a mainstay in most Thai dishes. With the exception of my hotel breakfast, which offers toast, muffins, croissants and all the things a woman can’t consume, Phuket is rife with insanely affordable, delicious eats.

I’m going to try to hit the markets and a few more restaurants before I leave so I can share my must-chow list.

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