Posted on November 25, 2015
Note to self: don’t drink fancy local trade coffee at 8pm and binge-watch Jessica Jones. You’ll stay up until four in the morning, flipping through episodes on Netflix while reading through Pank, comforted there are others who write strange, miraculous fiction.
I’ve just finished a draft of an exciting new project. I’ve got the words down but the visual and multimedia aspects aren’t quite there–essentially this is text with customized/commissioned illustrations and images, not the full spectrum I’m trying to achieve. I’ve published a few pieces here, which you can read at your leisure. Part of me wrestles with the joy this project has brought me and the desire for people to read my work–it’s not a new struggle by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to prioritize lasting and fleeting joys. The deep joy is in the creation, collaboration and assembly. The fleeting is in the work’s reception. I have to remind myself, daily, that the success of what I do is not predicated on the velocity of its online movement or perception. If I tether myself to the applause I also have to accept the jeers. I also have to remind myself that I’m playing in a space where inbalance still exists, where women are perceived as good if they’re writing toward white men. I have to wonder if my work will be harder to push into the world because I’m not popular, I don’t have a writerly tribe, I’m not part of the elite, I’m not purely white, and male. But on I go, you know?
The story of my life is wanting what I cannot have or, perhaps, wanting what I dare not allow myself to have. —Roxane Gay
I started seeing a psychiatrist this week (I don’t plan to go into any detail here other than to say I’m focusing on getting well), and he asked me what I wanted from our work. I said two things: not to feel this way, and, more importantly, not to use the words love and loss interchangeably. To return to the things that bring my joy (baking, cooking, photography). Last night, I spent hours on Stocksy (check out my friend Lauren’s work–isn’t she marvelous?!) and I marveled over the talent of teenagers in Slovenia and women in Nebraska. How they have the ability to make you see by the photos they take with a lens. That’s what an artist does–makes you see how they interpret the world, and I wish I had the ability to move through image and type seamlessly. Perhaps because it’ll make this project I’m working on easier. If I could just do it on my own.
I suppose that’s my view on most things–why can’t I just do it by myself, alone?
This morning I baked a bundt cake, trying slowly to return. I curled up next to my cat, existing between the space between sleeping and waking, the space between loving to bake and making myself do it to feel. So that I could see.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s Baked Explorations
3 cups gluten-free flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups organic cane sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
freshly grated zest of 2 oranges
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter and flour a 1o-inch bundt pan
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks until they are pale and light; slowly pour in the sugar until it is completely incorporated. Add the yogurt and olive oil and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the orange zest and vanilla, and mix until just incorporated.
Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in two parts, beating after each addition or until just combined (this will take about 10 seconds). Scrape down the bowl and beat again for 5 seconds.
In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Scoop 1 cup of the egg whites into the batter. use a rubber spatula to gently fold them in. After about 30 seconds of folding, add the remaining egg whites and gently fold until they are almost completely combined. Do not rush the folding process.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, or until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan (I sometimes use and offset spatula for this) and turn it onto the rack. Just before Serving, dust the cake with the confestions sugar. The cake can be stored at room temperature, covered tightly for about 3 days.
Posted on November 16, 2015
I’ve been called a cacti-killer because of the year I bought ten succulents and watched them all slowly wither and die. You can’t kill a cactus I was told, and in 2002 I rose to the challenge. Up until this year I was convinced that if something didn’t alert me to its existence I’d probably neglect it and ultimately be responsible for its demise. When I moved to Los Angeles my friend Jennifer drove me to Marina Del Ray and we cruised a nursery. I slept-walked my way through the greenery as my friend piled plants into my arms.
Two months later, my plants are still living, and I can’t begin to describe how this fascinates me.
Saturday, I spent an hour on the 10 with a cab driver who grew up in South Central and now lives in Inglewood. His family’s from New York and we talked about the differences between New York and Los Angeles, and all I could think of (beyond the obvious) was landscape. I haven’t yet succumbed to the car culture because I love navigating a new terrain–I can’t imagine not walking. This weekend I spent a day in the San Gabriel Valley and yesterday I trekked to Westwood, and I’m starting to see how every city had its own landscape and vernacular. While New York has devolved into one whitewashed shopping mall, there are places here that still feel unoccupied. Trust me, I’m not being overly romantic because one could see the unsettling gentrification (and the disparate income/class/race juxtapositions) in DTLA among other areas, but I’m enamored with the landscape, the streets that seem to change from city to city (it’s so incredible how far Santa Monica Blvd, Pico, Olympic, etc runs). And maybe that’s why I’m producing at such a staggering rate–I’m forced awake. I’m forced to experience, to see.
Granted I’ve only been here for three months and it’ll take me years to fully appreciate where I live, but I feel so at home in California. While there are things I miss about New York (my friends and my pop, the subways in the early morning, the shores of Oyster Bay, and bagels I can’t quite find anywhere else), I’m happy that I live in a place that forces me to be present. I no longer sleep through my waking days. I’m no longer killing plants. I wake, and before I work I sometimes bake bread.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Year of Cozy, modified based on what I had on hand + how I like my quick loaves
1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
3 tbsp millet seeds
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
1 large egg (I ran out of eggs, so I made a flax egg: 1 tbsp flax meal in 3 tbsp water for 5 minutes)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 ripe, yet firm bananas, mashed
1 tsp baking soda
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour an 8.5×4.5 inch loaf pan. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, and seeds. In a large bowl, mix the melted coconut oil and sugars until thickened and combined. Add the egg (or flax egg), vanilla and mashed bananas until completely combined. Mix in the baking soda.
Add the flour and seed mixture to the wet mixture, and fold until completely combined. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the bottom and the center as you’ll often find pockets of flour that haven’t been incorporated.
Add the mixture to the pan and bake for 45-50 minutes until a knife comes out clean in the center and the top has browned. Cool for 10 minutes on a rack before turning out the bread to cool completely.
Posted on November 8, 2015
I read a post this week, one of those exhausting listicles from someone who purports to have learned universal truths and feels impassioned to pass them along. I hate these lists because they carry an assumption that life is neatly demarcated, as if a decade of years can be excised and put under a microscope for observation and analysis without realizing that truth doesn’t reveal itself in a linear continuum. I never compare decades, rather I think of what I’ve learned, and more importantly, unlearned, in the context of a complete life. We’re forever trying to figure things out; we’re always students and teachers at once–the only difference that age brings is the shifting balance between the two. In Hridaya Yoga, there’s a concept called spanda, or the primordial tremor of the heart, and I like to think of this in terms of pulsation between points in time–a present heart oscillating between the past and future, and life feels as if you’re always reconciling the two. There are things I knew about life intuitively when I was 10 that I struggle with now, at 39, and vice versa.
When I was ten I started to realize that you could lose people. Kids hopped off roofs and fell out of windows. The junk-sick lay, arms outstretched, in the park, their eyes and fingers jaundiced. And although the police have covered their bodies you could still see their toes, a patch of skin. People took pills, lots of them, and fell into a dark, undisturbed sleep. Cancer and tumors serve as breath-robbers and we lie on the pavement trying to memorize the license plates of cars that read, I keep on living. Time doesn’t take it, rather it shows you the inventory of what has been lost and how you’ve navigated your way through sorrow and fear, how you continue on as one of the living until you’re the one somebody cries over. You have become paper-thin, ash, a figure in the past tense. In the space between you will lose and you will be lost, you exist in the phrase, I am here. In the present, I order $400 worth of end-of-the-world supplies (iodine tablets, masks, 3,500 calorie food bars and packaged water) because you never know. In the present, I meet an extraordinary poet, a fellow introvert who skulks in corners and writes operas, and I think it used to take me a bottle of wine to walk into a room and wonder if meeting people, the excruciating fear of it, will get easier.
It’s easy to meet people but hard to cultivate a tribe, and while part of me aches for my friends back home and the ease with which I could see them, I love being in California because it affords me the thing which I thought inconceivable–a fresh start. And what I know at 39, I knew at 10–sometimes it wonderful to know someone without the burden of your history. The burden of that specter–who you used to be–no longer exists, and there is the only the present and the future and you’re retelling of your history.
I’ve spent much of my life as the caretaker of my own company. This is not a cause for slow-singing–I prefer solitude, however, I know the downside of that: the fear of never finding where I fit. The unease that accompanies an odd sort of voyeurism–while I prefer to be distant from things I sometimes long to be a part of things, and my struggle is achieving a balance between the two. Facebook is sometimes terrible in the way that it reminds me of all the things of which I’m not a part while at the same time providing a forum for which I can meet new people. Facebook reminds me that I’ll have to get blurbs for my book at one point and it’s harder because I’m not part of the “club”. Facebook reminds me of all the conversations I feel intimidated to participate in because I’m not part of the conversation. Most times I feel like an interloper, eavesdropping on conversations, skirting the edges. Most times I’m reminded that I’m not a part of something. Part of me is fine with this because belonging has its own set of rules, etiquette, and potential baggage, but what I knew at 10 is the same as 39–we yearn for people, we long for a place to lie down our head.
Last night I met a few extraordinary artists. One of them approached me as I was studying my story, head-down in a corner. Another came over because she preferred the quiet of corners too. An old friend, the host of the event, interrupts the conversation and I talk to her about her work. A decade ago she published a remarkable story collection and time and the business of work has altered her affection for work. We talk about the installation she’s created on the wall–a visual odyssey of her zig-zag journey across the country–all in an effort to understand and reconcile loss. She’s struggling with the project because the journey wasn’t (and isn’t) a linear one. The story doesn’t start at point A and ends with point B, rather depending on where you are in your life when you enter the story you might cleave to point C. Or point D may be your beginning. The narrative alters itself based on your experience (or point-of-view). I told her that I started the installation at one place, the middle, and the mess, and found myself reading not from left to right, not to establish a point of entry, rather I tried to understand her journey as a kaleidoscope, where one oscillates between confusion and clarity and the only thing that time brings is an accumulation of experience. And while she’s back in Los Angeles and has some sort of roots planted, she’s still traveling and I get it. I’m here, but I’m still traveling. I moved here because it offers the advantage of geography–physical and emotional space on terrain that is new, undiscovered, and alive.
At 10, at 18, 24, and 39, I’m still nomadic. I’m still trying to find my tribe.
1 qt (2 pints) low-sodium, organic/local chicken stock (or you can use vegetable)*
1 shallot finely diced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp chopped fresh sage
1 cup of arborio rice
5 tbsp of pumpkin puree (you can use canned pumpkin, but DO NOT use pumpkin pie mix. This is a common mistake as both products are merchandised alongside each other)
2 tbsp truffle goat cheese (you can use regular goat cheese, as well)
1 tbsp pecorino romano cheese
1/4 tsp sea salt; 1/2 tsp white pepper
*1 quart is the equivalent of 32oz or 2 lbs
In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Keep this pot next to our sauté pan, as you’ll need to continually ladle from the stock to the skillet, so proximity is key.
In a large sauté pan (translation: a skillet that can hold 3-4 quarts), sauté the shallots and salt on medium heat until translucent (1-2 minutes). Add the sage and stir for another 30 seconds. Pour in the rice and cook until the rice is translucent and browns slightly, approximately 1-2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. You do not want burned onions or rice, so if this starts to happen ladle in liquid immediately. Do you want to sob over burnt risotto? My guess is NO WAY, NO DAY.
Add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stir, and stir, and stir, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Keep ladling in the liquid in increments until all of the water is absorbed and the stock is thick and creamy. Remember, risotto isn’t a dish that will cook itself, it requires dedication, so be prepared to stand in front of the stove stirring for 20-30 minutes. I’ve been blasting Lil Wayne’s “I Feel Like Dying” in these sorts of parallel parking scenarios.
Once all of the water has been absorbed, stir in the pumpkin and pepper until the risotto transforms into a satiny orange. Mix in the cheese. Stir for a good minute and serve hot.
Posted on October 24, 2015
You’re tired of telling people, I’m fine because it’s what you know they want to hear. Everyone wants the triumph story, the happily ever after, the girl did good, but what if the girl did okay and life is a little bit better than what it was and the sun shines bright on your face but sometimes you go through days where the idea of getting out of bed is inconceivable and the only thing that makes you laugh is seeing a coffin emoji on your phone. You start to think about what it would be like if you weren’t here. You start to feel calm on a plane because maybe the drugs you took kicked in or maybe who cares. But you have to be okay because you have this blog and these social channels and people read them and then some take joy in your sadness, others call or text some perfunctory notes of concern of which they hope are solved by a string of random words on a screen, but most stop calling, and then you realize that sadness doesn’t get you project work or emails returned. Sadness is the ultimate repellent–it’s the one thing no one wants to be tethered to. What happens when the girl who solves all your problems has problems of her own? What if you know you’re privileged to have this life and some days are extraordinary, but then other days are so fucking dark that your fall feels bottomless, unrelenting and unending.
You write dark stories so easily because you know what it feels like to choke above water. You literally do not know how to write a happy ending because you can’t imagine what that must feel like.
An acquaintance writes you and tells you that she can tell from your pictures that you’re happy. I just wanted to say… she writes, and you don’t want to break her heart, you don’t want to ruin the image she has of your perfect life, so you reply while you’re boarding a plane. You say you’re so! happy! and then you cry in the bathroom. Through your tears you see that The Honest Company is providing all of the cleansing products on today’s flight!, and for some reason this makes you want to cry some more. A man sits two seats away from you and you both share an empty aisle seat. Win! At one point, he removes his headphones and you can feel him studying you, and he taps you on the arm, leans back, and asks if you’re okay. You don’t notice that you’ve been typing and crying at the same time and you wipe away a tear and say, yeah, I just can’t seem to get this story right. He looks uncomfortable and the only thing you know to do is laugh and say, No, really. I’m okay.
Felicia, how are you an introvert? You’re so chatty! This makes you want to break things.
When you are small, really small, a teacher pulls you aside because sometimes your eyes frighten her. You’re too young to know this kind of sadness, she says. You shrug your shoulders. Years later, you talk about your childhood in a way that makes one think you’ve flatlined and your voice is a kind of rigor mortis, and then your therapist cries and you ask her, laughing, why are you crying? Because this is all too much, this is all so sad, and you don’t look as if you can feel anything. Again, your shrug, because what is crying going to accomplish when you’ve got a job to go back to, $100K+ in student loans to pay off, a reading series to book, and everyone, everyone wants you achieved and happy.
You look up the symptoms of depression because you’re prone to self-diagnosis (how many times did you think you had cancer?) and you say that’s me to every question. But then you remember all those years with doctors, therapists and psychologists and no, you’re not depressed. You just have this problem with drinking. You just like it a little too much.
If we isolate the problem. If the problem were to be contained. If you were to abstain. If you were to take it one day at a time. If you were to say, today, I will not drink. If you were to create diversions. Happy! Things! Things that occupy your time and replace the hours that alcohol took away. You start to think you’re a walking epidemic.
This year your mother dies and it’s complicated (complicated), everyone loves your writing but they don’t want to publish it, you date but no one holds your interest and you don’t even tell your friends you went on dates because why bother? One of your closest friends, a woman who you’ve known for ten years, a woman you love and leaned on during those two months you relapsed, the first time you drank in nine years (she drove you to the animal shelter and helped you find Felix!), and she disappears when she learns you’re moving to California. She doesn’t respond to your emails, your calls, your voice messages, your texts. She doesn’t respond when you tell her that she is killing you, that her absence is breaking your heart.
You write: you are breaking my fucking heart. You thought she was the one person who wouldn’t pull this shit, but she does, and then you start to view your friendships through the lens of limited time only.
You have a friend and you like her, you’ve known her for years, but she sucks the air right out of you. You move to another state, across the country, and there is so much you’re dealing with, alone, and this friend sends you text messages using your grief, the grief with which you refuse to burden people, as a vehicle to talk about her life. You think, are you fucking kidding me? You are alone to deal with your sadness and then you have to shoulder the burden of others? Please stop. Please stop speaking.
You re-read the stories you just wrote and you hate them because you feel as if you’re holding something back from your writing, the that being this, what you write here now, and you know how to write around it, above and below it, but you’re not at the place where you can write through it because you’re in it and sometimes you feel you’re treading water in the middle of the ocean.
One year, you swam to one edge of a sixteen-foot pool to the other. You rose, triumphant. Now, you don’t swim at all. The ocean is inside you and on the plane, when they talk about life vests, you’re the only one in the aisle who burst out laughing. It takes you until today to realize that a piece of plastic won’t save you from the ocean.
And yes, for everyone who wants their discomfort assuaged after reading this, don’t worry, you’re going to “take care” of this. Never fear, Humpty Dumpty will be put back together again.
So you bake and keep nodding because people tell you that you need to occupy your hands, your head.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen
1 cup gluten-free flour
1 cup brown rice flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups pumpkin or squash puree (1 15oz can/package)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp almond or soy milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup large, unsweetened coconut flakes
Preheat the oven to 350′ and lightly oil a loaf pan, lining it with parchment for a cleaner removal.
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flours, salt, cinnamon, baking powder. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: pumpkin/squash puree, olive oil, almond milk, vanilla, egg and maple syrup. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and fold until just combined. Fold in the coconut flakes. Spread the batter evenly into the pan (it’ll be thick, so use a spatula to get it nice and even). Bake for 45-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before removing the loaf and allow to cool for another 15 minutes. Note that the loaf has less of a crumb (because of the lack of gluten), but it’s still delicious.
This is extraordinary served with warm butter or fresh preserves (I love preserves since the bread is not as sweet as what I might be used to and I’m cool with that).
Posted on October 12, 2015
Over the summer I made a mistake in trusting a blogger I didn’t know. I packed the whole of my life in 49 boxes–I would bring to California only the things I loved and needed–however, I found myself browsing blogs during a work trip to Arizona and I happened upon a blue floral skirt from a company called Chicwish. It was gorgeous, cheap, emphasis on cheap. And although I consider myself savvy–I know the awareness and affiliate game that happens between brands and bloggers–I fell in love with a piece of fabric that was more about what I envisioned for California than the California in reality. I was buying something because I was frightened of all the uncertainty that came with moving across the country. I wasn’t buying something I needed from someone I trusted.
To say the quality of the skirt I received was abhorrent would be an understatement. I’ve seen better quality at the $1 stores I used to patron when I was a kid in Brooklyn. I would be the girl in the flammable skirt living in the gold, citrus state. Tossing a bucket of salt into a gaping wound (even worse than believing bloggers who are routinely paid to lie on a daily basis because elevating that brand sure looks good on paper), was Chicwish’s return policy. I had to pay to ship and return my item, and after over a month wait, I reached out to the brand to query about my return to which I received an offer for store credit.
When I write your clothes are terrible quality as a reason for my return, I certainly DO NOT want store credit. Essentially, I spent $20+ of my hard-earned money on a crap skirt (initial shipping + return shipping), of which I’ve only myself to blame for buying something to fill a void. I could make this post about the influencer marketing racket (of which I’ve been privy on the agency/brand side), however, I’m trying on positivity for size.
I have a few close friends who are bloggers, friends whom I love and trust, and even then I’ll ask: would you buy this with your own money, or is this product good enough considering you got it for free? Because you could so easily make allowances for things that don’t deplete your bank account. You tend to overlook flaws and inconvenient return policies.
Before I moved to California, I went on an insane home shopping spree–an event of which I’m constantly reminded whenever I view my bank and credit card statements. I left much of my furniture in New York, and I found myself buying A LOT of new things (couch, bookshelves, rug, kitchen carts, etc), and the purchases added up. That, and the fact that my apartment is pretty expensive, has forced me on a strict budget. Luckily I work from home so I don’t have to worry about clothes, gas, and parking, and most of my disposable income is spent on books, food, and fitness.
Today I’m sharing some of my choice investments.
For the past seven weeks I’ve been struggling with heavy breakouts, and it wasn’t until visiting a dermatologist two weeks ago did I learn that I had a stubborn case of folliculitis (my prescribed topical regimen, below). Infected pimples covered the sides of my face and ran down my arms, shoulders, chest, and back. I was miserable. My doctor prescribed an oral and topical antibiotic and I’ve been washing my face with a cleanser that has 5% benzoyl peroxide. My condition has improved by 75%, but I’ve had to make massive adjustments to my skincare regimen. Lately, I’ve been using Simple skincare (I really like their exfoliating wipes and water-free cleansers), Dermalogica and Murad moisturizers. The holy grail of my purchases is Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion. This really works. Trust me on this one. I typically use this before I go to bed and blemishes vanish by morning. While the Drying Lotion didn’t solve my stubborn skin care problem, it helped before I saw a doctor, and made taking meetings outside of my home bearable.
I work out pretty often and much of what I wear during the week is athletic gear. I have a pretty big selection since I sweat heavily and need to cycle through my gear pretty often. So I look for clothing that will stand up to multiple washes, clothing that is sweat absorbent and has the flexibility to move how I move. I’ve hated Lululemon since 2009 because they simply do not make quality clothes for curvy women, and I always felt like I needed Crisco to pull on their tops and forget about their leggings.
To supplement leggings I’ve collected from Zella, Old Navy and Gap Body (Gap Body is good, not great, and I’ve found that my Old Navy gear lasts longer), I recently discovered Beyond Yoga via a 50% sale in my hot yoga studio. The pants are soft, roomy, completely absorbent and really stand up to the fact that I need to throw them in the wash every week. They’re on the pricey side, admittedly, so I have a few investment pieces and supplement with Old Navy and Zella (when I can get them on sale).
As I mentioned, I sweat. A LOT. So much that my mat, which is often promoted to those who take Bikram or hot yoga, isn’t stopping me from sliding. I purchased a yogitoes mat towel and I have absolutely no regrets. Since yoga is a huge part of my life (I practice 3-4x/week), buying a towel was essential, especially since I tend to be injury-prone.
Since I spend most of my time working in front of a computer, eating, working out or snapping photos of my cat, I don’t need fancy handbags whose cost are the equivalent of a month’s rent. Expensive finery used to be important to me but the desire was more about projecting a
life lie I was living rather than having people get to know me without all the accoutrements. I’m not knocking expensive things, live your life, but coveting the latest handbag is no longer part of my life. For the past year I’ve been toting around a canvas bag, and it was only until recently that I upgraded to a $150 (!!!) tote from Cuyana, specifically this one. I own a Celine bag and there is literally no difference in the quality and suppleness of the leather. The only difference being that I didn’t cry when I reviewed my credit card statement because I dropped a few grand on a few scraps of leather and an embossed label. I love this tote (I’ve posted another snap, along with a photo of a wallet I purchased, below) because I can fit my laptop, books, gym clothes, water bottle, you name it. I’ve already managed to stain it and I found the leather pretty easy to clean. Plus, it’s presentable for business meetings and client lunches. #WINNING
Something’s happened since I’ve moved to California–I’m less of a morning person. While I naturally wake at 6, the first hour is a struggle and I can’t face the world (or email) without being heavily caffeinated. Breakfast used to be a grand affair, but now the idea of going near the stove is unthinkable. As a result, I was downing copious amounts of cereal (not good, people) or AB&J sandwiches (again, not good). On a recent trip to the market, I discovered Love Grown Oatmeal, and it’s GLUTEN-FREE! As my friend Amber would say, GET INVOLVED. I add water (or almond milk) to the mixture, heat in the microwave for one minute, and top it with fresh fruit, and breakfast is done. I can then spend a good hour catatonic in front of the computer before I even contemplate a shower.
I also have an upcoming post about items I’ve purchased for my home and a MONSTER post on the 50+ books I’ve read this year, but if you have any questions about any of the above, or about folliculitis, drop me a note in the comments.
Posted on October 7, 2015
While I’ve always loved food, I didn’t start cooking until I was in my mid-twenties. As a child in 1980s Brooklyn, I ate what was available, what my family could afford. We were inventive with $1 bodega chicken legs, bags of sprouting potatoes and cans of Chef Boyardee. And although there was a summer where we subsisted on bags of potatoes and food that was best suited for hot pot cooking, limitations gave way to creativity. I’ve always harbored a deep respect and appreciation for good food because for so long I wasn’t privileged to have it. I didn’t have a real salad until I was in college–back then salad felt frivolous because who would spend $10 for a plate of leaves when you could get a whole meal for that money? And I didn’t get serious about cooking and baking until recovering from a drug problem forced me to do something else to occupy my hands.
Back then I cycled through a handful of recipes I’d learned from my best friend’s mother (fettuccine alfredo, lasagne, Thanksgiving herbed stuffing), but it wasn’t until 2002 that I purchased my first cookbook, Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. Nights that were usually reserved from blackout drinking and drug use were now spent indoors, catatonic, watching The Food Network. Nigella made cooking accessible, fun, and my first experiment was a cheesecake where I used confectioner’s sugar instead of regular sugar (I rationed: was there really a difference. Answer: Indeed there is) and no one had a second bite. I purchased springform pans and sheet pans. I stocked a small cupboard in an apartment I shared with a friend with spices and flours. I baked chocolate cakes that splattered my walls. I made scones that resembled hockey pucks, and I managed to somehow screw up pasta.
For two years I failed miserably, but I kept on because there was something comforting about the alchemy of ingredients. And even though I made cakes that no one would dare eat or dinners that sometime resembled science experiments, the idea that I could possibly create something from nothing, that I could create instead of ruin, kept me going. I made a simple pound cake again and again until I got it right. All the money I’d spent on drugs and nights out were funnelled into shopping bags of food. Back then no one really photographed what they made, and I’m grateful since I made the kind of food that was hardly photogenic.
Over the years I always returned to the kitchen when I was lost, confused, heartbroken, and stressed. When I lost a great love and we divided one home into two, I stayed up late drinking vodka out of the bottle and making muffins. When I lived in an apartment building where an unhinged man played jazz until dawn, I made stuffed shells and coconut macaroons. When my then best friend came over my Brooklyn apartment (the one with the Pepto-pink bathroom), I made her pancakes and maple bacon, and when I lost her I kept thinking about her, and how she loved those cakes. I invited scores of people into my home for a clothing swap, which was really a vehicle to road-test these red velvet cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. The year I resigned from my job and lost Sophie, I’d spend days bound to an oven.
However, it wasn’t until last year that my relationship to food dramatically changed. In a course of four years I’d gained nearly 40 pounds and lost my taste for good food. I shoveled lunch at my desk while answering emails. I came home and collapsed onto my couch and then ordered pizza, thai food or pasta smothered in oil and cheese. I stopped reviewing my credit card bills because I was embarrassed by how much I ordered from Seamless Web.
And then I started to get sick. Really sick. Like stomach pain so bad it felt like my appendix would burst. I would lose my train of thought so often that it became noticeable. I was forever tired, sluggish, and sick. A visit with my doctor (who’s also a gut specialist) and a nutritionist revealed that not only was I on my way to diabetes, I had a leaky gut and I was literally beating up my insides because of my diet.
Because kale smoothies don’t count when you spend the rest of your day binging on paninis, bagels and pasta.
Sometimes I look back on my childhood and I can barely recognize it. There were months when my fridge was anemic and now, as an adult, it’s abundant. I’m humbled by my privilege and the fact that I can afford to shop at farmer’s markets and buy organic. What bookends these two versions of myself were constraints. Back then I was limited by income, now by what I couldn’t consume. For a year, I couldn’t eat gluten, dairy, and yeast. For 6-7 months the list of foods I couldn’t eat was so unbearable that I spent the holidays alone.
At first I was apoplectic, but then I got wise and creative. I forced myself to eat vegetables I’d never previously considered (cauliflower, brussels sprouts). I purchased vegan, paleo, Middle Eastern and Asian cookbooks, and over the course of a year my palate changed and my repertoire expanded. As a result, I’ve noticed that I now cleave toward salty/savory vs. sweet. I eat pasta and bread a couple of times a month instead of multiple times a DAY. And I focus more on the quality of the food I consume rather than its caloric content.
What once had been a hobby that busied my hands became the core of how I would cultivate relationships with people. When I stopped drinking, I’d have friends over for dinner instead of playing the role of detective with my receipts after a night out. Now we connect over our most primal of needs–food, instead of a bottle of wine that merely serves to rob us of memory. We are our most vulnerable selves when we eat, and my friendships are richer, deeper because of it.
When I moved to California I chose my apartment specifically because it’s an open space and I have a deck for outdoor entertaining. From where I’m writing this I face my kitchen and it feels normal to live in a space that combines art, words, work, food, and friendship.
Last night I had my friend Jamie over for dinner, and we spent hours on my deck, talking, eating, marveling over how almond meal renders chicken juicier. While we were talking, I thought about alcohol and other anaesthetic agents. People sometimes ask: do you miss it? Drinking. And I think about how much anesthesia rubs away–you always end up with less than what you started. And then I think about food, which, in my strange math, is always about addition and multiplication. Friendships are fertile. Love festers and grows.
APPLE PIE INGREDIENTS
For the filling
4 pounds apples, peeled, quartered, and cored (I do a mix of tart + sweet–whatever’s in season)
1 lemon, zested
Juice of the lemon you just zested
1/4 cup cane sugar, plus 1 tsp to sprinkle on top
1/4 cup gluten-free flour
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground allspice
For the pie crust
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) very cold salted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp cane sugar
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup very cold vegetable shortening (I use a non-hydrogenated kind I get from Whole Foods)
6 to 8 tbsp (about 1/2 cup) ice water
Preheat the oven to 375.
Chop each apple quarter in thirds crosswise and combine in a bowl with the zest, juice, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Set aside. Don’t worry about the apples browning — the acid from the fruit will halt the oxidation process.
Now you’re ready for the pie crust. I can’t stress enough how COLD the ingredients need to be. Dice the butter in tablespoons, and store it in the fridge while you prepare the flour mixture. Add the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse a few times to mix. Introduce the cider vinegar, butter and shortening. Pulse 8 to 12 times, until the butter is the size of peas. With the machine running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse the machine until the dough begins to form a ball. Dump out on a floured board and roll into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. You can also make this by hand with a pastry blender or the two fork method. However, after the nonsense with the apples I sometimes want to take the path of least resistance.
Once the dough is cold, cut it in half. Roll each piece on a well-floured board into a circle, rolling from the center to the edge, turning and flouring the dough to make sure it doesn’t stick to the board. Fold the dough in half, place in a pie pan, and unfold to fit the pan. Repeat with the top crust.
Roll out half the pie dough and drape it over a 9-inch pie dish to extend about 1/2-inch over the rim. Don’t stretch the dough; if it’s too small, just put it back on the board and re-roll it.
Fill the pie with the apple mixture. Brush the edge of the bottom pie crust with the egg wash so the top crust will adhere. Top with the second crust and trim the edges to about 1-inch over the rim. Tuck the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and crimp the 2 together with your fingers or a fork. Brush the entire top crust with the egg wash, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar, and cut 4 or 5 slits.
Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours (start checking after 45 minutes, and make sure you rotate your dish half-way through the cooking process so the pie will brown evenly), or until the crust is browned and the juices begin to bubble out. Serve warm.
FIG SALAD + CHICKEN CUTLET INGREDIENTS
For the salad
2 cups baby spinach
2 cups baby kale
8-10 figs, halved and quartered
olive oil/sea salt
For the chicken cutlets
2 tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp butter
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup almond meal
1 tbsp fresh minced thyme
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 lb chicken cutlets, pounded thin (this serves 4, but I cook the whole lot and store the leftovers for salads
Making the salad is as simple as it looks. One important note, though. I’d wait to dress/toss it in olive oil just when you’re about to serve the salad as you don’t want the leaves getting limp.
The chicken cutlets work like an old-school assembly line. Heat the butter/oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the salt. In another bowl, mix the almond meal, thyme and pepper. Dunk the cutlets in the egg mixture, then dredge in the flour mixture. Fry on both sides (4-5 minutes each) until slightly charred. I kept the cutlets warm in a 175F oven.
Posted on October 3, 2015
This morning I woke to watch Taiye Selasi talk about origin, specifically how to tackle that seemingly simple question: Where are you from? I’ve been thinking about origin a lot, how it’s not possible that we come from a concept or place, but rather we self-identify through our rituals and our beloveds. We cleave to that which feels like a home and allows us to be our truest selves. I’ve also been thinking about this because the place I used to consider my home feels foreign, and it may not necessarily be the place I would return to. If you do anything today, please watch Taiye’s brief talk as she has the ability in a brief time to truly make you think.
I had the chance to return to New York this month and I couldn’t do it. Even the thought of it give me anxiety. JFK, the cab line, the subways, the frenzy–all I would care about are the people. People whom I live and miss every day. I guess my home doesn’t resemble a home because it’s always in a state of constant repair. Over the years I’d find places I knew erased, and the flavor, the fucking verve, has been whitewashed. Right now it feels as if I’d be flying into a shopping mall–my friends’ familiar faces fighting to rise above the motley lot. Right now I don’t know if I’ll head home for the holidays because right now, Los Angeles feels right. Admittedly, I’m a tourist here. I don’t have a car and work, and the simple act of adjustment to a new surroundings and routines keeps me on the Westside with intermittent treats out east and north. I know I’ve time to navigate my new home, and I’ve no urgency to leave it because there’s so much to navigate. A new language to learn. This weekend I’m immersing myself in a stack of books–all in an effort to make sense of this place. All in an effort to shift my view from something vague and elusive to something tactile, real, visceral and specific. I watch harrowing documentaries. I talk to people more. I read the local paper. I want to get involved in my community in a way that’s meaningful and decidedly offline. I’m making plans to navigate this city with new friends and old. I ask everyone when it will get cold. Cold is relative, they respond. Come January everyone will be in boots and a winter coat and the temperature will hover around 45/50F, depending. I think about the desert. Often. I think about water. Always.
I feel here what I haven’t felt in decades. Curious. Energized. A need to take nothing I have or see for granted.
I guess you can see I’m tethered to a feeling of California. Of planting roots and settling. When people ask me where I’m from, I’ll consider the question, and the weight of it, more deeply. Because I’m connected to New York in the sense that it is part of my makeup; I’m connected to L.A. because of an awakening, and there are parts of the world where I feel my footprints because whenever I travel back there (Bali, Thailand, China, Spain) it feels familiar, like a home–our place of origin is in the periphery, it doesn’t define our identity.
I spent the morning working, working out, and at the farmer’s market. The spring onions were fat and enormous and I had to use 4 stalks instead of 8. Chorizo wasn’t available this week so I settled for a heady andouille. And the rosemary was soapy, spritely and fresh, and I spent time listening to music, cooking, all the while my Felix looked on.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook (I changed it from a stew to a rice topper + switched around a few ingredients based on what I had on hand),
1 tbsp olive oil
8 spring onions, finely sliced (whites separated from green)
1 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
400 g/15oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 chorizo sausages in casings, cut into 1 inch rounds (I used andouille sausage, instead)
2 tbsp sherry vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
Salt/pepper for seasoning
1 cup basmati rice
1 3/4 cup vegetable stock or water
1 tsp chopped rosemary
In a large frying pan, heat the oil. Add the white part of the spring onions, rosemary, paprika and the chickpeas to the pan and fry for 2 minutes on a high heat.
Add the chorizo/andouille to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Add the vinegar. Cook gently, uncovered for a further 10 minutes stirring occasionally before.
While this is cooking, add your rice, rosemary, and water/stock to a small pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down to low, cover, and let cook for 10-15 minutes, checking over so often. When done, fluff with a fork, and all the rice to a large bowl. Top with the spiced chickpea + sausage mixture.
Add the green tops of the spring onions and serve.
Posted on September 28, 2015
People ask me why I moved to Los Angeles. Why I tossed nearly all of my belongings and moved me and the cat out west. Everyone I love lived in a ten mile radius. All of my professional contacts were in the tri-state area, and I had a steady stream of projects. I spent most of my time in a huge rent-controlled apartment in a brownstone in Park Slope. Everything appeared good on paper. Everything was going according to plan.
The only way I can make sense of the past year is to say that I’d become allergic to my home. Space didn’t exist other than in the confines of my apartment. Everyone was loud and suffocating. Days would pass and I’d become exhausted with the idea of going into Manhattan. I was forever tired, depressed and anxious. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t write.
In Nicaragua I met a couple from Santa Barbara, and we bonded over our obsessive affection for our cats. At the time I planned a four-state adventure (remember?) My project was an expensive, logistical nightmare and I spent most of my time over thinking how I’d do it all. The couple listened politely, and as I was telling them of my plan I started to feel that it was kind of ridiculous. I’m someone who needs roots; I’m far from itinerant. At the end of my story, the husband said, I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to tell me the first word that comes to mind. Don’t think about it. Just speak. I nodded; I’d play along. If you could live anywhere in the states, where would you live? he asked. Don’t think.
I’ve been here for over a month and my only regret is that I haven’t moved sooner. I don’t yet have the privilege of perspective–that aerial view–however, the only thing I can say is that California feels right. Everything about being here feels right. Is it an adjustment? Absolutely. Do I miss my friends? So much it hurts. Am I nervous about paying the rent for my expensive apartment? EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. But I don’t regret it. And while I’m not yet at the place where I can give you a narrative, I’ll share my impressions. These aren’t truths; this is me acting like a tourist sketching the shape of things without understanding its true form. Think of it was an outline before it gets fat from fleshing.
1. FOOD: The best thing about childhood is the wonder. How you always have a first. How all the things that adults take for granted and invariably ruin, are beautiful and complete. While I knew the produce in California was superior, never did I anticipate that I would love eating more than I already do. I’d spend mornings at the farmer’s market in awe. Four variations of avocados, ripe peaches, mountain-reared apples, local chorizo, figs, guava, watermelon, plums, and a dizzying amount of herbs. And when I’m not at the farmer’s market, I’ve eaten lunches in places that make you excited about ordering a salad.
Because salad is an EVENT in Los Angeles.
This isn’t about a pile of sloppy greens on your plate. Oh, no. People take salad to a whole other place. I’ve had peaches, grilled chicken and local goat cheese dressed in a spicy cashew dressing. I’ve had things done to pork one wouldn’t think possible. Being here actually inspires you to eat healthy. And that’s not to say that I haven’t had my fair share of pizzas, tacos, and blueberry crumble bars–but there’s a real pride about the ingredients and everything tastes better. Eating gluten-free is easy here because restaurant menus are abundant with healthy and gluten-free options.
2. WATER: All conversations converge to water, the lack of it, how to conserve it, and how it tastes like wet coins shoveled into your mouth. Each tenant in my building has to pay for their individual water usage, so while I have a dishwasher and washer/dryer, know that I’m not just tossing in dirty items, willy-nilly. I have a shower filter and a water filter, because there’s no way I’m drinking out of the tap. And I’ve booked an appointment with a dermatologist next week because the water and my skin are in an acrimonious relationship. While the breakouts on my face have improved somewhat, I’ve scattered bumps on my chest, back and shoulders that aren’t going away.
Also, it never rains. The one night it did pour, my building’s fire alarms blared at 3:30AM, and people were more fascinated by the fact that it was raining than the idea that we’d be engulfed in flames. My neighbors’ reactions were much like this. In Los Angeles, you know the date it rains because it never does. Rain is also an event.
3. NEIGHBORS: THEY EXIST. AND THEY SPEAK TO YOU. Actually, everyone speaks to you here. Let me give you context. In all the years I lived in New York I only knew my neighbors by calling the cops on them or complaining about them. No, it’s not okay to have a threesome while blasting Britney’s “One More Time” on a Tuesday night when I have to be at work the next day. No, it’s not cool to have your dealer pound on my door when he mistakes my apartment for yours. No, it’s not normal to beat your front door with a snow shovel in the middle of July because you’re wasted and your husband’s frightened of you when you go off your meds. The last time I felt any semblance of community was when I was small, living in Brooklyn. Back then it was everyone’s business to know everyone else’s business. We traded stories on stoops and messed around with tire swings in the park or treaded water in the pool in Sunset Park.
Maybe I had the wrong neighbors or maybe I was a shut-in? Who knows. What I do know is that it’s normal in Los Angeles for people to ask about your day and genuinely care about it.
My next door neighbor just moved from Union Square, and sometimes we’ll catch one another on the stairwell and talk about Los Angeles as if we were gathering our findings and comparing notes. We actually lowered our voices and said, people talk to you here, and realized how asinine that sounded as soon as we said it.
4. THE CAR SITUATION: What it relief it was to toss my Metrocard. You can’t even understand how I don’t miss the MTA, LIRR, and NJT. I do not miss Showtime! Showtime! I do not miss being screamed at because my soul has yet to be saved. I do not miss stories about rats and pizzas and men telling me I’m beautiful. Smile, baby. I so much wanted to reply with Cry, baby. I do not miss the collective rage blackout that is the morning commute.
In Los Angeles, most people drive. I do not, which makes sidewalks blissful. I can walk around without having people book a one-way ticket to my sternum. My friends are awed by the fact that I walk four miles to Brentwood or two miles to Venice. For me, anything under five miles is walkable. The buses are pretty amazing and reliable, and I can take cabs for long-distance rides. While I’m still adjusting to life here, I can’t bear the thought of taking driving lessons, and I’m in no financial shape to buy a car, deal with insurance, gas, parking, and the inevitable accidents that will ensue. Most of my friends live in, or near, the Westside, so I’ve been managing well. It’s also amazing that I’m able to supermarkets, fitness classes, and the beach are in walking distance.
When I can afford it, I will invest in a car because there’s so much to see. California offers the desert, mountains, and beaches, and I want to explore them all. I love the idea of being alone in a car and driving to Joshua Tree. I love the idea of being alone, in a car.
5. MY TRIBE: I’ve read countless articles on the dangers of technology. You’ll be distracted; technology kills conversation and empathy, however, I’m finding a need to rely on technology to connect with those whom I miss and love. I use Facetime, Skype, email, social media and the good old phone to keep up with the relationships one can easily take for granted if geography isn’t an issue. Geography, and the distance between myself, and everyone I love is real, constant.
I miss my friends, and the ease in which I get to see them.
I knew that moving here would be tough. I would have to rebuild my life, establish professional contacts, and make new friends. Logically, I knew all of this and I expected to feel as I do now, but knowing doesn’t make discomfort any easier to bear. It’s hard for me to reach out to strangers and arrange friend dates (fear of rejection), and meeting them (!!!) presents a whole new set of anxieties. I tend to talk too much when I’m nervous. After meeting up with a new friend (I met this lovely women by way of introduction from a mutual friend) and her two sweet dogs for coffee, I text’d the friend who’d introduced us, writing: I really liked her. I hope she doesn’t think I’m…crazy. I’m reconnecting with old friends who I haven’t seen in years and it’s almost as if I’m forging new ground. Yes, we know one another, but we knew previous versions of ourselves so the getting-to-know-you phases is as pronounced in these scenarios because I don’t have the privilege of a clean slate.
And for the first time in nearly a decade, I missed have an artistic tribe. I used to be deep in the book publishing scene in New York and I…hated it. Nearly every minute of it. For a number of reasons I won’t go into. Suffice it to say it’s taken me a while to even consider the possibility of surrounding myself with fellow artists, attend readings and be part of something. After posting questions on a few closed forums on Facebook, I found what I wanted didn’t exist. I was blue for a couple of weeks and then I decided to create that which didn’t exist.
I posted a long call on several local Facebook groups populated by women creatives and artists. Similar to a salon I once co-hosted in New York (which gave me more stress than joy), I offered up my home as a meeting place for a small group of like-minded women who wanted to talk shop, collaborate, or just make new friends. What binds us is our art, our verve, and our drive to build. I was shocked about the overwhelming response, and a friend emailed me and said that Los Angeles is aching for more meet-ups that I’m trying to cultivate–we’re all so spread out!
I’ve been visiting Los Angeles since I was 17 and only now did I realize the geography. When it took me two hours to get home from Silverlake by bus did I understand that L.A. is MASSIVE. No wonder people crave connections–we’re all so far away!
I’m also flying to Seattle ($150 airfare!) for LitCrawl in late October–something, candidly, I would never have done had I still lived in New York. However, I’m staying with a fellow writer friend who has pets and lives far away from where the action is, and I see this as a good thing. I’m excited to see Sarah Hepola talk and a host of other writers read.
Luckily, I enjoy my company and don’t need many friends in my life, but I’m reminding myself that this work, these friend dates, this crippling anxiety–all of this is necessary.
Professional contacts….working on that.
6. THE LANDSCAPE: It’s incredible how a shift in geography will change everything. I’ve a whole new vocabulary to learn, a landscape to navigate. Plants that don’t grow in the East, tectonic plates that keep shifting, land that constantly rearranges itself. Even though I’ve traveled to Los Angeles on and off for twenty years, there’s nothing like setting roots here. My novel takes place in New York, Nevada and California, and much of the book relied on my impressions of the West coupled with research. Last week an idea crystallized for the third book, and I’m excited because it’ll take place in California during the 1920s and present day. This means more land to navigate, more to learn, more to feel.
My friend Pedro once told me that in order to learn a new language you have to think in the language. He’s fluent in five languages so you know I paid him the strictest attention. You can’t translate from the English, he said. You have to think, yo quiero ir… instead of I want to go… in the Spanish. Thinking in another language makes it intuitive; you feel the words as you’re saying them instead of relying on your brain to decode and translate. I feel that way about being in California. Until now I’ve been translating (and I’m still looking at this place through the lens of New York), and it’ll take me time to naturally interpret and speak the landscape so it feels visceral, real.
As you know I’ve a taste for the macabre, and the fact that my new novel centers around the appraising and selling of “touched” property (think cults, gruesome murders, suicides, the occult), I’m oddly excited to learn the language of construction, to see these houses and understand their architecture. There is so much history here, and I’m hungry to learn it.
7. FELIX UPDATE: In Los Angeles, there is no cowering from the light. In New York, buildings shielded me from the sun, but the light here is clean and abundant. So much so that it’s made my special guy content. I was worried how he’d adjust, and although he initially had a hard time without furniture (translation: boredom), he’s now content. Most days he stares out my many windows, battles with the washing machine and garbage disposal and longs to go out on my deck (not happening, mister). Much of his time is spent lazing in various columns of light that stream into my apartment. He’s so comfortable I wonder if I can send him out on my friend dates in my stead. He’d make for better company, clearly.
There’s so much more and I know I’m missing it, but these broad strokes are all I’m able to share at the moment. I can only imagine what it will feel like in a year’s time looking at this post with the advantage of perspective.
Posted on September 20, 2015
When I was told that I’d have to go without gluten for nearly a year I was sure the rapture was coming. I would sit in my doctor’s office while he pored over my bloodwork, shocked about my insulin spikes. What are you eating? he wondered aloud. How did you insulin levels jump this high so fast? At the same time my dentist studied my x-ray, studied me, and asked how I’d developed seven cavities in one year. I was 38 years old, drinking kale smoothies like it was my job and I was on the road to diabetes and several root canals.
DIABETES? You’ve got to be kidding me.
We have an image of sickness. A series of photographs and warnings that leave their indelible mark. I’m a relatively educated woman but I thought (erroneously) that diabetes was reserved solely for the obese, those who consumed processed foods. Let go of this image. Immediately. Diabetes doesn’t discriminate. Genetics also play a role, and seemingly “healthy” people can suffer from the illness. And while I was blitzing up smoothies and shopping local and organic, I couldn’t ignore the pasta, bagels and paninis I ate every. single. day. I couldn’t ignore that sugar and carbs subsumed the measly amount of vegetables, whole grains and legumes I consumed in comparison.
Last year I was on the road to ruin and I had to change my diet. FAST. But holy shit, how was I going to live without pasta.
When I first saw my nutritionist, I completed an exhaustive seven-page questionnaire and logged a food diary. One of the questions invited me to list foods I couldn’t imagine living without. I wrote: bread and pasta. These were my non-negotiables. Shoot me up with broccoli rabe and beets all you like–you’d have to pry a box of pasta off my dead body before I’d let go.
That was kind of a problem.
Recently I read Sarah Hepola’s Blackout. There’s a scene where she recounts lost time to her therapist. Hepola says, Everyone has blackouts, to which her therapist, bristled, replies, No, they don’t. I nodded along to this because I assumed blackouts were par for the adult course. One drank until they saw black. They drank until their mind was literally no longer able to create memories–the alcohol set up shop and was ready to do serious business.
I say this because I have a predilection for liking something to its unhealthy excess. I’m used to creating my own ruin because at least I thought I could control every aspect of it simply because the form of addiction is familiar. We cleave to that which is known–we’re frightened otherwise. And although I joke about chickpea fatwas and avocado addictions, there isn’t a day that goes by that I have to be mindful, aware, of my behavior. Am I ordering that pizza because I want to cope with an impossible client? Do I sit in front of my laptop and eat mindlessly because although I love Los Angeles, although I don’t regret–even for a moment–moving here, I miss my friends so dearly. I miss Amber. I miss Persia. I miss Mauve Cat Alex and Alex Alex (I’ve a lot of friends named Alex).
Food is for fuel not for recompense. Food is for subsisting not for cowering, shielding and hiding.
It took me a year but I now live a life where I’m not tethered to a box of macaroni and a loaf of bread. My insulin levels are normal, and after an expensive summer of painful dental work, I’m healthy, balanced.
Portioning my food into storage bins helps. Patroning farmer’s markets and connecting with the people who grow + cultivate the food I eat helps. California has brought me the gift of incredible produce. Never have I tasted peaches so ripe, with fruit so blistering claret. Never have I seen the diversity in pesto and tomatoes. Yesterday, before I met a friend for lunch, I trolled my local market and picked up bags of tomatoes, basil, peaches, cheese, figs, and local pork.
When I was eating gluten-free (I still sort of do), I hated the pastas. While it’s true that gluten-free fare has come a long way, corn, soy and potato are just as nutrient empty and unfulfilling as it’s white flour counterparts. Some brands didn’t keep well in the fridge, others were gummy and quinoa, for some reason, makes me extremely ill when I eat it.
I discovered Explore Asian’s bean pastas on a lark. The woman in front of me in checkout piled a few bags on the conveyer belt and I asked her if the pastas were any good. She nodded, said some were better than others, and she liked that they had a hefty amount of protein and held up well for leftovers. I’ve tried nearly all of them and they’re pretty exceptional. I’ve made them with avocado basil pesto, with chicken and all sorts of vegetables, and while the flavor takes a little getting used to (think of it as when you switched from Danon yogurt to Greek), these pastas are a mainstay in my pantry.
So after baking a peach crumble (i.e. this morning’s breakfast), I made this exceptional pasta dish. Not only did I need less of it (since the protein pretty much filled me up making room for PIE), I loved the flavors of the roasted tomato and bean with the salty sausage. AMAZING.
For the pesto
1 cup of tomatoes quartered. You can use any tomatoes, but I used 3-4 small of these farmer’s market tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil, salt pepper (all are for roasting)
2 cups of basil, packed
2 fat cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp pecorino romano cheese
1/2 cup olive oil (dial this up or down depending on how smooth you like your pesto)
Salt/pepper to taste
For the sausage pasta
1 package of your favorite bean pasta (I used this one), but you can just use a pound of your favorite pasta
1/2 pound of Italian or breakfast sausage out of their casings and roughly chopped
1 tbsp of olive oil for frying the sausage
Start with the tomatoes. In a 400F oven, roast the tomatoes with the olive oil, salt + pepper for 35-40 minutes until charred. Set the tomatoes aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large skillet, fry up the sausage in olive oil until brown (7-10 minutes). While the sausage is cooking, add the pasta to the now boiling water and cook until al dente (per your package instructions). While both are cooking, add the tomatoes (and their juices), basil, garlic, cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper to a blender and blitz until smooth.
Drain the pasta (leaving 1/2 cup of pasta water aside), and add the pasta to the pan with the sausage. Toss to combine. Add the pesto, toss to combine, and let cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
Serve hot with fresh basil and pecorino cheese. Enjoy!
Posted on September 17, 2015
For the whole of my career, I’ve been running on empty. Fresh out of school, I worked the long hours, took on all the projects just so I could prove myself. With every job or assignment I took, I always maintained a side-hustle–a creative outlet that invariably led me to my next job. Because when you’re interviewing alongside dozens of candidates who are essentially photocopies of one another, anything you can do to set yourself apart was tantamount. I’d never worked in book publishing, but I secured a job in online marketing in 2006 because I’d ran and publish a successful literary magazine, built and marketed a dot.com business from the ground up, and learned the fundamentals in marketing at a corporation where you needed to complete a requisition form in order to get a new pen.
I lived to work.
All those years I never found the fact that I’d sometimes go months without seeing daylight strange. I assumed it was par for the course, this is what you did in order to be successful. Giving the whole of yourself over to somebody else in exchange for a paycheck–you never stopped to think of what would happened if you gave away all the best parts of yourself, put yourself up for auction, what would be left? And is selling yourself and the years worth the paycheck? Because, invariably, you might make more money but the money only funds the distractions that take away from your overworked, anxious life.
When I left a job as a partner in a social media agency, I knew I would probably never make as much as I had but I was okay with that. I learned that I didn’t need things, and as long as I had a shelter, food, books, and the ability to travel and care for my cat, I’d be fine. I didn’t need fancy handbags or clothes each season since I normally wear the same ten items in my closet. I ended up donating and giving away my closet. I ended up making a fraction of what I used to make, but I got my sanity back. I became the friend who listened instead of waiting for her turn to speak. I became the friend who never took out her phone at dinner. I became the kind of friend who stopped cancelling plans.
I was present.
One of the reasons I moved to California was that I craved a quieter, slower life. I knew the risks–fewer friends, meager professional network–but I assessed that if I were going to panic about project work at least I wouldn’t be doing it in six feet of snow. Last year’s thirteen-month winter was relentless; I was tired of the grey mornings and cold that burrowed its way under your blankets and settled. Last year I woke daily to sadness, and I came here hoping to feel less of what I felt then.
What I hadn’t expected, so quickly, is how I’d become allergic to my home. It’s incredible how geography and proximity to stress changes things. Out of the maelstrom of the city, I started to react to calls where people would talk loud, fast and over you. I grew tired of the ubiquitous panic, the urgency, the we-know-we’re-not-curing-cancer-but-we’ll-still-act-like-we-are, anyway. The velocity and intensity with which people worked unnerved me, and yesterday I spent an hour with a wonderful client explaining how we could do great work without having an aneurysm.
Because I’m not living like this. I have this one life and I’m not living it to crawl my way into an early grave.
I know I have this privilege of risk, of turning away work with the knowledge that I may have to put my rent on my credit card. But I’m okay with that. Because if I wanted constant anxiety I would’ve never left my former life. I never would’ve given up a biweekly paycheck and health insurance.
I’ve worked for nearly 20 years and I finally want to choose the way I want to live this one life. For as long as I can, I’m going to try to live it on my own terms. And I’m not going to shoulder unnecessary stress.
My call went better than I expected, and I tucked into this soup late last night spent from the day but happy.
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped into fat chunks
1 28oz can of diced San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, rough chop
1 qt of vegetable (or chicken) stock, reserve 2 cups of the 1 qt aside
6 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stems
1 cup of basil, roughly chopped
1 cup buckwheat groats, rinsed and drained
This is honestly the easiest soup you’ll ever make. Add the oil to a large pot and turn the heat to medium/high. When hot, add the shallots and garlic with a pinch of salt, sauteeing the mixture for 1-2 minutes. Tumble in the heirloom tomatoes and toss with the shallot/garlic mixture for 3-4 minutes. Add the San Marzano tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, stock, and thyme, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook on low heat for 25 minutes.
Five minutes in, fill a small pot with 2 cups of the reserved stock and 1 cup of the rinsed buckwheat groats. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low, cover, and allow to cook for 17-20 minutes.
Add the soup to a blender with the basil (or you can use an immersion blender) and blitz until smooth. Return the soup to the large pot, add the cooked buckwheat groats, stir, and cover. Cook for another 10 minutes on low.
Season with salt/pepper, and chow down.
Posted on September 15, 2015
Today I’m chatting with Jenna Tanenbaum, founder of Green Blender, a service that delivers organic ingredients and recipes for superfood smoothies–right to your doorstep. Enjoy!
First off, congratulations on closing a round of seed funding! I’m in awe of Green Blender, and how you’ve transformed a genius idea into a fully-fledged business. Can you tell us about how Green Blender came to be, and what you envision as its future?
Jenna Tanenbaum: Thank you! The idea really came out of a frustration I had around health and wellness. Obviously what we eat is very important to our health, but in our society, when people decide to improve their health, often times, they go down a path of extremes and deprivation. We decide to give up carbs or go on a very restrictive diet and exercise plan where “no pain, no gain” becomes a mantra. I, myself, have gone on countless diets and cleanses where I am literally ticking off the days until I can have fro-yo and pizza again. This is not a sustainable approach to health and does not build healthy habits that last. Food becomes the enemy in these situations where guilt and restrictions run rampant.
I wanted to start a company that let people indulge in their health. If you love the food you are eating and it also taste great and is easy to make, then that’s sustainable. Investing in health is one of the smartest placed bets you can make.
I love that I am helping people start their day with a healthy decision and I’m ultimately helping them form not only a healthier lifestyle, but also a better relationship with the food they eat.
It’s so clear from your background that you’ve a passion for start-ups. How did you make the leap from working for companies that have such a strong, passionate vision to forming your own venture? What lessons did you learn from the meteoric rise of ClassPass?
JT: I have had a pretty eclectic career to say the least. I went to school for business and finance and started off as a consultant working in anti-money laundering and consumer compliance. I quickly realized that working in the regulatory industry wasn’t for me.
I remember reading a piece about the culture of Sales Force on a flight back from a client’s site and realized that I had to get into a company that had a strong culture. This is what spurred my career in start-ups. I was a product analyst at a real time data company, Chartbeat, and then went into marketing at ClassPass.
I learned two main things working at high growth start-ups. 1. The founders have to be passionate about the problem they are trying to solve and 2. The team needs to be passionate about the problem the company is trying to solve.
The first point flows into the second. How can you expect your team to be passionate about something if you are not?
What has surprised you most about launching your own company? What didn’t you expect? More importantly, what were you (or not) prepared for?
JT: Running a company, especially a health and food company, is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I was prepared to help people but I didn’t realize how deeply rewarding and satisfying I would find it. Food is so emotionally charged. Hearing how Green Blender has helped customers combat obesity, high blood pressure and lethargy while at the same time repairing the relationship they have with their health and with their food is truly an amazing feeling.
Who has inspired you along the way and why?
JT: My co-founder, Amir Cohen, inspires me all the time. Not only are we partners at Green Blender, but we are partners in life. He was the person who ultimately convinced me to quit my job, take a risk, and work on this idea with him. He inspires me because his approach to work and problem solving is so different than my own. I tend to be more of a work-aholic and he is constantly showing me that I can enjoy the process and I don’t need to be glued to my computer to be productive and effective.
I love working with him because I love observing how he executes ideas. He is very thoughtful and meticulous but he is a playful leader. He loves fun and really cares if others are having fun around him. I think this mentality really brings the most out of the people who interact with our brand. His approach is contagious and I can’t help but enjoy the process when I’m around him.
What are the three things that people who are interested in launching a start-up should know? Are there specific lessons you can share regarding food-related ventures?
JT: The three things I’ve learned:
1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable – this is my mantra. I am constantly pushing myself out of my safe heavens and getting out there to try something new. I truly believe that’s where you grow and learn the most. I am extremely camera shy when shooting videos but I recently committed myself to making a new Green Blender smoothie every morning on our Periscope channel. I seriously get a little shaky every time I hit start broadcast.
2. Get a product out there as soon as you can – Before we launched we had a lot of theories about who our customers might be and what they might want. We spent a lot of time thinking about them and designed our theoretical product with them in mind. Once we launched, of course, all that work went out the window and our actual customers took shape. One of the biggest mistakes an entrepreneur can do is wait to launch the perfect product.
3. Nobody will solve your problems but you – This is a big one. Core business problems must be approached head on – no consultant, employee or software will be able to solve the key problems in your business. Of course delegate as much as possible, but you must find the answer to the issues core to your business.
What are the three essential tools (or resources) you rely upon to get through your day?
JT: My blender – This goes without saying. I drink the Green Blender kool-aid hard core and will make a smoothie from that week’s box for breakfast. I’m then usually at my blender a few times a week testing new recipe ideas.
Rapportive – Rapportive is a Gmail extension that uses email address to pull LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. Green Blender is building a strong following and I use this tool to help identify potential leads for brand ambassadors and business development deals.
MeetEdgar – there is no way around it, brands must maintain a presence on social media platforms. Consistency (along with great content) is king and MeetEdgar let’s Green Blender categorize and rotate a lot of our evergreen content so my team doesn’t have to waste time republishing and writing content we can use again.
All images courtesy of Green Blender.