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pecan stuffed chicken breast

pecan stuffed chicken breast

 

Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Daphne Brogdon, modified 
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus for drizzling
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (6 to 7 ounces each), butterflied*
1 tablespoon molasses, mixed with 2 teaspoons hot water
1 teaspoon ground fennel
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 medium shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup pecans, toasted, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
3 tablespoons safflower or grape seed oil
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
Half 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

*I asked my butcher (or the person at the meat counter at your market) to butterfly and even out the meat. It was way easier than doing this at home.

pecan stuffed chicken breast

DIRECTIONS
Lay out a 15-inch-long piece of plastic wrap on a cutting board and drizzle it with a little olive oil. Lay a butterflied chicken breast, cut side up, on the plastic wrap. Fold the plastic wrap over to cover. Using a meat pounder, pound out the thicker parts of the breast so that it’s uniformly thick. Fold the plastic wrap open and brush the chicken breast with the molasses; season with generous pinches of fennel, salt and pepper. (This will be the inside part of the breast that gets stuffed.) Fold the plastic wrap back over and flip the breast over. Fold plastic wrap open and season the other side of the breast with salt and pepper. (This is the outside that will later get seared in the pan.) Re-cover with the plastic wrap and place on a plate. Repeat this process with the remaining chicken breasts. Refrigerate for 1 hour or up to overnight.

pecan stuffed chicken breast

Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and pecans, and cook another 2 minutes. Add the tarragon and cook another minute. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

pecan stuffed chicken breast

Remove a butterflied breast from the plastic wrap. Place it on a cutting board, molasses-side up. Place 1/4 cup of the filling on half of the chicken breast. Fold over the other half to enclose the filling. Using a bamboo skewer, close up the opening by threading the skewer through one end of the opening to the other to secure. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts and filling.

pecan stuffed chicken breast
pecan stuffed chicken breast

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the stuffed chicken breasts and cook for about 3 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Add the wine, chicken broth and crushed tomatoes. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and poach until the chicken is cooked through, another 8 minutes.

Pecan stuffed chicken breast.

Transfer the chicken to a plate, remove the skewers, cover the chicken with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. While chicken is resting, turn up the heat on the poaching liquid to medium, add the crushed red pepper, and let simmer until thickened and reduced by a third, about 5 minutes (I did it for 15 because I wanted it really thick). Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Strain the sauce into a small pot and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. Instead of the liquid, I used the tomato mixture as my dressing and it was glorious.

To serve: Slice the chicken, if desired, and arrange on a serving platter. Pour some sauce over the top. Serve immediately, with extra sauce on the side.

pecan stuffed chicken breast
pecan stuffed chicken breast

gluten-free blueberry waffles + morning memories

gluten-free blueberry waffles

You should know that today was the first time I smiled in months. Like full, open-mouthed smile. This is also my first time making waffles, and although I’ve made fancy French pastry and croissants, I never went the waffle route simply because I never owned a machine. I thought waffle machines (in the grander scheme of acquiring the bones of one’s kitchen) to be frivolous. It’s not an essential for the home cook like a food processor, good pots and measuring cups. However, it wasn’t until this morning that I realized that while a waffle maker isn’t essential, it brings me immeasurable joy. Making these waffles reminds me of weekends spent in Connecticut with Liz, and how every Sunday morning I’d wake to her brewing coffee and making waffle batter. I’d sit between her two children, entertaining them while she cooked breakfast and macerated fruit. Always I asked for a second waffle, and Liz would smile and pull a hot one off the griddle. After, we’d drive to church, and although I believed in God less and less with the passage of each year, I admired her pastor and the way he used scripture to talk about the minor hurts and major cruelties we suffer. I admire Liz and the way her faith comforts her, and often I’d look over at her during service and feel a similar kind of comfort watching her steeped in her devotion.

I never told her how much I treasured this weekend ritual or the fact that her home felt like home even though we’re not related. I never told her how much she means to me, having known her for half of my life, but we don’t get sentimental that often. We’re sometimes impenetrable in our own ways. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we’ve remained close for this long–we love and respect one another despite our faults and differences.

I hadn’t thought of Liz until this morning. Until I plated these waffles and I was reminded of the sweep of her hair, the way she hugs, the way her friendship is a constant regardless of geography and age.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe via The Food Network, modified slightly.
1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup safflower oil, plus more for brushing waffle iron
2 large eggs, separated
1 cup fresh blueberries, use 1/2 cup for the batter and the remainder for the topping
Pure maple syrup, for topping

DIRECTIONS
Special equipment: waffle iron

Preheat a waffle iron to medium-high. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F (to keep cooked waffles warm). Whisk together the rice flour, chickpea flour, tapioca flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the milk, oil and egg yolks in another bowl. Beat the egg whites in a third bowl until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes.

Pour the milk mixture into the rice flour mixture and gently stir until just incorporated (it’s ok if there are some lumps). Fold in the egg whites. Gently fold in the blueberries

Lightly brush the top and bottom of the waffle iron with oil. Fill the waffle iron about three-quarters of the way full (some waffle iron should still be showing). Close the lid gently and cook until the waffles are golden brown and crisp, 6 to 7 minutes (or per the directions of your specific machine). Keep the cooked waffles warm in the oven or covered with foil on a plate while you make the remaining waffles.

Serve with fresh blueberries and maple syrup.

gluten-free blueberry waffles
gluten free blueberry waffle

chorizo-spiced squash soup

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The first movie I remember seeing as a child was The Shining, on a weekend when the rain came down persistent and in sheets. I didn’t understand what I was seeing, only that it was arresting, and that there was so much red all over the screen. I didn’t cover my eyes through the scary parts (or so I was told), rather I sat mute, transfixed, curious. Often I joke about how good I turned out, considering. But it occurs to me that I’m rarely able to stomach movies that people find popular. I slept through E.T., refused to see Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and anything that remotely resembled action, comedy or romance sent me fleeing in the opposite direction. I made exceptions for John Hughes movies, and anything involving Corey Haim, Robert Downey Jr., or Andrew McCarthy because who could refuse stories of teenaged angst, alienation, and rejection, or the current guys sprawled across the glossy covers of Teen Machine and The Big Bopper? I grew up without cable TV (too expensive, too frivolous), and by the time I got to college, there was so much vocabulary from contemporary entertainment I’d been missing.

Instead of quoting lines from Beavis & Butthead and Bill & Ted, I read books and watched movies that had been edited for television. I used whatever money I had to rent horror movies from video stores and when I wasn’t watching somebody getting mauled, I read from one of the many books I borrowed from the library. As I grew older I became interested in art (painting, illustrations, comics, sculpture), history, languages, and philosophy, and less interested in pop culture. Admittedly, this can make dinner conversations awkward because I haven’t seen the latest movie or streamed the latest “IT” show. So while everyone this weekend was prattling on about Star Wars (I’m sure it’s good, I’m just not interested), that Tina Fey/Amy Poehler movie (I don’t always find them funny), and another movie about white bros in finance, explaining finance (why bother, as I can just reply the three years I worked in banking?)–I discovered Queen of Earth.

I’ve already watched the film three times (it’s on Netflix streaming). At the foreground, we’re witnessing, to a claustrophobic degree, the psychological unraveling of Catherine (played brilliantly by Elisabeth Moss) after the loss of her two greatest co-dependent relationships: her artist father to suicide and her boyfriend to his freedom. Catherine spends the week in “exile” at her best friend Virginia’s summer home (Katherine Waterston’s quiet, chilling performance is a terrific foil for Moss’s downright feral unwinding), and we learn that only the ones we love truly have the capacity to damage us. While we observe Catherine’s fragile emotional state, we’re reminded, via flashback, to the previous summer, where the tables were turned and Catherine was a lesser friend to the suffering Ginny.

Everything about Queen of Earth awed me–from the smart writing to the performances and the haunting score, to its depiction of mental illness (the unbearable silences and suffocation of depression), and the terror one feels when friends are no longer a refuge. The feelings of confinement and loss struck me, and I’m finally, slowly, writing something new again. Though part of me wonders when I’ll feel “normal” again.

So this is me, making soup, writing stories, watching dark movies. Just like childhood only with a few more years tacked on for good measure.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Year of Cozy, with modifications.
1 acorn squash (2 1/2 pounds), halved, seeds scooped out*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15oz canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon salt + additional, to taste
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
Teeny pinch of ground cloves
3½ cups chicken stock
Juice from ½ lemon

*I opted to use 2 lbs of cubed butternut squash + 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper and I roasted the squash for 40 minutes. It made for less mess and easy cleanup, and the soup was delicious.

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SOUP TOPPING (optional, modified based on what I had on hand)
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon ancho chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of ground coriander
Salt
3 tablespoons crème fraîche (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the squash, cut sides down, on the baking sheet and roast for about 30-40 minutes, or until mostly tender. Scoop the flesh into a small bowl if you’re working with the acorn squash. If you went the pre-cut butternut squash route, set the baking sheet aside. There might be some bits of the squash that aren’t completely cooked–not to worry, the rest will cook in the pot with the broth.

In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, cooked squash, pumpkin, chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt, oregano, cumin, coriander, and cloves. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the spices are fragrant.

Add the stock and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the squash is completely softened. Using an immersion blender, pulse until smooth, about 30 seconds. (If you don’t own one, just transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender. Add salt/pepper to taste.

To make the soup topping: In a small skillet over medium heat, add the seeds, oil, chile powder, cumin, coriander, and a pinch of salt. Toss to combine and toast for about 2 minutes.

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silver dollar latkes

latkes

I’m a creature of habit, and twice a week I’d walk to Cobble Hill to take a megaformer class, but it was mainly a ruse for the latkes I would invariably hoover at Karloffa joint that I’m sure is now far fancier than it used to be. I loved the ritual of sitting down in a familiar place and ordering the same thing time and time again. Ritual delivers me calm, gives me a sense of home, and if you ask me what I miss about New York I’ll likely tell you that I miss latkes at Karloff. I miss ice cream at Ample Hills. I miss walking around Prospect Park while I played a single song on repeat. I miss repetition.

The folks at Karloff made superb latkes, and I would have them with a red pepper aioli sauce (don’t ask me because I loathe mayonnaise, but for some reason their aioli was golden) instead of the traditional sour cream and applesauce. Sometimes I’d have my latkes with a kale salad (when I was feeling semi-virtuous), but other times I would simply enjoy fried potatoes simply for the sake of having them. I miss that. Potatoes on a plate every Monday and Wednesday. Funny the things you miss. Funny the things that follow you months after you’re sure you’ve forgotten them.

Today I had plans to see an old friend and go to a fancy book thing, but I’m not yet ready for crowds and it’s supposed to rain (a rare treat in Southern California), so I decided to stay home and make latkes and watch movies. I decided to recreate one of the many things I loved about living in New York, a place I will always, fondly, call home.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Bon Appetit, with modifications. This recipe makes 24 latkes, but I like mine hefty so I got about 15.
¼ cup almond meal
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
⅛ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
3 pounds russet potatoes (3 or 4), peeled
1 large onion
1 large egg
2 tablespoons olive oil (the original recipe called for schmaltz, and I know that olive oil doesn’t have a high heating point, but it worked just fine and I like the flavor it imparted on the latkes)
2 tablespoons (or more) vegetable oil

DIRECTIONS
Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet; line with 2 layers of paper towels. Combine almond meal, salt, baking powder, and pepper in a small bowl.

Using the large holes of a box grater or a food processor, grate potatoes and onion. I’m not going to lie–I used a box grater and I got an arm workout. Transfer to a large kitchen towel. Gather ends of towel in each hand and twist over sink, wringing out as much liquid as possible. Open towel; toss mixture to loosen. Wring out again (excess moisture will lead to soggy latkes).

Transfer potato mixture to a large bowl; add almond meal mixture and egg. Toss with your hands to thoroughly combine.

Preheat oven to 425°. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil and 2 tbsp. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into skillet. If the fat sizzles around the edges, it’s ready (do not let it smoke). Working in 5 batches and adding more oil to skillet as needed to maintain about ⅛” fat, drop small spoonfuls of mixture into pan, pressing gently with the back of the spoon or a spatula to flatten slightly. Cook latkes, occasionally rotating pan, until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. (You may occasionally need to pick out stray potato bits from oil if they start to burn.)

Transfer latkes to prepared rack and let drain. Remove paper towels and bake latkes in oven until all are warmed through and re-crisped, about 5 minutes.

latkes

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double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

finally…doughnuts + some happy bits

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For the first time in three months, I had a week where I didn’t want to lie down on the bathroom floor and count the tiles. I consider this progress. I took a few new business calls, cleaned my apartment, submitted a draft manuscript of my new story collection to my agent, I contemplated getting a tree but settled on a string of lights for my patio, read three books, and resumed spending time with old friends + planning new friend dates. Yesterday I went spinning with an old friend and former coworker, and after class, she pulled a doughnut out of her bag and confessed that she got into Santa Monica early just to pick up a Sidecar Doughnut and did I want to stop by for firsts and seconds?

Obviously, we went. And we went hard.

As you know, my love for the doughnut knows no bounds. I remember spending one day on a self-designed doughnut crawl across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, and was so cracked out on sugar I was catatonic. And although I can’t go crazy with the gluten (see last year’s plague of burning hives + the steroids that made me hallucinate and vomit into garbage pails in the middle of the night, but I digress), I’ve allowed myself one strong gluten situation a week. It’s usually bread as I’m not into pasta as much as I used to be, and I’m now of the philosophy that if I’m going to hoover a bowl of fettuccine, it better be fresh, homemade, and weep-into-my-bowl good. Yesterday, I savored a cinnamon cake doughnut and made no qualms about accepting free, hot samples, and you need to know that these are the best doughnuts I’ve had in my LIFE. So much so that I’m writing a whole ode to a doughnut joint that has two locations in California.

Real truth.

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I love these doughnuts because they’re yeasty so you’re not getting a heavy cake batter bomb, rather you’re enjoying a light, airy pastry that has a bit of a crunch, but it’s feather-light. The toppings are pretty extraordinary, and the time that my friend and I stopped by in the morning, we saw a guy frying up a huge pan of bacon for one of the doughnut toppings. BLESS. All ingredients are local or organic, and the flavors are thoughtful, ingenious and creative. I tried the huckleberry (with berries straight from Seattle), butter/salt, apple fritter (that tasted like a croissant with an apple caramel glaze!) and a Hawaiian blend that oozed cream.

Tears. If you ever find yourself in Los Angeles, run, don’t walk, to Sidecar. I’m giving you gospel here.

[Cough. Insert segue.]

Tonight I was texting my friend Joanna about our cats and how I tend to abhor home decor books. I used to be into the Shabby Chic aesthetic until I realized I loathe pink and don’t have an interest in frills or antiquing, and most books tend to be poorly written and offer homes/solutions that are unrealistic for my taste and budget. Home decor books occupy a space on my shelf that is barely touched or referenced, and I have a hard time getting rid of my collection because I spent so much damn money on it.

Not so with Anne Sage’s Sage Living. Anne + I have a friend in common, and we’ve traded emails on occasion, but I was really taken with her recent interview–so much so that I paused my home decor book fatwa and ordered her book. Although I couldn’t relate to having the financial support of a family or a spouse (I’ve pretty much been self-sufficient from birth), I do know what it feels like to have your life uprooted and upended and having your art be the thing that pulls you through that dark country. I admired her candor and her willingness to own her privilege, and how she was able to reshape a dark time to create something that would yield joy and a sense of home for others. In her book, she enters rooms across the country and offers a nice cross-section of styles + aesthetics. The owners are not interior designers but people who have made their spaces in a reflection of the lives they desire for themselves. The stories, balanced with Sage’s practical advice, gives the book a warmth and depth that is missing from most home books I’ve encountered. It’s empowered me to revisit my space and re-affirm that it’s my creative sanctuary. It’s re-affirmed my desire for owning nothing extraneous, to only possess only that which is necessary and adored.

On an unrelated note, I snapped this picture next to one of the nine succulents I still own. I’ve been known to kill cacti so the fact that these plants, as well as my floor plant, are still alive is a testament to SOMETHING that’s changed in my life. And sometimes one needs those small reassurances (I’m no longer a cacti killer!) to keep going.

 

 

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kale, brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad

kale brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad

You can’t imagine how wonderful it feels to make healthy food after The Epic Sadness Q4 2015 (sometimes I need a little humor to shine a light in the darkest of situations). For weeks, I stared into an anemic refrigerator, unable to cook or bake with very rare exceptions. Instead, I ordered out and made recipes that required me only boil water. And for those who’ve been following my journey to eat mindfully, know that what you put in your body directly contributes to your emotional and physical well-being. So in an effort to turn the beat around, I made (and reserved the leftovers) a pound of chicken cutlets to accompany all sorts of recipes. My favorite dish is chicken cutlets breaded in almond meal and fried in a butter/oil mixture, topped with fresh cheese. I usually pair this with an arugula salad because I love the buttery chicken juxtaposed with the sharpness from the bitter greens. In a former life, I’d dump the chicken over pasta or macaroni and cheese (!!!) but I want to feel energized after every meal instead of falling into a catatonic state. A heaping serving spoon (or three) of pasta will do this to you.

This morning I woke early and decided to make a simple salad. If you would’ve asked me a year ago if brussels sprouts would be part of my salad repertoire, I would’ve accused you of smoking crack. I used to LOATHE the brussels sprouts, however, I think the taste is predicated on how you cook (or don’t cook) the vegetable. Now I love sprouts charred and roasted, topped with a little maple syrup, or served raw when it’s shredded and dressed in oil.

Know that I’m typing this forking salad into my mouth. Enjoy!

 

INGREDIENTS
For the salad
1lb brussels sprouts
3/4lb Lacinato kale
1/2 pomegranate seeds removed
Optional: 1 avocado, skin removed and roughly chopped

For the lemon mustard dressing
1 large shallot, roughly chopped
1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey (or you can use 1/2 tbsp maple syrup)
Zest + juice of 2 small lemons
1/2 cup macadamia nut oil or olive oil
Salt/pepper to season

DIRECTIONS
First, make the dressing. Place the shallot, garlic, mustard, honey (or syrup), zest and juice into a small bowl. Mix until combined. [Here’s a captain obvious method for not getting seeds into your dressing: squeeze your lemon over a strainer.] Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify the mixture. Essentially, your dressing should be creamy and pale blonde in color. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Honestly, the hardest part of making this salad is shredding the sprouts. Don’t use a box grater–I tried that and made a mess all over my counter. Instead, remove the outer skin layer and chop off the stems. Using a sharp knife, slice the sprouts thinly. Pull them apart and the look will resemble confetti. Add the shredded sprouts to a large bowl. Once you’re done, chiffon the kale and add them to the bowl of sprouts. Slice a pomegranate and remove the seeds. Mix in the pomegranate seeds, add the dressing and stir until all of the leaves are coated. I like to set this aside for 20 minutes so the flavors really come out. Chow down immediately after.

I had this salad with some leftover chicken.

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kale brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad
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eating blueberry pie + growing older

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I turn 40 next month and I hadn’t really given it a lot of thought until recently. Until a friend responded to something I’d say with you’re not in your forties yet. A kind of slow-your-roll response, to which I laughed and said you’re right. I have a habit of rushing through things. I won’t burden you with a tidy list of things I’ve learned now that I’m approaching four decades of living because I kind of think those lists are a remarkable pile of bullshit–one can’t demarcate knowledge acquired neatly within a decade, rather knowledge is learned and unlearned and re-learned, and what we have with age is the comfort and discomfort you feel when you oscillate between what is known and what is not.

I read a tweet yesterday where a beautiful woman was applauded for looking “young” at the ripe old age of 43 as if we expect our women to be covered in scales with gray weeds sprouting out of their head. As if money and surgery and societal pressure don’t have a say in the matter. As if we keep reminding women about how they look over the years instead of how they’ve lived. I’ve had my time to look and feel young and I’m okay with the fact that when I look at my face in the mirror the reflection back isn’t the Felicia of 17, 27, or 35. I’m okay with lines on my face and a body that aches a little easier than it used to. I’m okay with standing aside and watching the next generation find their way and interpret the world for us, as we did. I’m fine with sitting in quiet. I’m getting accustomed to letting go of regret.

Perhaps what’s bothering me is the notion of mortality and how it presents itself as the years cycle forward. I didn’t much think of death when I was younger because it felt like an impossibility. You’re filled with all of this wonder and promise and you can’t even fathom the idea of loss. Until you grow older and the casualties slowly creep into your life. By 25 I only knew of one person who had died–a suitemate of mine in college who suffered from inoperable brain cancer. Yet her loss felt random, a freak occurrence of nature–unimaginable. And then a good friend of mine died of cancer, and then another. And then someone I knew took his life. And then another. People you love, and acquaintances you know only slightly, depart. Loss makes itself known whether you want it in the room or not, and when I got a mammogram this year and I learned I have dense breast tissue (nothing to be concerned about–just something which requires attention), I thought that the impossibility of dying became real, possible and unavoidable. Now I think it would be insane not to have health insurance because you never know. When I was younger I thought about the life unfurling in front of me, and while I still think about that, while I still try to hold on to the wonder, I think about time, about all the ways in which I could avoid squandering it. I’ve moved from desperately cleaving to the want of happiness and toward a life of purpose. And I suppose I will continue to oscillate between the wonder and the legacy for years to come.

At various points in my life doctors have asked me if I’ve ever considered taking my life. I nodded my response and said while I thought about it and all the ways in which I’d devise my end when it came down to it, I wouldn’t do it. I would only think about it, and the thought would come like a torrent and it would leave as swiftly as it had arrived. All the doctors would invariably follow the first question with this–why? And at every point in my life I said because there’s so much beauty left. There’s so much more worth doing in the small time we have here. Because it’s not fair to just give up. Because I don’t only want to know one small piece of my life without experiencing the whole wonderful composition of the rest of it. One of the few gifts that time breeds is perspective, context. A few days ago a new friend came by with her sweet daughter and we walked around Santa Monica, and she did the thing I wanted her to do–talk about anything other than the specter that I’ve been thinking of (i.e. this omnipresent sadness). We got to talking about Room (the book and the movie) and I’d expressed anger about one specific scene. There’s a scene where the mother is being interviewed about her time in captivity, and when her son was born had she ever considered giving him up. The mother is incredulous. Why would she give up her child? So that it could be free was the seemingly obvious response. And in that moment I saw the ways we’re cruel to mothers. We paint them as selfish, their bond to their child unhealthy, borderline selfish. Freudian. As if there exists a singular moral truth for every situation. The scene was minor, but I walked away from the film and my re-reading of the book, angered. My friend, who’s a new mother, and I talked about this for a bit–the idea of morality within context. There might have been a time when my moral compass would have been myopic, my pursuit of right and wrong, binary. But now there exists so much gray. Context emerges. Empathy creeps into the picture.

I don’t have much to offer about growing older. I can’t deliver neat little listicles that are easily tweet-able. What I can tell you is this–age has brought me physical and emotional space. And that space is filled with so much gray. That space requires patience, temperance because it dawns on you that you are in the midpoint of your very short life and the world is not clean, simple and complete. And this is okay. As the years press on, you keep telling yourself that this is okay. That it’s okay to settle in the gray, vacillate in the betweens.

Or who knows? You may already know all of this at 25. I could be wrong and that’s okay too.

 

INGREDIENTS
For the pie crust: makes a nice 9″ pie, it can also create 2 4″ pies (approximately)
2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 tbsp organic cane sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 sticks of cold, unsalted butter, cubed. Keep this in the freezer until you need to use it.
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup ice cold water

For the pie filling:
4 cups blueberries
1 cup organic cane sugar
3 1/2 tbsp flour or cornstarch

DIRECTIONS
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt until combined. Cut the chilled butter into the mixture with a handheld pastry blender. Cut together until the butter is the size of small peas or lentils. If you’re using a pastry blender, don’t SLIDE the blender, press down on the butter against the flour or you will lose the integrity of the solid butter. You can also pulse all of the ingredients in a food processor. I opted to do this by hand as I wanted to understand how the dough should look and feel before I take shortcuts. Of note, it takes a while (10 minutes) for the dough to be properly cut, so be patient.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, chilled water and apple cider vinegar. Using two forks, make a “well” in the center of the flour mixture. Pour the egg mixture into the center of the well. Using the two forks, toss dough from each side to cover the wet well and then toss the flour mixture into the egg mixture from the bottom up. Toss this gently as if you were tossing a salad. I know this sounds odd, but it’s genius. I used to use my hands and I ended up overworking the dough and my crust would always have a cookie-like, tough texture. Do NOT touch the dough with your hands and I even recommend chilling the forks.

Intermittently, check the dough by lifting it up with the fork on its side. If you see lots of “sand” that means you need another small drizzle (think 1 tbsp) of cold water and continue to toss until the dough comes together. You don’t want a wet, sticky dough rather you want a dough that completely comes together. Continue tossing until there are no loose crumbs of flour and the dough sticks together.

Turn out the dough onto a baking sheet, wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Believe me when I say that this is critical. YOU DON’T WANT TO WORK WITH WARM DOUGH, TRUST ME.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. While your dough is chilling, in a large bowl toss together the fruit filling mixture. Remove your dough from the fridge (after 30 minutes) and unwrap. Coat a clean, dry work surface with a dusting of flour. Lightly coat the chilled dough with the flour. Cut the dough in half and coat the cut edges with flour. Place one-half
of the dough on the flour dusted surface. Wrap the other half and chill in the fridge.

Using a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough. Make sure you lift the dough between rolls and make sure the dough surfaces are coated with flour so it doesn’t stick. Continue rolling the dough. Roll each corner of the dough, one time, then turn the dough clockwise, roll again, turn, roll again, until you achieve a round circle of dough about 10 inches in diameter (1/8 inch thick). Fold the dough in half. Gently, transfer the dough into the pie tin, align the dough with the center of the tin, covering half the tin. Unfold the dough to cover the other half of the tin. Gently, relax the dough into the tin to shape. Cut off any excess dough hanging over the edge of the tin.

Now you can fill your pie with your fruit mixture! Place the pie tin in the fridge (cooling again! I’m serious, kids!) while you roll out the top crust.

Remove the other 1/2 of dough from the fridge and roll out until you achieve a round circle of dough about 10 inches in diameter (1/8 inch thick). Fold the dough in half. Remove the pin tin from the fridge and transfer the folded dough onto the top of the pie. Unfold to cover the entire pie. Cut off any excess dough hanging over the edge of the tin. Fold the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust. Crimp the crust with your fingers to create a decorate edge.

Chill the pie until the dough is firm (20 minutes). Once chilled, brush the top with heavy cream and cane sugar. Cut three score marks in the top of the pie to allow the pie to vent while steaming. Place the pie on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake the pie at 400F for the first 20 minutes. You want to shock the pie to allow it to hold the integrity of its shape and create a flaky crust. Reduce the temperature to 350F and bake until the pie bubbles in the center — approximately 45 minutes.

Remove, cool on a rack, and serve with ice-cream!

 

blueberry pie

orange + olive oil cake

cake

 

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

 

DIRECTIONS
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.

seeded banana bread

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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

DIRECTIONS
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.

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pasta with pumpkin + tomato sauce // the weight of what you carry

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I’m in this odd place. After a bewildering few weeks, I finally felt some semblance of normal. I cut my hair, ripped hair out of my face (as I’d start to resemble Chewbacca), drafted new project proposals, revised short stories I’d written, and resumed trading cat photos with my closest friends. And then yesterday happened. I couldn’t get out of bed and I felt such a wave or sorrow I crawled under the covers all day and wrote. This felt so unsettling that I made myself walk nearly five miles to Marina Del Ray to watch Room. I had the theater to myself and it was strangely wonderful to enjoy (if one could say that about Room) an exquisite, heartbreaking film. After, I felt normal. On the way home I realized I agreed with this review, that I’d just seen a misogynist movie about misogyny, and thought about all the ways we’ve internalized hating women for the choices they make. Even the most resolute feminists. I came home and it was cold and I stayed up late, seemingly happy, and made plans for today.

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about the concept of how we choose to share parts of ourselves online. I’ve shared much of my life (with some very definitive limits I’ve set for myself–things you will never know) on this space but lately I’m feeling the need to withdraw, because sharing drives strangers to tell me what they feel is best for me and even though the words come from a place of good, they’re words from someone who knows only one part of me–the one I’ve chosen to share online. Very people know the whole of other people–doing that not only requires a tremendous amount of vulnerability but it empowers people to know you in context, know you beyond the words you share or how you shape a story. They see beyond your shape.

My friend Amber (who’s the kind of beautiful friend who checks in on me daily and I love her for it) shared this post today and much of it resonated, specifically this:

Another thing I’ve learned about friendship is that you will often be surprised by who shows up for you and who doesn’t. Sometimes, the people you show up and show up and show up for let you down. And sometimes they show up and show up and show up for you and you let them down. And sometimes the people you’ve blown off or that you would blow off if given the opportunity are the first to show up for you.

Geography has a way of letting you know which of your friends are willing to put in the work, or which friendships devolve into the passive catch-up game on Facebook. I read your status update and blog post, hence I know what’s going on in your life. The kind of friendships you scroll through but never exist in a more profound way. Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve found comfort from people whom I least expected. New friends and old who’ve been through what I’m going through or they’re good at navigating sorrow. They don’t try to “fix me”, rather they just listen. The say, what can I do? They ask, how can I help? Sometimes they don’t say anything at all but they pick me up at my apartment and walk around Santa Monica and let me talk about everything but my sadness because my sadness has been the only thing I’ve been thinking about. Or they invite me to their home, cook me dinner and give me a list of things I need in the event of a zombie invasion. I laugh on the car ride home and think the world is filled with good, beautiful people and happiness is something worth fighting for. I wake to hope because reading this makes me feel like I’m not crazy.

So I’m doing this most annoying thing ever–I’m writing a winded blog post about what I’m not going to talk about. I’m in an odd place and every time I’ve attempted to blog I struggle with not wanting to talk about what I’m going through and finding something else to say. I’m finding a way to talk around this that’s honest because I only want to publish something on this space because it means something to me. I’m not here for the filler. I’m not beholden to anyone but myself. I don’t care what people think of me. While this vague and very nebulous sadness weighs heavy (and will be resolved, offline), I’m also surprised at the rate in which I’ve been able to produce new work. Amidst all this stuff, I’ve been writing non-stop. I’m working on a mixed-media story collection tentatively titled, Women in Salt, and these are stories about women in and out of peril, in various states of disquiet and unrest. I’ve living off savings at the moment and I’ve been spending money in commissioning custom illustrations and photography for the pieces I’ve written–all in an effort to add a visual layer. I also want to include short commissioned films throughout (10-15 seconds) so you feel these characters as if they’re matryoshka dolls–the varying media forms reveal layers within the story.

I published this short piece on Medium today, and who knows if anyone’s reading these stories or if anyone cares. Yet there’s one truth that is a certainty to which I need to hold on–this work is giving me joy amidst a disquiet I can’t logically explain. While my consulting proposals sit in inboxes this work gets me up in the morning. This work makes me want to care for the person in disquiet.

So there you have it. What I’ll talk about (everything but the elephant in the room), what I won’t talk about (this sadness and my journey through it), this new project, and lunch thrown in for good measure. I never said this was going to be neat and tidy. But it’ll be honest.

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil
2 tbsp of the reserved olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp onion powder
4 sage leaves
1 tsp salt/1 tsp pepper
1 15oz can pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups crushed red tomatoes
4 cups of chicken stock
Salt/pepper to taste
1 lb gluten free pasta
1 lb ground sirloin
1 cup pecorino romano cheese

DIRECTIONS
I was inspired to make this dish based on a soup I made last year, which was surprisingly delicious. It may sound bizarre to mix pumpkin and tomato, but I assure you that the combo yields such a superb depth of flavor. Just make sure you use pure pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie mix–they’re often shelved alongside one another during the holiday season so be careful as you don’t want your pasta to taste like pie…well, unless you’re into that sort of thing.

In a large pot, add the sundried tomatoes, reserve oil, garlic, onion powder, salt, pepper, and sage leaves and cook until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the pumpkin, tomatoes, chicken stock and stir until completely combined. Let it simmer on medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Blend the mixture with an immersion blender or in a standard blender. Allow the sauce to simmer on low, and if you need to thin out the mixture, add chicken stock.

In a large pot with salted water cook your pasta to al dente based on the package directions. I chose a gluten-free rigatoni, however, you can use any kind of pasta (linguine, fettucini, penne, etc). While the pasta is cooking, fry up the sirloin in a large skillet on medium/high heat. Over the years, I’ve learned a sage lesson about browning meat–don’t mess with it. Add the meat to the hot pan, break up a little with a wooden spoon and let cook for 4-5 minutes before you break down the meat so it cooks completely. If you keep futzing with your beef, you’ll overwork it and it’ll get mealy.

When the meat is done, ladle in the sauce, drain and add the pasta. Add salt, pepper, and pecorino cheese and serve immediately!

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pumpkin, sage + goat cheese risotto

pumpkin, sage and goat cheese risotto

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.

INGREDIENTS
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

pumpkin, sage and goat cheese risotto
pumpkin, sage and goat cheese risotto

DIRECTIONS
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.

pumpkin, sage and goat cheese risotto
pumpkin, sage and goat cheese risotto

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