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leaving for singapore + bali tomorrow: would love your tips!

Photo Credit: Zachary Symm

Photo Credit: Zachary Symm

After months of seven-day workweeks, hectic days, and planning for a cross-country move, know that I can’t wait to board a plane tomorrow (I ran out of Xanax, so my coping with potential turbulence during an 18-hour flight should make for good comedy). I’ll be in Singapore and Bali for two weeks in an effort to get centered, find calm, and eat copious amounts of food. While I’ve been to Bali, Singapore is completely new terrain. All I know about the city is that it’s hot and the street food game is strong.

If you’ve been to Singapore and have recommendations on what to do, see and eat, please drop me a note in the comments or tweet at me, @felsull.

Be prepared for two weeks of snaps from my holiday with some freelancing tips and move updates in between!

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Reading: How to be a decent human on a plane + how to prep (really prep) for vacation so you can actually enjoy it.

roasted strawberry raspberry tart with toasted almond crust

roasted strawberry raspberry tart with toasted almond crust
It seems to me then as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time. ―W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

You feel what follows you. Lately I’ve been thinking about an old friend. Let’s call her K. We met at Columbia, at one of those forced gatherings where everyone was fresh-faced and feckless. Where everyone traded stories about their high hours at Bowdoin and Swarthmore, or talked about the new Rick Moody and the old Joan Didion. They were mostly white and hailed from New England or some other tony town they were intent on fleeing. Towns that would forever haunt their fiction, even though they didn’t know it, even though they were equally desperate not to show it. I thought I had this game racked having graduated from Fordham, where affluence was ubiquitous, where my friends rowed crew or played lacrosse. College was the first place I learned that people could summer and winter. But this was a whole other level of wealth–my classmates had the kind of money that afforded them the ease of worrying about how to fill the hours, while I was calculating the time from now until I had to return to work so I could afford all the books and supplies necessary to learn how to write.

I remember sitting on the grass eyeing the exits, wondering if it would be rude to run. What was I doing here–a failed banker turned dot-comer–with my stack of sloppy, overwrought stories about my mother? I’d spent much of life writing my way to her as if she were an undertow from which I wanted escape and absolution. While these strangers had their two-floor homes and childhood rebellions, I had a specter with hair that was a forest I’d spent my childhood wanting to get lost in and the feeling that I would never fit in. These strangers would soon read my stories (and butcher them) and I was frightened of being second rate, of being found out.

I thought again about running. There was still time to withdraw. I could cancel the loans, get back my deposit and go on with my life. I wonder now how my life would have been different if I left. I think about that a lot sometimes, although I try hard not to because there’s no sense in revisiting a past that’s impossible to rewrite.

Then someone suggested an icebreaker: let’s all name our favorite authors. I thought I was well-read until I heard my classmates speak. When it came my turn I talked about Salinger, Cheever and Bret Easton Ellis. I’d read American Psycho in college and I was obsessed with Pat Bateman’s pathology and the nihilism in Ellis’ work. This guy was dark and I was having all of it. And although it was a dark that was foreign to me–wealth, beauty, privilege–Ellis’ rage, anger and rawness was palpable. These were pretty people doing ugly things and not giving a fuck about it, and when I was 24 that was all I wanted to talk about.

Judging from the uncomfortable silence I was the only one in the group who wanted to talk about Bret Eason Ellis. Until K. Until a beautiful blond from California–specifically, Newport Beach–leaned into me and confessed that she loved Bret Easton Ellis. We became fast friends because I suppose we felt like outcasts. She took a workshop with Ben Marcus and everyone skewered her stories set in Los Angeles and Vegas. They judged her striking beauty and her predilection for tight clothes. And I, well, I was strange, insecure.

Back then I was the kind of woman who’d already be drowning before I set foot in the water. You’ll drown before the water lets you in. The trick, what I’d mastered, was how to breathe while treading water.

K had a sister, and their story played out like Less Than Zero. K was the good daughter, although her family thought it silly that she’d fought hard to go graduate school (To write? On the East Coast?) because she’d only come home to marry a real estate developer and bear his children in their McMansion. But they allowed her this diversion, this temporary $100,000 vacation while her sister liked her party favors more than she should.

Looking back, I think K and I became close because we were alone, lonely.

After my first semester I dropped out of the writing program because I too liked my party favors more than I should, while K pressed on, writing her stories. We were friends for the two years she remained in New York, and I remember following her out to Los Angeles for a week-long vacation. It was the second time since I’d been to California (the first was a Greyhound I took to meet a pen pal when I was 17), and I climbed into her SUV at LAX and she laughed at my-all black outfit and told me I had to change. We spent that week drinking in yacht clubs and doing far too many drugs. And for a long time that’s how I regarded Los Angeles–a city where one could so easily drown. A prettified place where one comes undone. I boarded a plane back to New York and I felt strange. I felt a clock ticking, our friendship expiring. It would be another year until she’d tell me that she wanted to go back home, she had to because California was home.

Where does everyone go when they say they have to go?

This would be a year before we sat on the shoreline in a beach in Miami watching the sky paint the waves black. This would be a year before she’d order ceviche and we’d sneak out of our cheap motel with scratchy blankets for dinner at the Delano. This would be a year before she’d tell me that we’d always be friends. This would be two years before I learned that we wouldn’t always be friends.

You feel what follows you.

It’s been over a decade since K and I have spoken. She’s married with a beautiful child, living in a home with a man I never liked. And it occurs to me that this is the coda to the two stories of friends I’ve lost (I’ll meet S a few years later after K), the refrain of look at her get married, look at her have children, look at her go… It occurs to me that S and K are from Los Angeles. We share a broken familial lineage, a history of drugs, and intense loneliness.

It’s only until this week did I take responsibility for two great loves falling out of my life. Granted, they’re not without fault, but while they climbed their way out of the dark I was still content on burrowing my way in. I wore my sorrow proud, and felt defined by my history. For years I hated Los Angeles–I used all the storied stereotypes, talked about how I was team Biggee, went on about how could one live in a city filled with so many cars–because the place of their origin was a reminder of their limits. Maybe there came a point when they decided it wasn’t worth it to follow me into the dark. Perhaps they realized before me that pain wasn’t beautiful, cathartic or romantic–it was just pain and they were tired of feeling it. It would take me years to climb out and I did it mostly alone.

I’m this close to signing the lease on my new home in Los Angeles. Come September I’ll be in a new home, and I’m relieved that I no longer conflate an entire state with my broken friendships.

This weekend I found myself cleaning, sorting, packing, and I came across photographs of me and K from that weekend we took in Miami. I think about her now, I wonder about the terrific stories she wrote that she never published, and I hope she’s happy. I hope they’re both happy.

You feel what follows you.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, slightly modified.
For the crust
3 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup toasted almonds, divided
1/4 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

For the filling
1 pound strawberries, stemmed and cut in half
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp maple syrup, divided
3/4 cup + 1 tbsp apple juice, divided
3/4 tsp powdered gelatin (the original recipe called for agar flakes, but I couldn’t even find these in the specialty store)
1 tsp arrowroot (you can also use cornstarch)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups fresh raspberries

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line the bottom of a 9inch springform pan with parchment paper, and lightly oil the sides.

Grind 1/3 cup almonds, oats and salt in a food processor until coarsely ground, about twenty seconds. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the flour. Hand chop the remaining 1/3 cup of almonds and add to the mixture. Drizzle in the olive oil, and mix with a fork until all the flour is moistened. Add maple syrup, vanilla, and almond extract. Mix well until evenly incorporated. Wash and dry your hands and then press crust evenly into the prepared pan until you’re a 1/2 inch up on the sides. Prick bottom several times with a fork and bake for 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Raise the oven temperature to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Add strawberries and drizzle with olive oil and 1 tbsp of maple syrup. Toss until coated and roast for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Combine 3/4 cup apple juice and gelatin in a small heavy-bottomed pot and bring to boil over a high heat. Whisk, cover the coat, bring the temp down to low and allow it to simmer for five minutes. In a small bowl dissolve the arrowroot in 1 tbsp of apple juice and slowly drizzle into the hot gelatin mixture, whisking vigorously. Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining tablespoon of maple syrup and vanilla. Set aside, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Place roasted strawberries in a bowl and pour in the warm gelatin mixture. Stir gently with a rubber spatula. Add raspberries, and toss until evenly distributed. Working quickly, transfer the mixture to the baked tart shell and carefully spread out the filling in an even layer. Refrigerate for 25-30 minutes until filling is completely set.

roasted strawberry raspberry tart with toasted almond crust

roasted strawberry raspberry tart with toasted almond crust

strawberry black sesame seed crisp

strawberry black sesame seed crumble

When I was younger, my father and I would go on drives. We lived in a home where the air couldn’t get in. The windows were whitewashed shut and the shades drawn, and even on the brightest of days it was normal for us to feel as if we were cloaked in darkness. After school I’d wait for him to return from Brookville, where he worked breaking thoroughbred horses, and we drove around the five towns surrounding the place where we lived–windows down, radio on blast. When I was 10, I was in a car accident that shattered my collarbone, and, as a result, one of my arms is demonstrably longer than the other. It’s only noticeable when I point it out or in yoga, when I have to use props to balance myself out. So cars always felt like these monstrous machines intent on hurting people. I was unfortunate to be in four car accidents since, so you can imagine my fear of getting into a car.

The measure of my love and trust is my ability to sleep while someone drives.

I loved watching my pop drive, his hand forever steady on the wheel. For years, I looked forward to our ritual drives–we never had a destination in mind; we simply liked feeling movement beneath our feet. We had hope climbing out of the dark into the light. Sometimes we’d make a game of how many fast food restaurants we could visit in one day (Roy Rogers, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, etc), and other times we visited pristine, ice-chilled malls, browsing for finery we could hardly afford. Our friendship was deep, true and honest, and filled with memories we’d trade like playing cards. Even now, even after all this time, I only need to mention that one time you drove the wrong way on Merrick Road, and we’d be instantly transported back to former versions of ourselves, watching the cars come at us. The stories never feel old regardless of how many times we tell them. I suppose we need these stories as markers of time passing, as reasons to live, and I can’t imagine a life without my pop. I can’t imagine not sitting next to him while he drives. I can’t imagine not seeing the profile of his face, tan, with lines burrowing their way in. The way he used to dye his hair black and now he’s content to allow time to have its way, proudly acknowledging his dignified grey.

The last time I saw him we were in a car parked for two hours outside of a Starbucks, talking. I can never get over it, he said. You were once a child. You were small. We acknowledged our twenty-seven year friendship, and I told him quietly that I can’t imagine the kind of woman I’d be if he weren’t in my life.

And now you’re taking off, he said. I nodded. So there’s that.

My pop loves sweets. He loves pies, tarts, cookies (which he affectionately calls ‘biscuits’), so I woke early today and make this crisp with him in mind. My still-beating heart, hand-delivered to him.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, quite honestly one of my favorite cookbooks of the year. I do not regret this purchase! I modified the recipe a tad.
1 3/4 pounds hulled strawberries, cut into halves and quarters (I used a mix of strawberries and raspberries)
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp unrefined light brown sugar (or coconut palm sugar)*
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup almond flour
1 cup gluten-free oats
1 tbsp black sesame seeds
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange
7 tbsp coconut oil

*Since my palate has been used to a diet reduced in sugar I found the crisp a tad sugary for my taste–especially since the fruit was ripe and sweet. In future versions, I’ll bring the 1/2 cup down to a 1/4 cup + 3 tbsp.

strawberry black sesame seed crumble

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400F.

Place the strawberries in an ovenproof dish (I used a 9inch glass pie dish) with the 3 tablespoons of sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla extract. In a separate medium bowl, mix the almond flour, oats, sesame seeds, and the rest of the sugar. Add the orange zest.

Break the oil (I used softened coconut instead of melting it) into little chunks and add it to the bowl and then use your fingers to rub the mixture together, lifting them out of the bowl to get some air into the crisp topping. Once the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs and there are no big lumps of coconut, you’re good to go.

Pile the mixture on top of the strawberries and bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes, until the top is golden and the strawberries have shrunk and started to caramelize around the edges.

Allow to rest on a rack for 15 minutes before serving.

strawberry black sesame seed crumble
strawberry black sesame seed crumble

lentil meatballs in lemon pesto

lentil meatballs with lemon pesto
I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. ― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

By this time next week I’ll be somewhere in the Middle East, en route to Singapore. At first I thought planning a trip smack in the middle of summer, a short month before I pick up my life and move out west, was insane. However, as the days near I’m grateful for the time and introspection. I’m humbled to return to Bali, a magical place I visited four years ago when I was admittedly a broken woman. Normally, I don’t do travel repeats because there’s so much of the world left to see, but this trip feels auspicious. I’m seeing a place from a different vantage point, and in a way I’m revisiting the woman I used to be and being present enough to see the journey from one version of myself to another.

Last week I had lunch with two dear friends. I’ve known them for nearly fifteen years and we talked about what it’s like to reach the middle of our life. They’re planning a family and I’m embarking on some major changes, and we consider our once-frenzied states, and how now our lives pretty much demand introspection and calm.

I go into next week having juggled three clients for months and I’ll leave Asia in two weeks time readying for the maelstrom that will ensue. So know that I’ll be enjoying this private space between the two, gathering strength, being quiet.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook, modified slightly
For the meatballs:
1 cup lentils, preferably French le puy lentils
2 eggs
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup goat milk ricotta
¼ cup grated pecorino romano
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
⅔ cup gluten-free breadcrumbs (you can also use almond meal)

For the lemon pesto sauce:
1 clove garlic
¼ cup pistachios
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt + pepper
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp water

lemon pesto

DIRECTIONS
Place the lentils in a pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, uncovered, until lentils are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool

Once cool enough to handle, place in a large bowl and mash lightly with a potato masher. It should be half mashed, half whole lentils. Add eggs, olive oil, cheeses, garlic, fennel, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and breadcrumbs. Stir to combine and set aside for 15 minutes so the flavors blend.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cover a cooking sheet with parchment paper.

Meanwhile, place garlic, pistachios and lemon in a blender and blend until smooth. Add lemon juice, basil, olive oil, and water. Blend until smooth. If you like a thinner consistency, add a couple tablespoons of water.

Form 1-inch “meatballs” using the lentil mixture. If it’s too wet and not holding together, add a couple extra tablespoons of breadcrumbs. If it’s too dry, add a couple tablespoons of water. Place each meatball evenly on the baking sheet. Once you’ve made all the breadcrumbs, spray lightly with olive oil. Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes, turning halfway.

lentil meatballs with lemon pesto and kale salad
lentil meatballs with lemon pesto

what we talk about when we talk about good food: munchery

munchery meal delivery service

Years ago, I worshipped at the altar of Seamless Web. Back then I was an equity partner in an agency, working 12-16 hour days, and I’d spend most days in airless conference rooms, on a plane, or tethered to my desk. Weeks would go by and I wouldn’t see daylight, and it had become commonplace to order all of my meals online. When you’re in the midst of frenzy, the last thing you’re thinking about is nutrition. All you want is the comfort you’re not finding in your life. So I’d order an egg sandwich or pancakes for breakfast, pasta for lunch and noodles for dinner and there came a point when my doctor confronted me and told me that I was on the road to diabetes. My insulin levels were that high. My dentist was apoplectic–How did you get seven cavities in one year? WHAT ARE YOU EATING? I was forever exhausted, depleted and sluggish. Over the course of three years I’d gained 40 pounds, and it was only when I could no longer endure retching stomach pain, when I got fed up with my clothes tearing apart at the seams, and my doctors expressed true alarm over my health, did I make a change.

It’s been nearly a year since I first met with Dana James, who sincerely changed (and saved) my life. Words can’t express the magnitude of my gratitude, how she’s empowered me to see the connection between what I put in my body and how I feel physically, emotionally. I’d spent the greater part of my life at war with my body, starving it, hating it, shoveling garbage into it, and over the course of our work I started to recognize that health isn’t a size or a number on a scale. Health is about making conscious choices on how you manage your life. I’m a pragmatist so I realize the pile of cliches I’m feeding you, but it took me months to realize that my weight gain and sickness were a direct result of my inability to manage stress in my job and an overall dissatisfaction with my life. Take that, and add in a predilection for addiction (give me time and I’ll get hooked on ANYTHING), and there goes my health and wellbeing, crumbling before me.

Believe me when I say that I like my anaesthetics. I’m wired such that I deal with stressful situations by turning to things that dull and numb them. This has been my practice for most of my life (insert alcohol and drug addictions), and I had no idea that I’d replaced booze and blow with carbs and cheese. I’d seamlessly moved from one addiction to another without even recognizing it.

I’m grateful to Dana, who’s also a behavioral psychologist and addiction specialist, for teaching me how to rewire my behavior. Instead of reaching for that which soothes the pain, I now confront the source of the pain and make steps to avoid it, where possible. I draft contracts and take on clients in a way that works for me and my need to have complete solitude. I need that time for regeneration or I’ll get panicked and enter a stress cycle. I make sure that I stock my fridge and cabinets with healthy foods and that I skimp on other areas of my life to focus on healthy eating.

For most of the week, I prepare my meals at home, but there are a few days a week when I am in all-day meetings and conference calls. Come nightfall, I’m catatonic, and the only thing I want to do is watch a movie, play with my cat or scroll Twitter. No way do I want to be in the kitchen washing and chopping greens.

Way back when I read a post on Hitha’s blog on Munchery, an affordable, healthy meal delivery service in New York. At the time, Munchery* didn’t service Brooklyn, so I signed up for availability notifications. Recently, they sent me a note, offered me a free meal for signing up for their mailing list, and I’ve since purchased (and enjoyed!) two meals.

Each meal is prepared by a resident chef, and the ingredients are fresh, delicious and locally sourced. What I love about Munchery is the price (meals range from $9.99-$15), transparent nutritional information (each meal has a complete breakdown of ingredients, nutritional and allergen info), the convenience (I order for same-day delivery and I even get texts to let me know my meals are on their way), and the taste (my meals were flavorful, perfectly cooked and plated beautifully).

Part of me wishes I can smuggle this service to California because I can’t get over the quality of the food for the price. What a find!!

*As you know I don’t collaborate with brands for any reason, at any time. This blog is my hobby, not my business, and I only write about things I love and have paid for with my hard-earned money. The link above is part of their referral program (kind of like Gilt), where I get $ towards future meal purchases when people sign up. If that’s not your bag, simply go to Munchery.com and live your healthy life. :)

Yes, that's Felix stalking my meal. Luckily, I snatched my plate away before he could dive in, paws first. SIGH.

Yes, that’s Felix stalking my meal. Luckily, I snatched my plate away before he could dive in, paws first. SIGH.

walnut and marjoram pesto with radicchio

walnut and marjoram pesto with radicchio
There are some people who seem tickled to take on your sad history as their own. It’s an object to cuddle and sculpt to their floating aspirations. They see a chance, in you, to be their best selves. You can be the prettying gleam they turn their profile toward. –From Darin Strauss’ Half a Life

People have opinions, and they’ll do anything to share them short of buying a megaphone and shouting from the rafters. Their point-of-view resembles a three-piece luggage set they’re desperate to unpack. Everyone wants to warn me about Los Angeles, a vapid wasteland suffering from a drought of intellect. I don’t understand why you’re not moving to Santa Cruz, some says, to which I respond, it’s not for you to understand. I read endless articles where long-term tourists anthropomorphize New York, throw glitter on a city and call it their unrequited lover, while I sit mute, incapable of reply because New York is my home, not some romanticized idol from one’s misspent youth.

Some want to spend time talking about my move through the lens of their life. They use it as a filter to validate (or question) their life choices. Should I move too? Should I be making a major change? Am I okay? There are those whose sole responses are nothing more than plentiful and positive platitudes. This will be a needed change for you! Let in all the light!, etc–reductive, airless words that don’t invite dissent. My fear feels like an intrusion in this pretty space, and I’m left to express thanks and move on. Others have spent the past six months asking me detailed logistical questions about a move I’ve only started to plan–they want the story neat, packaged, and digestible so they have an aperitif worth passing along to others come brunchtime. Everyone likes the status update about me finding my dream apartment but no one wants to hear about the paralyzing fear and uncertainty of leaving the only home I’ve ever known. Give me a picture painted in sepia without the details.

I’m baffled and exhausted. I’m moving across the country–I’m leaving my home, friends, everything that is comfortable, convenient and known–yet I’m shouldering the weight of the collective self-analysis, the burden of opinions. I’m moving. I, first-person singular nominative case personal pronoun. My move is not about you or your life choices. Over the past few months I’ve felt subsumed by the noise that comes with people telling me how I’ll feel, where, when and how I should move, however, I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve asked, quite simply:

How you holding up?

No one’s asked me how I’m doing. Are you okay?

Instead, every encounter is an hour where I get it up for someone else. I present a tidy story that can be repackaged and sold elsewhere. Sometimes I watch the discomfort when I talk about being afraid of making my rent, my fear of driving and not being able to buy a car. I think: what if I can’t start my new book? What if I fail? (Though I know failure is a good thing, but it doesn’t make the sting of it any less cruel). I watch people wave the fear away, change topics, tell me that everything will be okay because I’m like a cockroach in the apocalypse. In the end, my fear feels small, not worthy of casual conversation, and I go home and collapse into bed and wonder if I can tape record the story of my move and press play so as to avoid all the good things people want to hear.

Don’t get me wrong–I just closed on an apartment and I’m thrilled beyond measure. The idea of biking along the beach and hiking in the mountains makes me quiver. The notion of navigating a new place and creating familiarity amidst the foreign is a challenge I welcome. I’ve friends in L.A. I haven’t seen in years and reuniting with them excites me. But still. I’m afraid, and this fear isn’t simple or neat–it’s raw and ugly and is like a suitcase overturned and the contents strewn all over the place. I want to feel this mess, the whole of it, and perhaps this is why I’m not seeing a lot of people. Perhaps this is why I’m withdrawing. Because I don’t want a broom just yet. I don’t want to spend my time making you feel okay about my major life change. Right now I need to be selfish. Right now I need to go through this.

Right now I need to surround myself with people who will hold my hand through the way–just as I’ve always held their hand during their moments of disquiet.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, modified slightly.
12oz gluten-free penne
1 head of radicchio (about 7oz), shredded

For the pesto
1/3 cup shelled walnuts
1 small garlic clove, peeled
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch of fresh marjoram, leaves picked
1 bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, stir to separate and cook to al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, toast the walnuts in a dry pan for 2-3 minutes. Remove the walnuts and blitz with the garlic in a food processor until it’s a thick paste. Add the herbs and blitz. Add the oil and lemon juice and blitz. Season with salt and pepper.

When the pasta is done, take 1/4 cup pasta water and drain the rest. Mix the pesto, pasta water, pasta until completely combined. Add in the shredded radicchio and mix. Serve hot!

walnut and marjoram pesto with radicchio

walnut and marjoram pesto with radicchio

almond meal strawberry cake with coconut cloud cream

almond meal strawberry cake with coconut cloud cream

I feel like my journey through the in-betweens has been a constant refrain, but I can’t help it. I’m feeling the impermanence of my surroundings as I start making dates with all the people I want to see before I leave. I regard my carpet, my couch, much of my possessions with this odd detachment because I know they’ll soon be gone, put up for sale on Craig’s List and removed from the home that will no longer be mine in a few month’s time. I hit refresh on an apartment complex, hoping to find my new home (I’ll imagine this will be my plight when I’m in Asia and I’m more than prepared to leave in August). I sit in my friend’s bedroom while she packs for a business trip and while I adore her wardrobe, I think, so much black. Strange coming from someone whose wardrobe was once the color of night. Yesterday I tell an old friend over dinner about how I’m surrounded by predators posing as house pets, that I’m drowning in mediocrity, and that I need to move to a place that hasn’t been ruined by tourists. I need to not be in a maelstrom, on the verge of frenzy. I’ve abandon red lipstick and consider softening my black hair, and another friend quips that I’m becoming Red from OITNB. Today I think: why do I still own Ina Garten’s cookbooks? I order a story collection penned by an old friend who was my trigger, my drinking buddy, and I’m reminded of a time before we wrote books. We wrote stories and drank and talked about the stories we wanted to write. She’s published them while I’m trying to sell the world on the kinder, gentler psychopath. I think, there was a time when we were on the verge. And now I think that everything that was going to happen has happened and there’s nothing left to happen until I happen to be somewhere else. But I’m stuck here for two months with a trip to Asia breaking up the in-betweens and I’m anxious for what’s next.

This is chrysalis and it’s really fucking strange.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook, modified to exclude gluten/dairy ingredients, and I changed the whipped cream recipe.
For the cake
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup almond yoghurt (plain)
3 tbsp coconut, melted and cooled slightly
2 cups almond meal
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1/3 cup cane sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp sea salt

For the strawberries + coconut cloud cream topping
1 15oz can of coconut cream
1 tbsp honey or agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups sliced strawberries (sliced)

DIRECTIONS
Turn your can of coconut cream upside down and place it in the fridge to chill. Pre-heat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 9-inch round pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. (To do this, just turn the pan upside down on top of the paper and trace with pencil. Cut-out and insert).

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the eggs well. Add vanilla, yogurt, honey, coconut oil, and whisk. In another bowl combine and mix together the almond meal, flour, sugar, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add to the wet ingredients, mix, then pour into the prepared pan. Bake until a inserted toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool completely.

While the cake is cooling on a rack, start the cream. Take the chilled coconut out of the fridge, scoop out the thick top layer and add it to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the honey and vanilla and whisk until thick, like heavy whipped cream. Put in the fridge to chill for 15-20 minutes.

Pile the cream on the cooled cake, along with the strawberries and DIVE IN.

almond meal strawberry cake with coconut cloud cream
almond meal strawberry cake with coconut cloud cream
almond meal strawberry cake with coconut cloud cream

dairy-free lemon crèmes with oat crumble

dairy-free lemon crèmes with oat crumble

Remember that bit about shopping my cookbooks? Well, over the past week, I’ve been on a spree that would put Cher Horowitz’s heart on pause. It’s been nearly a year since I made the decision to overhaul my diet and focus on a plant-based diet, and if I looked at posts from then and compare them to now I’m very much a changed woman. Yesterday I found myself paging through two old cookbooks, Sprouted Kitchen and Sweet Paris, and had this been a year ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about baking rich pastry or dousing my countertops with bread flour. The more virtuous cookbook would have been treated like a changeling, paraded out for the occasional post where I’d fix a salad.

Don’t get me wrong–Sweet Paris is a gorgeous book. The photography is lush and the paper stock, generous. The recipes are decadent, presenting Paris in all her plumage…BUT. I’m able to consume gluten and dairy, albeit infrequently, BUT. I can’t explain it other than to say I couldn’t get it up for brioche. The affection I once had for sweet hasn’t completely abated, rather it’s changed shape and form. While I’ll always love my cookies, sweet loaves and crumbles, I no longer have a taste for the heft of gluten or the saccharine sweet pile-on of granulated sugar. Rather, I’m constantly intrigued by imaginative baking–new ways to transform ingredients you’d never of in a dessert.

Take this lemon crème. Traditionally, I would have made this with lemon, egg yolks and heavy cream, but this version seemed wonderfully odd. If I’ve found success in using avocado as a creaming agent in pestos and chocolate mousses, I thought I’d make the leap with silken tofu.

TOFU.

God, who am I?

Funny I should tackle a vegan dessert after having read this piece on veganism and idealized body types (this article warrants a whole other post, so I won’t get into the politics right now), however, I will say that this crème DOES. NOT. DISAPPOINT. It’s wonderful chilled after four hours but I downed it for breakfast this morning and it’s downright glorious. I love how the honey and lemon are dominant flavors while the tofu serves to give the texture one needs for a pudding. The oats give it a nice finish–all crunch–and made me feel as if I were eating a parfait rather than dessert.

But who can refuse dessert for breakfast?!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook
For the lemon crèmes:
1 12.3-ounce package extra-firm silken tofu*
2 tbsp fine or medium-ground cornmeal
Pinch of sea salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup honey (for vegans, you can use agave!)
Grated zest of 1 Meyer lemon
3 tbsp freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice

For the oat crumble:
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup old-fashioned gluten-free rolled oats
1/4 cup chopped raw almonds
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

*This is important. Do not get regular tofu as it’s grittier. Get the kind marked Silken.

DIRECTIONS
For the lemon crèmes: Wrap tofu between a few layers of paper towels and set aside to drain for 10 minutes.

In a food processor or in a bowl using a whisk, blend tofu, cornmeal, salt, honey, and lemon zest and juice until completely smooth, about 1 minute if using a food processor. Divide mixture among 4 small bowls and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

For the oat crumble: Preheat oven to 350°.

Melt coconut oil until liquid in a small saucepan or in the microwave. In a bowl, stir together coconut oil, vanilla, sugar, and salt. Add oats and almonds and stir to coat everything evenly. Rub half of the thyme leaves between your fingers to release their fragrance and stir them in. Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until just toasted, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Once crèmes are chilled, sprinkle cooled crumble on top. Garnish with remaining thyme.

dairy-free lemon crèmes with oat crumble
dairy-free lemon crèmes with oat crumble
dairy-free lemon crèmes with oat crumble

blueberry mango coconut smoothie

Blueberry mango coconut smoothie

What a weekend. Actually, I’m glad it’s over, and I never thought I’d say those words aloud. On Sunday, I discovered this print via an online friend and I bought it, immediately. If I could mark these words along my body, I would, because sometimes I need to be reminded of the obvious. Ignore the expletives, which only serve as shock value (although in this day and age fuck seems less profane and more commonplace), for the advice is spare and honest.

This weekend, I learned that an old friend ushered in a new life, and while I’m happy for her this happiness is imbued with a certain kind of sadness. The kind of sadness where you’re nostalgic about the friendship you used to have, the people you used to be, even if you realize both have no a place in the life you’re living now. Sometimes you think of this friendship as if it were a postcard and it hurts to remember all the strained, uncomfortable silences that punctuated between the lines. You know the friendship ran its course, was good for what it was while you had it, but still.

It also occurred to me that I’m leaving, really leaving. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on joining the legions of long-term tourists and their cringeworthy odes to Joan Didion’s seminal essay because there’s no romance in my leaving, it’s just something I need to do. I’ll spare you the diatribe, but I will say this: one day I woke up and my home became a stranger. One day I was a sophomore in college and everyone I knew had the same points of reference–most of us grew up here, lived our lives here, but time took it all, whitewashed our references, and while others strayed, I remained and struggled to preserve what it was like to be a city kid. And then came a moment when I thought it would be nice to stop struggling. It would be nice to have a new point of entry, frame of reference, and the decision to leave came as swiftly as the sorrow that preceded it.

But I’m rotten at goodbyes–I prefer hellos. So there’s that, and all the logistics (financial and otherwise) that I’ve got to manage within two months. It’s…a lot.

When I read the aforementioned print, a line lingered: The problem contains the fucking solution. Pacing my home, I kept saying that line, over and over. I wrote down each worry, every consideration and dissected it to find the solution. With regard to my former friend, I was sad that I’ll only have the kind of closure I’ve created for myself, and I have to let it all go. And on it goes. On to the next. Committing to paper all the problems and ferreting out the solutions.

Is it no longer that I couldn’t make anything other than what can be tossed into a blender?

Thank pony it’s Monday.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup of almond (or coconut) milk
1/2 cup fresh mango, diced
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
2 tbsp of your favorite protein powder
1 tbsp coconut flakes
1 cup spinach
ice

DIRECTIONS
For smoothies, I tend to start with the base of liquid, fruit, powder, and then I’ll add my vegetables. I’ll blitz this in my Vitamix (you could use a high-powered blender) and then I’ll add the ice so the smoothies doesn’t get watery and all the ingredients cohere. Drink immediately!

blueberry mango coconut smoothie

homemade pad thai

pad thai

Funny how Facebook has a way of breathing new life into old wounds. Killing time, I stumbled upon news of a birth. Someone I used to know and love had a child, and normally I would be unfazed–I’d just keep scrolling, but this singular update, a life change, put my heart on pause. I was reminded of the cold excision of our friendship, a hurt from which I would need two years to recover. I spent most of today reliving that sadness, breathing through it, in hopes that it’ll pass as swiftly as it arrived. Today was supposed to be different. Today was supposed to be an extension of yesterday’s jubilance, of scrolling through potential homes in Los Angeles. Today wasn’t supposed to be this.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook
1 cup boiling water
2 tbsp tamarind (from a pliable block)*
3 tbsp Asian fish sauce, preferably naam pla
3 tbsp packed palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 (7 ounce) package dried flat rice noodles (1/8 inch wide)**
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (I nixed this)
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 small shallots, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound medium shrimp in shells (31-35 per pound), peeled deveined and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I nixed this)
1/2 pound plain ultra-firm tofu, rinsed, patted, dry and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
8 scallions, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1 inch pieces
4 tbsp crushed unsalted roasted peanuts
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Lime wedges are tasty

*The tamarind I purchased at my local market was fresh and already in liquid form so I nixed this whole process.
**I used brown rice noodles.

DIRECTIONS
Pour boiling water into a bowl, add tamarind, and stir mashing gently, for 3 minutes to soften. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids; discard solids.

Combine fish sauce, tamarind mixture, palm sugar, granulated sugar and salt in a small saucepan and heat over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Soak noodles in 10 cups boiling water in a large bowl until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain well. Alternatively, you can cook your rice noodles to package directions. As long as you rinse the noodles in cold water, you’re fine.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok ( or large deep skillet) over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add eggs and cook, stirring, until scrambled and just cooked through, about 1 minute. Transfer eggs to a bowl and tear into small pieces.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in wok ( or skillet) over moderately high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add garlic and shallots and stir-fry until just beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add shrimp and stir-fry for 1 minute, then add tofu and stir-fry until shrimp is just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl with eggs.

Heat wok over moderately high heat until hot. Add tamarind sauce and bring to a boil. Add noodles and stir-fry until tender and excess sauce is absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg and shrimp mixture, 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts, scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and red pepper flakes and toss well.

Mound pad thai on a platter, top with remaining 1 cup bean sprouts, and sprinkle with remainging 2 tablespoons peanuts. Serve with lime wedges.

pad thai

a virtuous banana bread

seeded banana bread

But I opened my eyes too suddenly, for no reason at all, and the beach at East Hampton has vanished, along with Bluebell and the cats, all of them dead for years now. The Turkish towel is in reality the white nubbly counterpane of the bed I am lying in, and the cool ocean breeze is being provided by the blessed air conditioner. It is ninety-three degrees outside — a terrible day in New York City. So much for my daydream of sand and sea and roses. The daydream was, after all, only a mild attack of homesickness. The reason it was a mild attack instead of a fierce one is that there are a number of places I am homesick for. East Hampton is only one of them. –From the Preface of Maeve Brennan’s The Rose Garden

I want to go. Now. My landlord asks me if I can send him my utility bill for a rebate. In response, I turn off my phone and bury it under a blanket. At home, where I’m lulled into an odd delusion of serenity, horns blare for five hours straight. Amidst all of this anger, all of this come on, now. All of this I have to be somewhere and why can’t the ant that is your car inch forward? Just drive. Why can’t you move your fucking–? Heel of the hand pumps hard. I’ll show them. I’ll beep this horn longer than they think I can. A woman shouts out her window, you’re a real big shot. You know that? And I don’t know if she’s talking about the dozens of ants in their cars honking or if she’s making small talk. There’s another woman who sometimes paces my block and she talks about how her face is peeling off. Her only salvation is Jesus Christ, so it’d be real good if you people could accept the Lord as your goddamn savior so my face can get back to what it was. I live in a neighborhood forever in repair. I live in a place where people move the curtains to one side, curious. Is her face really off? The woman bellows, can you hear me?

Oh, I can hear you. I think the only thing that can take off your skin is you smoking in the heat. Snakes like the desert; they prefer the heat.

Silence is a tree, I say once. In a forest, my pop says. Where no one’s there to hear it, I complete. I don’t buy that, my pop says. There’s always someone in the forest. A bird, an insect, a body covered in cool leaves–there’s always signs of life, my pop tells me. You can’t erase life out of a forest. One can’t unsound. And I say it’s not about the life which occupies the inside and perimeter, rather it’s our distance from it. So why a forest? Why not a boat in the ocean? A graveyard, he laughs. Ha ha. And I’m all straight when I say there’s probably more life among the dead than among the living. Look at the obsequious somnambulants–all of them–sleep-waking into their phones!

And so it goes.

Over the weekend I watch a funny movie about suicide. Trust me on this one. After the film, I keep thinking about the main character, Sophia, and how I have ashes of my Sophie on top of a bookcase and would it be cruel to put her away, somewhere quiet (but we’ve determined there is no quiet, no unsound, no fucking forest) because maybe it’s time? But this: I remember the rise and slump of her chest, how I held her–all four pounds of her–in my arms. I still own the sweater from the day when I last held her and I think about burning it. Would I keep those ashes in a tin nearby too? Is silence me in a bedroom crying into a chest where a heart no longer beats while a man with a needle and a woman with a towel wait patiently on the other side? Is silence the door that divides the two? Are we nothing if not the architects of our own forest, the makers of our own doors?

There’s a book on the floor, one I’ve been meaning to read–Half a Life. Tick toc, tick toc, toc.

I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life, a woman weeps. What is this, I think. I’ve become the sort of woman who cries over sentimental movies. I never used to be this way. I never used to cry. I used to go through my life not feeling much of anything.

I’m told that neural mirroring is a sign of empathy. Sit in front of a psychopath and yawn. For most, a yawn is contagious–people unconsciously mimic as a sign of compassion. Yet there are those who will sit across from you; they’ll engage in polite conversation and ask if you’re tired, and then you realize you’ve met someone who’s not interested in playing your yawning game. They’ve got their own forest. Their own locked doors. And then you wonder if rationality is standing behind your gossamer curtain, face up in flames. Because you’ve got the itch. Your skin is peeling if only you would just say the words. Give in to Augustine and Montaigne, into a book that foretells a white kingdom where only a privileged few are given trespass.

When I was younger I had a habit of chewing the ends of my hair. I quit it during college because eating one’s hair is the sort of thing that makes you stand out and the irony of college is that the training wheels have come off and being an adult becomes a precious exercise of blending in. Four years later I’m at a party in an apartment where the floor threatens to give way and Cate arrives with a white kingdom in a glassine bag and I’m still Christian. Back then, I still believe in a god but after that first line, after I twirl in a bathroom and maw at my ends, do I wonder if this vast white forest supersedes an old story in the oldest book.

I tell the story of silence like a knock-knock joke. I text my pop, what’s silence. We play this game. We’ve gotten good at it over the years. We rearrange the furniture, dust the curtains and put out a tray of stale cookies. Silence is the sound of holding your breath. Still looking for your forest, he says.

I suppose so. I suppose I will grow homesick for this forest when I make passage to another.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from A Modern Way to Eat (I’ve altered the recipe quite a bit)
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 cup seeds (1/3 cup hemp seeds, 1/3 cup sesame seeds, 1/3 cup black sesame seeds)
1 tsp baking powder
3 medium bananas, mashed
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp coconut milk (full-fat)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 400F. Spray a loaf tin with coconut oil and dust with coconut flour.

Mix all the dry ingredients (flours, sugar, seeds, salt and baking powder) in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.

In a separate bowl mash the bananas, then stir in the olive oil, coconut milk, vanilla extract and eggs.

Gently mix together the wet and dry ingredients, just until there are no pockets of flour left. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, then bake a little lower down in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the loaf comes out clean.

When the loaf is cool enough, transfer to a cooling rack. This is pretty yummy still warm, but also good at room temperature or toasted and spread with either butter and a little honey or almond butter. You can also use this as French toast or in bread puddings.

seeded banana bread

seeded banana bread

lentil salad with mustard dressing + shopping my cookbooks

lentil salad with mustard dressing

Getting rid of books is a painful process. It’ll take me months, sometimes years, to let go of a book I rationally know I no longer desire or need. While I’m able to discard clothing and household items with ease, tossing books feels like bloodletting. So know that when I put out over 40 issues of Gourmet, Martha Stewart Living, Food & Wine and Bon Appetit, along with 22 cookbooks, I was exhausted. Know that as I watched passersby pilfer through the magazines and page through the books I wanted to run downstairs and snatch them all back. Even if I have no intention of making Ina’s salmon bisque in the near future.

When it comes to clothing I tend to rotate between 10 items in my wardrobe because it’s easy. Rarely do I have to think about what I’m wearing each day for longer than a minute. Sadly, I’m the same way when it comes to cooking. I have five cookbooks on my living room floor and I cycle through them until I buy another cookbook. Rarely do I find recipes online because I’ve been burned by so many blogs, and I’m old-school–I like the feel of pages clumped together from overuse, and the promise of a completed dish that only a glossy photo can offer.

However, I’ve forced myself to get surgical with regard to the items I have in my home because I have to pay to move them to California. Yesterday, I paged through every cookbook and magazine I owned and asked myself whether each still inspired. I wondered aloud if I’d still cook from this book given how much my life (and subsequent eating habits) have changed over the past year. Books I once adored suddenly felt like strangers. I’d lost interest in the old-school Food Network chefs I once revered, and my taste in desserts has shifted to the more virtuous. Sure, I’m down for a piece of rich pastry, but I’ve decided to only keep the decadence to a whisper. While I’m able to consume gluten sparingly, I don’t have the taste for it as I once had. And books that I’d purchased because I was drawn to the particular personality behind them, yet found the recipes uninviting to my palate (Rachel Khoo), found its way to the giveaway pile. Books that were beautiful but served no other purpose than offering me rich paper stock and gorgeous photos–they too became a member of the departed.

At my height, I owned upwards of 350 cookbooks. Now I own a lean 43.

all of my cookbooks

Over the next few weeks I’m going to “shop my cookbooks”, which is to say that I’m dusting them off and determining whether I need to trim down even more. Some cookbooks haven’t been used in years and I plan on returning to Nigella, Martha, Thomas Keller, and some of my old favorites to see if they stand up in my current life.

Can I tell you how thrilled I was to start with Sophie Dahl? There is SO MUCH GOODNESS in this book, and I plan to cook up her Mexican eggs, and scores of healthy eats. But first, these lentils.

Over the past year I’ve fallen in love with lentils. They’re filling, versatile, and packed with protein. From salads to soups, I’ve cooked all sorts of varieties, and when properly dressed it stands up against its gluten counterparts (orzo, couscous and the like). The dressing gives the salad some bite and the feta is creamy and silky smooth. You will love this dish + it serves 4.

A brief aside–you may have notice that this week’s snaps are a little crisper and sharper. After a year of saving, I finally purchased the Canon 50mm 1.2 lens.

WHOA.

All I want to do is take pictures.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Sophie Dahl’s Very Fond of Food, modified slightly
For the salad
1 1/4 cups Puy (French) lentils
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
A handful of cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
A small handful of fresh mint, chopped

For the dressing
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard (my Dijon expired so I used stone ground dijon and it was fine)
1 shallot, finely minced
Salt + pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Place lentils in a medium saucepan and add just enough water to cover (for me, it was 2 1/2 cups). Bring to a quick boil, reduce to low, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, I did all the prep work (which took about 20 minutes). I also made the dressing by whisking together all of the ingredients.

Once the lentils were cooked, I drained them in a fine mesh strainer and tossed in a large bowl with the chopped tomatoes and celery, and feta. I dressed the salad and tossed all the ingredients until the lentils were completely coated and then I added the fresh mint. You can savor the salad warm and it’s also perfect at room temperature.

lentil salad with mustard dressing

lentil salad with mustard dressing

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