quick and easy chana masala

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One summer I subsisted on potatoes cooked over a hot pot. We fried them, we mashed them, we boiled them, and then drenched them in salt and butter. Brooklyn Gas cut us off because we were delinquent with the bill or we hadn’t paid it at all. To say that we lived in fear of the specter that was Con Edison was an understatement. Sometimes our lights flicker and flare out for days–just for fun, just for kicks–and as soon as the money order was mailed and cashed, we hide light. Money was a miracle, the altar to which we prayed. In money we trust. Our father, thou art in heaven. Make it rain, make it hail crisp bills and silver coins. We lived in a perpetual state of white-knuckling; we flipped switches, gripped the knobs of television sets, because once the lights went out it would take an unimaginable sum of money to turn them back on. We were told that men would have to come, although they never did, and these are the consequences of being poor, the kind of poor where you get imaginative with a bag of potatoes and a stick of butter. The kind of poor where you sometimes stayed with friends because the lights were cut again. Apartments were a revolving carousel of light and dark, and back then we tacitly understood that you didn’t fuck with the utilities.

The summer we lived on potatoes my mother made an average of $7 in tips per day in a diner off New Utrecht. Back then, Fourth Avenue was lined with people trying to sell you things that were hot: stolen radios, televisions with foil wrapped around the rabbit ears, and old board games like Monopoly or Parcheesi. One Saturday I stood on Thirteenth Avenue and offered up the contents of our home–the things with which we could depart: posters of flowers in glass frames and figurines purchased in Chinatown. I suspected people bought my wares because I was the small mute girl who blushed and cowered when spoken to, and I remember counting a few bills and feeling the weight of the coins in my terry shorts.

That was also the summer when I wore blue jelly shoes.

When we were flush, when $7 turned to $25, the first thing my mother and I did was go grocery shopping. Someone once asked me if I have any remaining fond memories of my mother, and it occurred to me, only recently, that we shared an affection, an evangelical fervor, for grocery shopping. We loved the supermarket! We loved fast cart and the gleaming aisles and fresh meat wrapped in plastic. We loved the phosphorescent hues of Cheese Doodles and sour cream and onion chips. And my god, did we LIVE for canned spaghetti and Chef Boyardee. When times were really good and my mother hustled for extra tips, we went to the butcher on New Utrecht and purchased paper thin veal, pork and chicken cutlets–all of which we’d fry up and serve with heaping spoonfuls of boxed mashed potatoes.

Can I tell you the best part of grocery shopping? It was the moment we got home and unpacked the bags and wondered what we should eat first. There was so much food! We wanted a little of everything. A handful of chips and a Chips Ahoy soft cookie. That first night we ate like kings and collapsed in our beds with stomach pain.

While I spent the whole of my adult life trying to escape the kind of life I had and the people we were, I realized that the glee from food shopping has never abated. While I’m privileged to have the means to buy organic produce and grass-fed beef, I still love the ritual of unpacking the bags, storing the food, and eating a little of all of it. Even now, even after all this time. I guess it reminds me of a time when food and electricity were luxuries. We were grateful for what we had when we had it because who knew if we’d go back to bags of potatoes again?

I love how this habit has kept me humble, reminds me of where it is I’ve come–even if I’ve traveled far away from the girl I used to be.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from the Oh She Glows Cookbook
1 tbsp (15 mL) coconut oil or olive oil
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) cumin seeds
1 yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp (15 mL) minced fresh garlic
1 tbsp (15 mL) minced peeled fresh ginger
1 green serrano chile pepper, seeded, if preferred, and minced
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) garam masala
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) ground coriander
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground turmeric
3/4 tsp (4 mL) fine-grain sea salt, plus more as needed
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1 (28-ounce/793-g) can whole peeled or diced tomatoes, with their juices
1 (28-ounce/793-g) can chickpeas, or 3 cups (750 mL) cooked chickpeas
1 cup (250 mL) dry/uncooked basmati rice, for serving
fresh lemon juice, for serving
fresh cilantro, chopped, for serving

DIRECTIONS
In a large wok or saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. When a drop of water sizzles upon hitting the pan, reduce heat to medium-low and add the cumin seeds. Stir and toast the seeds for a minute or two until golden and fragrant, watching carefully to avoid burning.

Raise the heat to medium and stir in the onion, garlic, ginger, and serrano. Cook for a few minutes or so, then stir in the garam masala, coriander, turmeric, salt, and cayenne (if using), and cook for 2 minutes more.

Add the whole peeled tomatoes and their juices and break them apart with a wooden spoon (skip if using diced tomatoes). You can leave some chunks of tomatoes for texture.

Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chickpeas. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes or longer to allow the flavors to develop.

Serve over cooked basmati rice, if desired, and garnish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some chopped cilantro just before serving.

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creamy red lentil + squash soup with purple potato chips

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My story this week is one of exhaustion, but a good kind of tired. I’m not talking about the tired that comes from living a life in a conference room, clock-watching, because I’ve been there, done that, and have the war wounds to prove it. Rather, I’ve taken on two exciting brand projects and a large-scale strategy project for a national franchise restaurant brand–all of which require a lot of heady thinking, collaboration and planning. I’ve spent most of this week in meetings listening and talking to people, and the bulk of today holed up in my apartment, creating. All of this put me to thinking about a piece I read this week espousing the benefits of flexible schedules. I spent 16 years chained to a desk and tethered to a computer with the expectation that I produce swiftly and brilliantly. No one ever took into account that people have different or more productive ways of working, and I feel privileged that I’ve designed a life where I get to have the necessary solitude in which to think, balanced with the deep need to connect and learn from people.

But I’m still a little tired.

Now more than ever do I recognize the value in shedding unhealthy attachments–those intent to cleave, drain and smother. I don’t have time for the extraneous, the superfluous, the dramas and intrigues. I only have room for those whom I love, friendships that need tending to, and my own self-care. Everything else is periphery, background noise.

In this life I’ve designed for myself, I’ve recognized the need for “me” time. I’m not talking about staring at my phone or refreshing my Twitter feed (as I’m wont to do), but it’s more about doing something tactile, creating something with my hands. So every Thursday afternoon, regardless of my schedule for the week, I make something. I spend a few hours in complete silence chopping, whisking, mixing, stirring. It’s a moving meditation of sorts, allowing me a break from the writing, the marketing, the stories, the people, and allows for something, anything, to come in. I get clarity when I cook or bake–I find new ideas of simple salves for old problems. Or I just make something really lovely to eat, and today is no exception.

I haven’t made a mirepoix base for a soup in some time, and I enjoyed the earthy feel of this soup and its depth of flavor with the two potatoes and varying textures (creamy and crisp), and I never met a squash soup that I didn’t love.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Small Plates, Sweet Treats
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
1 small butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded and diced (about 3 cups diced)
1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced
6 cups chicken stock (replace with vegetable stock for a vegetarian version)
2 small purple or yukon gold potatoes, very thinly sliced

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DIRECTIONS
For the soup: In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper. Cook the vegetable, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until tender but not mushy.

Add the red lentils, squash, russet potato, chicken stock, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simMer for 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. Puree the soup in a blender. Adjust the seasoning if needed and keep warm.

For the potato chips: In a small sauté pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the thinly sliced potatoes in batches and cook until golden. Drain them on paper towels, reserve.

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cherry ginger granola

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What a week. I think I’m still adjusting to working three projects simultaneously, one of which takes me to an office deep in New Jersey for three days a week. Work, coupled with long-overdue get togethers with friends, fighting with USPS over a package that decided to take a cross-country sojourn, trying to keep some sort of semblance of a workout schedule while remembering that apple cake is not a lunch solution, made having “me” time nearly impossible. When I started this freelance life two years ago, I promised myself that I would never sacrifice necessary recharge time–my health and time alone would never be sacrificed. I’m an introvert, which means that although I like people, I don’t like being around them ALL THE TIME. Sometimes, I simply crave my own company.

Come 5pm tonight, I plan on holing up in my apartment with my DVDs, snacks, this granola (!!!), and cat until Monday. You can’t even begin to understand the joys of being completely and utterly alone.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Vibrant Food
3 cups oats
1 cup raw almonds (I used pecans, as I didn’t have almonds on hand)
1/2 cup raw pistachios
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup chopped crystallised ginger

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 300F/170C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, nuts, pumpkin seeds, ginger, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the maple syrup, olive oil and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix thoroughly until all the dry ingredients are sticky. Spread the mixture out over the baking tray and bake for 30 – 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the granola is toasty-brown.

Remove from the oven, add the cherries and crystallised ginger and then pat down with the back of a wooden spoon to encourage clumping. Leave to cool before transferring to an airtight container to store.

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apple sage walnut bread + some thoughts on the business of work

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Believe me when I say this isn’t a story about age–the start of one career and another in media res. Rather, this is a story about work and how beauty can’t be found while living in the extremes.

I bear quiet witness to two extremes. A young woman submits to an interview for a stylish blog, and over the course of a few questions we learn that the only job she’s known is one in front of her computer. A college hobby has morphed into a career, replete with sponsors, giveaways and outfits of the day. I read a post where a young woman doles out career advice as if they were miniature sweets wrapped in arsenic (or perhaps that’s my interpretation)–preparing the impressionable for the “real world,” where posts are artfully styled, emotions are choreographed and authenticity…well, you know my thoughts on that one–although I will say Emily gives a measured, refreshing take on the matter. On the either end of the spectrum, a friend tells me about a billion-dollar company that seeks to transform itself, and would I be willing to play a senior role in that transformation and sit tethered to a desk five days a week? Ah, so this is the life revisited, where I cram the whole of my errands in Saturday morning, spend a few precious hours on Saturday night resting, and prepare for the inevitable Monday come Sunday. A company seeks the sheen of the new and the brilliant and the creative, but would I be willing to chain myself to an office badge? Would I be content to make perfunctory conversation with someone while refilling my water bottle (knowing how I feel about small talk)? Could I bring brilliance to the table while ensconced under the glare of overhead fluorescent lights?

I attended a conference once where everyone was thick in the business of self-promotion. Many spoke of their online spaces and how popular they had become. Yet one wonders how does one harness such fame? How does one create more efficiency, tackle that ever elusive labyrinth that is their inbox? I felt a curtain come down over my face and I asked, in the biting way I sometimes do, what is it that you actually create? What do you do? More importantly, who are you? And they talk to me about content; they use terms like utility. Their hope is one of inspiration mixed with a healthy dose of practicality, and this whole performed puppetry reminds me of Lloyd Dobler’s garbled, yet endearing speech in Say Anything:

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.

And while there was nobility in the idealistic Dobler’s speech, what I get from others is a mouthful of stale air. It feels rehearsed, vaguely Stepford. I get: I want to be famous for being me. Honestly, I don’t understand the notion of the full-time blogger who doesn’t seek to create something which goes beyond the four walls of their home. I tell people it’s the difference between a lithe girl who posts a dozen photos of her in the same outfit in a slightly different pose versus, say, a design.sponge. Create something beyond your singular experience. It may not be large in the grand scheme of things but the lens can’t consistently gaze at one’s navel. Because there will always be other navels, other girls sporting expensive finery, but there are only few who break ranks, create something meaningful beyond the extent of their reach. Or, as Meghan Daum posits,

Obviously, everyone defines confessional in their own way. For me, being confessional would be just kind of revealing your secrets and not processing them in any way, just kind of presenting your diary, for instance. I really am not interested in sitting down to write something personal unless it’s going to transcend my own experience and talk about something larger. That, to me, is the difference between putting yourself out there and letting it all hang out. “Putting yourself out there,” to me, has to do with using my experiences as a lens through which to look at larger phenomena.

Although Daum is speaking specifically about memoir writing, I can’t help but apply this idea of one’s life as lens to nearly all aspects of one’s life. There is a shelf life for the thousands of hopefuls who post the tired, stylized photos and pen an awkward personal story to make a sponsorship post that much more relatable. And while I see blogging as an interim play between one venture to the next (a strategic side hustle, a means for creative testing and exploration), I struggle with people who start off their career this way and think they have the ability to counsel others (I shudder to imagine the performance review: Haters! All of them! Why do I keep getting all of these mean constructive comments?!), and I really struggle with those who act as if their blog is this echelon of greatness, when it’s really not. For many, it reads like a simple experiment in myopia. Every navel gaze invariably meets a dead end–the question then is: Who are you without your online presence? What are you creating? What are you cultivating?

Always the same. The deliberate consciousness of Americans so fair and smooth-spoken, and the under-consciousness so devilish. Destroy! destroy! destroy! hums the under-consciousness. Love and produce! Love and produce! cackles the upper consciousness. And the world hears only the Love and produce cackle. Refuses to hear the hum of destruction underneath. Until such time as it will have to hear. –D.H. Lawrence

I think of this quote often. Lawrence is critiquing Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and the American psyche. Without the balance of destruction and creation, there is no chrysalis, instead we slowly devour ourselves in our own demise (ah, The Ouroborus returns!). If we don’t reconcile and balance our internal division (or duality), we will never truly have knowledge, understanding and wisdom. We will never grown beyond ourselves.

You’re thinking: what the fuck does this have to do with bloggers who preen all day and get paid for it? GOOD QUESTION.

I think some bloggers are one example of the type of people who are content to dwell within their own dominion. They produce and produce and produce at the expense of themselves. Rarely do they seek to reconcile the real and the artifice within, and we only see one side of the face, a clever mask on display. The danger lies when one doesn’t create beyond oneself, or present both sides of that one face. This is true of bloggers, artists, and people who sit behind a desk, content to clockwatch. I see talented writers write themselves around their own self-imposed prisons. I’ve done this, I did it for years. I wrote what I knew because that’s what the books told me to do. That’s what my MFA program told me to. But it was only when I went beyond myself, beyond the story of me, did I find something powerful. My writing truly got better, ferocious. I was still me. I was still pulling the strings and breathing life into characters on a page, but these were people I’d never known and encountered and this new territory was thrilling. It doesn’t matter if my book will ever be published–I take solace in the fact that I sought out a larger truth beyond the one I’d always been pedaling. And this is the reward, the work.

Know that I’m just as critical, if not more so, of the other side.

Even though I’ve worked hard every single day of my life, even though everything I own has been bought and paid for with this hard work, there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t appreciate my privilege. For nearly 18 years I spent the bulk of my life in offices. Some were ramshackle, others sleek. Some were in office parks, others in fancy buildings and grand towers, but the feeling was always the same–I am a prisoner for 8+ hours a day. There go the shackles around my ankles. Let me carry them from conference room to conference room. I forged a working permit at 13 so I could work. I spent the bulk of my college years interning in investment banks. And I went from someone who filed folders (yes, paper) to building multi-million dollar companies and leading teams. I’ve been working in offices for 18 years and it’s only in the past two that I’ve grown beyond measure.

Because I haven’t been chained to a desk and computer for five days, 80 hours a week.

I take on projects that don’t require me to be in an office for an extended period of time (I’ve written in contracts that my days on-site won’t exceed X and my hours won’t exceed Y) and the deliverable remains the same. I prioritize my weeks where I do a lot of the execution, interviews and face time in an office and I do the “thinking” and creative work at home. And not only have my skills in brand marketing increased exponentially, I’ve managed to conceive of creative solutions for basic problems. I see the world differently. I come back from traveling and the work I do is imbued with a global perspective. I work from home and I do my best thinking when I’m baking or walking around the park. I break complex problems down to its simplest parts and then tackle those parts. I’m Socratic in the way I think and I’m constantly asking questions and tearing down walls when I hear, this is how it’s always been done. People who meet me now tell me how I’m cool and collected–calm and measured through crisis. Ask people who worked for me two years ago and I guarantee they’ll tell you a different story.

I’ve been a successful consultant for almost two years and it’s because of an imposed flexibility.

The response? Can you come join this company to do the thing that you’ve been doing without doing the thing you’ve been doing? Can you be creative and innovative without all that fluffy flexibility? Can you create something new using these tired old modes of living, of thinking? Can you work five days a week, take only four weeks vacation, and be accessible via every electronic device? Can you brainstorm in conference rooms named after pop stars (because we’re clever like that!)? Can you think outside of a box even though we’re trapping you in it? Because come on, everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be CMO. Everyone wants to lead global teams at a billion-dollar company. Because, Felicia, you have to settle down sometime.

To which I respond: are you fucking kidding me with this? Rewind the tape and play this shit back to yourself and you tell me if it’s not the very definition of insanity.

I made over $200,000 a year. I had a fancy title and nice handbags and the means to stay in fancy pants hotels. You know where that got me? Stressed out, exhausted, depleted, burned out, angry, bitter, and spending six months of a year chained to a doctor and nutritionist. I had big. I was bombastic. And I wasn’t the better for it.

I read articles where people can’t be bothered to care for the most primal of needs, but they’ll track their follower counts like a shuttle launch and want the fame without actually doing the work. I read about kids making $15K a month for posting photos of themselves on Instagram and their greed and vanity are what they wake to. And I read idyllic pieces about co-working spaces in exotic locales for that jetsetting freelancer.

I read a lot of articles about work, and I’m exhausted.

I keep coming back to this simple question: Who are you? Tell me about your character. Tell me what wakes you up in the morning and makes your race to sleep eager to wake the next day? Tell me what you live to do and how you live. Tell me how you’re building and destroying. Tell me how you’re sharing your face, all of it. Tell me about you love and how that imbues what you do and vice versa.

Because both of these examples: the preening blogger and the executive hungry for the shiny object create nothing of value to me. They recycle, regurgitate big words to make them feel safe; they throw glitter on shit and talk about its earthy beauty.

I want neither. Rather, I want to dive, head-first, into the betweens. I want to create for myself (privately) and for others (publicly). I want to read, live, laugh and love vicariously. I want to walk into an office when it’s necessary and leave when it’s not. I want to work from the inside of a shitbag motel or from a deserted island. I want to write and revise. I want to get better, always.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Vibrant Food, with slight modifications
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup gluten-free flour
1 cup lightly packed coconut cane sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup vanilla soy yoghurt
1/4 cup applesauce
2 small red apples, cored and diced
1/3 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 tbsp gluten-free flour
1/4 cup lightly packed coconut palm sugar
2 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted vegan butter (I use Earth Balance), cubed

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the brown rice and gluten-free flours, coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg and whisk with a fork until blended.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, olive oil, yogurt, and applesauce. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. Gently mix in the diced apples. The batter will be quite thick, especially if you are using all-purpose flour.

To prepare the topping, in a bowl, mix together the oats, walnuts, flour, coconut sugar, sage, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Using your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture is well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the batter.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes before serving.

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a virtuous grain-free banana bread + some thoughts on the art of balance

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The innocent mistake that keeps us caught in our own particular style of ignorance, unkindness, and shut-downness is that we are never encouraged to see clearly what is, with gentleness. Instead, there’s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, then we would be happy. –From Pema Chödrön’s The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness

I never understood this inclination or desire to flee from darkness, to live anesthetized through your waking life. I once knew a woman who proudly told me that she never consumes anything that makes her upset or cry. Instead she paints herself a world of pink and tulle, and lives in her kingdom where nobody dies and everyone sings pop songs. This is a world where the whole of one’s life is reconciled in a neat 30-minute television episode. Another woman tells me, in passing, that she can’t bear to know what’s going on in the world. How do you do it, she asks, read those articles every day? The rapes, mutilations, pillaging and murders–all of it is too much for her to manage. So instead she reads enough for casual conversation, enough to appear informed, and I tell her, without hesitation that this is actually worse. Hitchcock once talked about fear being afraid of the jump instead of the actual jump. You walk into a room, slide up against a wall and the moment before the lights flick on is the worst of it. It’s the anticipation of the fright that makes the fear scarier than it actually is. Because the lights go on, it never is as scary as you imagined it would be. So imagine living your whole life right before the jump, skirting the edges of doom instead of breathing through it. The fear of reading past the headline, of seeing that horrific image–this is the constant state of anxiety because you’re not equipped to process and understand darkness. And how, I wonder, can you ever make it out onto the other side? To true and breathtaking light?

If people exist simply to shuttle themselves from one happy moment to another careful television show to another sweet song, what is it that they’re escaping? For me, this seems like a sort of prison, a like life. Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are. Perhaps because I’ve spent most of my life holed up darkness, building a home it, harvesting a garden in it–I don’t fear it as much. You could say I’m comfortable in it–I write mostly from inside of it or from the memory of it. However, I see the danger in this extreme, too. A home you so assiduously built burns to the ground as you flick a lighter (on, off, on, off) and get lost in the flame. Your thumb burns from the friction of hot metal. Limbs buried deep, painful memories locked six floors down, have no other place to sprout and grow but up, up, and around you. Until you’re tangled in it. Until you become smothered by it. Until you think the fall is bottomless, and your breath is what gives it away.

When I was younger I used to write stories where everybody dies because I thought that was the natural order of things. A man kisses her wife goodnight and he dies. A woman drives in the night and dies. A child lays her head down on the earth because she thinks it has a heart that can beat, and when she hears no sound, no thump thump, she becomes absorbed from the place from which she came. I wrote stories about people dying because everyone does, and this was the mark of my own imprisonment. Where my body was a house was an abattoir, and there was no room for life or light. I used to think that a life lived was one where one mastered the art of breathing underwater. Instead, imagine this:

“Then the children went to bed, or at least went upstairs, and the men joined the women for a cigarette on the porch, absently picking ticks engorged like grapes off the sleeping dogs. And when the men kissed the women goodnight, and their weekend whiskers scratched the women’s cheeks, the women did not think shave, they thought stay.” ― Amy Hempel, “Weekend”

Imagine seeing the world, the moment, as it happens. Imagine a life without the need to perfect every waking moment of it, without having to build ourselves into fortresses of our own discontent, denial and ignorance. We are human, infallible and flawed. We will oscillate wildly–from dark to light and back again–and the wisdom comes from balance, from understanding that equilibrium exists in the space between light and dark, that nothing good comes from being tethered to one extreme or another. Joy doesn’t come from something wrapped in a box or a denim size or letters after an altered name–it comes from a scratch on a cheek, it comes from the person, friend, beloved who stays.

That is the moment. Everything else is just background noise.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Hemsley & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well, with modifications.
3 ripe bananas
1/4 cup coconut oil, at room temperature
3-4 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cups (7oz) ground almonds
1/4 cup tigernut flour (If you don’t have this, use another 1/4 cup of almond meal)
1/4 ground flaxseed
1 tbsp whole flax, for sprinkling
sea salt

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DIRECTIONS
Over the years, I’m realizing that I’ve fallen out of love with the saccharine sweet taste of the old banana breads packed with buckets of sugar and butter. But I’m also fleeing the rough brick-like texture of the whole wheat varieties. So here’s my balance. A loaf that’s got some sugar in the form of maple syrup, virtuosity in terms of the flax and nut bread, but flavor and fat because…nuts.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a loaf tin measuring about 9in x 5¼ in with enough baking parchment to double as a wrap for storing the banana bread (if it lasts).

Mash the bananas and coconut oil in a mixing bowl to a pulp with a fork. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, eggs, baking soda, and a small pinch of salt. Mix well with a fork.

Add the ground almonds and ground flaxseed and mix well. Or, even speedier, you can throw all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and blitz together.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle with the whole flax and bake for 1–1¼ hours. It’s ready when a skewer inserted at the centre comes out dry. If your bread starts to look quite brown after the first 30 minutes, then cover the top with baking parchment until it has finished baking.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool a little. Serve warm or at room temperature with some lightly salted butter, jam (I absolutely recommend jam for those who have a sweeter tooth as this isn’t the banana bread loaded with sugar and butter of which you’re probably accustomed) and a cup of tea. Store the bread, covered, in the fridge (remember there is no sugar or preservatives) for up to a week or slice and freeze (that way you can enjoy a slice at a time reheated under the grill).

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spiced pear and coconut muffins (gluten-free)

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In between immersing myself in forty documents for a wonderful new brand project I’ve acquired and baking these perfectly fluffy muffins, I’ve been eyeing the street. It feels like Christmas in these parts, as I’ve been waiting for my new camera lens. Some people get excited by finery, but I love food, books and cameras. Recently, I purchased a 16-35mm f/2.8L ii lens so that I’d be able to shoot landscapes and skies. From the terrain in Montana to Joshua Tree to an upcoming trip to Nicaragua, I’m excited to break in my lens and take the sort of pictures of which I’ve only dreamed.

Now if UPS would only just show up while I shove these muffins in my mouth!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Small Plates, Sweet Treats, with modifications.
10 tbsp coconut oil
1 cup superfine brown rice flour
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 tbsp tapioca starch
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup dark amber maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut cane sugar
1 tsp almond extract (you can also use vanilla, per the original recipe)
2 medium-sized Anjou pears (I used Anjou and drained the pears after I grated them)
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, cook the oil until completely melted. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the oil to a clean bowl to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and coconut oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined. While I used a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, you can do all of this by hand.

Grate the pears using a box grater, skin and all. Since I used a juicier pear, I drained the excess juice before I added the pears to the batter. Fold the grated pears into the batter.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners and, using an ice cream scoop, fill the liners with the batter about three-quarters of the way full. Sprinkle the tops with chopped pistachios.

Bake the muffins for 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack and let them cool completely.

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sprouted chickpea + sundried tomato hummus

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During last week’s session, my nutritionist offered me a cooking challenge: sprouted hummus. I’ve made hummus countless times and it’s probably the most simple, yet satisfying dish one could make, but after she went on about how the flavor profile of sprouted versus non-sprouted–well, there is no comparison–my interest was sufficiently piqued. Enough to read up on the benefits of sprouting your own beans (less abrasive on your digestion system, easier absorpotion of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc!) and all the delicious recipes one could make with said sprouts.

Honestly, this process does require a lot of patience. Consider this an occasion hummus because sprouting beans is time consuming. First, you have sort your beans to remove any grit or shells before soaking them in a bowl of water overnight. After, you rinse the beans and throw them in a large pot of water to cook for 90 minutes. Then there is the shell removal, which is Odyssean. Shell removal is crucial in yielding that creamy texture of which I spoke, and PEOPLE, IT’S WORTH IT.

FOR THE LOVE OF ORANGE KITTENS WITH SMALL EARS.

This was simply the best hummus I’ve ever had. The texture is feather-light, with an almost mousse-like quality and the taste is unbelievable. None of the grit from traditional hummus, and it was so glorious I stood at my counter eating this right out of the bowl with a spoon. No accoutrement needed, except for a spoon and a PUFFS PLUS for your sweet tears.

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup dried chickpeas (will make about 1 cup + 1/4 of chickpeas, when sprouted): I purchased mine from Jansal Valley
2 heaping tbsp of tahini
6-7 tbsp of olive oil
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes in olive oil, packed
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp coarse black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Sprout your beans per the package directions, or use the method I’ve outlined above.

Once the beans are softened and the shells removed (I drained the beans and rinsed them in cold water so I wouldn’t get asbestos hands removing said shells), add them to a food processor along with the other ingredients and blitz until smooth and creamy.

Eat and weep, friends.

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my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: hitting the six-month mark

via @frametastic

Do you know what it’s like to regard the once object of your affection with utter repulsion? Yesterday I was in an elevator with a man who carried a bag of MELT grilled cheese sandwiches, and I seriously thought I was going to be sick. He carried the most glorious of cheeses, gruyere, and I could practically taste the butter staining the wax paper. I felt waves of nostalgia and sickness and I had to cover my face with my hat so I could stop smelling that goddamn cheese smell.

Welcome to a life six months free of gluten and dairy.

We can talk about the incredible changes–30 pounds lost (and counting), muscle mass gained, nights of fitful sleep achieved, a fitness challenge victoriously completed, a host of new foods and tastes discovered–but we should also consider the losses. While I’m now able to incorporate certain foods back into my diet (blueberries, sweet potatoes, turkey, cranberries etc), many of the foods for which I once longed have become terrifying strangers. Since my reaction to gluten was so severe, when I’m able to resume a diet of gluten and dairy, I’m only able to have either of those foods ONCE EVERY TWO WEEKS, and I need to start with dairy, which is less perilous to my system. However, with the exception of cheese, halloumi and gruyere in particular, I don’t much care for dairy or miss it. And after yesterday’s bout of nausea, I wonder if I can enjoy the foods I once loved without feeling repulsed by them.

Did I tell you that when I have sugary desserts, the sugar tastes like acid? It actually burns. I’ve made several incredible desserts with the highest quality sugar I could find, but that first bite is brutal. Successive bites are less so, but it puts me to thinking about the first time I had Diet Coke after years of not consuming it and having to spit it out in the street. It was that unpleasant. And while I don’t think I’ll have that severe of a reaction to an almond croissant, I know something in me has changed.

I’m now that sort of woman who gets excited about seasoned chickpeas in a kale salad. Exhibit A, below. Try telling me that salad doesn’t look downright GLORIOUS.

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I’m the sort of person who marvels over the fact I sort of like nori. NORI? From a fervent fish-hater? Who knew? Over the past six months, I’ve discovered scores of tastes and flavors I’ve slowly come to love, and I feel as if the journey has only just begun. I’ve also been listening to my body, really listening, and I’ve noticed how sluggish it becomes when I binge on carbs (hello, gluten-free pasta with vegan cream sauce three days in a row, followed by cake) and how my performance during workouts suffer.

Speaking of which, since I’m forever a month early for everything, I spent some time before a recent Brooklyn BodyBurn class chatting up one of the instructors. This instructor has an enviable figure (it’s hard not to notice), and her classes have been one of the hardest I’ve taken, but I was surprised to hear that, up until two years ago, she barely thought of eating to nourish and exercising for strength. Food was an endless foe that had to be conquered, with exercise being one of the many weapons in her arsenal. She juice-cleansed, starved, binged, couched, and it wasn’t until she got into the rhythm of listening to her body and tuning in to what it needed, did she find herself in the best shape of her life.

We’ve heard these stories before, I read them every month in fitness magazines, but it’s good to be reminded that your body is a house worth preserving, not one worth burning to the ground.

I’ve got eight more pounds to lose (my nutritionist would say 13, but in this we disagree), the last stubborn reserves, and I’ve made some slight modifications to my diet (swapping my almond milk cappuccinos for almond milk cortados, eliminating nuts/nut butters for a month) to get rid of the pounds before I go back to maintenance eating, which is still heavily plant-based, but is freeing in the sense that I can increase the carbs and fat since I’m not trying to lose when I hit my goal. Truth be told, I’m taking this all in stride. I feel good and I’m not in a race with the scale. The weight will come off when it needs to and I just need to focus on being present at every meal. And look at the snap above? Does healthy eating look like torture? HARDLY.

Finally, I’ve achieved the unthinkable: I finished my 30-day, self-imposed Brooklyn BodyBurn challenge without dying. Remember how nervous I was when I started? I was sure that I would give up midway through the month, or fall and crack my head open when it snowed this week, but taking pictures of myself at BBB made me oddly accountable to myself. Before every workout, I’d say to myself that I’m going to do the best I can do, and the fact that I showed up matters. The rest, well, is golden.

I did show up for a month, and I got stronger. And while working out on the megaformer will never get easier, it feels good to show up. It feels good to do the thing you never thought you could do. It feels good to crave healthy foods. It feels good to love chickpeas.

It feels good to be golden.

gluten-free blueberry cheesecake + a meditation on forgiveness

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Her father had killed her cat and buried it in the carrot patch, then laughed gleefully when the horrified child uncovered her dead pet…We live on a planet where harm happens all the time; to think that you should escape that is a mammoth overstatement of your own importance.Amy Westervelt’s “Letting Go”

When I got sober, I had to accept the possibility that people no longer wanted me in their life. Many of my friends had grown tired of playing parent, of shuttling me from bar to bed because they couldn’t bear the idea that I’d wouldn’t make it home or wouldn’t make it at all. In college, I would collapse into bed and feel the whole of the room orbit around me and I’d cry out to anyone who was listening, Stay with me a while, just until I fall asleep. Sometimes I’d yell that they didn’t know what it was like to be a child woken from sleep, to have to reach for the phone and call the taxi to the hospital and complete all the forms because my mother couldn’t breathe. Because maybe, this time, the coke would do her in. Do you know what it’s like to bear the weight of your mother in your arms, and realize, at ten, that your only hope was you? Sometimes I think my mother taught me how to read and write at such a young age because she needed an admin, someone who would tacitly accept her lies as fact and commit those lies to paper. My friends used to whinge about their parents because it was fashionable, and I’d snap, Did you ever have to mother them? Father them? No, so please shut the fuck up. Because you had a childhood. You had the privilege of having someone tuck the covers under your cold feet come nightfall.

This is a luxury, I think. Bare toes tucked under blankets.

All the years I swore I’d never become her, I became exactly her, thinking myself entitled to constant care. Unbeknownst to my friends, they were to assume the role of The Care and Feeding of Felicia Sullivan. I was the friend they loved so much but were desperate to let go. They were always checking in, always concerned, tip-lipped and tired. I was forever breaking someone’s heart. But when your body is an abbatoir, you don’t think of the carnage right in front of you; you never consider the damage you’ve done was greater than your own. It was only when I got sober was I able to see, and I can’t tell you how hard it was to sit across from so many friends, who clutched their coffee close to their chest, and beg for their forgiveness.

You’ve been saying you’re done for as long as I’ve known you, many said. Even though I was a year off the drink, few believed. Few thought I was biding time until the next great fall or loss, and then I’d find myself breathing underwater. A lone bottle of wine, my driftwood. Others believed but I had gone too far, done too much, and there was no going back. There were many well wishes, but please don’t call me again.

I had to accept that they may have forgiven me, they may have had closure with all the grief I’d cause them, but forgiveness and friendship were mutually exclusive. It’s an I love you, but I can’t know you. I can’t bear this again; I’m not physically built to endure it. It’s an I have children now. And then I think we’ve never been children, until I realize that was my weight. That’s my forgiveness.

There are only a handful of people in my life who have done damage past repair. There is no friendship, no love in my heart, but whether they know it or not, I’ve chosen to forgive them. While we may rage, storm, trick, and deceive, our forgiveness is always quiet, private. It may exist as words exchanged between two people, or mouthed alone in the confines of an apartment. I forgive you for all that you’ve done. But I have to believe that the mere existence of forgiveness relieves one of the burden of it, and we’re now able to replace that anger with equal measures of love and joy. Time takes it all, rubs it out, and brings you somewhere new. I’ve hope that the ones whom I’ve hurt, deeply hurt, have said those words aloud and that I can somehow feel it.

Just as I re-read my first book, painful as it was, and thought of my mother. Lover of cheesecakes (my god, she can eat cheesecake for days, and I made this thinking of her), cooker of chicken cutlets pounded paper thin, collector of soul records, wearer of coral, Noxzema and Chanel 5–a woman who had precise penmanship but rarely wrote outside the confines of a green waitress pad–and I felt a kind of forgiveness. While it forever breaks my heart that she’ll never be the woman or mother I want her to be, that I’ll never have a relationship with her while she’s alive, I do forgive her trespass, her thievery, her undying devotion of herself at the expense of myself. But still. I forgive. I don’t forget. I will not love or behold, but I forgive. And I have to believe that this is good. I have to believe that letting this anger go will make room for new love in my heart.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen Cookbook
For the crust
⅔ cup raw pecans
1 cup almond butter
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ cup softened Coconut Butter (see below)
2 tablespoons organic honey
pinch fine-grain sea salt

For the filling
2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water for 2+ hours and drained
½ cup melted coconut oil
½ cup organic honey
¼ cup full-fat coconut milk
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon joice
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping (optional)
2 cups fresh blueberries plus ¼ cup for garnish
⅓ cup maple syrup

DIRECTIONS
Make the crust: Place the pecans in a food processor and mix until they begin to form pecan butter. Add the almond butter, shredded coconut, coconut butter, honey, and salt and pulse until well combined.

Place the crust mixture in a springform pan, then press down and smooth it out so that the surface is even all around the pan/ Put in the freezer to harden for 2 to 3 hours.

When the crust is hard, make the filling: Add the soaked cashews to a food processor and process until they fully break down into a chunky paste. Add the rest of the filling ingredients to the food processor and process until smooth (it should resemble a thin nut butter).

Pour the filling onto the hardened crust and smooth out the top. Place in the freezer and let settle and firm up for another 2 hours.

When the filling has firmed up, make the topping (optional): In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 cups of blueberries and the maple syrup and cook for 15 minutes, or until most of the blueberries have burst. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes.

To serve, pour the warm blueberry topping on the top of the cheesecake and garnish individual slices with fresh blueberries. Serve immediately. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

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the best gluten-free meatballs you’ll ever make (no, seriously)

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Today I spent the afternoon with an old, sweet friend, chowing, catching up, and thumbing through stacks of books at BookCourt. You have to know that I tried to resist, I went on about the stacks of books towering ominously in my living room, however, I broke down and bought Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. Jenna has impeccable taste in books, and she’s one of the few friends whose recommendations will make me buy books sight unseen–her appreciation for language and story are that great.

Over lunch we talked about food, marveling over the thin, crispy latkes dipped in sundried tomato aioli we ordered and the power of shared meals. Eating is a primal act, and the idea that we can share our most base need with someone else means something. Jenna and I are the kind of people who will pen sonnets over the food that we’re eating as we’re eating it. So when I told her about the shift I made this year–from stone-cold carb addict to veggie lover, from someone who checked out while eating to someone who plates their food and savors every bite–she was intrigued. And while she completely understood my need for nourishment and self-care, she wondered aloud if I’d missed anything from the old days.

Sometimes, I said, I ache for bread. Oh, for the love of god, BREAD. I miss pressing my face up against the oven window and watching the dough crisp and rise. I miss tearing into a hot loaf with cold hands and watching the cream butter melt into the crevices. And while I no longer crave cheese, cream, pasta or anything gluten (and I make a point to not simply replace gluten with its non-gluten counterparts because that’s sort of not the point in getting healthy)–I’ll pause in front of a bakery and think about boules and baguettes.

Have I mentioned that gluten is in EVERYTHING? I can’t have meatballs out anymore because they’re normally mixed bread crumbs or panko. So I’m forced to make them at home. And while that may sound laborious and inconvenient, there’s something thrilling about discovery abundance within limitation. I love these meatballs, which are rendered tender and moist due to the inclusion of sundried tomatoes and eggs. I’m bringing a pot of these with some pasta to a friend’s house tonight, and I hope she (and the kids) love them just as much as I do.

And yes, the first time I’m allowed to have gluten again I will be having bread.

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 pounds of ground sirloin, room temperature
1/2 pound ground sausage, room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup of sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, minced
1 1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes (I use San Marzano)
1/2 28oz can of pureed tomatoes
1 lb of pasta (gluten-free or regular) pasta

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 400F. In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients (from beef to the black pepper) until just combined. Do not overmix. You can get 20-25 meatballs out of this mixture, depending upon how large you like your balls. Yeah, I realize I just typed that.

In a large roasting pan or two baking dishes, add the meatballs and the crushed tomato sauce + pureed tomatoes. Cook for 10-15 minutes.

While the meatballs are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente. Drain and set aside.

Add the pasta to the meatball + sauce mixture, and toss to coat. Serve immediately with fresh parsley!

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roasted cauliflower with dates + pistachios and a meditation on resolving vs. doing

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I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it. –Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

He was the kind of man who had been through war but dressed his wounds years after the fact. He was a heart worth beating for, a man who buried his face in my hair and let it rest there. We were in a restaurant in Utah and I rushed to the table and whispered, Britney Spears is in the bathroom! Back then, I wore a red wool hat the size of a small child. I don’t know what your plans are, but mine don’t include children. On our first date we took a good meal in a bad restaurant. When he asked, do you always drink like this?, gesturing to a wine glass that was never empty, I laughed and said, do you know of any other way? That night we fell asleep to the sound of a woman singing Chinese arias in the courtyard. Back then I lived in an apartment above a restaurant where tourists paid Italian men of a certain age and breed to play The Godfather on a weathered violin. When the halls smelled of bleach and the carousel of lights flickered and faded to dark, a woman would sing, always, as if her sad song could eclipse all the ones that had come before. You have to know that it was tragic to fall asleep to The Godfather night after night. Because there’s heartbreak in repetition, in a heart that never quickens, but only slumbers its way home. Part of me wondered about a man who fell in love with a woman who was intent to remain at war with herself, who felt shelter only by picking at healing wounds. Just to see if she could still bleed. Just because she could. Just because she knew of no other way.

We spent the holidays in Boston with a family that measured your self-worth by the accumulation of degrees. I’d pass muster because, you know, Columbia. I’d never lived in a house with two floors, much less a mudroom (What’s a mud room? I whispered as we removed our coats. A room before the others, he said), so when we arrived that night I crept up and down the stairs. Up and down. Up and down, again. I did find it strange that one needed a room to ready oneself for the rest of the house.

Over the next two days there was a fire, a brawl, a father who thought it funny to call me felatio, a battle waged against a sister who got rhinoplasty and changed her name because she was so tired of being Jewish, thickened mashed potatoes and tears (mostly his, some of my own), and I understood that a mudroom was a way out. Back then I slept on top of the sheets, never between them, with one leg off the bed, ready to run. Who knew that a room would be a leg, an escape clause, a get out of dodge kind of plan? I never thought I’d say this but your family is more fucked up than mine, I said. Let’s just leave, he said. He had this habit of removing his glasses and cleaning them, even after they were clean. He’d remove, wipe, wear, and remove, wipe and wear all over again. They’re clean, I snapped once, to which he replied, that’s not the point.

I realized then that I was dating a man whose last name meant screamer in German.

Who gives away their slow-beating heart? Who does this? Who lets someone in, all the way? I was nothing if not a collection of bones broken in all the wrong places, and as one year eclipsed another, as people stood beneath a storm of snow-mixed confetti–reports warned of thundersnow–as couples hastily and sloppily kissed, as children wore cone-shaped hats and raised valiant fists in the air, I removed my lips from his and said, this year I don’t want this. I couldn’t love another version of me. Back then I was impenetrable, incapable of love because I’d equated it to bloodletting, and who knew then that he knew this all along. That he made a game of seeing if he could break me because he was the gambling kind.

A month later I discovered that although my heart wasn’t capable of complete love, it was completely breaking. Men took me and my things to a small apartment in Chelsea where a man blasted jazz into the gloaming.

I thought about of this when I spent New Year’s Eve with a dear friend, and we talked about how we started each year, if we had been alone, if that meant something. Four years of thirty-nine I’d spent it with a significant other, and it occurred to me, a day later, that those others weren’t significant, I was alone, and all of it did mean something. Until now I hadn’t been the gambling kind. I hadn’t flung open the doors to the light just beyond the dark (had you been there, all this time? Just beyond my reach? Or had I been busy dressing all those open wounds?); I hadn’t run all the way out and in. I was running in circles, exhausted from chasing all the wrong things, and I was tired. So tired.

Because I don’t want to live in a house with a mudroom. Because I’m finally able to rest between the sheets. Because I’d rather be alone for the right reasons than with someone for the wrong ones. Because being anesthetized isn’t a way to live, rather it’s a way to affix bandages over a dam about to break, it’s a way to slowly and cowardly die. Because writing one-line axioms in a book isn’t really the same thing as living a life. Because there is a difference between being uncomfortably comfortable in the familiar versus feeling disquiet in the unknown. Because I’m 39, and I no longer want to feel the tic of a list but rather the rush of a life.

I don’t believe in resolutions. I don’t believe in resolving to do something instead of actually doing it. I don’t believe in being inspired by someone and letting that light, that whisper to do, fall to blight. Every year until now has felt like a photocopy of a bland original, but I woke yesterday thinking about all the possibility. I’m going to write without fear of not being published. I’m going to move to four states. I’m going to stop hiding behind my graduate loan debt, using that as an excuse to live in a house of no. I’m going to create. I’m going to break ranks. I’m going to sit in discomfort and disquiet because I know there’s a better place. And I’ve already booked my first AirBNB for my move to New Mexico.

And I know all of this will lead me back to a greater self, a self made whole, and then, possibly then, I will find something that resembles love.

Because this year I don’t want this.

Recipe for Balsamic Roasted Cauliflower and Dates, because this is what you eat after three slices of vegan coffee cake on New Year’s Eve.

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roasted fig, kale + chickpea salad and cauliflower coconut curry + a silent call to leave home

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Truth be told, I rarely re-read what I write here. I write for the rush of it, the joy of it–the words come from a compulsion to make sense of a situation, find clarity, and once that clarity has been found I move on. However, amidst all this food, amidst a stove that resembled a bonfire, I kept re-reading this post. And one of the questions I keep asking myself is this: Why am I still here? This isn’t a Montaigne why-do-we-exist ontological argument, rather, it’s why am I still in New York? Before you talk about a hoard of writers who never grew up in New York yet pen dreamy essays about leaving old New York, my story is less about a place and more about a desperate need to sit in discomfort. A need to lay down my head somewhere else in the world for an extended period of time–beyond travel.

This place is my home. I went to Fordham when I could have gone to Boston University or Brown. I went to Columbia when I could have applied to Iowa. I watched so many people I love move away, start new lives in different states and countries and it’s only now that I have a sense of longing. A realization that my home has become my barnacle, a place to which I’ve been unhealthily attached. My mother still lives here. My pop lives here. All my memories are tethered to this place, and I want new memories, new places. I posted something on Facebook and one of my very sage friends wrote this, which put my heart on pause:

Come up with an eccentric plan and give yourself to it. For example, resolve to live on every continent for 3 months to a year (okay, not Antarctica). Or live in a different country for a year for 5 years in a row. Or live on an island for a year. I’ve found that it’s very, very hard to will a change out of the swirling lights of one’s soul, but it’s easy to react to a change you believe has already been made for you. We move in a week if our employer makes us, but if it’s up to us, we’ll linger for five years making excuses and riding the wave of inertia. So find some way to externalize the impetus for the change, and then don’t question it. Just get it done. Pretend an employer is forcing you to move. Pretend anything. Oh, you could live in four states, each of which abuts a corner or edge of the US: say, Traverse City, Michigan; Bangor, Maine; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Oregon. You get the idea. You could also plan a book and live along some route that you would create art/photos/writing about. I am not thinking about money here, of course, so the daydreaming is easy. But I’d say daydream hard first, and you’ll figure out the money.

Last night I vacillated between this comment and my post, and I realized I keep asking questions that go unanswered because I’m afraid. It’s easy to talk about New York and how much I hate it, how much it’s gone to blight, overflowing with long-term tourists who call themselves New Yorkers. I lament that so much of the danger, art and energy I loved as a child has been whitewashed, excised. Everything feels pedestrian, done by rote, and the discomfort I feel is more akin to waking up to someone whom you thought you knew for the whole of your life to realize they’re actually a stranger. The discomfort I want is the feel of the new, the unsettling that comes from uprooting yourself and planting yourself somewhere else. I want quiet. I want land. I want solitude. I want slow. I want simple.

My god, I’ve lived a complicated, often difficult, life in a place that’s frenetic. I want to slow down and breathe.

So I’m following my friend’s advice and using the next 12 months to put my exit strategy into action. More details to come.

Now, my questions are when and how?

INGREDIENTS + DIRECTIONS FOR THE CHICKPEA SALAD: Pre-heat an oven to 400F. To a large roasting pan, add figs, quartered; handfuls of curly kale; 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained; salt/pepper/olive oil. Toss the figs, kale and chickpeas so they’re evenly coated in olive oil. Roast for 30-40 minutes until the kale is crispy and the chickpeas are browned.

INGREDIENTS + DIRECTIONS FOR THE CAULIFLOWER CURRY*: 2 tbsp coconut oil; 2 cloves of garlic, minced; 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced; 1 large cauliflower head (1 lb) cut into florets; 2 tbsp curry powder; 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes; 1/4 tsp cinnamon; 1/8 tsp ground coriander; pinch of sea salt and coarse black pepper; 1 14oz can of full-fat coconut milk; 2 tbsp almond butter.

Place a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the coconut oil and garlic. Once the garlic is fragrant, add the bell pepper and cauliflower. Stir the vegetables to evenly coat them in garlic + oil.

Add all of the spices and toss to coat. Add the coconut milk and almond butter. Mix to incorporate.

Cover the pan and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the cauliflower is softened. Taste for seasoning + add more salt if needed.

*Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen.

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