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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.

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

fluffy blueberry pancakes + some thoughts on losing your best friend

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Time takes it all whether you want it to or not, time takes it all. Time bares it away, and in the end there is only darkness. Sometimes we find others in that darkness, and sometimes we lose them there again. –Stephen King

For seven years there was only S. I met her in a writing program in Russia. She wore strappy sandals that scraped along the sidewalk as she walked, the buckles had come undone, and the way she chewed gum unnerved me. It was if she knew she chewed loudly, brazenly, but asked her if she cared because she didn’t. I remember her being volcanic; she moved swiftly from one train of thought to another, speaking in tourettic spurts about nerve endings, poetry, white nights, and synapses firing. Her voice made me think of jazz with all the disjointed rhythms and erupting syncopations, and in the brief walk from our class to our dorm she exhausted me. I remember sitting in my room, in silence, thinking, what just happened?

For the rest of our time in Russia I’d hear stories about the strange girl who lived in an apartment off-campus. The girl who got arrested in The Summer Gardens for scaling the gates after hours and being invited out for vodka after she and her friends bribed the officers with 300 rubles. I saw her at parties and we exchanged pleasantries, but mostly I watched her weave in and out of rooms. Watching S was akin to live wires unwinding. She was in a constant state of unraveling. I was in awe of her. Compared to my shackled life, she seemed…free. This was a time when I thought I had a great love, and before I left for Russia he had convinced me to try to stop drinking. It would be my first of many failed attempts, but I wanted him (or the thought of him) and the promise of a life he offered. So I lived in a perpetual state of fear and burial–I could practically crack the gravel with my teeth–and seeing S move was thrilling. While I roamed the Nevsky Prospekt in a virtual straightjacket, S was ready for flight.

When we came home, we casually met up over drinks with the other New Yorkers who were in the program. We exchanged stories about our teachers, our work, and memories of the Museum of Oddities–an experience that brought on a collective silence and shudder. Over time, S and I would couple off (I guess there’s no other way to put it) and we spoke obsessively about our history of broken people and our mutual drug addictions, which had us continue the cycle of breaking our parents had started. We talked a lot about our parents (she wrestled with a cruel father and I a sociopathic, narcissistic mother). How do I explain now that we were strong, educated, outspoken women, yet we were frightened, fragile, undone? Looking back at our friendship, it occurs to me that we desperately clung to each other to make ourselves whole, and it’s only after our fissure that I suspect we both realized the unhealthy nature of our mutually agreed-upon attachment.

For years, the world was only us. We spent every day together. We obsessed over the food we ate, the workouts we did, the books we read. The men in our lives were periphery, noise, because who could understand Felicia and S other than Felicia and S? I remember my friend Angie, years ago, approaching me with trepidation. She wondered aloud if perhaps S and I were too close, because it was possible to be close to the point of suffocation, where one suffers at the expense of another. I shook my head, impossible, and Angie receded, folded into quiet. But I remember the concern that washed across her face, and when we talk about it now, Angie reminds me that it’s a good thing S and I broke up.

Broke up.

Over seven years, we endured love, breakups, trips to Los Angeles and Taiwan. I finally got sober and stayed sober. We wrote books, ascended, and obsessively maintained our lean frame to an increasingly disturbing degree. But there was so much love! I never had a sister, and we loved as viciously as we fought. Our rows were violent storms that resembled undertow. Screaming matches in the street followed by long periods of uncomfortable silence. Maybe she was the first to notice cracks in the fault? Because when I took a fancy job at a then-cool agency, our friendship became two wires detangling. I became consumed with work and she with a new boyfriend, who would eventually become her husband. Our once excited conversations became a string of rehashed memories of the friendship we used to have. We had very little in common except for our history and I think we both knew it but didn’t dare say it out loud.

It’s easy to end a friendship over an action or a series of betrayals, but it’s heartbreaking to end because of a drift. One day I was supposed to be S’s maid of honor in her wedding and the next she stopped returning my calls. It was is if we never existed, and I was devastated that she excised me so neatly. I saw photographs of her nuptials on Facebook and I wept for days. I then unfriended her. Just like that. Seven years ended with a click of a mouse. A shift from friend to unfriend.

Our history had been wiped clean.

It took me two years to recover from her loss and we haven’t spoken a word in six. I’ll never know why we broke up, although I suspect it was for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above. How do you tell someone that you don’t want to be their friend anymore because you just don’t? Because you weren’t the people you used to be? That needing another half to make you whole isn’t how you get complete–the numbers just don’t foot. Truth be told I probably wouldn’t have understood it back then the way I do now. I’ve reconciled my hurt and have found closure in losing her.

I often think that our breaking was the best thing for both of us because I lived a stunted version of myself, and I was forced to live a life independent of her, regardless of how dysfunctional that life might have been. I don’t want a reconciliation with S; I have my closure and people in my life who have grown in step with me.

Do you know I made these pancakes for breakfast for this morning and thought of her? I remember a day trip we took to Woodbury Commons and she was in my apartment and I made her this grand breakfast. Freshly-squeezed orange juice, strips of bacon coated in maple syrup and pancakes. I don’t recall if she was the pancake type, but she loved mine and she devoured the contents of her plate. I remember feeling satisfied, happy.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen Cookbook
3 large eggs
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons almond or full-fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon organic honey
1/2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of fine-grain sea salt
coconut oil, for greasing the skillet
1/2 cup fresh blueberries

DIRECTIONS
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the almond milk, honey, lemon juice, and vanilla and whisk until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix together the coconut flour and tapioca flour, then add to the wet ingredients 1/4 cup at a time, while continuously whisking. Then mix in the baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Grease a large skillet and place over medium heat. Once the skillet is warm use a ladle to pour 3-inch pancakes into the skillet. Once bubbles begin to appear in the surface of a pancake, drop a small handful of blueberries into it and flip. The pancake should cook on each side 3-4 minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter.

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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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nine minutes of gratitude (a practice)

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

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

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

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

This shift is really hard. Like, really hard.

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

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

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

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

Let’s see how this goes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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my nutritionist answers your food-related questions!

Dana James, Food Coach NYC

Dana James, Food Coach NYC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: what I’m eating now

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This week-long series isn’t about how I lost nearly 30 pounds in three months, rather this is about a lifetime battle with my body and how I’m finally traveled to a place where I’m settled in my skin and love it, from the inside out. This week, I’ll be sharing highly personal aspects of my life as well as practical tips I’ve learned–all in an effort to inspire you and remind myself that every day requires self-work and self-love. I was going to introduce this series when I hit my goal weight, but that felt pointless, because this is a journey that has no end until the end, and that’s actually really comforting. Shocking for a Type-A control freak like me. In today’s post I talk about the way I eat now and how I subscribe to the philosophy that I eat to work out NOT I work out to eat.

Do you miss it? Pasta. Because you must. I know I would. Over the past few months a lot of friends, acquaintances, coworkers and strangers ask me questions about what I eat, but more importantly, they’re fixated on all the things I can’t eat. The lamentations run deep. Wistful sighs are doled out like wrapped sweets because a world without gluten, dairy and yeast is practically inconceivable to them, and make no mistake, they want to remind me of this any chance they get. NO BREAD? NOT EVEN GLUTEN FREE? Oh, the humanity.

Do I miss it? Gluten? Dairy? Sometimes. Occasionally I’ll see someone cutting into a pizza with a paper-thin charred crust (just how I like it) and I’ll wince. I’ll pass by a bakery and remember hot loaves unearthed from ovens, and how I’d slather butter all over the bread that nearly burned my hand. But for the most part, I don’t miss gluten and dairy at all. You crave what you eat, and the only cravings I have are for a dark piece of chocolate and a plate of French fries. I’ll admit, the first two weeks were hard, really hard, but soon I no longer longed for pasta, bread and cheese because I felt so good, the best I’d felt in years.

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Most people ask me what I eat, to which I respond and say, everything else. My diet is plant-based — I eat a lot of vegetables and a little bit of everything else. For breakfast I’ll normally have a protein shake (I actually prefer this since the shakes fill me up and I don’t have to think about making breakfast so early in the morning AND I get to sneak in some greens). I eat every three hours and around 10 I’ll have a snack which is either fruit, a small portion of nuts, vegetables, dried fruit and the like. For me, lunch tends to be my bigger meal because I normally work out in the late afternoon/evening for most of the week. I’ll have a HUGE salad (salads cover 70% of my plate) with 4oz of chicken, tofu, beef, pork, etc. I’ll have a little fat (oils, seeds). Other times I’ll have a vegetable-based soup and a small portion of grains or protein. I’m pretty big on proper food combinations so I can digest my food easily. Now, you’ll rarely find me mixing protein and grains. Both are heavy and abrasive on my system so I’ll consume either with veg. Dinner is usually a repeat of lunch but smaller. Anyone who’s been following my meals for the past few months knows that I’ve gotten inventive with spices and all the ways in which you can use cauliflower. From beef ragouts to meatballs to towering salads and cauliflower tabbouleh, my meals have been flavorful and nourishing. It took a few weeks to get into a rhythm, but I used paleo and vegan cookbooks as a base and then added back meat and ingredients I could have, where appropriate.

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My nutritionist gave me a pile of recipes and menu plans, and while they were incredibly helpful in giving me ideas and reminding me how I should eat, sitting down to a new, created-from-scratch meal wasn’t always realistic and it’s often expensive. Until the end of the year, I’m in an office 3 days a week and I tend to do best when I can make a big batch of food that will last over a few days. For example, I’ll make these veggie burgers or these meatballs or this soup, and pair them up with salads, vegetables, etc, over the course of a week. If you want to read more about how I plan my meals for the week, click here. I tend to review my cookbooks on Fridays, order food, cook 2-3 BIG meals, and then make minor dishes for the rest of the week. I eat seasonal, local and organic, and I don’t have processed or packaged food in my home. Quarterly, I’ll subscribe to a weekly Sakara Life plan because they take the guesswork out of savoring great meals, although it’s an infrequent indulgence. Because, you know, it costs a million dollars.

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However, sometimes a woman needs to eat out with her girlfriends. When chowing down, I follow these important steps for myself:

Pick a Healthy Joint or a Joint with Healthy Options: My friends will give me a few options and I’ll have to reject the Italian joint (why would I eat chicken in an Italian joint when there’s pasta everywhere? Why would I subject myself to such torture?), and also check the menus online. I ALWAYS check menus online, and I’ll find a few dishes that will work. If I’m unsure, I’ll phone the restaurant beforehand and ask about food prep/ingredients, so I don’t have to deal with it when I walk into the restaurant. Most of the time I know exactly what I want to eat before I open the menu.

Fill Up on Sides/Apps: Portions are SO HUGE these days. Sometimes I’ll fall in love with a bunch of appetizers and sides and I’ll end up having a few plates filled with the greatness. Shaved Brussels sprouts, roasted kale, a plate of chorizo–sometimes I like playing DIY chef where I can order a little bit of everything to get a satisfying, healthy meal.

Say NO to the Bread Basket: I mean, I’ll break out into hives, but if I order something “off plan” I’ll have the healthy stuff FIRST so I can fill up on nutrients and then I’ll dive into the fries, basked potatoes, etc. When I can chow on gluten again, I won’t likely ever have the bread basket unless it’s GOOD. And I mean really GOOD. Because, quite honestly, most bread baskets are subpar.

Soups and Salads: If you don’t get a chance to do a menu vivisection before you arrive, you can rely on getting a soup and salad. Most soups are pre-made so forget about trying to alter the ingredients, but I’ve had cheese and the like removed from salads.

Be the Healthy Friend!: Fifteen years ago I was the girl you called when you wanted to do blow. Now I’m the “healthy friend.” My friends are more than willing to go out with me because they can load up on veggies and eat the good stuff and feel good. I’m also the workout friend, too.

And sometimes a woman has to board a plane. I’m taking a trip this week and know that I’ll be packing a healthy food bag and bringing tons of bars just in case I can’t find gluten-free breakfast options in SE Asia.

When it comes to packing meals for lunch or a plane or having a meal with a friend, I’m always prepared. I always have a plan. In the end I always ask myself, do you want to feel like how you feel now or then? That answer always drives me to pick the healthier option even on days when all I want are fries. Luckily, those days are fewer and further in between.

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A few nights ago I had dinner with an old coworker turned friend, and we lamented over the fact that no one told us that 80% of how we look (and feel) is attributed to our diet. NO ONE TOLD US! We were reared to believe that the treadmill, spin bike, etc was our salvation. Don’t worry about wrecking our diet, our health, because there’s an instant juice-cleanse fix for those years of damage! Here’s a spot in a SoulCult spin class that will make those last few hours disappear. Over the past year, my mindset toward fitness has taken a demonstrable shift. I view working out as a long-term investment in my muscles and bones. Working out will allow me to punch people when I’m 90, walk up and down stairs, recover faster from those inevitable falls. Working out eases the stress and allows me to quiet the mind, and now I focusing on fueling for my workouts rather than using my workouts as a means to delete my food history.

What I’m trying to say is the thing no one wants to hear or believe: your health is about the long haul. It’s about doing the work. It’s about discipline, presence and love for yourself. It’s about living mindfully every day so you can live longer, better, for every tomorrow. There is no one fix. The juice cleanse isn’t Jesus, it won’t save.

This whole exploration started because I felt horrible and I’d been exercising and saw absolutely ZERO results. Now, I exercise less, yet I’ve been experiencing change I hadn’t previously. I’ve written a lot about my fitness routine, however, these days I keep it simple. I hit a class four days a week. I typically take a mix of yoga, HIIT, spin and megaformer classes so my body is constantly in a state of shock and I’m never bored. I mix my cardio with my weights and settle into 90 minutes of quiet when I’m on the mat. And I’ve noticed that my diet has made a HUGE impact on my performance. I can handle more reps. I can cycle harder. I’m now able to go further and farther, and I can finally, FINALLY, start to see some definition. I feel strong.

One more lesson I learned and it was from a random image on Instagram: Take the stairs until you’re no longer able to. I’m almost 39 years old and I’m not old; I don’t take my age for granted. If I can manage stairs, I take them. Even on the days when I want to lie down on the escalator and sleep. Because there will come a day when the very idea of moving will be a struggle and I want to savor the time between now and then.

Next Up: How I dealt with challenges along the way. From cravings to analyzing my poop to people who think my issues with gluten were of my own invention to spending $1000 on an allergist who had no respect for me or holistic health, I’ll share some of the more unseemly situations I had to deal with on my journey to mindful eating and living.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. This post is meant as a means to inspire, not directly emulate. I’m sharing my specific food journey and interaction with experienced medical professionals who know my medical history. Don’t self-diagnose or play doctor with WebMD. If you think you may have allergies or intolerances, please consult with your doctor.

my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: how did I get here?

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This week-long series isn’t about how I lost nearly 30 pounds in three months, rather this is about a lifetime battle with my body and how I’m finally traveled to a place where I’m settled in my skin and love it, from the inside out. This week, I’ll be sharing highly personal aspects of my life as well as practical tips I’ve learned–all in an effort to inspire you and remind myself that every day requires self-work and self-love. I was going to introduce this series when I hit my goal weight, but that felt pointless, because this is a journey that has no end until the end, and that’s actually really comforting. Shocking for a Type-A control freak like me. In today’s post I talk about my lifelong relationship with food, my fluctuating weight, and the decision I made this year that would change my life.

For as long as I could remember I’ve been waging a war against my body. In Brooklyn, the boys at the pool used to shout out, boriqua sexy, and talked about my thick hips and full chest. I was friends with a beautiful girl, Teresa, and the boys told me that I would be pretty, really pretty, if I had Teresa’s head on my body. I was 11. I spent the entire summer between middle school and junior high school swimming from one end of a 16-foot pool to another, subsisting on potatoes and the random 50 cent hot dog. Wondering what it would be to look like my skinny friend. When I walked into I.S. 88 in Park Slope, I was sinewy, lean, flat-chested. That first day of school I wore an acid-washed skirt set (it was 1986, people) and on the shirt read two words: next exit. I don’t know why I remember this so clearly, even now, but I do.

I loved junior high school! Unlike grade school, where my mother served as a specter, here at I.S. 88, a school that issued bus passes to transit kids like me, the mere distance of the school from our house rendered her invisible. My friends were black, Puerto Rican (girl, you ain’t Spanish?), Italian, Irish and Dominican. Girls with afros and gerry curls, girls with slim hips and girls who ballooned out–the mess of color and shape comforted me. Finally, I felt like I fit. I spent that year smoking loosies, downing Gatorade and fried onion chips, and my weight crept up because I didn’t care. I had friends! I had a boyfriend who had the kind of eyes you wanted to tumble into! A teacher took me aside and said, You’re a remarkable writer, and I shrugged my shoulders because how could I know then that writing would be the one thing that would always, invariably, save? When you’re 12 all that matters is that you carry your own set of keys. You cut French class and pump your feet high on the swings with your friends.

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That was also the year I moved to Long Island and everything changed. In the three schools I attended (one from which I had to transfer because I was bullied), everyone was whitewashed, paled down to bone. They listened to pop and rock-and-roll, not the hip hop and soul I’d grown up listening to. They had fine hair and slipped their bony hips into tiny jeans and pleated cheerleading skirts. These were girls called Lea and Renee, and they were on the kick team. They didn’t eat their lunch, they picked at it. I, on the other hand, devoured three Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, a buttered bagel, and a large orange juice.

And that was just breakfast.

I spent the better part of high school vacillating between binging and purging. I couldn’t go near Cinnabon because I’d devour the whole box and throw it up twenty minutes later. I stopped one day because I almost choked and I feared death more than being fat. Because apparently, those were my choices. But I would go on and off purging for most of my adult life. But back in high school, I just couldn’t find where I fit, so I kept mostly to myself, read books between classes, ate alone and excelled. I hated Long Island with its 99 cent bagel shops, binge drinking, and homogeneity. The more I hated Long Island, the more I hated my curly hair and thick hips, the more I ate and studied. I won awards, scholarships, but during my senior year I got caught stealing. Two teachers rescinded their college letters of recommendation, and I was forced to go to therapy or face expulsion.

A decade later, I sat in another therapist’s office telling her about all of this, and she nodded and said that it was heartbreaking to witness my trajectory. My need for control, my need to snuff out pain, drown it anyway I could, and how those needs would inevitably lead me to addiction. Alcoholism and an addiction to cocaine were all laid out ahead of me and I didn’t even know it back when I was 17, when I’d been an academic star, a writer of those too-dark stories (Why does everyone have to die in your stories, Felicia? Because everyone does), who baffled the student faculty. How could she do that? Steal?

At 27, in a therapist’s office, I said, You mean, I could have prevented all of this? I could have avoided a bottle of wine and a gram to get through my day without screaming? Good to know.

Back then, I was a little angry. Most of my life I’d been angry.

my dad, me and my mother at high school graduation

When I received my acceptance letter and a pile of financial aid from Fordham University, I cried. I came down on my knees and cried because the Bronx felt like another country. I’d be free from the hallway whispers (by the end of the year everyone had found out that what I’d stolen and why, and naturally everyone had a field day in reveling in my humiliation), the teachers who regarded me as if I were delicate china, and my mother, who, stormed out of a family therapy session when my therapist asked, Are you angry, Felicia? Yes. Who you are angry with? (Pause) Answer the woman, my mother snapped. I’m angry. (I turned toward my mother) I’m so angry with you. My mother got up and walked out. My dad apologized. I laughed through tears. That’s my mother, I said.

I was a size 10.

Four years on a campus near Arthur Avenue. Trips to Europe and Mexico. Everyone hailed from the Northeast and was monied, pre-educated. I was a psychology major who switched to finance and marketing because that’s where the money was. I rolled with the smart kids, the kids who wanted to work in investment banks and the big six accounting firms. I spent most of my time in class, at work, or on the verge of blacking out. I drank and drank some more. But back then everyone drank too much; alcoholism was the church of our worship, and I laid down my hands on the altar and prayed like one of the devoted. When I drank, I’d order oily pasta at 2:30 in the morning and I passed the bulk of my college years eating a lot or eating nothing at all.

Graduation, June 1997

After graduation, and before I enrolled in graduate school at Columbia, I spent the early part of my twenties deep in the business of whittling down to bone. I subsisted on Starbucks and Lean Cuisine. I ran 6-7 miles a day on a treadmill or on the sand-covered track on the farm in which my father worked. I was a loose in a size zero, practically a negative integer. I fell in love and nearly married a man who told me I wasn’t thin enough, so I drank until I could no longer hear the sound of his voice. Because how much smaller could you get than a size zero? Oh, there are ways.

In 2008, I celebrated a year of alcohol sobriety (by then I’d been off of coke for 6 years), published my first book, and no longer looked like a film negative. I’d stopped eating processed food, introduced vegetables into my diet, and nurtured a strong yoga practice. After spending nearly a decade in and out of therapy, I finally felt strong in my own skin. It was then I decided to take a year off to write the screenplay adaptation of my memoir (thankfully, funding for the film fell through) and figure out what is that I wanted to do as a career. I spent most of adult life in large companies working in marketing, but I was bored, passing the days instead of being present in them, and I wanted to take some time to come back to myself. That year might have been one of the healthiest I’ve ever been.

Below is a snap of my me + my pop at my book party in 2008.

Me & My Pop at My Book Party

Then I met a man who would be my boss for nearly four years. I remember the interview, and him asking me an odd question. He’d heard that I loved food, was a bit of baker and cook, and asked, If I were to come over to dinner, have a meal with you, what would you make? I laughed, startled, expecting the usual resume excavation, but I don’t think he’d ever read my resume, rather he was just trying to figure out whether or not I was the kind of person he wanted to share a meal with. Or perhaps he wanted to see how I’d manage curve balls. Over the course of an hour and several follow-up emails and phone calls, I was charmed by his vision, his affection for writers, and the kind of company he wanted to build, and I took a job that would markedly change the course of my life.

I’m not going to say much about those years beyond what I’ve written here, but let’s just say, for sake of argument, that the man I met wasn’t the man I’d come to know. Behind closed doors, I spent the bulk of those years fighting with this man while my other boss played referee, had us in our mutual corners to cool off. I want to say that the man I worked for didn’t hold my values, and as a result, I allowed myself to become a lesser version of myself. I became paranoid, insecure, plagued with self-doubt and fear, and I was visibly stressed and sometimes cruel toward my direct reports. I say that I allowed myself because while I worked for someone whom I didn’t respect (although, in retrospect, I learned a great deal about business from him), I chose to remain and I have to take responsibility for not leaving. In those nearly four years I cried the most I’ve ever cried. I nearly relapsed. I was broken and put on a considerable amount of weight. The stress, and the pressure I put on myself, drove me to make poor choices with regard to my body and health, and I never put myself first.

That’s a mistake I’ll never make again.

When I resigned from this job, I cried in the shower for a week and spent a month in Europe, shaking. That was the year when I suffered a great loss, relapsed after six and a half years of sobriety, recovered, and spent the remainder of the year ripping off bandaids and sitting in a place of self-reflection.

What had I done to myself? How had I treated others? Myself? I spent time forgiving myself and asking forgiveness of others. That was the year I rebuilt friendships (Oh, you’re no longer tethered to your work email? Oh, you can actually make my wedding?) brick by brick. That was the year I got on a plane for myself, to further my own dream, rather than to forsake myself for someone else’s. That was the year I got healthy (or so I thought) and worked out five days a week.

But something else happened. None of my clothes fit. I was literally ripping through dresses. My chest had gotten to a size that gave me discomfort. Often I felt sick, experienced sharp pains in my stomach which felt like my appendix were about to burst. I couldn’t sleep and when I did it was the sleep of disturbed children. I was constipated. I kept pausing in the middle of sentences, lost, What was I just saying?. I kept forgetting things–keys, thoughts, what I’d planned for the day or whom I was meeting for dinner. I was working out but always felt sluggish. Bloat and exhaustion were a constant state. I avoided mirrors. I shied away from having my picture taken.

My body had become a house I wanted to burn to the ground.

In June, I posted a note on Facebook about wanting to see a nutritionist because I felt powerless, weak. A friend casually mentioned Dana James, someone with whom she’d experienced a degree of success. After Dana’s assistant and I traded a few emails, and I completed a 14-page written questionnaire and three-day food diary, I spent nearly two hours in Dana’s office in a state of shock. That session was a brutal awakening.

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I was 172.3 pounds, the heaviest I’d been in my entire life. I came off the scale and sat, catatonic, in a chair. I blacked out during our session and all I could see was the weight, so much of it, and the fact that my food diary revealed I’d a severe addiction to gluten. As Dana proceeded to talk me through our goals and a new way of eating, I stopped her, an hour later, mid-sentence, and said, Maybe that scale is broken? I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS. I DON’T EAT PROCESSED FOOD. I EAT KALE! Dana paused and said that the number was just a number. It was information. It was knowledge, and I’ll acquire more knowledge to move that number, and more importantly, my life, in another direction. But I had to commit to changing my life. I know that sounds so textbook self-help, but if I wanted to feel good, healthy, strong, I had to completely re-think my approach to food and reconcile my relationship with it. Because I’d been living this private life where, on one hand, food was at the core of my identity but it was also my nemesis. I needed to find a place in the middle.

For three months, I made a significant financial, emotional and physical investment. I committed to seeing Dana weekly; I kept a detailed, honest food journal. I weighed in every week and learned how to build a balanced plate. I learned how to eat more, but better. I eliminated gluten, dairy, yeast, sweet potatoes, bananas, grapes, blueberries, lemons, turkey, and a list of other foods from my diet. I followed a customized, realistic meal plan. I bought books, watched documentaries and went to seminars to educate myself on gut health, nutrition and food. I saw my primary care physician more times this year than in the previous 10. I got extremely sick; I endured the side effects (including nearly fainting in my apartment) from taking steroids to control a severe reaction I had to gluten and dairy when I decided to go off plan; I got better again.

Yeah, yeah, the weight came off and continues to, but nothing compares to how I feel: sharp, clear-headed, awake, strong, and present. I no longer need coffee to get through my days, my skin has that “glow” and even my doctor is shocked at how much I’ve managed to reduce my insulin levels in three months (I was on the road to diabetes, but have since reversed the course!).

I feel incredible.

But that’s not to say that there wasn’t a tremendous amount of information I learned along the way. From spending money on incompetent allergists to not fearing the scale to analyzing my waste on a daily basis (quit it with the eww–this is your body and it gives you important information) to reframing my original thinking that my diet was limited because I couldn’t have dairy or gluten to realizing that the elimination of two things actually created creativity and abundance–this week I plan to share everything I’ve learned throughout my journey. And I’ve only just started! Naturally, this is all meant to inspire not to directly emulate. See your doctor, talk to holistic practitioners, educate yourself about how food is cultivated and manufactured and learn how your gut works.

I don’t have all the answers, but I have enough information, faith and self-love to feel like I have something worthy to share with you. I’ll also share all the resources (books, films, cookbooks, etc) that have kept me sane.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. Nothing with regard to my health is off the table (I mean, I just mentioned poop). If I don’t know the answer, I’ll ask my nutritionist before I leave for Asia this week. If I still don’t know the answer, I’ll tell you that as well :)

Next Up: What I ate that got me into this mess.


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my food journey week 11: the vile mushroom invasion

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When I was in junior high school I befriended a girl with red hair. Let’s call her K. Her father was fiery too, prone to fits of alcoholic rage, and often we’d come to her house after school to find him cutting into a deer he’d hunted or hunched over a canoe he owned, scrubbing. Theirs was the sort of home that never got clean no matter how much you scrubbed, but I didn’t mind it because K was witty, funny, an outcast like me, and furthermore the idea of coming home to a cold, quiet house was unimaginable. We’d just moved from Brooklyn, rented a basement apartment underneath a group of men in a band who played music late and often took baths and let the water run–so much so that we had floods in our home. My mother must have threatened, done something, because after a while the place got mouse-quiet, the torrential downpours in our apartment grew sparse. She worked a lot and when she’d come home, late, she was always angry. There was never enough money, the man she married (not my father) disappeared to Atlantic City with his coke and his station wagon for days at a time and she was left with the silences. I imagine she thought to herself, This is my life? All of it?

I realize I’m being generous with her today. I don’t know why, considering our history. But I digress.

With K, I traded in one unclean house for another, and I remember one day coming over to find a MUSHROOM growing out of her wall. I’d never consume said vegetable because it looked feral, mossy, something grown out of dirt in an age where we preferred our food manufactured; our cereal boxes were gleaming, rolling off of steel assembly lines. In the late 80s, we wanted pristine over dirt, and although much of my food came out of a can or from industrial boxes, seeing a MUSHROOM in someone’s home, growing alongside a wall, was TOO MUCH. I’d ignored her father’s drunken rages and her sometimes odd sexual comments, but apparently my food moral relativism couldn’t handle a MUSHROOM. Don’t ask about the thought process of a thirteen-year-old. It’s mystery, at best.

Since then I couldn’t escape the mushroom. My mother brought home a package of button mushrooms. I even remember the package: blue styrofoam base with the waxy white buttons covered in plastic. She brought home dark mushrooms in a can, their oil congealing at the surface, making jaundiced streaks on my untouched dinner plate. I remember eating one of those mushrooms once, because in my house you ate what you were fed, and immediately rushing to the bathroom to spit out the contents of my mouth into the sink. I didn’t even make it to the toilet. My mother assumed a physical reaction was at play and never did she bring home the VILE MUSHROOM again.

This morning, I read an article describing the contents of children’s breakfast plates around the globe. From our cereal culture to the imaginative, salty, and sour, the writer relayed that childhood is the critical moment when you can introduce what some would consider unpalatable foods. This is the time to put a bowl of sour cabbage in front of a child and do it consistently because the child will eventually adapt and grow to love said food. My diet was so limiting and so American 80s with its Kingdom of White, that it took a decade of my adult life to eat vegetables toddlers in other countries would consume for breakfast; I didn’t have my first dark green until I was in my 20s. And while I’m starting to enjoy cauliflower, bean sprouts, snow peas, sugar peas (don’t be deceived, they are NOT SWEET), pickled radish, and all the foods that my food coach is encouraging me to consume, I hate the WRETCHED MUSHROOM, still. Maybe I’ve made a connection between it and my mother? Don’t ask about the thought process of a thirty-eight-year-old woman. It’s mystery, at best.

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This week’s menu has been a challenge. It’s taken nearly three months to whittle out the starchy carbs from my diet to focus on superfoods, vegetables, proteins, and legumes, but it’s been hard to give up certain starches (potatoes and rice), albeit briefly. The idea behind all of this is to expand my repertoire, to not depend on, or fuel my addiction to, carbs. This isn’t some Atkins nonsense, rather it’s about learning to eat more. Eat different. Eat better. And that’s been hard. I had way too much popcorn, had rice with my Korean BBQ dinner, got really irritable and irrational, and the scale hasn’t budged. I’m still getting used to the taste of sour, spicy foods (I had a lot of pickled food and Korean food this week), with the thinking that I’ll slowly evolve my diet to host a wide variety of tastes and flavors. I will no longer subsist on homogeneity.

Part of the experiment is swapping out my morning smoothie. Previous versions were pretty fruit heavy, and now my food coach has got me on a blend (pictured above) she’s created + vegetables + almond milk. More protein, more vitamins and minerals. I love the stuff, actually. It tastes like vanilla and I feel full for HOURS. I don’t claw the desk at 9:30 when I’ve had my breakfast shake at 7, and I oddly look forward to having it.

So I decided to glance at the ingredients. All the good stuff you’d imagine: yellow pea protein powder, hemp protein, brown rice protein, wildcrafted camu camu berry powder, monk fruit, RAW CORDYCEPS MUSHROOM POWDER

I’VE BEEN EATING A GODDAMN MUSHROOM EVERY DAY. I give my friend a shake and tell her how mushroomy it is, to which she responds that I’m bonkers. This doesn’t taste like mushrooms, well, maybe a little bit. But it’s really good.

And no, this does not mean I plan on eating a plate of HORRIFIC PORTOBELLOS or VILE WHATEVER OTHER VARIETIES OF MUSHROOMS EXIST.

What this week has taught me is respect for vegetarians and vegans who have imaginative diets. It’s taken me a host of cookbooks and advice from my food coach in order to mix up my salads and proteins. We’ll see how this goes…

a woman encounters the AREPA

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If my friend Amber were here right now, I’d give her a pony. And possibly an orange kitten for good measure. All because she introduced me to the glory that is the AREPA. In my humble opinion, arepas are next-level tacos. A corn-based flatbread indigenous to Colombia and Venezuela, arepas have a doughy, yet crunchy texture, and are the perfect haven for all sorts of fixings.

AND AREPAS ARE GLUTEN-FREE.

Today, I fixed mine with leftover chopped chicken, chickpeas, kale and mixed greens. Clearly, I plan to add arepas to my repertoire. I’m envisioning pulled pork and veg, roasted vegetables, and taco beef.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Bon Appetit
2 cups arepa flour (precooked cornmeal)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Desired fillings (such as shredded cooked chicken or pork, stewed black beans with cheese and lime, corn salad with onion and fresh herbs; for serving)
Lime wedges (for serving)

Note: Arepa flour is precooked corn flour, not to be confused with masa harina. Sometimes sold as masarepa or harina precocida, it can be found in Latin markets and some supermarkets.

DIRECTIONS
Combine arepa flour and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and add 2½ cups warm water. Using a wooden spoon, gradually incorporate dry ingredients, stirring until no dry lumps remain. Let rest 5 minutes to hydrate.

Knead dough a few times in bowl, then divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece on work surface into a ball, then gently flatten to about ½” thick.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 4 arepas, cover, and cook until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Uncover, flip, and cook (keep uncovered) until other side is golden brown, 6–8 minutes.

Transfer arepas to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining 1 Tbsp. oil and dough. Let the arepas cool for 10 minutes. Split arepas and stuff with desired fillings (I used chopped up chicken, chickpeas and kale sauteed in a pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper); serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.

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