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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summer tomato soup with buckwheat groats

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Sometimes, all a woman wants is COUSCOUS. Preferably, Israeli couscous with its pearl pallor and miniature pea shape. Couscous is creamy, rich, and adds texture to a simple soup, and since gluten is verboten (What? Haven’t you heard?), I’ve been trying to find worthy, yet healthy, substitutes.

Enter the GROAT. The name is tragic, I know. It feels agrarian, pastoral, something you dig up out from the ground. I discovered the hulled seeds while trolling blogs for gluten-free recipes (such is my life), and contrary to what its name might suggest, buckwheat is not actually wheat. Rather, buckwheat groats are the hulled seeds from the buckwheat plant; its cousin is the rhubarb! Raw, it looks exactly like what it is…a seed. But when cooked, well, magic starts to happen, and the tough seed transforms into the texture of couscous, of rice.

You can’t imagine how excited I was to find a worthy pasta substitute. The tears were real, my friends. I invite you to try out this simple soup to see for yourself. And while many of you are all tra la la, eating gluten with aplomb, perhaps consider switching up your repertoire for healthier, vitamin-packed options.

So says the forced convert.

INGREDIENTS
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp of minced garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
3 lbs of tomatoes, roughly chopped. I used a mix of heritage, cherry, beefsteak and plum
1 qt of organic, yeast-free chicken stock
1 cup fresh basil, packed
Salt/pepper to season
1/2 cup buckwheat groats
1 cup water

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, add the olive oil and turn on the heat to medium/high. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and chopped onion with a pinch of salt so the onions sweat rather than burn. Saute the mixture for 4-5 minutes until the onions are translucent the mixture is aromatic. Add the tomatoes, and stir to coat with the onion/garlic mixture. Saute for another 4 minutes.

Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, in a medium pot, add the water and groats and bring both to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook per the package directions, 10-12 minutes.

After the soup is done, add the basil, salt and pepper, and blitz using an immersion blender (best investment I’ve made) or a blender going through several batches. Add in the groats, stir, cover and cook for another 10 minutes.

Serve hot!

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my food journey: week two (I have so much to tell you!)

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I have so much to tell you!! Every session with my nutritionist, Dana James, has been a lesson in awareness. Although it’s only been two short weeks since I made the choice to be completely present in my life, especially with regard to the food I put in my body (nourish versus numb, remember?), I feel as if every day is, at turns, an awakening and another bandaid being ripped off.

Rather than rehash the past four years, and why I made the choice to stay in an environment that bred competitiveness, insecurity and self-contempt, I’m focusing more on repairing the damage that was done as a result of walking into an office every day, knowing that every hour spent was an hour stolen from me. Over the past year I’ve returned to former self, have reestablished a confidence that had been trampled upon, and have set mindful boundaries when it comes to achieving a balance between the work I do and the art I create. As such, I am meticulous and methodical when negotiating contracts with new clients, being really specific on the time I devote to a project and the what will and won’t be achieved within those defined hours. I think this self-care was really the impetus for me seeing Dana, because I started to feel that something wasn’t right with my body when everything else in my life was right.

After my weight, water, BMI, PBF, and muscle composition readout (and yes, I’m losing weight, steadily), Dana talked to me about the damage I’ve done to myself at a cellular level over the past four years. And that damage, surprise, surprise, has contributed to a host of food sensitivities, mainly gluten, mostly carbs. Let’s chat about the below image:

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Part of my weekly meetings with Dana includes an analysis of my body composition, body water balance, and segmental lean analysis. We talk about the weekly results in the context of my food diary and my emotional state. What you see here is today’s Segmental Lean Analysis, which is a measure of my muscle mass (weight and % to ideal for my height, age and body type). Ideally, you want to be over 100%, although for a woman, that’s challenging in your trunk area unless you are ripped. You’ll notice that I have a very strong upper body, an almost-there lower body, but the trunk, the trunk is interesting.

I’m not ripped, people. I once had a tiny waist, but we won’t dwell on that. WE WON’T. Comparing this number (101.1%) to my water % numbers (which have gone down minimally, interesting since I’ve taken gluten out of the equation), and a gently feel of my midsection, Dana suggested that I’ve accumulated a considerable amount of yeast buildup in my gut over the years, which has made me constantly bloated. I have a great deal of muscle all over, but it’s literally covered in carb-induced fat and bloat. As a result, we’re trying an experiment where I’m swapping out my morning probiotic in favor of taking Candida Control six times a day. We’re looking to dramatically reduce the amount of candida in my gut. The combination of taking these supplements + being mindful about my diet will make a significant change in my body over the next month.

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to hear that the issue has nothing to do with my workouts. The muscle is there, the strength is there–it’s just covered in waste accumulated over the course of four years living a life of extreme stress. Are you skeptical that stress doesn’t have an impact on your health? Well, hello. I’m Felicia, your case in point.

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After, we dove right into my visual food diary, which I’ve come to realize, is a document that makes me more accountable to myself than I initially thought. On paper, my meals sound fantastic, however, in practice, I’m still not incorporating enough veg in my diet. Look at you, covering your large portion of legumes (good carbs, but carbs) with kale (Exhibit A: the steak with roasted chickpeas and kale). I see what you did there, was the gist of my chat with Dana. The tacos + rice gnocchi (bottom corner image, at right) were fine since that was my splurge meal (but even so, can you throw in a salad beforehand?). While the chicken + beef koftas on greens were a win, I could have added more color to the plate.

I can’t explain to you enough how seeing what’s on your plate makes you more aware of what you’re actually putting in your body.

Oh, maybe that potato was kind of big. Maybe I’ve been dialing down the veg thinking I’ll make up for it in the next meal. Life doesn’t work that way. You never make up for it. You need to practice this mindfulness when you sit down at your every meal.

Who knew this whole dissection of my food diary was a segue to the big news I received today: Dana and I work to slowly wean me off carbs over the next month. This isn’t complete or extreme elimination, this is more about allowing my body to repair itself, overcome my extreme sensitivity to gluten (I finally get my detailed blood work next week and I’ll post it here!), and allow myself two wonderful carb meals a week. Granted, fruit is still in play — we’re just talking about my predilection to reach for rice and potatoes. Notice that in this week’s food diary? Dana sure did. And I kind of did, too.

Here’s to a second week on this incredible journey.

Key Tips:
* Nixing my probiotics for two weeks. Instead, I’ll be taking 6 aforementioned Candida tablets a day.
* Take two tbsp of chlorophyll in the morning (I love this brand), with my smoothie as a chaser. I really love how chlorophyll makes me feel. The smoothie + shots are a one-two punch, and I’m actually finding that I don’t need coffee in the morning because I have so much energy.
* My snacks don’t need to be so rigid — they can be meal leftovers. Dana loves the adage, make once, eat twice.
* I’ve devoted 2 hours on Sunday to massive meal prep. I have tons of tupperware and labeled Ziploc bags for salad starters, meat seasonings and easy meals that I can put together quickly. Now, I have lunch in 3 minutes and my dinner takes 30 minutes, flat.

Note: My journey (and FOOD DIARY) are meant to inspire you, not as a means for you to directly emulate. My supplements and food plan have been completely customized for me, my body type and my health goals. In short, what might work for me may not make sense, or work, for you.

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Great interview with my food coach on belly bloat (eh-hem, Felicia)!

reframe your thinking: the art of the visual food journal

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Last night I practiced yoga in front of a setting sun, and my teacher talked about the Ayurvedic notion of Prajnaparadha. Loosely translated from sanskrit it means, “crimes against wisdom”–how we willfully ignore our intuition, the base wisdom which guides us in living a mindful life. I’ll be honest: I’m not an Ayurvedic practitioner nor am I an avid follower of one kind of belief system, however, I’m in tune with myself and my flaws–an ego, when unchecked, can supersede common sense, and a sometimes quiet yearning for anesthesia, for the world to pale down to a dull, sustained drone. The former leads to injury and the latter leads to lack of presence.

Years ago, I fancied myself an advanced yogi, and I remember a class where my teacher, Elena Brower, warned me against going into bound triangle. I wasn’t warm, I wasn’t ready, but I ignored her because, who was she to tell me what my body can and cannot do? And then a snap, a collapse to the ground, a hamstring torn, which would take years to heal. To this day I’m reminded of my ego because I’m still tight on that one leg, still. I don’t imagine that Elena knows the indelible mark she left on me (but do we ever know the marks we leave on people? How a single sentence has the ability to transform, build and bind?), but I remember her taking me aside and talking to me about ambition. How our desire to nail a pose, arrive at a marker, a perception of a life, can be dangerous if we don’t consider the larger scope of things, namely, the importance of the journey and what lies after. So many years later I’m reminded of the crime I committed against a body that wasn’t ready for this shape with its cold limbs, a foot that wasn’t committed to the mat, and a knee that wobbled–and more importantly, how I didn’t exercise common sense.

It’s interesting how I’ve returned to the mat while simultaneously making a commitment to be present with regard to the food I put in my body.

Today I had my first check-in with my remarkable nutritionist, Dana James, which starts with a full-blown analysis of my weight, body fat percentages (by limb–who knew that one leg was heavier than the other?) and dovetails into a detailed analysis of my food journal and the week. Not only was I floored by the fact that I’d lost FIVE POUNDS, but I was more excited about the fact that while this journey has been HARD (people, living without gluten and dairy requires a strategy, a plan and back-up plan, not to mention cravings that are CRUEL), I’m actually FEELING this journey. I’m forcing myself to listen to my body. Why do I want that particular piece of food? Is it because I’m bored, tired, stressed, ambivalent, or is it because I love the contents of this bowl and I seek nourishment?

Do I want to be nourished or numb?

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Today I met with a friend who asked me about this space. Will you still bake? Don’t you miss it? I told her that I’m trying to apply the same minimalist thinking I’ve managed to exercise in my home and wardrobe to this space and my body. Take in only the things I love and need. Bake the best croissants and savor one. Eat when my body tells me to. Fill my body with food that gives me pleasure (the juxtaposition of texture! the vibrant colors!). Write only in this space when I have something meaningful and thoughtful to say.

I never thought I would enjoy documenting every meal I make until I realized that the reason I loathed food journals was because I had to be accountable, present, for what I put in my body. To that end, I’ve reframed the notion of writing down what I’m eating into creating a weekly visual diary, most of which I share with my nutritionist because it keeps me honest. Because I’m not carrying measuring cups in my bag when I go to restaurants. Because I want every meal to be a celebration, a fist pump, a victory lap, because out of the most brutal year I’ve had something wonderful has emerged.

I’m present and I’m listening to my body and my heart.

Note: I’m sharing my food journal + experiences as a means to inspire, not as a way to emulate. My program has been designed specifically for me, but I want to remove the stigma of carb addiction and share everything I’m doing and all the lessons learned along the way. While this week’s diary isn’t completely visual, I plan on creating a private photo feed for Dana so she can explore alongside my written entries.

green goddess salad with kale, pomegranate + roasted chickpeas

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Perhaps I’m riding the high from yesterday’s euphoric slash agonizing workout, however, before I head out for another session (just call me a masochist), I decided to hoover a large bowl of kale. I made some modifications to the original recipe, which called for cheese (dairy has been killing me softly with its song as of late) and anchovy paste (I can’t), and added it additional fruit and crunchy nuts so I’m filled, as my pop would say, to the gills.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Clara Persis, with modifications.
For the salad
6 cups Lacinato kale, pretty finely chopped
1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and patted dry
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup fresh blueberries
1/4 roasted pistachios
1 tbsp flaxseed
1 Granny Smith apple, shredded
olive oil
salt and pepper

For the dressing:
1 cup 2% Greek yogurt
3/4 cup packed basil leaves
1/4 tsp fish sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small garlic clove
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 400°. Placed the chickpeas on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Drizzle with a little olive oil (1/2 tbsp) and toss to coat all the peas. Be generous with your salt and pepper, so you have the opportunity to have a truly seasoned and flavorful salad topper. Roast the chickpeas for 25-30 minutes until deep golden brown and crunchy. Allow them to cool slightly.

Make the dressing: Blitz all the ingredients in a blender food processor, and blend until completely combined and very smooth. Set aside.

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Place the kale in a large bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Using your hand, massage the olive oil into the kale a bit to soften the leaves. Pour in 1/2 cup of dressing and toss well to combine. Add in the chickpeas, pomegranate seeds, apple, blueberries, flaxseeds, and pistachios, and toss gently. Season with a little more salt and pepper. Spoon the salad into bowls, drizzle with a bit more dressing, and serve immediately.

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green apple + pistachio quinoa

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Lately, I’ve been thick in the business of elimination. Yanking dresses off of racks, shoving cashmere sweaters into paper bags and making piles of unread books, I’m ridding myself of all that is unnecessary. It used to be that I would accumulate and hoard because it filled an emptiness that was seemingly bottomless. An emptiness that gnawed at me and ghosted my waking hours. My sleep wasn’t the one of children. So instead of pausing and acknowledging the fact that I’d built a life that focused on soulless material pursuits and lived in a home that served only as a storage bin for a mounting sadness, I acquired. I swiped, I charged, I entered my pin, and carted dozens of bags home. Watched the stockpile of pretty things from the confines of my bed. Once the ground gives way, there is only the tumble and the endless fall.

tumblr_mr50r7ga1t1s2948io1_250 Ever notice how excess gives you anxiety? Makes you feel boxed in, trapped? My home had devolved into a mausoleum, a tomb for a heart and a mind that was once awake. Someone who could live off less. When I was a child, my mother fried up a dizzying amount of chicken cutlets, pork chops and steak. Served towering mashed potatoes in enormous bowls. I remember thinking that there was just so much food for three people, and whenever I asked her about it, she shook a little, and it occurred to me then that she felt comforted by the act of having more, even if she didn’t need it. Even if the sight of it makes her sick.

This year I left a job, a life, that was making me sick. I boarded a plane that took me to another country where I lost my luggage, and, after several theatrical rage blackouts, I found a secret comfort in living off 2 pairs of pants, two shirts, underthings and a small bag of toiletries. It was only when my luggage found its way back to me that I experienced a sadness that I didn’t understand. Until now.

Last week, an old friend and business partner sent me a text that read: Are you sure you want to give away your Louboutins? A few hours earlier, I’d tossed large shopping bags of clothes and shoes in her trunk, determined to create some space in my home. In response, I laughed and told her to enjoy the shoes. I rationed that if my buying something caused me pain but somehow gave joy to someone else, then that purchase was worth it.

This isn’t just a routine seasonal cleaning, but a more mindful way that I want to live my life.

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Call it serendipity, but I just finished Karen Wheeler’s honest and compulsively readable memoir, Tout Sweet, and there’s a scene in the book where she realizes that no one in rural France cares about the ubiquitous “it” bag or silver buckled shoes. As a result, Wheeler rids herself of the sartorial shackles of a former life, and it liberates her, allows her to make space for a whole new life hurtling in.

I don’t know where the days will take me, what the shape of my next act will look like, but I know that I have all that I want and need right in my home. A house that is now a home. A home where I can feast on yummy quinoa and read good books into the evening.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Fresh Happy Tasty: An Adventure in 100 Recipes
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 cup pistachios
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 small green onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup seeded diced cucumber
1 cup diced green apple
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup diced celery
1/2 red serrano chile, seeded and thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
Agave nectar
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
Maldon or other flaky salt

DIRECTIONS
Prepare the quinoa according to the package directions. Put the drained quinoa back into the pot and stir it over low heat to remove some of the moisture.

In a small dry skillet, toast the pistachios over medium-low heat until evenly browned, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often to keep them from burning. Crush the nuts lightly with a knife.

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, pistachios, and the remaining ingredients. Toss and check for seasoning; add more lemon juice and salt if necessary.

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triple coconut quinoa porridge + the food blogging game

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You may think this trifecta of coconut too decadent, too all-consuming and sweet, but I promise you that this porridge isn’t bombastic. Rather, it’s subtle, creamy, and a perfect vehicle for savoring a dish in solitude on those days when you want to shutter yourself away from the rain and frenzy of the city. Lately, I’ve found a lot of space in exploring the quiet. My work keeps me in an office twice a week, but it’s always a joy to come home to an apartment filled with books, old movies and art that keeps me stimulated and nourished. Lately, I’ve been mixing up my reads, finding new ways to invent the food writing genre. Finding new ways in which I can merge image with word, culture and recipe. I keep hearing the phrase everything must converge, and I’m believing that to be true.

When I shifted my blog to focus more on cultivating my passion for food and the stories that invariably unfurl as a result of a great meal shared, I realized I didn’t fit into the traditional food blog space. I wasn’t employing snappy, SEO-driven titles; I didn’t have a recipe engine, and I wasn’t high-five’ing the top gals in the game. Mostly, it’s been me sharing recipes I’ve found or created, and giving you a sense of what I’m thinking while making it. A little texture to the painting, as it were. I never felt complete just posting a recipe you can easily find in a magazine without delivering some sort of small or large truth that surfaces as a result of the food we make and the relationships we cultivate, build and break.

It always seems as if I’m on the fringe, playing on the outskirts of things, and I wonder if I can conceive of a new way to write about food. A way that brings in so more culture and context, where the food is at the heart of it all, but there’s this whole magical world surrounding it. Oscillating wildly, madly.

I’m still figuring it all out, but I’m glad I can plot my randomness out, create an outline, draw dots, connect them. Find my way closer to fine.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Megan Gordon’s Whole Grain Mornings, one of the finest breakfast cookbooks I’ve encountered in a while. Look out for my review on Medium.
1 1/4 cups unsweetened, wide-flaked coconut (not shredded)
1 vanilla bean, split or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup raw quinoa, rinsed
1 13.5 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp cane sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp coarse kosher salt
1-2 tbsp of melted coconut oil (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 325F. Toast 3/4 cup of the coconut flakes until fragrant and golden brown, 5-7 minutes. I opted to toast this in a dry pan over medium heat. Either way works. When done, set aside.

Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into a heavy-bottomed pot along with the pot (pour extract if you’re rocking that option). Add the quinoa, coconut milk, 1/4 cup water, sugar, ground ginger, remaining 1/2 cup of the coconut flakes and salt to the pot. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a slow boil. Decrease the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook until most of the moisture has been absorbed, stirring a few times to avoid sticking, 18-20 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean pod.

Remove the quinoa from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes, covered. Spoon into bowls and garnish with toasted coconut flakes, a sprinkle of sugar, and a drizzle of melted coconut oil.

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sweet potato soup with coriander, chipotle, and a side of circus

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Everyone wants the circus act in 140 characters or less. You balance the beach ball on your head, cough up fire, and the applause is thunderous. You shimmy and shake and the crowd indulges their minor digressions, too. You’re envied, obsessed over, and given neat little platitudes whose meaning is small enough to fit on fortune cookies. Everyone’s got the shakes: they switch channels when they see displaced Syrians in tents or women holding up pictures of their loved ones still trapped under all that earth in Bangladesh. Instead, they self-medicate on gossip magazines and indoor sports that “allow you to get deeper,” but ticket collectors neglect to tell them that the floor is bottomless. The deep is whether these pants are a size 6 or if they’re a size 2. There’s already so much drama in my life, they mumble. The deep is wondering if they’re witty enough to keep up with the live-tweeting of television shows that all the “popular” bloggers do. The deep is that book that is moderately sad, but it’s a safe sad, a sad that only goes on for a few pages and then there’s the promise of idyll, that magical ending we all desire. The deep is telling other people they’re so brave, but failing to return their phone calls because they just can’t deal. The motley lot shuffle past and preach concern, but their ferocious blinking and marathon eating suggests yours is a deep for which they’re not properly equipped.

You are drowning and everyone takes pictures with their expensive phones of the water. They just want to hold you close, pat your back, and be on their way. They’ve done their charity; they’ve nodded in the right moments, but perhaps that water should be Lo-Fi or Mayfair?

And then you’re left with the empty peanut shells that cut your hands and feet, empty popcorn bags greasy with fingerprints, and a bill divided in two.

They skitter like frightened mice when you say the words, I am afraid. They muffle you quiet with pretty words like, “You’re so strong! You’ll always find your way!” Because they need a strong Felicia, their mentor, their comic relief, their guidance counselor, their human Rolodex. How would the world press on otherwise? We need our circus intact. We need the show to go on.

All these years you give, and this is the kind you’re likely to get.

It makes you tired, shut in, desperate for blooms and hot soup. It creates a need to press the mute button on the world and everyone in it. So there’s soup, oceans of it.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good. I’m GOOP’ing her book so you don’t have to.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil*
1 large red onion, finely diced (about 1 1/2 cups)**
2 garlic cloves – minced
5 springs of cilantro, leaves reserved for garnish***
3/4 teaspoon cumin
Course sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle in adobo
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (about 6 cups)
6 cups (1 qt) vegetable stock

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DIRECTIONS
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, cilantro sprigs, cumin, and a heavy pinch of salt and cook, stirring now and then, until softened but not browned, 10 minutes. While the soup base is cooking, I used this time to peel and chop the sweet potatoes. Add the chipotle and the sweet potatoes and stir to combine. Add the vegetable stock to the pot and turn up the heat. Once the soup comes to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the sweet potatoes are very soft, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the cilantro. Carefully puree the soup in a powerful blender. I’ve an immersion blender, which is honestly the best gadget investment I’ve made for the kitchen. I’ve had it for years and I can still get a delicious puree. If you want a really refined, smooth texture, you can pass the pureed soup through a fine-mesh strainer. Garnish each bowl with a few of the reserved cilantro leaves.

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Notes in the Margins
Overall, the soup was pretty extraordinary. A bit spicy for my taste, as I chopped up a whole chipotle and added it with the adobe sauce for measurement. However, if you love spicy this is definitely for you. If you don’t, use 1/2 a pepper and some of the sauce it’s steeped in and the soup will be perfection. What I love about this soup is the consistency. You get the velvet, creaminess that is indicative of most cream (or white potato) based soups, but without the dairy, fat and wasteful calories. And no, I’m not counting calories as I had a huge rosemary roll slathered with Irish butter to accompany my small bowl of soup. Just executing some carb strat, guys.

*Gwyneth is truly high if she thinks that onions and garlic won’t brown on medium heat with two tablespoons of olive oil over a period of ten minutes. I added another 1/2 tbsp into the mix and kicked the heat down to medium/low after five minutes, and all was well with the world. You may want to go safe and add 3 tbsp. This soup is enough for four.

**I abhor red onions in a way that you can’t understand. Instead, I used a small yellow onion and it did the job just fine.

***If your hatred of coriander (translation: cilantro), it’s cool, I won’t judge. You can definitely use basil or sage. Think of the sort of herbs you’d add with squash, as you’re getting a similar sort of flavor play here.

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