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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a moveable feast: mango, avocados, greens + guac!

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To say that every day I wake to a typhoon or a circus or something in between would be a grand understatement. The past few months have been exhilarating, thrilling, frightening and magical all at once. Not only did I have a chance to explore unknown cities, I’ve had the luxury of rediscovering art, finding it, having it find me, and somewhere along the way I’ve managed to create a little bit of art of my own. I’m starting to learn who I can trust and who I can’t. I’ve become weary of the intensity of people, and am now drawn to the quietness and calm of others. I say Good Morning, I read Faust, I write longer emails to friends (from one line to a paragraph!). I don’t know what I want next, but I think I do. Every day is a stutter, a series of starts and stops, and the constant, the satisfying threadline through all of this has been food. Always the food.

I had a dear friend come round this weekend, and I prepared a feast that made us swoon. Verdant, flavorful and bright, it was a delicious melange of texture and taste, and not for a moment did we feel we were missing something because it was vegetarian and virtuous (or at least, semi-virtuous, as we had a heaping of fried millet falafel). Rather, we were sated, full, and excited to dive into my stash of French dark chocolates.

We spent four hours trading stories about our respective experiences the past few months, and it occurred to me that the other crucial threadline, perhaps one that supersedes food, are friends. Those great, magical people who are always there, who talk you off ledges, who encourage you to climb new ones, and those who tell you that although the millet falafels are far from attractive, they are DAMN GOOD.

INGREDIENTS
For the salad
2 cups packed baby kale
1 cup packed spinach
1 cup packed arugula
1/2 cup cashews, toasted in a dry pan
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
2 oz soft cheese of your choice (I used a truffled cow’s milk cheese that had the texture of brie, however, you can use goat, brie, or gorgonzola)
1/4 sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt/cracked pepper to taste

For the mango + avocado salad, dressed in a lime balsamic vinaigrette: Recipe adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good
2 ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced
2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced
Coarse sea salt
1 batch Balsamic-Lime Vinaigrette (we didn’t use all of the dressing, but used about 1/4 of it. That might have also been the case because I knocked over the dressing and spilled it all over the table.)
A small handful of fresh basil leaves

For the basil-lime vinaigrette
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp brown rice syrup
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

For the guacamole
1 ripe avocado
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 stalks of scallions, fine dice (all parts: white, green, light green)
juice + zest of half a lime
Sea salt + pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
For the salad: Toss all of the ingredients above. Only add the olive oil when you’re about to serve, as the leaves will wilt.

For the mango + lime salad + vinaigrette: Whisk the vinegar, brown rice syrup, and lime juice together in a mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keeps well in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. Alternate slices of mango and avocado on a serving platter and scatter with a pinch of sea salt. Drizzle with the Balsamic-Lime vinaigrette; tear the basil leaves and sprinkle them over the top. Serve immediately.

For the guacamole: Cut + core the avocado and crush the meat with the tines of your fork. Add in all of the ingredients and serve with carrots, chips, or strips of red bell peppers.

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goop’ing it so you don’t have to: millet falafel + carrot salad

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My beloved Winona has made some unfortunate choices. There was the Adam Sandler movie we’ll say we talked about, but won’t. In The Informers, she played a bird so fraile, her every movement made the needle on the record player jump. You ached for her because she was WINONA RYDER playing a slutbag whore in an adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’ worst book. I actually wanted her to die in Autumn in New York just so the movie could end, because it was a little creepy that I was the only one in the movie theater for the eight o’clock show. Her shoplifting scandal? A few years too early for the Kim Kardashian-famous-for-nothing set, but I still bought the t-shirt. Shook my fists, stomped my feet. All for naught, sadly, because deep down I knew she stole those clothes.

Naturally, I blamed Gwyneth Paltrow — the lithe blonde who couldn’t string a cogent sentence together, much less get into college, even with Steven Spielberg’s help — for all of it. It’s imperative to get close to one’s enemies, so I watched all of her films (even Shallow Hall), and kicked a chair over when she won the Oscar for a movie named after an author she’s probably never read. Don’t get me wrong — watching her movies hasn’t been a complete exercise in futility — for every Shallow Hall and Great Expectations (whatever, you just liked the wardrobe and romance of it all), there was Hard Eight and Flesh and Bone. She’s given some vulnerable performances amidst the ingenue roles. Remember when she dated the ketchup king? I do, because I knew a friend of his that confirmed she was an entitled head-case, but now I’m being a petty asshole, so we’ll just move right along.

With the arrival of GOOP, I knew her day of reckoning was upon us. Who would take a woman hocking $900 cashmere throws and $52,000 “aspirational wardrobes” seriously? Apparently, America did. Millions of kewpie dolls went macrobiotic and purchased $500 beaded bracelets, which one could easily make for $5.99. Many wanted the whitewashed life of clean, freckled faces and Jennifer Meyer necklaces. Naturally, I screamed into pillows and prayed for the day when Winona would come like a plague of swallows, and launch a zine that would celebrate the fine art of cheeseburger-eating, Roth-reading and chain-smoking (note: I do not support smoking).

No such luck.

When I say that I’ve been a fan of Winona Ryder since high school, a time when she waxed poetic on Salinger and red lipstick, believe it with all of your heart. From her strange, cultish literary upbringing, to her bizarre films, she was an idol for losers in Long Island. Winona read the books I read. Winona had the corpse-like pallor of which everyone in my high school loved to ridicule.

Brief digression: What I wouldn’t give for a Where Are They Now? about all the rat bastards who tormented me during those forgettable years at Valley Stream South High School.

As you can imagine, I’ve been praying for Winona Ryder’s triumphant return (rosary beads, candles, the whole nine) for years. When I read her latest interview in Interview, I spent the greater part of one evening trying to track down last month’s issue (again, no such luck). Clearly, Winona is classy and will only ridicule GOOP from the confines of her Williamsburg apartment. Surely, Winona will forgive the fact that while I often want to pummel Paltrow, I quite like her cookbook.

THE STRUGGLE.

I’ve a friend coming around tomorrow, and she’s got a gluten allergy. After combing the usual sites and suspects, I discovered the BIG GOOP’ers Millet Falafel recipe. Since I’m allergic to avocado and had a pile of carrots to use up, I decided to nix the relish and go full-on with a carrot salad. Per usual, the goddamn-this-is-delicious commentary ensued, and I even thought the recipe would be better all mashed up, fried and tossed with arugula. I plan to play around with it over the next few weeks, because, quite frankly, if I go through another collapsed ball in the pan, I’m kicking someone. Possibly Gwynnie.

INGREDIENTS: Millet Falafel recipe adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good (with adjustments and clarifications); Carrot Salad recipe adapted from La Tartine Gourmande (modified slightly).
For the falafel
1/2 cup raw millet, rinsed
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas (or Garbanzo beans), crushed with a potato masher or using the tines of a fork
4 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon
3 1/2 tbsp olive oil, divided (2 tbsp for the falafel, the remainder for the pan)
Coarse sea salt

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For the carrot salad
4 large carrots, peeled
1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tbsp scallions, chopped

For the carrot salad vinaigrette:
sea salt + pepper
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS
For the carrot salad: Grate the carrots and place in large bowl with the parsley and scallions. Since I’m lazy and loathe to grate anything, I bought grated carrots 1 1/2-2 cups worth, and added them to a bowl. In a separate smaller bowl, combine the vinaigrette ingredients in the order listed, whisk together and pour over the carrots. The salad can be refrigerated or served at room temperature.

For the falafel (I made this sans garnish. If you want the whole shebang, GOOP IT.)
Combine the millet with 1½ cups of water and a big pinch of a salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pot, and cook until the millet is very soft and all the liquid has been absorbed, 25 minutes.

Stir the chickpeas, scallions, and parsley into the cooked millet. Using a grater, zest the lemon and stir the zest into the millet mixture along with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Using a potato masher, crush the mixture until it holds together a bit.

Preheat the oven to 250ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Set a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and coat the bottom with a slick of olive oil (1 1/2 tbsp). Drop large tablespoonfuls of the millet mixture into the pan with a bit of space between each spoonful. Press each tablespoonful down with the back of a spatula to form a sort of thick pancake (no need to go crazy shaping these, they should be nice and rustic). Cook until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FLIP UNTIL AFTER THREE MINUTES. I experienced a wretched ball collapse, which sent me into hysterics. Set the cooked falafel on the prepared baking sheet and put them in the warm oven while you cook the rest of the millet mixture, adding more olive oil to the skillet if necessary.

Cut your zested lemon into wedges, squeeze a bit of juice over each falafel, and sprinkle each with a tiny pinch of coarse salt. Serve immediately.

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