mint, pistachio + zucchini balls

mint, pistachio and zucchini balls
Always the setting forth was the same, Same sea, same dangers waiting for him, As though he had got nowhere but older. Behind him on the receding shore, The identical reproaches, and somewhere, Out before him, the unraveling patience, He was wedded to. There were the islands, Each with its woman and twining welcome, To be navigated, and one to call “home.” The knowledge of all that he had betrayed, Grew till it was the same where he stayed, Or went. Therefore he went. And what wonder, If sometimes he could not remember, Which was the one who wished on his departure, Perils that he could never sail through, And which, improbable remote, and true, Was the one he kept sailing home to? — “Odysseus” by W.S. Merwin

It’s normal for me to wake at dawn, to feel the cool air coming in through my window. I spend most mornings working, reading, making food to post on this space (like these veggie balls), contemplating and planning, and by nine it already feels like afternoon. Already I’ve asked myself where the day has gone. Already I’m thinking about time, how there’s never enough of it; how it’s slippery, it’s the one thing you can never retrieve or contain. There is six, seven, eight and nine in the morning. Gone. The past becomes irrelevant, the future is always on the verge, lingering, waiting with bated breath, and as Buddhists will have it, we only have this one moment in which to live, the present.

Easier said then done.

I remember coming across Merwin’s poem when I was working on my first book. I was searching for the right words to introduce my story but I couldn’t find them. I read Merwin’s words but couldn’t inhabit them–they were an ill-fitted suit, a pair of too-tight shoes. Merwin’s words were beautiful and clean but impenetrable, and it would take me years to understand that I, much like Odysseus, was forever tethered to the extremes of past and future, creating a kind of self-imposed alienation that only served to imprison, rather than liberate, me in the present moment. I’d become fixated on finding myself a home that spanned across two points of time, yet ignored the life I lived in this moment. Right here, right now–not what came before and what will inevitably happen, but this breath that I continue to breathe. What of that?

I hadn’t had the distance to see the flaw in a man who tried to find his way home because time had become a metaphor for his self-doubt and fear.

I just remember sitting at my desk thinking, I can do anything with my time. Anything. Is this what I want to be doing? –From Elle Luna’s Design Matters Interview

People tell me they admire me and this makes me uncomfortable. Strangers act like they know me, like we have this intimacy, and this makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know. I wake every morning and try to be brave. I try to remember that there’s a quiet nobility in leading a good life that need not be large or thick or heavy. That abundance isn’t about the size of what you occupy, but it relies more on how much of your heart you’re willing to bear. How you’re willing to play a hand without looking at the cards. Years ago a great love told me that I was a coward, that I slept on top of the sheets instead of between them and I never let him, all the way. He was right. Abundance would’ve been flinging the doors open and letting the mothballs flutter out. Abundance would’ve been folding him into me and letting him be there. I’ve learned from that, and in my morning hours I remind myself to let the right ones in. Not everyone, but the right ones.

I sat in my mentor’s office crying. You should know that I’m not the crying type, but that day I went the distance. We’re talking marathon tears: flushed face, tissues askance, contact lenses ready to fall out–that kind of cry. All because he’d asked me a single question: Are you happy? It took me a good ten minutes to choke out, between cries, that no, I was not happy. Never did I conceive that I could just get up and walk away. That I could leave that which no longer brought me joy in search for what could. After the tears I got pragmatic, hyper-rational. I had all the questions.

What if this doesn’t work out?
What if I become broke?
What if I lose my new apartment?
What if I break every connection I’ve made over the past 3 years?
What if this is a decision that I regret in 3, 5, 10 years? –From Sean Smith’s
“The Truth About ‘The Right Time'”

What if I fail? I said. Impossible, my mentor said. And then he corrected himself. Over the course of my life I will fail. I will face-plant onto the pavement and I will have to sometimes rely on splints and bandages. I may even need a walker. But choosing to live my life instead of sleeping through it was the antithesis of failure. It took me until now to see that. It took me quitting my job without a safety net or familial financial assistance, and breathing through the months I sometimes had to use my credit card to pay for my rent, to realize that the road to joy is winding, circuitous, and sometimes painful. Periods of darkness and uncertainty are inevitable but if you remind yourself that all of this is temporary, necessary even (as David Cain posits) , you will get to a better place. The optimist in me believes that.

Figure credit: David Cain, Raptitude

Figure credit: David Cain, Raptitude

I’ve been thinking about cliff dives, fear and the agony that is uncertainty. I’ve also been thinking about time. Over the next few months I plan to play a tourist in my home. I plan to do all the things I’ve largely ignored as a born New Yorker because I’ll get to it. There’s time (not really). I plan to travel to Asia before my move out west because being in Asia gives me the kind of clarity and quiet I rarely achieve elsewhere.

And then I plan to follow my gut. To ignore making the “right” decision because I don’t quite know what is right, only other than the fact that I need to leave. As of this moment, I’ll be moving to Santa Monica. If over the course of the next few months I change my mind that’s cool too, because I know I’ll have to live through questions in order to wade my way home. I have to find my own room and I can only do it by living moment to moment, tuning out the periphery opinions and noise, and cleaving to that which brings me joy and shelter.

Ultimately there’s no escape from living with uncertainty, for anyone. No matter how often you compare yourself to others, or check your email, or read the news, no matter how much you worry, you’ll never know what happens after you die, or what other people really think of you, or what your life will be like in five years. So it helps to get comfortable with the small uncertainties, too. Then, at least, you’re used to it. –From Julie Beck’s “How Uncertainty Fuels Anxiety”

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, with modifications
For the balls
1 1/4 cups (250g) cooked puy lentils
2 zucchini, grated (about 275g)
1 cup (100g) almond meal
4 1/2 oz goat cheese
1 tsp minced garlic
Finely grated zest 1 unwaxed lemon
1 red chilli, chopped, or a pinch dried chilli flakes
Bunch fresh basil (or mint), leaves picked and roughly chopped + reserve greens for topping
Olive oil for drizzling

For the pistachio pesto
Handful pistachio nuts (about 1/2 cup)
Small bunch fresh basil, leaves picked
4 tbsp olive oil (I used 2 tbsp pistachio oil because I ran out of olive oil and had this on hand + 2 tbsp olive oil)
3 tbsp water
Juice ½ lemon

DIRECTIONS
The hardest part of this recipe is all the annoying prep work (cooking the lentils, grating the zucchini) because this is a one-bowl dream. Mix all of the ingredients for the balls until completely combined. Allow the mixture to rest for 20 minutes while you preheat an oven to 425F.

Roll the balls into small meatballs (you can get 24 small bowls out of this mixture, but I prefer fat balls so I managed 18) and add them to an unlined baking sheet. I made the mistake of lining one of my trays with wax paper and the balls stuck to it which made removal a nightmare. Drizzle with olive oil on all sides and cook in the hot oven, rotating once, for 22-25 minutes until browned.

While the balls are cooking, blitz all the ingredients for the pistachio pesto and set aside. Once the balls are done, dress them in this delicious sauce and eat with a pile of greens or quinoa cooked in vegetable stock. Trust me, you won’t be able to eat just FIVE.

Mint, pistachio and zucchini meatballs.

spaghetti squash chicken fritters (paleo/gluten-free)

chicken and spaghetti squash fritters

It’s rare that you’ll find me buying cut flowers. While they’re lovely in all their hue and plumage, I consider it a waste of money to have something in your home that will expire in a week. I’ve a long history of killing plants–I was notoriously responsible for the Cacti Famines of 2004 and 2007, respectively, and while I long to have life in my apartment the only thing I can manage is a cat. Felix is vocal about his wants and he always has something to say. I can’t get the kid to shut it!

So it was odd that after a long walk this afternoon I bought a bushel of lilacs. Lilacs are my favorite flower–I fell in love with them when I was 19 and reading “The Wasteland.” I remember the long walk to my college dorm and how it was eclipsed by a lilac bush; I practically buried my face in it I was consumed by its fragrance. There’s something beautiful about limits, memory, and desire, and when I came home I realized that my time in New York is limited and beautiful, too.

Would you believe I’ve lived here my whole life and there’s so much I haven’t seen, still? I haven’t been to The Four Seasons. I haven’t visited every independent bookstore. There are so many nooks and crannies left to explore, and I remember a reader who commented a few years ago, suggesting that I look at my home with fresh eyes–photograph it like I was a tourist (thanks, Barb!).

Over the next few months I plan to do just that. I’ve pared down my social commitments considerably to only spend time with my beloveds. And on the days reserved for me (my introvert time), I plan on having my last looks. I plan to look and then not look back.

You can’t know how excited I am to be leaving.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen, modified slightly.
1 small spaghetti squash, approximately 2 lbs., 2 cups of squash strands
2 cups finely chopped, leftover rotisserie chicken
1 fat shallot, minced
1 cup almond flour
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Pinch of coarse sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
2-3 tbsp coconut oil for frying

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and place it cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until soft to the touch. Remove from the oven and let rest until cool enough to handle, then use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds. Use a fork to remove the spaghetti squash strands. Measure out 2 cups of the strands and place them in a large bowl.

To the squash, add the chicken, shallot, almond flour, eggs, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Mix well and form 8 patties, similar in shape to burger patties.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 2 to 3 patties, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Cook on both sides for a total of 4-5 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the patties, adding more oil to the pan as needed, until all the patties have been cooked.

I’m going to drop some truth right now: THESE ARE THE BEST FRITTERS I’VE EVER MADE. I can’t stop eating these. Like, really. I can’t stop. Promise me you’ll make these and share all the sordid details.

chicken and spaghetti squash fritters

kale, chickpea, cherry + wild rice salad with spicy yoghurt dressing

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Maybe it’s the weather or possibly I’m bananas, but I bolted out of bed this morning with the feeling of so much possibility. Over the weekend I sent out notes to contacts in my network, alerting them about my pending move out west and I was so thrilled that so many folks responded with well wishes and offers to help once I get settled in. I also mailed out little gifts to my closest friends, people who continue to be home to me–friends who shouldered some of my difficult moments this year. And finally, I mailed out my tax payment checks, relieved that I don’t have to deal with the IRS until next year.

Lots of mailing!

And so much goodness happened over the weekend! I finally secured a project that will allow me to work closer to home so I can resume a normal feeding schedule and not be bound to a daily four-hour commute. Also, I caught up with some close friends and brainstormed new side hustles, and I made so much good food.

I know I sound a bit scattered and far from poetic, but I guess sometimes you have to express your joy plainly. Sometimes you have to post a delicious kale salad and be happy that you’re starting off the week, exhilarated!

INGREDIENTS
For the salad
1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed from the can*
¾ cup wild rice
2 cups baby kale leaves, de-veined, coarsely chopped (you could also use spinach for this)
¾ cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
½ cup pomegranate seeds

For the yoghurt dressing
⅓ cup coconut yoghurt (I used a dairy-free version, but I quite like Sigis’ line of yoghurts)
2 tbsp macadamia oil
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Sea salt, to taste

*If you’re using dried beans, soak 1/2 cup dried chickpeas overnight, rinse, drain and cook for 1/2-1 hour until tender. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

DIRECTIONS
Soak the rice in a medium bowl filled with cold water for 30 minutes. Drain, rinse and add 2 1/4 cups of water to a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes until the rice is tender. Drain and set aside to cool slightly. Now you’ve got a bowl of your chickpeas, chilling, and rice, resting.

Now on to the dressing! Whisk all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Season with salt and set aside.

Combine the rice, chickpeas, kale and cherries in a large bowl. Coat the salad with the dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and then add the pomegranate seeds.

Serve at room temperature or cold. This will keep in a airtight container for 3 days.

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basmati + wild rice with chickpeas, currants and herbs

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A few months ago I read an article about what it means to be a good stranger. The author recounts an episode where he might just be walking behind The Slowest Man in the World, and how deeply this rattled him. Why couldn’t this man walk faster? Didn’t he know the inconvenience he caused simply because of the speed in which he moved his limbs? Upon further introspection the author starts to question himself,

It’s telling that I only become interested in the Ethics of Proper Sidewalk-Sharing in moments when I’m being personally inconvenienced. Even though the issue undoubtedly affects millions of people every day, it never seems to be an important topic to think about at any other time. Many or most of our internal moral complaints about others are really just petty reactions to being inconvenienced, and not any kind of meaningful examination of personal ethics or how to run a society. I’m learning to distrust these kinds of thoughts when I have them, but I still have them.

I related to this scene because at different points in my life I was both the annoyed person and the one who couldn’t move fast enough. Whether I’m coming out of the subway or trying to navigate my way home in the cold, I’ve found myself incensed with people who simply couldn’t move. On the other hand, there was a time when I’d injured my knee and was trying to hide a limp, and do you know I felt guilty that I was inconveniencing people because I could bound up the stairs? Couldn’t move, move, move?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve been feeling this constant urge to slow down. I’ve been treating my whole life as a race worth conquering, but for what? We know what’s at the finish line, what awaits us six floors down: a box beneath the earth or the cool copper of an urn. What is the reward for our accelerated personal velocity? Death? Seriously? I have this one giant life to live and why would I push through it for the sole purpose of losing it? Do I “win” because I’m the victor over the loss of my own breath? I read this quote from Marcus Aurelius, and it’s chilling because it’s honest, frightening and real (for those of you whom, like me, are frightened of death):

Were you to live three thousand years, or even thirty thousand, remember that the sole life which a man can lose is that which he is living at the moment; and furthermore, that he can have no other life except the one he loses. This means that the longest life and the shortest amount to the same thing. For the passing minute is every man’s equal possession, but what has once gone by is not ours. Our loss, therefore, is limited to that one fleeting instant, since no one can lose what is already past, nor yet what is still to come. (via)

15853969724_629b8f49c2_oYesterday, over breakfast, I tell my friend Angie about shopping at Whole Foods after work on a Friday evening. It was a perfectly perfunctory day–I leave a work session with my client and walk to the nearest grocery store to pick up some food for the weekend. It’s Friday, it’s Chelsea, and everyone has somewhere to people. As soon as I walk through the door of the market I’m immediately shoved, pushed and nearly run over by a grocery cart. Someone behind me in produce sighs audibly when I linger in front the blueberries too long. I love food shopping. I love thinking about all the meals I could possibly make, and instead of enjoying this bit of luxury, I have to be aware, dexterous, efficient and FAST. I simply cannot linger. God forbid I contemplate. And after navigating lines, subways and sidewalks, I come home, depleted.

I’ve lived in New York my whole life and my god, people move so fast. How is it that I’ve only noticed this? How is it that it’s taken 39 years for me to be bothered by this?

All I want to do is slow down. I want to hear exhalations of breath. I want to cook rice for 40 minutes without having an anxiety attack. Maybe this is one of the many reasons why I plan on leaving New York this year–this desire to not squander or race through time.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Jerusalem: A Cookbook.
½ cup wild rice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup basmati rice (to be candid, this was A LOT of rice for me. I ended up using 1/2 and storing the rest)
1 ½ cups boiling hot water
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 ½ tsp curry powder
1 ½ cups (or 15oz can) of cooked and drained chickpeas
4 tbsp canola or sunflower oil for frying
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 ½ tsp of gluten-free flour
2/3 cup dried currants
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Place the wild rice in a small saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring the water to a boil and then leave it to simmer for 40-45 minutes until the wild rice is cooked but still firm. Drain and set aside.

While the wild rice is cooking cook the basmati rice: In a medium saucepan that has a tight fitting lid warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat. Once the oil is heated add the rice and ¼ teaspoon salt and stir to warm up the rice. Carefully, add the boiling water, and decrease the heat to low. Cover the pan with the lid and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave the rice covered for 5 minutes.

While the basmati rice is cooking prepare the chickpeas: In a small saucepan heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and curry powder and wait for a few seconds till the seeds start sputtering and you get the aroma of the spices. Add the cooked chickpeas and ¼ teaspoon salt. Do all this quickly, so that the spices do not burn. Mix everything well together (1-2 minutes) until the chickpeas are heated through. Remove the chickpeas and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Wipe the same saucepan clean, add the canola or sunflower oil over high heat. While the oil is heating toss the onions with the gf flour. When the oil is hot, pan-fry the onions in batches until they are golden brown. Do not let them burn. Place the cooked onions on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.

Add both types of cooked rice to the chickpeas. Add the currants, herbs and fried onion. Mix everyone together and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Center Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo.

quick and easy chana masala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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chickpea pancakes with leeks + squash (gluten-free + insanely delicious)

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When I think about diets, resolutions, and Hallmark holidays devoted to spending a day appreciating the ones we love, I think about time. We have twenty-four hours to celebrate the anniversary of a beloved; come February, we’ll lament abandoning the resolution we made so valiantly on the eve of the new year; we’ll white-knuckle and calorie-count until the day we surrender to a box of cookies because it’s Monday and the world owes us.

Diets, resolutions and single-day holidays are all predicated on finite time, on a defined beginning and end. We’ll be abundant with our love today, yet tomorrow we’ll resume our pleasant amiability and tender wheedling because we are the wheedling kind. We’ll compose our list, traits of the kind of people we want to be, but we always end up an inch from where we started and then we regard our skin as something like an ill-fitted costume we grow tired of wearing. We wanted that new body, that new love, that new life, but we retreat back to ourselves, defeated, think, I guess this is all I’ll ever be. We’ll pale down to bone because the world tells us about the dichotomy of maths–the more you disappear, the more you are visible, coveted. And the guilt you feel when you wave the white flag over a cookie, a warm buttered bagel, or a slice of blackout cake, that guilt whispers that you don’t deserve those single-day holidays. You don’t deserve all this love.

I have to tell you that I abhor diets, resolutions and anniversaries. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, a single day in November on which we’re supposed to be thankful. Rather, why not work to love and live with abundance every day. Instead of creating silly lists, why not absolve to create something new–big or small–every day? In that act of creation is change. Why not do something selfless without the expectation of anything in return. Why not wake each morning and say, out loud, I love you to yourself and your beloveds. Why not arrive at every meal and regard it as nourishment and fuel rather than a war you wage with flatware? How about we forget about calories as that’s an archaic measurement of health and well-being and focus on putting real food on our body? How about we consider how we feel in our body and our heart rather than whether a pair of pants fit. I’ve been a negative integer. Those pants used to always fit and often hang, and I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t happy. My heart was filled with greed, anger, and want. There could always be more. I could always be less.

I say, fuck diets, fuck resolutions, fuck singular days of economic devotion. Love and live mindfully and abundant every single day of your life. It’s hard to be present. It’s hard to stay the course. But you might wake one day, over the course of your journey, and realize that this deliberate choice you’ve made, being present for the infinite, is the best choice you’ve ever made.

I used to be angry that I couldn’t have gluten or dairy. I used to want to take the easy way out and consume gluten-free versions of all my favorite carbs. But how would I have ever discovered abundance amidst confinement? Would I have ever bothered making these vegetable pancakes when it would’ve been easier to make pesto pasta? Would I have felt a sense of pride over making something healthy and delicious, or continued on with living an uncomfortably comfortable life?

Fuck comfortable. Be present. Eat all the chickpeas.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Bon Appetit
6 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 medium leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
½ tsp kosher salt, plus more
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated peeled squash (such as butternut or kabocha)
1 large egg
¾ cup chickpea flour
¼ tsp baking powder
½ cup plain yogurt (I nixed this as I can’t have dairy)
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Optional: I served this on a bed for spinach (2 cups per person) + 3 figs divided (per person)

DIRECTIONS
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium-high. Add leek, season with kosher salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until leek is softened and starting to brown, about 4 minutes. Add squash and season again. Cook, stirring often, until squash is cooked through and softened, about 4 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a plate and let cool. Wipe out skillet and reserve.

Meanwhile, whisk egg, chickpea flour, baking powder, 1 Tbsp. oil, ½ tsp. kosher salt, and ½ cup water in a medium bowl; season with pepper and let sit 5 minutes for flour to hydrate. Stir vegetables into batter just to coat.

Heat 1½ Tbsp. oil in reserved skillet over medium-high. Add batter by the ¼-cupful to make 4 pancakes, gently flattening to about ¼” thick. Batter should spread easily—if it doesn’t, thin with a little water. Cook until bottoms are lightly browned and bubbles form on top, about 4 minutes. Use a spatula to carefully flip pancakes over and cook until browned and cooked through, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate and tent with a sheet of foil to keep warm. Repeat with another 1½ Tbsp. oil and remaining batter. Serve pancakes topped with yogurt, parsley, sea salt, and pepper.

Do Ahead: Leek and squash can be cooked 2 days ahead; cover and chill. Batter can be made 1 day ahead; cover and chill.

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glowing strawberry-mango guacamole

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This weekend was exhausting. Although I love consulting, and enjoy the fact that I live a creative life without being chained to a desk five days a week, sometimes my flexible schedule means I have to work nights and long weekends. I wrote a lot this weekend, so much so that all I want to do is lie supine and not write. From finalizing the final draft of my novel for submission to creating recipes for a fun work project to writing positioning and marketing copy for an appliance and a new type of agency, I’m a little spent. Exhilarated for what’s to come, but spent. So apologies for the super short post. I did want to pop in and humbling thank everyone who sent me kind notes regarding the first chapter of my new book. I’ve been tethered to these characters for so long it feels as if I’ve been writing in a black box, a box so dark no light gets in. Imagine me putting on blinders after sharing 14 pages and getting such a warm reception, suggestions from friends on editors to whom my agent should submit my manuscript, and virtual fist pumps.

Thank you! Your fist pumps mean the world and back, and then some.

So don’t mind me as I lie on the floor, spooning this guacamole into my mouth.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook
2 medium avocados, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion (I nixed this as I don’t dig onions in my guacamole)
1 fresh mango, pitted, peeled, and finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped hulled strawberries
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
1 to 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice, to taste
Fine-grain sea salt
Corn/gluten-free chips, for serving

DIRECTIONS
In a medium bowl, gently mash the avocado, leaving some chunks for texture. Rinse and drain the chopped onion (if using) in a strainer to wash off the sulfurous compounds. This makes the taste of the raw onion more pleasant. Fold the mango, strawberries, onion and cilantro (if using) into the avocado. Season with the lime juice and salt to taste.

Serve immediately with your favorite corn or pita chips. Avocado tends to spoil quickly, so leftovers won’t keep for longer than 12 hours or so. Makes 3 cups.

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creamy tomato soup with roasted chickpea croutons

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Truth be told, I can’t wait to see my allergist on Tuesday, because this itch (a reaction to god knows what) is OUT OF CONTROL. I’m told that I have to nix the antihistamines three days before the appointment, but know that I’m taking my Quercetin supplements because going to bed feeling like you have the chickenpox is not fun. Some have told me that this is all the garbage making its way out of my body (two weeks of unknowingly eating vinegar in my Sakara meals dressing + drinking Kombucha — both of which have yeast, another sensitivity), still, but my doctor and nutritionist think I’m reacting to something else; they just don’t know what.

Another thing I’m learning: don’t take cookbook recommendations from people who don’t have food sensitivities/allergies/conditions because the books will invariably have a pile of recipes I can’t eat. Frustrated with having purchased a pile of gluten-free cookbooks that are loaded with dairy-rich recipes, I decided to hit the bookstore and find tomes like The Oh She Glows Cookbook, books that I will sully and stain after a few days of use. For me, the mark of a successful cookbook is yelping in the kitchen over the fact that I got it wet (my counter space is MINIMAL, at best), or that I’ve managed to spill some sort of sauce all over the pages.

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So I broke down and bought a PALEO cookbook. WHO AM I? Someone who’s plagued with a Twilight Zone-level of itch, apparently, lest I forget. At my local bookstore, paleo books practically have their own shelving unit, and after grimacing to an extreme, I picked up The Paleo Kitchen. Thumbing through the book, I found myself nodding along, thinking, I’d actually make this. I’d actually EAT this. Scores of soup and salad dishes, grand entrees and desserts that didn’t send me fleeing in rage from the oddity of it all. There’s a creamy cauliflower soup somewhere in this book, and you know me and cauliflower are epic lovers, the Romeo + Juliet of our time.

This means I will have to tear myself away from The Oh She Glows Cookbook, which is, quite frankly, the gift that keeps on giving. Every recipe works and every dish is GLORIOUS.

Last night I made a huge bowl of this creamy tomato soup, and although I was temporarily freaked out by the soup’s pinkish hue (as a result of the creamy cashews), I love the richness of this soup and who can refuse a chickpea. (Parenthetical: If I’m allergic to chickpeas, it’s over, kids. I give up). The soup is filled with all the frees: dairy, grain, gluten, soy, and will keep you full and sated for DAYS.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook
For the chickpea croutons:
1 (15-ounce/425-g) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp (5 mL) grapeseed oil or melted coconut oil
1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried oregano
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) cayenne pepper
1 tsp (5 mL) garlic powder
1/4 tsp (1 mL) onion powder
3/4 tsp (4 mL) fine-grain sea salt or Herbamare

For the tomato soup:
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 small to medium yellow onion, diced (1.5 to 2 cups/375 to 500 mL)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup (125 mL) raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 3 hours
2 cups (500 mL) vegetable broth
1 (28-ounce/793-g) can whole peeled tomatoes, with their juices
1/4 cup (60 mL) oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
3 to 4 tbsp (45 to 60 mL) tomato paste
1/2 to 1 tsp (2 to 5 mL) dried oregano
3/4 to 1 tsp (4 to 5 mL) fine-grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1/4 to 1/2 tsp (1 to 2 mL) dried thyme

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DIRECTIONS
For the chickpea croutons: Preheat the over to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Line a large rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. Place the chickpeas on the paper towels and place a couple of paper towels on top. Roll them around until any liquid on them has been absorbed. Discard the paper towels.

Transfer the chickpeas to a large bowl and stir in the grapeseed oil, oregano, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and then spread the chickpeas in an even layer on the baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes. Give the pan a shake from side to side and cook for 15 to 20 minutes more, watching closely, until the chickpeas are lightly charred and golden.

Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes. The chickpeas will crisp up as they cool.

For the tomato soup: In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

In a blender, combine the soaked cashews and the broth and blend on high speed until creamy and smooth. Add the garlic-onion mixture, tomatoes and their juices, sun-dried tomatoes, and tomato paste and blend on high until smooth. Pour the tomato mixture into the saucepan in which you cooked the onions and set the pan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then stir in the oregano, salt, pepper, and thyme, all to taste.

Gently simmer over medium heat, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the flavors have developed.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with 1/3 to 1/2 cup (75 to 125 mL) of the Chickpea Croutons. Garnish with minced fresh thyme, a drizzle of olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper.

Tips: The chickpeas will lose their crispness in the soup, so be sure to add them just before you sit down to eat — or you can even add the chickpeas as you eat the soup.

If you have leftover chickpeas, make sure they’re cool, then pop them into a baggie or container and throw them in the freezer. Freezing the chickpeas seems to retain their crispness better than leaving them at room temperature. To reheat, simply pop the frozen chickpeas into the oven at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 5 minutes or so, until thawed. Voila — instant roasted chickpeas!

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my morning smoothie + the art of self-care

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When left to my own devices, I will get a scone (blueberry, if you please) or a muffin where the edges are crisp and the cake is yielding. When I’m flush, I’ll scarf down an almond croissant dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and when I’m low I’ll feast on a bagel, and feel as I’m carrying boulders for the rest of the day.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this concept of self-care–the art of listening to your body, feeling yourself in your own skin: the space between your fingers and toes and the like. The first steps are listening and feeling, being present, paying attention, and then we do the things that are right for ourselves as opposed to the things we think we ought to be doing. Perhaps it’s taking the shape of a yoga pose we took previously, or lifting the weights that were once so effortless. Or maybe it’s the need to stay home and rest when the world demands your velocity. A good friend once told me that on your deathbed, you’ll never say, I wish I spent more time in the office or I wish I had more money or fancy finery to hang in my closet. In the end, we wish we would have lived more, loved more, paid attention more. And it’s only when we take some time to take care of ourselves do we have the strength to be our best selves with others.

I’ve been thinking about self-care when it comes to food, and I often equated self-care to self-medication. I need that scone because I need armor, protection against the host of meetings ahead of me. I need, no, deserve, that bowl of macaroni and cheese because, can I just tell you about the day I had? But the feeling of comfort is always fleeting, it departs as quickly as the sheets have cooled, and you’re back to where you started. The busy morning. The day worth shredding.

Instead, I’m thinking more about self-care, fuel, rather than anesthesia. And while this smoothie may not look glamorous, it gets me off on the right foot, as it were. Gives me the energy to start my day, sharp and clear-headed. Because I need to be healthy, present and strong for myself in order to be present for others.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup almond milk
1 ½ scoops of XyMogen OptiMetaboliX™ powder*
Fruit Options (I mix up the ingredients in my smoothie, daily): 4 figs (my favorite!); 5 strawberries; handful of blueberries; 1 peach; 1/2 cup pineapple or watermelon; 1/3 cup blackberries
Veg: a handful of kale or spinach
5 ice cubes

*Note: Here’s the rub: you can only get this powder from licensed nutritionists or medical professionals. If that’s not possible, feel free to sub in your favorite protein powder. I’d opt for vegan protein or hemp rather than whey.

DIRECTIONS
Add all the ingredients to a high-powered blender (I start with the fruit + veg at the bottom to preserve my blades), and blitz until smooth.

cooling avocado + cucumber soup (and a woman overcomes a decade-long allergy)

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Can we talk about 2002? Hmm, let’s not and say we did. In all seriousness, that was a turbulent year for me. I was living in Little Italy with an absent roommate, who was blithely unaware of my escalating drug and alcohol addiction. It was the year of blackouts, of me listening to Chinese arias in the alleyways, and falling asleep to the theme song from The Godfather, blasted by the owners of the restaurant, La Mela, below.

However, 2002 was also the year I quit blow and needed to do something with hands. I needed to be occupied. I had put myself through war and my body sought asylum. So instead of going out on the weekends, I holed up in my apartment and watched hours of The Food Network–back when The Food Network was actually good. I passed days watching Ina Garten bake chicken and fix green goddess dressing, or Nigella cooing over a Babel-esque cupcake tower.

2002 was also the year I discovered THE AVOCADO. In avocado, I trusted. Avocado for president, and the like. Me being the addict I was, I subsisted on avocados for weeks. In retrospect, I could’ve written a book detailing all the ways in which one could consume said fruit. As a result, I developed an allergy so horrifying, a spoonful of guacamole became the equivalent of appendicitis. My body saw the fruit as an invader, another substance trying to wheedle its way in, and it went on the defensive. Team Felicia, etc.

I haven’t been able to stomach large quantities of avocado until today. My nutritionist recommended this soup because it would be a slow introduction back to the fruit, rather than me taking a fork and plunging in. You can’t imagine the trepidation I had while blitzing this soup. I had to clear the calendar in the event that I’d be rolling around in pain in my home.

However, I am happy to report that I am ALIVE and KICKING, to quote Simple Minds. While I only had a small portion, it was enough to sustain me. The soup is deceptively creamy (avocado), yet cool and light (cucumber, coconut water). I made two versions: one with cilantro and one with parsley, and both were equally divine.

Brief parenthetical: this clean eating business has me buying herbs and greens like you don’t even know. Below is a snap of the contents of my fridge. The second shelf is 80% filled with spinach, kale (3 kinds), and HERBS: cilantro, mint, dill, scapes, parsley, 2 types of chives, and I can go on. I’ve taken this notion of reframing this mindful journey as one which involves copious amounts of seasoning.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar
1 large ripe avocado or 2 small ripe avocados
1 large cucumber or 2 small cucumbers
1 green spring onion, chopped, plus extra to garnish (I used onion chives, as that’s what I had on hand)
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ cup coriander (cilantro) leaves (I made another version of this with parsley, and it was lovely)
1 1/2 cups/125 ml coconut water
juice of ½ lime
1 pinch of cayenne pepper or ground cumin
full-fat organic yoghurt, to garnish (I nixed this)
Season with salt + pepper

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DIRECTIONS
Combine all the ingredients except the yoghurt in a blender or food processor until smooth. If the soup is too thick, add more coconut water. Pour into serving bowls and cover with a plate or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Serve garnished with a dollop of yoghurt and some spring onions.

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roasted veggie salad

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When you come home from work and you are absolutely DONE with chicken, I’ve found that this roasted vegetable salad is saving me from the road to ruin. I’ve written about this salad before, however, I’ve since added a kit + kaboodle of veggies to the mix. My recent remixes include: kale (curly kale is best), brussels sprouts, violet + orange cauliflower, sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) to the mix. Any veggie worth roasting deserves to be in this dish. Last night I came home and threw all the goods in the pan, making sure I struck a balance between cruciferous + colored greens. And believe me when I say that nothing compares to a hot bowl of charred veg slathered in a faux-cream sauce while watching old episodes of Gossip Girl.

Though I still miss my beloved SCONE. I need to keep that real.

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lentil salad with chicken + mustard vinaigrette

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Feasting on a different dish is easy when you have oceans of time to spend at home, cooking. Since I don’t lead a Gwyneth Paltrow lifestyle, where one has hours to putter about the house and chop things, my meals have to be simple, yet abundant. Especially for the days when I’m in the office, sitting through back-to-back meetings. One needs nourishment, a meal that has the ability to cut through the length of the day.

I’m on-site with a client three days a week, and typically I’ve vacillated between making bad choices in the company cafeteria–telling myself that I’ll make it up at dinner but I never do–or packing simple, carb-rich lunches. Pasta with bolognese, that sort of thing. Part of what I’m learning is that I can’t just leave things to chance; I’ve got to have a plan and a back-up plan for the day. To that end, I’ve revamped my packing list for the week. Sunday afternoons are now spent making dishes and packing tupperwares with snacks and delicious foods for an easy grab-and-go situation when I’m bleary-eyed in the morning.

This week, I’m packing this delicious lentil salad, which I found in the lovely Sophie Dahl’s cookbook. I’ve punched up the original recipe with some chicken, and I plan to either bring a prepped side salad or soup to round out the veggie mix.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Sophie Dahl’s Very Fond of Food (modified slightly)
For the salad
1 1/4 cup/225g French puy lentils
a handful of cherry tomatoes, finely chopped (I nixed the tomatoes)
2 celery sticks, chopped
1 cup/150g feta, crumbled (I opted not to use the feta as I’m off dairy for the month)
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 lb/16oz of chicken breasts, sauteed, + cut into bite-sized chunks
Salt/pepper for seasoning

For the dressing
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped

DIRECTIONS
Place the lentils in a pan, add water to cover and simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes. Drain. In a serving bowl, mix the lentils, tomatoes, celery, cooked chicken, and feta. To make the dressing, whisk all the ingredients together, dress the salad and toss with the parsley.

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