when you don’t know where it is you need to go

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Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life. –John Hodge, from Trainspotting

I don’t know where to go. There, I said it. I had the best laid plans–I’d spend three months in three states and decide where it is I’d make my home–and then life happened, I flew down to Nicaragua and all my plans fell asunder. I’m leaving in a few days and the only thing I know, in my heart, is that I need to leave New York within the next four months. I need to leave a place where people feel their handbags are a testament to their success and character, where instead of owning their possessions they are owned by them. I need to leave a place where people believe enlightenment can be found in the confines of a spin class. I need to leave a place where I’m crammed into a subway car and people are jostling; they live their lives traveling to jobs they hate, but the jobs pay for their finery, boutique fitness classes, and the $10 juices that serve as an acceptable form of starvation. I need to leave a place where the weather is a constant conversation piece. I need to leave a place that no longer feels like my home.

But I don’t know where to go.

Part of me entertains flights of fancy–I’d be some sort of digital nomad or travel the world for a year with only $20K to my name. But then I remember I own a cat and I have $1000 in student loan payments a month–real responsibilities–and I can’t just abandon rationality and real life because this isn’t The Secret; I don’t live my life in a petal pink delusion. In real life, I have monthly bills to pay regardless of where I go and I can’t just dump my cat in a friend’s lap–Felix is family and I love him that much.

But I want to go. Somewhere.

Ultimately, I know that I want to end up west but I can’t see myself there yet. Not in June. Possibly the end of the year. Until then I want to be somewhere else outside of the U.S. for 3-5 months even though I just signed up for pricey health insurance (there goes that pragmatic thinking again) and I have the logistics of pet passports and travel to consider. Part of me wants to explore Spanish speaking countries because I’ve an urge to be fluent and the question of quarantine is a non-issue.

I was supposed to come on this trip to figure out the details, draw an outline, but I’m back to where I started. Drawing circles in the sand and walking around what I’ve traced. Balancing memory, need, desire and reality. I was supposed to walk a straight line, write myself from here to there, and even though I always know that what you intend never is what you want it to be, I’m surprised (or maybe not), yet again, that I’m at the middle of my life and I haven’t figured anything out. I only know what I don’t want.

I don’t want leisure wear, matching luggage and a starter home. I don’t want a life treadmill. I don’t want 7-10pm and scrolling through my email during the four weeks of vacation I fought to have and everyone makes me feel guilty for taking. I don’t want a recruiter selling me on a company that lacks imagination and integrity, but don’t worry because the money is great. I don’t want unidentifiable food delivered to me. I don’t want to write blog posts like these and have people try to sew up my life for me–what I need right now is not a bandaid or an anesthetic, so please don’t. I don’t want to order a taxi with my phone and not care that the men who run the company hate women. But convenience, Felicia. Convenience. I don’t want to spend an entire day on the internet talking about a fucking dress. I don’t want to debate SoulCycle v. Flywheel. I don’t want to regard my book, this magical thing I’ve created, with bitterness because publishing is an industry crawling with sheep. I don’t want this: Why bother talking about ISIS because it’s not like my one voice can make a difference. So instead, I talk about two llamas and debate the color of a dress. I don’t want to wake up every morning and think: I don’t want this.

I don’t want what I can bear.

I stand in the middle of a forest, between two boulders and think, I want this. I close my eyes and fall asleep in the middle of a river, surrounded by 365 islands, and think, I want this. I look at my blog, this wonderful space I’ve created for myself, and wonder about a collection of essays I could write. I look at my bank account, about to be depleted come April, and wonder, how can I do any of this?

To be continued…

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the business of leaving

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

I don’t know how to tell my father I’m leaving. Up until this week I didn’t know how to tell myself. But wait, let me back up.

The week was a blur of meetings, minor politicking and emails left unanswered. I met my friend and mentor for Korean, and we talk about the things we always talk about: we trade updates on our respective careers and people we used to work with and know. This person took this job at this place, did you hear? This person landed here and she seems really happy, last we spoke. We talk about heady things–data and marketing attribution models–and the personal. He tells me about his novia and plans to move out west. He asks about this trip I’m taking, the one he’s been reading about on Facebook. It’s a normal, perfunctory conversation, the kind of which I’ve grown accustomed. I have the speech prepared where I talk about the three states, my jubilation, and how nothing pleases me more than living in a town with a population of 6,000. Our food arrives and we tuck in, and he jokes about the fact that I like my beef well done. Shoe leather, we laugh.

My mentor is a kind of father, but not completely, yet enough where I let my guard down as I’m a watchman when it comes to my heart.

We pass vegetables between our plates and I talk about snow boots. How I’ve ignored the need to purchase them. How I’ve lasted the previous winter without them. And then, this week, I broke down and bought a pair and already I feel regret. Why, he asks. Boots are pragmatic, something I need, and I’ve always been the practical kind. Because this is my last year in New York, I say, flippantly. He pauses, allows the words to settle because he’s ahead of me. What I’ve said doesn’t register on my face just yet. I’m still moving food about my plate, talking about kimchi and kale. And then it happens–the words catch up and linger. Something in me seizes, quietly, and he says that I’ll always need boots because he knows I’ll temporarily return. How could I not return to the place I’ve called home? I think about Odysseus, nymphs, and an awaiting shore, but I don’t tell him any of this because it’s kind of strange to be bringing up the Greeks over barbequed beef–you know what I mean?

I want to tell him that this conversations reminds me of the one we had two years prior. I was in his office, head in my hands, talking about fear. He’d asked me if I was happy. Are you happy? I said, no. I already knew I had to resign from a job that had slowly begun to kill me; I had to stop working for a man I didn’t respect or trust. I had to stop becoming the woman I never wanted to be–bitter, stressed, angry, someone who practiced moral relativism like breathing. But what if I quit? What then? This life isn’t the one I want, but I know it. I can navigate it with eyes open. And if my friend (then colleague) hadn’t made me imagine what was on the other side of fear, I wouldn’t be writing this post. So I think about that conversation and how we don’t need to have it again, and that’s the silence that passes between us–the tacit understanding that this decision is familiar, and all I need to do is see out onto the horizon.

You’ll visit, he says. I nod. I’ll visit. What if I don’t secure freelance work? I’ll visit. What if I’m lonely? I’ll visit. What if I lose my apartment? I’ll visit. You know you’re giving up your apartment for good, right? What if New York is it? I’ll visit.

Now to only tell my father I’ll visit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because this year I don’t want this.

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

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a minor fall, a major leap: a major announcement + life change

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Photo Credit: Alfredo Miguel Romero

Because I want to feel something again. Because I want to come down to my knees and feel the earth beneath my hands. Because I want to be itinerant. Because I saw Tiny and said, imagine that. Because I want to do something with my hands other than type. Because I’m tired of a city where death had undone so many. Also, I’m tired of cities. Because I seek an unadulterated sky. Because I wrote a novel about a family living in the West and who knew I’d write myself to where I plan to be? Because home isn’t a place, rather it’s the people to whom you return.

For now, let’s call my project Four Points West. Come September 2015, I will spend 3-4 months in Sante Fe, New Mexico; Helena, Montana; Seattle, WA and San Diego (or Santa Cruz, haven’t decided yet), California. I placed pins on a map and said, this is where you’ll fine me. This is where I’ll lay down my head to rest.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve never left the confines of New York. Sure, I’ve traveled to India, Ireland, Taiwan, Italy, UK, Prague, France, Spain, Russia, Mexico, China, Korea, Thailand, Australia, Fiji, Aruba, Bali, Denmark, Germany, Canada, Cambodia, Vietnam, but I’ve never made another place my home. Next year I will make four unexpected places my temporary home. I’ll stay in AirBNBs. I’ll retake the road test since my driver’s license expired years ago. I’ll take my cat with me. I’ll sublet my home in Brooklyn or let it go altogether. I’ll sit in a place of uncertainty, inconvenience and discomfort because it’s better than this recognizable disquiet.

I’ve a lot to plan between now and then, but I’m exhilarated. I plan on documenting the entire journey, treating each place as if it’s a new territory, a foreign country. And while I hope to continue consulting in brand and consumer marketing, I like the idea of also doing work that requires me to do something with my hands. I guess I want to feel something more than what exists right now. I want to see how far I can go.

Admittedly, I’m terrified. I’ve $150K in graduate loan debt. I’ve credit card debt. New York is easy in the sense that most of my work is here, even if I don’t have to venture into an office. I’m leaving the comfort of all I know in pursuit of something that may be a disaster, financial or otherwise.

But another part of me, a small voice that was once a whisper has grown to a shout, and it says, why not?

More to come…

my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: what’s next…

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

Right now it’s evening in Seoul and my friend tells me that she expected something different, something else. We’d travel fourteen hours on a plane and it’s as if we’re back in New York with its illuminated shops and iPhone cases in the shape of ferocious animals. My other friend bids us leave, opting to roam the streets and alleyways of the city where the scent of fried chicken, bone broth and perfume hangs heavy. Even though the sky is painted black, it feels very much like afternoon here–the streets are packed with kids tapping on their phones and everyone feels as if they’ve just woken up. As if the day is new to them, while I stand in the middle of it, jetlagged, exhausted.

Caught in the betweens.

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I spent the better part of my plane ride sleeping and the other thick in the business of self-reflection. There are things I want to talk about but I can’t talk about them online and somehow it hasn’t been enough to share them, even with my closest friends, in “real life.” Exquisite, remarkable, astounding but too dark, they say. Relentlessly so. I have to shake my head and say, no, you haven’t even see dark. I haven’t shown you dark; I’ve given you light. You just can’t see it. Waiting for one person to see it.

A memory: When I was in high school, I always placed second in writing contests. Invariably, this one girl, ES, would win. She beat me in clarinet because her notes were precise while I was creative and sloppy and she won all of the awards because her stories were tidy. They were the kind of stories moms were proud to read in PTA newsletters, while mine were the sort that got me sent to the guidance counselor’s office. I remember one year when a teacher (who’d been a judge) pulled me aside and said that my story was supposed to win, but how could they give an award for a story so dark? About a girl who hung herself, and I realized then that I was getting punished for writing about the places people didn’t want to go.

Years later I traded emails with ES, who told me that she always felt like a fraud getting those awards. When I pressed her on it, she said, because it was obvious that you were always better. You just scared people. What you write unnerves people. I imagine that you still do.

This is how I feel right now. Sleepless in Seoul.

What this food journey has been for me is a way to shed that last vestige of feeling anesthetized. Food has this beguiling way of making you feel as if it understoods; it’s the friend who will never leave. They’re one of the cruelest of attachments, and we tend to give part of ourselves to the thing that we’re consuming in hopes that what you eat will somehow, someway devour the pain. You say to yourself, I have this pain and I don’t know where to put it. Where do you put pain? Do you put it in a box and lock it away? No, it’s easier to bury it in a plate of pasta. To hide it neatly in the folds of a butter croissant. But what you don’t realize (until perhaps too late) is that when one pain disappears another bolder one takes its place. My stress was replaced by a physical sickness and while I’ve battled the last vestiges of deliberately self-medicating myself through food, it leaves me in a tricky spot of having to see the pain, the heartbreak and disappointment on the horizon (the wise rises, warbles light a note held for too long and then descends like plague), and I have to weather it. I have to play every hand as it lays even if there are multiple games on the table.

Now that I’m present physically, mentally, emotionally, now where there’s nowhere to hide, I’m forced to sit with myself and ask myself the questions I’d been artfully evading. I’m nearly 39 and I’m still unclear what it is that I’m doing with my life.

Here’s what I know. I know I’ve made a deliberate choice not to be a mother because I think there are other ways you can mother and mend without reproduction. I know I can’t be tethered to a desk five days a week for the remaining 40 years of my life. I know that just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean I’m meant to do it. I know that the people with whom I surround myself are greater than the work I’m tasked to do. I know I want to feel unsettled at the start of every project. I know I want to say no regrets, no regrets, and mean it. I know I need to stop being angry watching younger women making oceans of money by posting photos of them in their finery. I know the thing that brings me the greatest joy is writing.

Some of my writing is dark, true, but dark is relative. Dark is necessary, Dante once remarked, in order for us to be engulfed in light. One has to travel to hell to reach paradise but no one wants to know about the train you took, whom you met along the way, they just want you to cue angels and gossamer curtains and billowing robes. They want to hear about the pay-off, the destination, the ending. They want to hear that I’m clean and sober but they don’t want the details. They want to say I’m this remarkable writer but they don’t want to settle into my work. They want to pay people vast sums of money for their “writing”– these are people who can barely string together a sentence–but me, me, can you write this for free?

Presence and the clarity that comes from being this healthy (these constructs are not mutually exclusive) has given birth to an interesting idea. One that merges type, image, voice. A form that combines podcast, blog, photography and sound. A new one way to tell the story in the event the motley lot won’t fall in love with the ones I’m already telling.

I’ve made a very risky financial decision to leave one of my corporate projects in November to spend this trip and the month of December trying to figure out my life. I miss love, feeling wrapped all up in it. I miss the start of new projects and the failures and tiny victories along the way. I miss meeting some new people. I just wish every decision I made wasn’t tethered to rent and student loan payments. I hate that I’ve spent my whole life making decisions that rely on the kind of income I bring in.

What I’ve learned on this food journey? There are a lot of fucking bandaids coming off and this is A LOT for me to handle right now. A lot of good. A lot of confusion. A minor disturbance in one place, so bear with me as I try to breathe it out. What you can count on is more of this. Longer posts, further introspection, pictures of friends (when they’ll allow me to share them as I’m fiercely protective of the men I date and my friends and their private lives), my stories and the stories of others along the way.

What’s next? Fuck if I know. I’ll be 39 next month and I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m still looking for a few people who can see my vision.

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amer fort: jaipur, india {the longest post, ever}

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Perhaps I was too ambitious. Maybe I thought the physicality of ticking off an item on a list was still a marker of achievement. I came to India with purpose — I would have the space, time, and clarity to bring my novel home {the physical} while at the same time finding out if I need to define what it is that I want to do with my life {the mental; line forms to the left}. And naturally, there would be time, oceans of it, to complete freelance projects, and make sense and shape of all that is India. I would navigate its streets, inhale its spices, feel its people.

I never conceived of that fact that India is both exhilarating and exhausting, and I’m again reminded that once you attempt to define something, that thing changes its form until it is something else altogether.

We’re closing out our trip in Jaipur, which is a city of three million people, but it might as well be thirty with its symphony of sound, color, taste and smell. Yesterday we wandered The Pink City, and I tried to ignore the way men looked at us, looked through and under our clothes. I tried not to feel unsettled by the fact that there were hundreds of women covered in black cloth with only a slit for their eyes to betray their identity. We wove in and out of a thoroughfare of chaos with the constant drone of a horn honking {this is the norm, it seems}, people shouting, women negotiating fruit and fabric, men calling — always the siren call of the sea nymphs turned land turned street turned petal pink — cows swaggering, camels sleeping, dogs nipping, cats calculating, and the seven of us wandering, making sure we were always, always together.

There was the hiss and spit of fire {The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf/Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind/Crosses the brown land, unheard./The nymphs are departed, writes Eliot}, the spark of turquoise and cobalt dyes, the men walking beside me, telling me, It costs nothing to look. Come look. Come over here. I do not follow because I think of the fire and charcoal and how it is possible that within eight short days I can bear witness to so many examples of following a loved one into the dark.

I was supposed to finish this book. I had a kind of idea of how I would end it. The novel is a triptych of sorts, a verse repeated three times — three generations of broken women — but finally broken {a new song sung, a new page being written} by a woman who starts off the story by setting a woman’s hair on fire, but ends up wanting the single thing she, and all of the women who had come before, had been missing — someone to follow her into the dark.

Believe me when I say that I see the pages. I see the words as I’m typing them, but all I can do is feel. All I can do is exist amongst these stories people whom I hardly know, tell, and I’m reminded of the fact that I am very much on the verge. I am on the precipice of something, and the idea of returning to New York to deal with all this shit is at turns thrilling and frightening.

I’m genuinely excited and frightened of a great many things, and this is okay to feel this. It’s okay to settle into the dark but not set up shop in it. To not lay your bricks down, but perhaps a little blanket that you can carry with you when you’re ready for the light.

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Today we spent a great deal of the deal at the Amer Fort in Jaipur. From the intricate fusion of Hindu and Muslim architecture and the iridescent embossed silver mirrors, walls and doors, to the cool pastels of the summer rooms and the the apartments of the 12 women the king kept, the Fort {Palace} is an extraordinary sight to see. One could wander the stairs and tunnels and complex irrigation systems all day. We also procured fragrant oils in cactus, lavender, jasmine, sandalwood, rose and grass, whose flowers were hand-pressed and melded with hands that come from three generations of fragrance manufacturing. We saw fakirs {!!!} and cobras and dogs on their backs, and monkeys, who, in one moment would eat from the palm of your hand and then attack it.

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All the while I think of an honest love letter a new friend of mine wrote to her childhood friend, who has slowly become more than that. I remember reading it over dinner and feeling the familiar ache of a woman who has the strength to risk plucking out her heart and laying it down to be received. I was struck by this love described so simply, so plainly, and it is the very thing in which I desire for myself and for my Kate, the center character in my novel.

I think of our tour guide, Raj, a kind man who regaled the story of he {a Brahmin} and “Sweetie” {his Sikh wife}. They were beloveds through high school and college, but they kept their love a secret to no one save the very fundamentalist family. So Raj would escort her on movie dates and drop her off around the corner of her house, and Sweetie would pursue three different degrees to defer the suite of arranged Sikh suitors her parents had dutifully selected. Sweetie went on her interviews, which were a constant play on what is said and unsaid, and after having told three families that no, she does not eat meat, and no, she does not cook, and no, she is not religious, Raj’s family met with Sweetie’s and told the story of two people very much in love.

In short, this meeting was a disaster. Raj’s family was escorted out before the chai had been laid down on the table, and the father blamed the mother for the catastrophe that was Sweetie’s digressions. Family members made the 10-hour journey from Punjab to discuss, for 15 days straight, the plight of Sweetie. There were tears, threats, anguish and despair, and finally Raj took a calculated risk and told the family that he and Sweetie had already signed papers to be married.

A family debacle is one thing. A legal one is quite another. Arrangements were made, concessions acquiesced to, and for seventeen years Raj and Sweetie made a wonderful home and life for themselves, and the families became whole with the birth of two very beautiful children.

I listen to this story on a moving bus, and parts of it are funny and other parts are heartbreaking, but the light, the love is palpable, and this was once a young man who would risk everything for the woman he loved.

I think: I have this. I have this story in my hands and what to do with it? I wait for the time when mind, heart and hand are ready to move. I’m excited for the velocity of this book. I’m frightened of my personal velocity {the life undefined, the financial insecurity that is real}, and I know right now that I can’t control any of it.

All I can do is breathe, be present, and hope that life and art intersect and the character gets her way and the woman gets her way, and everyone is followed into, and ushered out of, the dark.

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little prince + a meditation on what’s next

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I’m constantly aware of lost opportunities. I used to think such lost opportunities were beautiful towns flashing by my train windows, but now I imagine they are lanterns from the past, casting light on what’s ahead.Chris Huntington

Some time ago I thought I’d lost four years of my life. I kept running to stand still, but there was no stillness, only noise — so much of it that it threatened to crowd and smother. As a result, I lived on autopilot; I became a person who was what I was going after. Having grown up in New York, I used to feed off the frenzy, thrive on my own personal velocity, but it wasn’t until the past few years that I’ve craved quiet. I’m desperate for the minimal and the beautiful. So I rid myself of my finery — pretty handbags and expensive shoes — because I never wore those trappings of supposed success. They merely served as bandaids for my misery. I rid myself of barnacles, unhealthy attachments in the form of people and things, to be present with people who inspire and challenge me. Finally, I rid myself of a job that made me sick, and although I’m humbled to have had such an auspicious professional opportunity, the losses I experienced were incalculable: I stopped reading and writing and living my life as I once did, mindfully.

I spent this year getting reacquainted with Felicia Sullivan. I read books, all kinds. I started a novel. I baked boxes of delicious sweets. I took on consulting projects with companies and people whom I admire and respect. I suffered a grave loss and gained a new love. I spent time rebuilding friendships, making up for the weddings I missed and minor triumphs celebrated in my absence. In essence, I became present in my life, all of it, even the dark parts. But still. Even with the compasses calibrated, a focused mind, and a voice that is softer and slower, I can’t yet find my way.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve lost time or opportunities until I read that quote above, and realized that I am where I’m meant to be, as this is the place that will take me to what’s next.

After a week catching up with some of my closest friends, I spent an afternoon at Little Prince, a serene French bistro in Soho, with a new friend. We knew one another as client and consultant, and now that my project is over, we’re delighted to find one another now as friends. We spoke about work and travel and love, and it occurs to me that over a year ago I spoke of working outside of the U.S., in some capacity, and that gnawing feeling hasn’t abated. It just got lost in my exhaustion over visa requirements, paperwork, and the bureaucracy that surrounds living in a country that is unfamiliar. I also indulged in flights of fancy (Paris) when my French is subpar, instead of focusing on markets that would make sense for my skillset.

Honestly, I don’t know what 2014 brings, but I plan to say YES. I plan to think about Singapore, China, Australia, and other parts of the world I’d dare to live. I plan to finish my book and bake many more loaves and spend time with many more friends.

Until then, I can revel in the fact that I’ve discovered one of the best burgers New York has to offer, and a brunch spot that doesn’t feel as if I need a megaphone for a conversation. Until then, I can continue to be present and enjoy this life.

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ricotta chive + parsley pesto pasta

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about opportunity and instinct. In January, I had a series of conversations with one of my two mentors, which was fraught with anguish, insecurity + doubt. Four years ago, I was confident, outspoken, strong-willed and determined, however, with the passing of each day, my job, and more specifically, my boss, made me doubt myself. Made me think that I was lesser than I was. While I take responsibility for the fact that people only affect you to the degree in which you allow them to, I couldn’t help but think that the years had been stolen from me. That I was, to a certain extent, manipulated. While I created the buttons, my boss knew how to push them to the point where I felt it was difficult to breathe. So when I sat down with my mentor, and spoke plainly about leaving, I wondered aloud about my self-worth.

Who would hire me? To which he responded, Are you fucking kidding me? Are you really being serious? The question isn’t who will hire you, it’s whether you’ll find something, a love, a passion, that will make you happy. It took a long time to absorb the weight of those words and believe that my greatness was possible, even when I had been lead to think otherwise. I needed to literally get out of the country and put some distance between myself and all the events that transpired after my leaving, including severing ties with people whose bitterness and anger threatened to pull me under, but now I’m finally at a place where I know my value and am unapologetic about shouting it from the rafters.

This weekend, as I made this dish for the work week ahead, I thought about a very exciting opportunity to lead a very formidable brand’s global social marketing efforts. The job was audacious in every sense of the word, and I contemplated picking up my life and moving out west, but something was off. Something didn’t feel right about it all, and before I embarked on a final round of interviews I pulled myself out of the running.

I wrote my very wonderful HR contact, and my potential boss, that the timing wasn’t right. I’d spent so long trying to architect a life where I’m able to write, build this postage stamp of an online home, and consult, that I’ve become protective of this life, and feel as if this opportunity would usurp it.

Naturally, I had a mini (translation: major) panic attack after I sent the emails, because there went the sense of security. There went the sure thing. Until I had lunch with my other mentor, who presented something even more ambitious. Something I wouldn’t have to pursue until the new year.

Try the idea out for size, she said. Think about it. Let’s keep talking.

Because when you deliberately close one small door, a giant one flings open. And it’s only when you allow yourself the space, clarity and quiet, then you’re able to listen, make choices about which doors to open and close.

INGREDIENTS
1 lb of ground sirloin, seasoned with salt + pepper
2 cups parsley, chopped
1/2 cup chives, chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1/2 pecorino romano
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1 lb whole wheat pasta
1/4 cup pasta water, reserved
1 tbsp pecorino romano for topping

chives

DIRECTIONS
In a large skillet, fry the sirloin until brown, approximately 5-7 minutes. While the beef is cooking, boil the water for the pasta. Ever since Nigella Lawson said that pasta water should resemble the waters of the Mediterranean, I’ve been diligent about adding salt.

In a blender {or as luck would have it, a Vitamix), add all of your ingredients and blitz until you have a silky smooth pesto consistency. Stir in your ricotta cheese until well-blended. Set aside.

Before you drain the pasta, reserve 1/4 cup of water. Add the pasta to the beef, then add the pesto and the past water, and stir until all of the noodles are coated.

Serve hot with a sprinkling of cheese.

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what happens when you pay attention {long read}

Old Mine at Night

Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see …each other in life. Vanity, fear, desire, competition– all such distortions within our own egos– condition our vision of those in relation to us. Add to those distortions to our own egos the corresponding distortions in the egos of others, and you see how cloudy the glass must become through which we look at each other. Except when there is that rare case of two people who love intensely enough to burn through all those layers of opacity and see each other’s naked hearts. ― Tennessee Williams

There’s been a reason for this demonstrable quiet, when the only sound is the beating of my own heart. Barely a whisper, it’s a steady thump, methodic, something of a metronome. I use this beat to keep time, and I think about the years before this moment and the hours after, and the sickness, love, heartbreak and trembling that lie in the spaces between. In my home, I close all the windows, draw the shades and lay out my tools for excavation. Photographs — terrific images of a life lived in sepia — serve as a constant reminder of my once carefully-crafted fiction. So committed I was to this life, this mask, of feigned achievement and merriment (a beloved! a critically-acclaimed book! an Ivy-league graduate degree! a best friend who pantomimed my sentences! a body that never gained weight, but rather lost it, in disturbing degrees!), that I practically wrote the story out on my hands, face and knees. The story of Felicia Sullivan, written on the body, incanted back to me — just in case I’d forget. Back then I drank a lot {a lot} and forgetting was the sort of thing I was wont to do.

Funny how after all this time, I don’t like having my picture taken. I went from boxes of me wearing my mask to a few photos of me, without makeup, in another part of the world. I prefer photographs of food and the unmovable, instead.

When we talk about tools we always might want to think about kitchen appliances. The stand mixer, springform pans, measuring cups and whisks that got me out of this mess. Forced me to do something with my hands, made me breathe and stand in one space for long stretches of time. A few weeks ago, my father reminded me of the catastrophe that was my first cheesecake. How proud I was of the smooth surface, the whipped cream and the buttery crumb base — it was its own fiction because I’d used confectioner’s sugar instead of granulated sugar and the cake tasted of cold, slightly sweetened, cream cheese. But I couldn’t break your heart, I just couldn’t, my father said. We laugh now because I know my sugars, now. I know my way around the kitchen, now. In my home I observe the counters, the cabinets and the items housed within, and I regard them less as instruments of survival but more as extensions of my limbs. A hand that now holds a whisk is a longer hand, creating something that is an extension of my heart. Another way to physically say the words: you mean this much, I love you like this, and you are home to me.

You are home to me.

Last week I received a note from a person with whom I’d had a falling out some two years ago. I don’t remember how we stopped speaking, I just know that one day I’d be excised from her life, and I was left confused and hurt because although we weren’t terribly close, I tried to be the sort of friend who would be there when someone started taking ink to their own body. Rewriting their story, erasing it, blotting out all the years and shame that came before. Thinking that alcohol was the only salve, the terrific anesthetic. None of her friends had been brave enough to tell her that she was going under, that the drink was a river that temporarily washed off the ink, but would always, inevitably, draw her with its undertow. I was as honest and kind and as non-judgmental as I tried to be, and my words were met with rage and the door was closed on the story that was us. Clamped shut. Dead-bolted. Can’t go in.

Until last week. Two years sober, she wrote me and confessed that my words had saved her life. I remember reading this note rushing about the city, scrolling through my messages, dodging cars and traffic lights, and I froze. Stood in the middle of Broadway as people snarled and gnashed their teeth because I was in their fucking way, and here a woman wrote me a short note affirming that words, kindness and compassion have the ability to buoy and save.

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This weekend I spent time with my best friend, a woman whom I’ve known for half my life, and it occurred to me that there was a time when I wasn’t ready to pay attention. In 2001, my best friend said those same words to me, practically begged me to pay attention, told me that she’d take me home with her to Connecticut if that was what it would take to save my life, and I refused her. I can only imagine her heartbreak on the train ride back, and all the years that passed, all the years she spent patiently waiting for me to give myself the greatest gift one could give to themselves: their life back, on their own terms, lived mindfully, compassionately and with complete and sometimes painful attention.

We went to church yesterday, and while my faith as of late has vacillated, even though I’ve become skeptical of God’s existence — an existence grounded in unadulterated faith and art rather than mathematics and science — the pastor’s sermon put my heart on pause. He talked about how we manage our shame and paths that may not have been draped in light. Always, we opt to put things behind us, poised to hit the delete key, always; we desperately desire to re-write the story, re-position the facts, but these are all variations on the same mask. The same fabric woven into more fanciful finery. All serve to divert attention, move us further and further away from ourselves, when, quite simply, we could just be honest, ask for forgiveness and move on.

All this time I thought of forgiveness as something I should seek from others, rather than something that I needed to give to myself.

If we were to sit here now and architect a patchwork, if we were to fire up a loom, notice how words are the thread. Words are what binds us to one another and ourselves, and words also have the ability to excise, complete, sever and maim.

This is a rather circuitous way of coming back to the slumbering heart and the quiet that has fallen on this space. The reason being is that I didn’t yet have the words {and I would offer that I still don’t} to explain what happens when you open your creaking, wooden heart. What happens when you pry open your eyes, put away the phone and breathe through the most difficult of spaces? How do you explain what happens when you pay attention?

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Would I have continued to neglect my cat’s illness? Would I have pressed on a few more years ignoring the urge to sit in front of a keyboard and type words that weren’t even close to a marketing plan? Would I have continued to sit in a spin class where the shouting and music resembled manic Tourette’s? Would I have dismissed that woman’s kind words? Would I have smothered my growing intolerance to dairy, whose consumption has given me bouts of extreme illness? Would I have continued to slouch through my days loveless, cold, perhaps too independent — so much so that I exist to fortress myself, my own private prison that is at turns safe and confining?

Time is leaving its indelible mark, and it’s one of attention. Attention has allowed me to open my heart and let all these beautiful, magical people in. Attention is saving my beloved cat’s life. Attention is allowing me to come back to myself and meet a new version of myself.

And this new self isn’t the woman I once was. And this new self is having an occasional glass of wine without the three-piece luggage set that follows.

I worried about writing this. I worried about telling my closest friends this. That I’d have to embark on long explanations on the difference between alcoholism and binge drinking, and that there was always a possibility of me drinking again but I’d always have to examine why. I worried about this newly-sober woman, and I thought to myself, do I have to be sober for her? Am I letting her down? Will people not understand? Will people judge?

Yes, they will do all of these things. People may whisper. People may not get it. But so far I get it. So far, I know this version of myself who has a glass of wine with dinner isn’t the same girl self-medicating to mourn her mother all those years ago. Believe me when I say that I was shocked, SHOCKED, when the closest people in my life felt this way too. These dramatic conversations that I’d recreated in my head never came to pass because I’d earned my friends’ trust and they know I’d never do anything to jeopardize it.

And then I realized that the only person I have to be concerned about is myself. How I feel about this. Who I am as a result of paying attention, and how I connect more meaningfully with the ones I love as a result of it. How they see through all the distortions and layers of opacity to get to our most raw and beautiful selves.

The rest is just someone else’s story.

Top photo credit: Jeffrey Sullivan

daily dose of wisdom: design the day

I’ve always been the sort of woman who oscillates wildly. Skirting the extremes, I take comfort in the dark spaces — so much so that there was a time when I made a country of it. Blanketing the whole of my world with my sadness. It was cold and suffocating, and I’d find myself clawing at the air for escape and never budging an inch. Even as I gave off the impression that I was always moving, I was sessile. Imagine a wounded bird cradled in someone’s hands. The bird knows it has to flap its wings, even makes the motion to do it, but can’t. There is no flight, only the suggestion of it. The desperation for it.

This fissure between my private and public lives was too much to bear, and I slowly found new ways to take flight. To get off the ground, as it were.

The past few weeks have been trying. From friends who’ve deeply disappointed me by their lack of presence, to my cat’s illness — whose conditions oscillates wildly each day {the irony} — to my inability to be inspired, I’ve found myself back to familiar terrain.

Until I saw a longer version of the above video, which put my heart on pause. The simple notion of empowering yourself to define your day as if it’s already happened, rather than allowing it to simply happen, feels prolific. Predictive versus actual. Active versus passive.

Design your day. The act is easy enough. Wake each morning and write, very simply, the account of how your day went, already. Write in the past tense {e.g. I wrote the first draft of an incredible short story. I met two people who changed the shape of how I think.} and make yourself accountable by sending your day designed, in an email, to several of your friends. By the end of the day, you return to your list and compare notes.

So, I’m giving this a go, starting today. I’ll keep you abreast of my progress!

fresh strawberry no-bake pie + a home of one’s own

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Last week I had breakfast with an old friend and I was thick in the business of anger. I talked about people who’ve ventured beyond what is comfortable in an effort to be there in my darkest moments, while people I’ve known for years, people with whom I’ve shared my innards, eek by with a perfunctory phone call, a quick email or text. Confused and hurt, I prattled on to my friend whom I’ve known for years. After a long pause, she offered this: Maybe people think you need your space; you’re this intensely private person, you’re fiercely independent, so much so that people might think that you can actually handle this all on your own. But! But! But I can’t. How do they know that? How do I know that? she said in a way that was caring, but succinct, honest in a way that broke through. After all of these years of not needing people, of architecting a wall, creating a fortress around this ticking clock that is my heart, I have to be the one that says, out loud: I need you. Come on in.

This is not easy. I’m uncomfortable with asking for help. I hate the words: can you, I need, Is it possible? Perhaps I’m holding on to the last vestiges that bind me to my mother, for she was a woman who never cried, thought vulnerability a sickness, a disease that deserved a proper snuffing out, and that left an indelible mark. For years I’ve been impenetrable, so this notion of old habits being hard to break? It’s true.

Yesterday, I spent the day with my father, and his is the sort of kindness that puts my heart on pause. My father leads a very simple, quiet life, and I don’t say this in the pejorative, I don’t judge any of this — in fact, I often feel small alongside all of his goodness. My largeness seems laughable against a man who has consistently lived a noble, dignified life. We watched movies sitting side by side in plush chairs, passing a bowl of cookies between us, and I told my father that he’s a good man, the best I know, and he turned to me and said, You’re not so bad too.

We laughed as we’re prone to do, and he pressed on. Told me he’s proud of the woman I’ve grown into, specifically within the past few years. I’m calmer now, less impatient, less prone to volcanic acts and material cravings. When I told him about this conversation I had with a friend, how I lamented that I’m trying so hard to let people in, he agreed that this is the last big part of the wall that needs a proper wreckage.

I told my father about this ambitious project I’ve got cooking, a project that requires a few other people to make some magic, and he joked and offered his home as a place to stay if things don’t work out. To which I snapped that a 37-year-old woman doesn’t move home with dad when things get tough. And he laughed and laughed and said, There goes that pride again. There goes the I can’t do it on my own, again. There goes that wall, that will, which refuses to bend.

When I left yesterday, my father said that we’re alright people. We’re good stock. I hugged him and promised to bring him a pie this week, much like this one, and he offered that maybe my baking could be a first step in venture into the archaic language of need. Of want. Of love.

But then again, sometimes people can try harder. Just as much as I’m trying harder. GRRR.

{work in progress, as always}

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from the forthcoming Gramercy Tavern Cookbook, review forthcoming in Medium
3/4 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
3 cups hulled and quartered strawberries, plus 4 1/2 cups (cut very large berries into eighths and leave very small ones whole; three pounds whole berries total)
1 1/8 cups finely ground graham crackers (about 9 crackers)
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup heavy cream, lightly whipped (optional)

DIRECTIONS
In a medium saucepan, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, the cornstarch and salt. Add 3 cups of the strawberries and roughly mash the fruit with the end of a whisk. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heave, whisking constantly and further mashing the strawberries until they are broken down (some berry lumps are okay). Boil for a full minute, whisking constantly. Transfer the strawberry mixture to a large bowl and let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, make the crust. In a large bowl, stir together the graham crackers, the remaining tablespoon of sugar, and the melted butter until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Very lightly press the crumbs into a nine inch pie dish, starting with the sides and then covering the bottom.

When the strawberry mixture is at room temperature, gently stir in the remaining 4 1/2 cups of strawberries, then spoon the filling into the graham cracker crust. Refrigerate for at least two hours or up to 2 days. Serve with whipped cream.

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edamame + corn quinoa salad + a trip to ps1

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The scariest moment is always just before you start. –Stephen King

Yesterday was a photograph worth shredding. A day worth tearing to pieces and setting the scraps of paper aflame. Right now I’m writing this from a friend’s apartment, surrounded by her beautiful zoo of cats and dogs, creating some distance from it all. A few weeks ago, someone regarded me with interest, said, I don’t know what to think of you. I can’t put you in a box. I want to put you in a box, because it’s easier that way, but I can’t. At the time, I laughed when the person said this, felt proud that I couldn’t fit neatly anywhere, but as time passes, this notion that I will never be simple, be easy, starts to fill me with dread. And I think that’s what I keep evading — the fact that I consistently deviate toward a box in which I’ll never fit. Invariably, I’ll squeeze and adjust and won’t breath for a bit, and as soon as I find myself lodged halfway in, it’s only then that I’ll panic, want to climb out and run as fast as my legs will take me. It’s only then that I regard the box as a coffin, trying to pull me under, under.

I’ve always been a difficult woman.

Finding my next leap has been an exhausting process. I’ve met with many companies that are settled when I crave the unsettling, while many others talk a good game about an open culture, use all the buzz words so acutely, but then they ignore the cowering girl at reception, they whisper that they envy me my trip to Europe because, they too, want to get out. To run. After a dozen of these instances, I start to feel as if the days repeat themselves with minor variation. Photocopies of boxes stacked up neatly in open workspaces. People sporting headphones, music blasting, miming sleep. Phones that never ring because the idea of a voice is irksome when we can email our passive aggressive state. People who moan about Monday and Sundays much like how one would regard an apocalypse. The week has been reduced to five days where only coffee and Spotify will save.

I’m difficult because I want none of this. I don’t want to be complacent, to punch a series of memorized numbers that will grant me trespass to a place that I will inevitably grow to hate. I don’t want to befriend Seamless. I don’t want to spend every day inching my way toward the dying, the final box and its heavy lid and the earth that will usher us back from where it is that we’ve come.

I’m difficult because I refuse to except anything less than extraordinary in a market that’s below ordinary, at an experience level where people feel as if they can get mediocrity and inexperience on the cheap instead of making the investment, instead of thinking about the long haul. I’m difficult because I want all my children — my food, writing, friends and business work — to have equal time in the proverbial playing field, rather than reduced to a changeling, some strange, ugly thing relegated to dark corners and hidden under blankets.

I wonder if what I want actually exists, and this is the thought that keeps me up most nights, bleeding into day.

Every day I try my hardest to remain focused and positive. I fixate on creating. I try to spend time in the company of others, desperate to turn the beat around. But I’m scared of being crippled by real financial obligations (student loans, debt) to escape the ordinary.

Yesterday, paralyzed, I spent the day with art and food. Here’s hoping that I’m soon able to walk, leap, run.

INGREDIENTS: Edamame + Corn Quinoa Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
For the salad
1 lb frozen corn (fresh, shucked corn will also do)
1 lb frozen edamame (fresh will also work)
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
Salt/pepper to taste

For the dressing
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp white (or red) wine vinegar
1 tsp ground mustard
Salt/pepper to taste
–Whisk all together to make a delicious vinaigrette

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DIRECTIONS
I know what you must be thinking — there’s a lot of contrasting flavors here, but somehow they work. Somehow, they’re harmonious and coalesce. Trust me on this. However, if you are the mistrustful sort, you can always dress this in a simple olive oil (3 tbsp) with the existing flavorings, and the salad is equally divine.

In a medium pot, boil 2 cups of water and the pre-rinsed quinoa. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Once the quinoa is done, fluff with a fork and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large pot, cook the frozen corn and edamame (if using fresh, just shock for a minute in the hot water) on hight heat for 5-7 minutes. When done, drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, add 2 tbsp olive oil, sage, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir for 30 seconds, and then tumble in the corn and edamame. Cook, stirring frequently, for 4-5 minutes.

In a large bowl, add the cooked veggie mixture to the quinoa. Toss gently with a spoon. Add the carrots and stir. If you’re rocking the vinaigrette, dress the salad with it, otherwise, feel free to indulge in olive oil to keep the mixture fragrant and delicious.

Serve lukewarm or cold.

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