green rice salad with nectarines + corn

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For a few short moments it stormed today. If you were in New York, you walked and brunched and laughed in sunshine, and then a moment later: darkness. Rain. Coming down in sheets. I cut a brunch with a friend short because of an email I’d received about my father and his health. I spent the next hour in the middle of a street in Williamsburg on the phone, gathering information, and trying not to get angry at my father, who is possibly the most stubborn man I’ve ever known. Although he’s not my birth father, we strangely share many of the same traits: we appear tough on the outside, yet we’re extremely sensitive. And we’re big on saying, I’M FINE. I’M JUST FINE. When it’s clear that we are anything but fine.

So while I’m on the phone with my dad–and he’s pulling the JUST FINE line, and I’m calling him on it because it’s one I’ve used ad nauseum–it storms. You’re really pulling this shit on me? You’re really playing back the tape we both made? I’m in the middle of N. 6th Street trying to convince my dad that he needs to see a doctor. That this is real fucking life, and can you not yes me to death, please?

I took a cab home and the first thing I did was make a meal, because this is how I deal. I open a cookbook that bears the promise of light–a beautiful book filled with abundance and color, and, for a moment I can breathe. Kimberley Hasselbrink doesn’t know me, but today her cookbook gave me the gift of breath. My meditation is shucking corn and making pesto. My return to self is creating something from nothing.

This is how I breathe.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food: Celebrating the Ingredients, Recipes, and Colors of Each Season {I received this lovely book as a gift}
For the green rice
3/4 cup brown basmati rice {I used white, as that’s what I had on hand}
1 1/4 cups water + 1-2 tbsp for the sauce
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 small jalapeno, seeded and chopped
Zest + juice of a small lime
1 tbsp olive oil
Fine sea salt

For the grilled corn
2 ears fresh corn, husks and skin removed
Olive oil
Fine salt
1/2 lime

For assembly
2 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
2 medium-sized nectarines, pitted and sliced thinly lengthwise
1/2 cup crumbled quesa fresca {I nixed this because of my ongoing dairy issues}

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DIRECTIONS
In a saucepan, combine the rice and water, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and summer, covered, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes {truth be told, my rice was done in 15}/ Let the rice stand for a few minutes and then fluff with a fork. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Pre-heat the broiler.

To grill the corn, lightly oil both ears of corn and place in a small baking dish. Broil about 6 inches from the heat source, turning every few minutes, until golden and blackened in spots, 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside until cool enough to handle. Using a large, sharp knife, cut the kernels from the cob to yield about 1 cup. If you have more than this amount, save it for another use. Transfer the kernels to a bowl and toss with pinch of salt and a squeeze of a lime. Set aside.

Transfer the rice to a large bowl. In a blender, combine the cilantro, parsley, jalapeno, lime zest and juice, olive oil, a pinch of salt, and 1 tbsp of water. Blend until smooth. Add up to one more tbsp of water to thin the sauce if it’s too thick. Spoon the mixture over the rice, scraping any remaining sauce out of the blender with a spatula, and mix until the rice is evenly coated.

To finish, add the corn and additional parsley and cilantro to the rice. Toss to combine. Transfer the rice to a serving platter. Sprinkle the nectarines and queso fresco over the rice in even layers. Garnish with additional parsley + cilantro. Best served immediately. Can be made up to one day in advance; bring to room temperature before serving.

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noodle salad with kale 
and chili-scallion oil

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Can we just hit delete on this week and start over? What started as an irritating cough dovetailed, quickly, into a full-blown fever. It took collapsing on my couch — body ravaged with sweat — to realize that I might be under the weather. For two days, I couldn’t stop shivering; I couldn’t stop coughing. And the idea of eating a bite of food was unimaginable. I slept most of the day and into the night.

Of course when I’m alone and my mind wanders, I start to catalog all the things wrong with my life. The friends who have disappointed me, the projects that didn’t happen, the tax bill that hovers like some gruesome spector, and my violent, crippling indecision, my sheer inability to decide what it is that I want to do with my life — all of this haunts my waking hours.

I opened my laptop to work on my novel, and then immediately closed it because the act of writing felt like surgery. I ordered pancakes that I didn’t eat and cancelled a party because the amount of schedule juggling was just too much to manage while simultaneously coughing up my insides.

People who know me well know that I don’t like being immobile; I don’t like a rest I can’t control. So while I understand that these days are about getting healthy again, I can’t help but think they’re a waste. This was a week where I saw nominal progress on the novel. This was a week when I wasn’t vigilant about going after projects. This was a week when I watched movies and indulged in a modicum of self-pity.

At least I’m aware.

Believe me when I say that I made this noodle salad because I had to do something. Something had to mark the passage of today. Something.

{Apologies in advance for any typos or run-ons — I’m possibly still delirious from all the flu medication}

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit, with a slight modification.
For the chili-scallion oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 star anise pods
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
½ cup vegetable oil

For the noodles and assembly
6 oz. Japanese wheat noodles (such as ramen, somen, or udon)
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 cups kale, finely chopped
1 cup cilantro leaves or any sprout

DIRECTIONS
For the chili-scallion oil
Cook all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally, until scallions and garlic are just golden brown, about 3 minutes. Let cool; transfer oil to a jar.

DO AHEAD: Chile oil can be made 4 days ahead. Cover and chill.

For the noodles and assembly
Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions; drain. Rinse noodles under cold water, then shake off as much water as possible. Whisk soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and oil in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Add noodles, kale, cilantro, and scallions; toss to coat. Drizzle a tsp of chili oil over the noodles.

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bacon sandwich with almond, goat cheese, and parsley pesto

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What better way to kick off the weekend than with a little bacon, copious amounts of carbs and some pesto? Chalk this up to a freelancer’s life, but I love the fact that my days are such that I get to come home and indulge in a delicious lunch. This weekend, I’m packing for Dublin, cleaning {cleaning, cleaning} and testing out recipes from Ms. Dahl’s stunning cookbook.

Bye the bye, if you have any recommendations for eats in Dublin, please leave them in the comments!

INGREDIENTS: Pesto recipe courtesy of Sophie Dahl’s Very Fond of Food
For the pesto
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt and pepper
2 large handfuls of fresh parsley
½ cup /50g blanched almonds
1 cup/200g soft goat cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
A squeeze of lemon juice or some lemon zest

1 ciabatta roll {warmed slightly in the oven}
3 strips of applewood smoked bacon

DIRECTIONS
In a food processor (or Vitamix), blitz the pesto ingredients. Season, giving the mixture a squeeze of lemon juice or a grating of lemon zest if you feel like it. This recipe yields quite a bit of pesto, so store the remainder in an airtight container {Sophie’s recipe had you adding this to a pound of delicious penne pasta as a dinner course}.

In a large frying pan, space apart three strips of paper and cook for two minutes on each side. When done, generously slather the cheesy pesto onto both sides of the warmed ciabatta roll. Fold the strips of bacon, and if you’ve got a handful of arugula or spinach, feel free to toss that into the lot.

Enjoy!

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pearl barley and baby kale, corn + sausage salad

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I’m closing on my first week without my beloved noodle, and it appears as if I will survive. I’ve stocked my fridge with vegetables, fruit, and meats, and my pantry with beans and whole grains. Thankfully, I’ve some pretty stellar cookbooks from which to draw inspiration, and today’s lunch will be a terrific one.

The original recipe {view it here} calls for mushrooms and red onions, two ingredients I abhor, so I opted to switch things up a bit, and nix the hummus {while I adore hummus, it didn’t make sense for my revision}, mushrooms, and onions. The result? Fresh, flavorful, filling.

And yes, I still miss pasta.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Jane Coxwell’s Fresh Happy Tasty: An Adventure in 100 Recipes, with modifications.
Makes 4 servings
1/2 cup pearl barley {you can also use Israeli couscous}
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 small shallot, finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1-2 sweet sausages, casing(s) removed {depends on how much sausage you want in the recipe}
1 ear of organic sweet corn
Maldon salt or other flaky salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice from ½ lemon
1 handful organic baby kale leaves
1/2 cup dill leaves
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

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DIRECTIONS
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the barley and cook for about 30 minutes, or until tender. If you’re using Israeli couscous, cook the grains per the package directions.

While the barley {or couscous} is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over low heat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes, stirring often to keep them for burning. Combine the pine nuts and shallot in a large bowl.

Using the same frying pan over high heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and the sausage(s). Sauté for about 4 minutes, or until the sausages have some good color. Add them to the bowl with the shallots and pine nuts.

In the same pan over medium-high heat, add some more olive oil if necessary and the corn on the cob. Cook the corn for about 5 minutes, or until it’s nicely colored all over. It’ll make a bit of noise and spit a tiny bit, but don’t worry—the heat shouldn’t be high enough to make it pop and splatter!

Drain the barley {or couscous, if you’re using} and add it to the skillet with the corn, and add salt and pepper to taste. Saute for another minute. Give it a taste, then squeeze in the juice of half a lemon.

Add the handful of baby kale leaves, pine nuts, sausage, and shallot, and mix well. Garnish with the dill and parsley and serve.

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arugula salad with fried haloumi + peaches

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Your ego and ambition will be your ruin. Someone told me this once, said it slowly and quietly, as I nursed a torn hamstring back to health. I winced my way through poses and found I could only bend over so far. Everything hurt back then because I was the sort of person who dissected a moment and saw what it could be, rather than what it was. All the clocks were wound five minutes fast, and I lived in the odd space between this moment and a time that was in my periphery. It was as if I was in two places, here, but not quite, and never really there.

Here I was practicing yoga for seven years and I still didn’t know how to be present. I breathed through the dark spaces only as a means to get to the next pose. I endured rather than surrendered, and it was only until I incurred an injury in a pose I wasn’t ready to practice, that I realized that my ego was a hysterical blindness. I saw the shape of the pose, actually felt my body drift toward it, but the reality was a pulled hamstring in bound triangle pose and me smothering a whimper.

Because god forbid I hurt.

I’ve been thinking about ego lately as I’ve steadfastly returned to my practice, but have found that poses that were once effortless to be anything but, and although I know it’s insane to think that in a few short months I can bring back seven years of consistent, diligent work, but part of me always feels that during my practice. Part of me always says: I used to be able to drop-back. I used to be able to invert. Why can’t my body take this familiar shape?

I’m also reminded of a sweet afternoon spent with a friend and fellow yogi, Julia. Over croissants, she laughed and said, This is yoga practice, not yoga perfect, and I nodded and realized that the journey was in the work. The journey was a body receiving a breath and inching forward to a shape.

At the height of my practice, I was a deft back-bender who had open hips. Inversions were my peril and I was forever doomed with tight hamstrings. Forward bends were cruel and handstands were my private purgatory. Today I felt myself easing back, coming so close to a drop-back, and my teacher came over and said, Not yet. Give it some time. Time. The one thing that eludes me. The one thing I have to mindful of.

So this ego of mine is at bay, and instead I practice. Knowing that one day I’ll get there. But in the interim, I’ll have some fried cheese and peaches.

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INGREDIENTS: Serves 4
6 cups of wild arugula
1 package of haloumi, drained, cut into slices, 1/2 inch thick
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes {the kind packed in olive oil}
3 peaches, sliced
1/2 cup blueberries
2 tbsp olive oil
Cracked pepper

DIRECTIONS
Toss all of the ingredients + serve. It’s as simple and delightful as that!

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get your food swoon on: bacon, figs + spinach sandwich

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I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. ― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Is it strange to hold a number but not feel the shape of it? The clocks are an altogether different matter — they force a kind of inventory. You stare at your hands, inspect your face under the glare of a sun that threatens to set your skin aflame, and contort your body this way and that. A mask, a doll, a funhouse mirror, a forest — you are all and none of these things, and you stare at photographs as a reminder of the person you used to be. As instructed, you’ve taken the inventory, you’ve done the maths, and all you’re left with are the additions. And as a result, all that has been taken away. This wasn’t what you used to look like, you think. You scramble to compare a photo taken then and a photo taken now, and you chart the minor (and sometimes significant) differences.

I’m 37, but I don’t feel it. No, that’s not true. I feel some it. I feel the quiet and patience that comes with having lived through the torrent, having felt the undertow, of having almost gone under, but didn’t. I’ve imagined all the ways in which I can end, complete — from a plane hurtling into the ocean to a wisp of air sputtering out in the middle of sleep — so the trash can flames and basement floods don’t incite the terror they once had the capacity to do. I feel something of the severe in terms of managing the multiplications. There was a time when I’d wake to a face covered in barnacles, all those who cling, burrow and fiercely attach to only drain, and I’d try to yank them off and tire from their resilience. Now I walk around with a scalpel, ready for the scraping. I feel a body slowly not able to recover like it used to. I feel the softness that won’t easily harden. I can start to see the years in my eyes and on patches of my face.

I’m 37, but I don’t feel it because I feel as if I’ve only just woken up. Had I been asleep all this time? Had I been dreaming?

This week an old friend tells me that my greatest challenge (there’s another challenge? I laugh in a way that isn’t funny) is taking comfort in the betweens. There was a time when I worked in marketing and only saw myself as a writer. Refusing to write jacket and campaign copy because it would ruin — I was a woman who would not bend. Then there was a time when I was all slideshows and key performance indicators, and all the important people in my life don’t even know I’d written a book. Don’t know I’m writing a new one. So my friend tells me that I’ve got to find a way to reconcile the two. Torch the masks and meet the world with this one face, these two hands, this one mind, divided.

We talk about the kids and their entitlement, which is sometimes true, but I wonder if we’re a little envious. If we want to age in reverse — start knowing too much to knowing nothing at all, and living every moment in the wonder of the next. It used to infuriate me to hear children cry because I wanted them to know how good they have it. How every moment forward brings a newness that they’ll never get back.

I’m 37 and I hear about the too lates, the new starts, the pivots, the awakenings — and I want to torch all of it.

I wonder if instead of us staring at photographs, obsessing over the surface of things, perhaps we can attempt to create a map of the country that is our heart, the cities that are our mind in swell, in bloom. We gawk at the largeness of it, of all that we’ve become and achieved, and perhaps we need this laid down on paper. Perhaps we need this taped to our mirrors, festooned on the walls. Perhaps then we’ll stop thinking about the maths, the numbers.

I don’t have an answer, but I know that I want to move in the direction of our heart being a country.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe inspired by Joanne Chang’s Famous Applewood Smoked BLT recipe in Flour, Too (Serves two)
8 slices applewood-smoked bacon, thick cut
4 slices good-quality slice sourdough bread
2 tbsp butter
2 cups baby spinach
12 figs, quartered
1 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette
Sea Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil and preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place bacon on the cookie sheet and bake for 24-28 minutes, until half is crispy and half is still a little bendy. Remove from oven. Lightly toast bread. Spread each slice with a tablespoon of butter. As I need to keep my dairy in check, I used Earth Balance butter. Top two slices with baby spinach and quartered figs, a drizzle of vinaigrette and bacon. Season with salt to taste. Top with second slice of bread. Cut in half and serve.

a week of eats, in grams

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What’s better than a life on your own schedule, writing, and yoga during the day? FOOD. Endless amounts of it. Hatching plans over long lunches, celebrating minor victories and catching up with old friends and new, each week I find myself racing around the city, eating until I have to roll home on the subway.

1/2. Kale Salad + Cheeseburgers @ Back Forty West, Soho | 3. Delectable Chicken Panini + Kale Pesto @ Kaffe 1668, TriBeca | 4. Almond Croissant that Reminds me of Paris @ Cafe Dada, Brooklyn | 5/6/7. Rosemary Mac + Cheese, Kale + Citrus Salad, Fried Chicken @ Bubby’s, TriBeca | Creamy Pasta Pesto @ La Pizza Fresca, Flatiron | Cashew (Vegan) Mac + Cheese @ Squeeze Truck in Union Square

persian jeweled rice

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There was a time when I stacked unread magazines. Hoarded issues of The New Yorker, Bon Appetit and Harvard Business Review, for the thought of opening a single issue would send me into a state of apoplexy. My life, for a time, could not handle complexity. I was a fragile thing, prone to only managing complexity in small doses, so I have to say that after four years of living under anesthesia, it feels good to READ. It feels joyous to immerse myself in a magazine and make recipes that take an extraordinary amount of time, just because.

I’ll also have you know that I’m reading, which has been helping tremendously in terms of my story writing. In the past month, I’ve devoured Nick Flynn’s The Reenactments, Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, V. Nabokov’s The Eye, Bill Clegg’s Ninety Days, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem (re-read), among a pile of art books acquired in Paris, and I’m finally, FINALLY, keeping up with my Bon Appetit. Which brings me to this lovely dish made in the evening during a long, cold weekend.

I’m going to hold on to this feeling for as long as I possibly, possibly can.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit
1/4 cup unsalted, shelled raw natural pistachios
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 cups basmati rice
Kosher salt
1 orange
1/2 cup sugar
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into matchstick-size pieces*
1/4 cup dried barberries or 1/2 cup dried cranberries*
1/4 cup raisins*
1/4 tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground turmeric

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NOTES IN THE MARGINS
Dried barberries, sold as zereshk, are available at Middle Eastern markets and kalustyans.com. However, I had dried cherries, Turkish apricots (which I finely diced) and golden raisins on hand, which made this recipe sing. I’d also use dried mango or blueberries, if you have them as well. Use what you have on hand when it comes to dried fruit instead of making the fuss of ordering items on online. Unless that’s your bag, in which case, Kalustyans is the BUSINESS.

Also, I used 3/4 cup of pre-chopped (cubed) carrots, if you’re looking to save a little time.

Be forewarned, this recipe will take a little over two hours from start to finish. Don’t cut corners, don’t NOT read the recipe — the joy is in the process, in the alchemy of taking simple ingredients to make extraordinary flavors and textures. This recipe was calming for me, methodic in a way that baking feels, so I invite you to take it easy, spend time with this because the results will be well worth the journey. You’ll love the candied taste of the orange peel, the smokiness of the nuts and the crunchiness of the rice and charred bits at the bottom of the pan. I felt AWAKE after eating this rice, it was that GOOD.

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350°. Spread pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate, let cool, then coarsely chop. Spread almonds on the same baking sheet and toast until golden brown, 5–8 minutes; let cool. Set nuts aside.

Place rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Cook rice in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until grains have lengthened but are still firm, 6–7 minutes; drain and rinse under cold water. Spread rice on another rimmed baking sheet; let cool.

Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, remove zest from orange and thinly slice lengthwise (reserve flesh for another use). Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add orange zest and carrots, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender, 15–20 minutes; drain and set aside (discard syrup).

Combine barberries and raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water; let soak 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Place saffron in another small bowl and add 1/4 cup hot water; set aside.

Heat butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until soft and beginning to brown, 8–10 minutes. Add cardamom, cumin, turmeric, and 1 tablespoon saffron mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Reduce heat to low, add barberries and raisins, and cook, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Stir in reserved nuts and orange zest and carrot mixture; season with salt. Set fruit and nut mixture aside.

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Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large wide heavy pot over medium heat. Add half of rice, spreading evenly; top with fruit and nut mixture, then remaining rice, spreading evenly. Using the end of a wooden spoon, poke 5–6 holes in rice all the way through to bottom of pot (to help release steam and help rice cook evenly).

Drizzle remaining saffron mixture over rice. Place a clean kitchen towel over pot, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and secure loose edges of towel on top of lid, using a rubber band or masking tape.

Cook until pot begins to steam, 5–8 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and cook, without stirring, until rice is tender and bottom layer of rice is browned and crisp, 30–40 minutes.

Scoop rice into a wide serving bowl, breaking bottom crust into pieces.

DO AHEAD: Fruit and nut mixture can be made 2 days ahead. Cover fruit and nut mixture and remaining saffron mixture separately and chill.

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

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

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

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

No such luck.

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

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

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

THE STRUGGLE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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eats in biarritz, france

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Those who know me well know I’m a creature of habit. Once I like a spot, I tend to fixate on it and ignore everything else within a ten-mile radius. Closing in on a much-needed (we’re talking dire straights, people) three-week European food odyssey, I’ve had my share of mediocre food, so every place I patron is heavily researched and every menu, inspected. There’s also the issue of price, as I’ve passed a few Michelin-starred spots, whose menus are pretty exorbitant.

Naturally, my preferred spots are far from French (cue the shame chorus), but it’s been interesting to see the Basque influence on Italian + Mexican cooking.

Possibly my favorite of the lot is Taco Mex. Located down a steep alleyway, you wouldn’t think much of the place at first glance. You’re greeted with a large billboard of a menu outlined with a glowing cactus, but inside, INSIDE, the food is spectacular and the service, personalized.

The owner not only prepares your dishes in front of you, but guides you to the “taco bar” and explains the magic: sauce pairings, accoutrements and the like. To say that I didn’t dream of the potatoes cooked in chorizo fat dressed with crème fraîche would be a vast understatement. The sauces are extraordinary, the guacamole homemade, and even the CHIPS (homemade) are stellar. I’ve been hitting this place every night and it fails to disappoint.

If you adore Italian food just as much as I do, you will want to check out Al Dente and Il Giardino — a block separates the two. Both have been my go-to lunch spots, as they have a stellar prix-fixe ($13-$16 for a three-course meal), and the homemade pasta is spot-on. Il Giardino won my heart with its gnocchi, puffed pillows covered in a delicate four-cheese sauce and its tender miniature meatballs.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve traveled to capitals and small towns, and never did I think that my memories would be rooted in Tuscany, Biarritz and San Sebastian. Places where I thought I’d pass through, not remain, settle and completely relax.

dispatches from firenze: the finest chicken you’ll ever eat in your life

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We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience. ― Joan Didion, The White Album

Last night I slept on pavement, a sliver of concrete that is a terrace that overlooks the Ponte Vecchio. My journey started one way and ended in another. I tossed. I turned. I fluffed and punched pillows. I read Susan Faludi’s searing profile of the radical feminist, Shulamith Firestone, a woman who sought an unimpeded love but would never find it. I tongued pills and spit them out again. Until finally, I made a makeshift bed on my postage stamp of a terrace and fell asleep.

This is what happens when you allow things to consume you. All this anxiety over two bags making their way, albeit at a snail’s pace, to my hotel in Florence. All the while I convinced myself I was fine, just fine, and I’d prove it by going manic on social media. The equivalent of throwing a blanket over a fire, who knew my thumping heart would be composed of kindling? Who knew I’d burn from the inside out? Who knew the whole of the past two months would plague me, like swallows, and I’d drown in the swarm. Water. Fire. One tends to oscillate between the extremes.

But. But. I refuse to let this happen when I’ve made this brave decision to leave a job that was killing me, when I finally pried open my eyes and mouth, and let all the moth balls flutter out. Then I let all the right people in. No way will I be my own ruin. So I did what I know best to do and took some time, and will continue taking it. We often want to create tremendous noise — a holocaust of sound — all because we’re frightened to hear our own voice. We’re terrified of the words we might say, thoughts that give shape and form to our singular experience. When we say it out loud it suddenly becomes real, and can we bear it out? Can we endure the hours after?

So this is what I tried to do. I spent the early morning hours in the Uffizi, wandering the galleries. What a joy it was to ghost the rooms of a near-empty museum, a place free of phones, cameras and the hoards of chattering groups. It was just me, my own footfalls, and a considerable amount of Botticellis.

Later, tipped off by Lauren, I checked out Trattoria Sostanza (read Elizabeth Minchilli’s astute review). Tucked away on a side street, the eatery is nondescript, homely even, but the word-of-mouth on the pollo al burro was too formidable to dismiss.

I NEED TO PAUSE HERE AND SIMPLY STATE THAT TODAY I’VE EATEN THE BEST CHICKEN I WILL LIKELY EVER EAT. IN. MY. LIFE.

Two breasts are charred while butter browns. The meat is dredged in egg and flour and cooks in cast-iron pan in a pool of sweet butter. The result are tender breasts steeped in butter and thawing the iceberg that is my heart. One would think that the dish would be heavy, fatty, but this is not the case. The technique locks in the flavor, and the chicken is neither greasy or heavy, but rather tender and yielding. OBVIOUSLY I DIPPED EACH PIECE OF MEAT INTO BUTTER. OBVIOUSLY.

And can we talk about the butter lettuce salad? Normally, I’m all blase about an appetizer, but the leaves were so fresh and the oil so perfect I nearly cried eating my salad.

The seating is communal, so I queried folks around me and everyone was thick in the business of cleaning their plate. From thick slabs of beef steak to stuffed tortellini to rich soups, everyone was lapping it up with the fresh ciabatta.

I left, satiated and calmer than I was the following evening. The rest of the day was spent napping, walking, climbing 436 steps to the Duomo cupola and reading Joan Didion.

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dispatches from florence: food in firenze {1}

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Would you believe that as soon as I dumped my bags at the hotel and yelled at Alitalia, I ran out into the streets of Florence determined to eat. Typing this now, I’m pining for a green juice as I’ve never eaten so much pasta, focaccia, gelato, and parma ham in a span of three days. Imagine the moment when I set eyes on a chicken breast — I nearly cried. Don’t get me wrong, a woman loves her crudo with the best of them, but I am longing for some virtue. Or for my Tracy Anderson DVDs to arrive in Florence. THANKS, ALITALIA!

But onward! When traveling to Florence, elastic is highly recommended. Leggings, yoga pants, anything that will refrain from reminding you that no sane person should be eating gelato at EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL. or BEFORE. AND. AFTER. MEALS. (read: me). I first hit up Venchi, home to artisanal chocolate since 1878. From the cocoa-topped, feather-light cappuccinos to the whipped dark chocolate gelatos to the rows of wrap individual chocolates, you will want to bathe in nougat. Spy on the robust outdoor leather market from the upstairs nook, whilst sipping your coffee.

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Since it was a few scant hours since my last gelato fix, I decided to hop into Coronas Cafe. Located near the Duomo, you’ll find unexpected flavors (figs, passionfruit, coconut creme, mandarine, meringue) along with the usual suspects, and the price is pretty favorable for an ice cream that was creamy, light, luscious and flavorful. The space is open + colorful, and if you’re not keen on cones and sweets, swing by the other side for a bevy of mortadella sarnis, crudos, sandwiches, cookies, cornettos and other Florentine delights. You won’t be disappointed, and since it’s been a few hours since my last gelato, I might slip out after writing this post and tuck myself in an alleyway with some passionfruit. Consider me addicted.

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Usually I eschew all eateries recommended by hotels, as they’re often in financial cahoots, leaving me with tepid greens, suspicious lighting, and an outrageous bill. However, everyone in the free world has raved about my hotel, which I quite like save for the odd smell in the lobby (for another time, friends), so I decided to break my cardinal rule and ferret out recommendations from the concierge. And I’m glad I did, for Caffe Pitti was an exquisite pick. Steps away from the Ponte Vecchio and located on the Palazzo Pitti, the restaurant offers traditional Florentine dishes with a touch of creativity. Their quite known for their truffles from the natural reserve of San Miniato, a true rarity which highlights Pitti as the one and only place where each dish assumes an extraordinary depth. For fifteen euros, I enjoyed a delicious primi of pesto and perhaps the best chicken I’ve had in years. Soaked in lemon and butter, the breast was tender, falling apart, and begged to be consumed, voraciously. And if you’re not keen on a full-on meal, you can opt to order a DIY sandwich from Botteghina, where you can sample local cheeses and meats from the region — all on fresh focaccia.

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Are you surprised that I found a cookie? I stumbled upon Migone, an old-school sweets shop located near the Duomo. Although the prices are steep (I spent $40 for these cookies + a few packages of homemade chocolates), the confections are decadent. You’ll find traditional Florentine sweets including panforte, ricciarelli and cantuccini, as well as delightfully packaged chocolates and candied sweets. Well worth a visit, albeit an expensive one.

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Finally, a former coworker informed me of a sandwich spot I would’ve surely missed: All’Antico Vinaio. If you’re aching for a spot that is purely patroned by the locals, this is it. It’s a proverbial shoebox joint, with a great wine list and a terrific selection of fresh meats and local cheeses. The bread, my friends, is FUCKING OUTSTANDING. I stood outside the eatery and devoured my sandwich. Did I mention that the bread was WARM and YIELDING. I will definitely be back for more.

Would you believe this is only my first day? Clearly I’ll need some Crisco to make it through customs at JFK.

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