Posted on October 7, 2015
While I’ve always loved food, I didn’t start cooking until I was in my mid-twenties. As a child in 1980s Brooklyn, I ate what was available, what my family could afford. We were inventive with $1 bodega chicken legs, bags of sprouting potatoes and cans of Chef Boyardee. And although there was a summer where we subsisted on bags of potatoes and food that was best suited for hot pot cooking, limitations gave way to creativity. I’ve always harbored a deep respect and appreciation for good food because for so long I wasn’t privileged to have it. I didn’t have a real salad until I was in college–back then salad felt frivolous because who would spend $10 for a plate of leaves when you could get a whole meal for that money? And I didn’t get serious about cooking and baking until recovering from a drug problem forced me to do something else to occupy my hands.
Back then I cycled through a handful of recipes I’d learned from my best friend’s mother (fettuccine alfredo, lasagne, Thanksgiving herbed stuffing), but it wasn’t until 2002 that I purchased my first cookbook, Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. Nights that were usually reserved from blackout drinking and drug use were now spent indoors, catatonic, watching The Food Network. Nigella made cooking accessible, fun, and my first experiment was a cheesecake where I used confectioner’s sugar instead of regular sugar (I rationed: was there really a difference. Answer: Indeed there is) and no one had a second bite. I purchased springform pans and sheet pans. I stocked a small cupboard in an apartment I shared with a friend with spices and flours. I baked chocolate cakes that splattered my walls. I made scones that resembled hockey pucks, and I managed to somehow screw up pasta.
For two years I failed miserably, but I kept on because there was something comforting about the alchemy of ingredients. And even though I made cakes that no one would dare eat or dinners that sometime resembled science experiments, the idea that I could possibly create something from nothing, that I could create instead of ruin, kept me going. I made a simple pound cake again and again until I got it right. All the money I’d spent on drugs and nights out were funnelled into shopping bags of food. Back then no one really photographed what they made, and I’m grateful since I made the kind of food that was hardly photogenic.
Over the years I always returned to the kitchen when I was lost, confused, heartbroken, and stressed. When I lost a great love and we divided one home into two, I stayed up late drinking vodka out of the bottle and making muffins. When I lived in an apartment building where an unhinged man played jazz until dawn, I made stuffed shells and coconut macaroons. When my then best friend came over my Brooklyn apartment (the one with the Pepto-pink bathroom), I made her pancakes and maple bacon, and when I lost her I kept thinking about her, and how she loved those cakes. I invited scores of people into my home for a clothing swap, which was really a vehicle to road-test these red velvet cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. The year I resigned from my job and lost Sophie, I’d spend days bound to an oven.
However, it wasn’t until last year that my relationship to food dramatically changed. In a course of four years I’d gained nearly 40 pounds and lost my taste for good food. I shoveled lunch at my desk while answering emails. I came home and collapsed onto my couch and then ordered pizza, thai food or pasta smothered in oil and cheese. I stopped reviewing my credit card bills because I was embarrassed by how much I ordered from Seamless Web.
And then I started to get sick. Really sick. Like stomach pain so bad it felt like my appendix would burst. I would lose my train of thought so often that it became noticeable. I was forever tired, sluggish, and sick. A visit with my doctor (who’s also a gut specialist) and a nutritionist revealed that not only was I on my way to diabetes, I had a leaky gut and I was literally beating up my insides because of my diet.
Because kale smoothies don’t count when you spend the rest of your day binging on paninis, bagels and pasta.
Sometimes I look back on my childhood and I can barely recognize it. There were months when my fridge was anemic and now, as an adult, it’s abundant. I’m humbled by my privilege and the fact that I can afford to shop at farmer’s markets and buy organic. What bookends these two versions of myself were constraints. Back then I was limited by income, now by what I couldn’t consume. For a year, I couldn’t eat gluten, dairy, and yeast. For 6-7 months the list of foods I couldn’t eat was so unbearable that I spent the holidays alone.
At first I was apoplectic, but then I got wise and creative. I forced myself to eat vegetables I’d never previously considered (cauliflower, brussels sprouts). I purchased vegan, paleo, Middle Eastern and Asian cookbooks, and over the course of a year my palate changed and my repertoire expanded. As a result, I’ve noticed that I now cleave toward salty/savory vs. sweet. I eat pasta and bread a couple of times a month instead of multiple times a DAY. And I focus more on the quality of the food I consume rather than its caloric content.
What once had been a hobby that busied my hands became the core of how I would cultivate relationships with people. When I stopped drinking, I’d have friends over for dinner instead of playing the role of detective with my receipts after a night out. Now we connect over our most primal of needs–food, instead of a bottle of wine that merely serves to rob us of memory. We are our most vulnerable selves when we eat, and my friendships are richer, deeper because of it.
When I moved to California I chose my apartment specifically because it’s an open space and I have a deck for outdoor entertaining. From where I’m writing this I face my kitchen and it feels normal to live in a space that combines art, words, work, food, and friendship.
Last night I had my friend Jamie over for dinner, and we spent hours on my deck, talking, eating, marveling over how almond meal renders chicken juicier. While we were talking, I thought about alcohol and other anaesthetic agents. People sometimes ask: do you miss it? Drinking. And I think about how much anesthesia rubs away–you always end up with less than what you started. And then I think about food, which, in my strange math, is always about addition and multiplication. Friendships are fertile. Love festers and grows.
APPLE PIE INGREDIENTS
For the filling
4 pounds apples, peeled, quartered, and cored (I do a mix of tart + sweet–whatever’s in season)
1 lemon, zested
Juice of the lemon you just zested
1/4 cup cane sugar, plus 1 tsp to sprinkle on top
1/4 cup gluten-free flour
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground allspice
For the pie crust
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) very cold salted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp cane sugar
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup very cold vegetable shortening (I use a non-hydrogenated kind I get from Whole Foods)
6 to 8 tbsp (about 1/2 cup) ice water
Preheat the oven to 375.
Chop each apple quarter in thirds crosswise and combine in a bowl with the zest, juice, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Set aside. Don’t worry about the apples browning — the acid from the fruit will halt the oxidation process.
Now you’re ready for the pie crust. I can’t stress enough how COLD the ingredients need to be. Dice the butter in tablespoons, and store it in the fridge while you prepare the flour mixture. Add the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse a few times to mix. Introduce the cider vinegar, butter and shortening. Pulse 8 to 12 times, until the butter is the size of peas. With the machine running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse the machine until the dough begins to form a ball. Dump out on a floured board and roll into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. You can also make this by hand with a pastry blender or the two fork method. However, after the nonsense with the apples I sometimes want to take the path of least resistance.
Once the dough is cold, cut it in half. Roll each piece on a well-floured board into a circle, rolling from the center to the edge, turning and flouring the dough to make sure it doesn’t stick to the board. Fold the dough in half, place in a pie pan, and unfold to fit the pan. Repeat with the top crust.
Roll out half the pie dough and drape it over a 9-inch pie dish to extend about 1/2-inch over the rim. Don’t stretch the dough; if it’s too small, just put it back on the board and re-roll it.
Fill the pie with the apple mixture. Brush the edge of the bottom pie crust with the egg wash so the top crust will adhere. Top with the second crust and trim the edges to about 1-inch over the rim. Tuck the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and crimp the 2 together with your fingers or a fork. Brush the entire top crust with the egg wash, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar, and cut 4 or 5 slits.
Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours (start checking after 45 minutes, and make sure you rotate your dish half-way through the cooking process so the pie will brown evenly), or until the crust is browned and the juices begin to bubble out. Serve warm.
FIG SALAD + CHICKEN CUTLET INGREDIENTS
For the salad
2 cups baby spinach
2 cups baby kale
8-10 figs, halved and quartered
olive oil/sea salt
For the chicken cutlets
2 tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp butter
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup almond meal
1 tbsp fresh minced thyme
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 lb chicken cutlets, pounded thin (this serves 4, but I cook the whole lot and store the leftovers for salads
Making the salad is as simple as it looks. One important note, though. I’d wait to dress/toss it in olive oil just when you’re about to serve the salad as you don’t want the leaves getting limp.
The chicken cutlets work like an old-school assembly line. Heat the butter/oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the salt. In another bowl, mix the almond meal, thyme and pepper. Dunk the cutlets in the egg mixture, then dredge in the flour mixture. Fry on both sides (4-5 minutes each) until slightly charred. I kept the cutlets warm in a 175F oven.
Posted on October 3, 2015
This morning I woke to watch Taiye Selasi talk about origin, specifically how to tackle that seemingly simple question: Where are you from? I’ve been thinking about origin a lot, how it’s not possible that we come from a concept or place, but rather we self-identify through our rituals and our beloveds. We cleave to that which feels like a home and allows us to be our truest selves. I’ve also been thinking about this because the place I used to consider my home feels foreign, and it may not necessarily be the place I would return to. If you do anything today, please watch Taiye’s brief talk as she has the ability in a brief time to truly make you think.
I had the chance to return to New York this month and I couldn’t do it. Even the thought of it give me anxiety. JFK, the cab line, the subways, the frenzy–all I would care about are the people. People whom I live and miss every day. I guess my home doesn’t resemble a home because it’s always in a state of constant repair. Over the years I’d find places I knew erased, and the flavor, the fucking verve, has been whitewashed. Right now it feels as if I’d be flying into a shopping mall–my friends’ familiar faces fighting to rise above the motley lot. Right now I don’t know if I’ll head home for the holidays because right now, Los Angeles feels right. Admittedly, I’m a tourist here. I don’t have a car and work, and the simple act of adjustment to a new surroundings and routines keeps me on the Westside with intermittent treats out east and north. I know I’ve time to navigate my new home, and I’ve no urgency to leave it because there’s so much to navigate. A new language to learn. This weekend I’m immersing myself in a stack of books–all in an effort to make sense of this place. All in an effort to shift my view from something vague and elusive to something tactile, real, visceral and specific. I watch harrowing documentaries. I talk to people more. I read the local paper. I want to get involved in my community in a way that’s meaningful and decidedly offline. I’m making plans to navigate this city with new friends and old. I ask everyone when it will get cold. Cold is relative, they respond. Come January everyone will be in boots and a winter coat and the temperature will hover around 45/50F, depending. I think about the desert. Often. I think about water. Always.
I feel here what I haven’t felt in decades. Curious. Energized. A need to take nothing I have or see for granted.
I guess you can see I’m tethered to a feeling of California. Of planting roots and settling. When people ask me where I’m from, I’ll consider the question, and the weight of it, more deeply. Because I’m connected to New York in the sense that it is part of my makeup; I’m connected to L.A. because of an awakening, and there are parts of the world where I feel my footprints because whenever I travel back there (Bali, Thailand, China, Spain) it feels familiar, like a home–our place of origin is in the periphery, it doesn’t define our identity.
I spent the morning working, working out, and at the farmer’s market. The spring onions were fat and enormous and I had to use 4 stalks instead of 8. Chorizo wasn’t available this week so I settled for a heady andouille. And the rosemary was soapy, spritely and fresh, and I spent time listening to music, cooking, all the while my Felix looked on.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook (I changed it from a stew to a rice topper + switched around a few ingredients based on what I had on hand),
1 tbsp olive oil
8 spring onions, finely sliced (whites separated from green)
1 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
400 g/15oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 chorizo sausages in casings, cut into 1 inch rounds (I used andouille sausage, instead)
2 tbsp sherry vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
Salt/pepper for seasoning
1 cup basmati rice
1 3/4 cup vegetable stock or water
1 tsp chopped rosemary
In a large frying pan, heat the oil. Add the white part of the spring onions, rosemary, paprika and the chickpeas to the pan and fry for 2 minutes on a high heat.
Add the chorizo/andouille to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Add the vinegar. Cook gently, uncovered for a further 10 minutes stirring occasionally before.
While this is cooking, add your rice, rosemary, and water/stock to a small pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down to low, cover, and let cook for 10-15 minutes, checking over so often. When done, fluff with a fork, and all the rice to a large bowl. Top with the spiced chickpea + sausage mixture.
Add the green tops of the spring onions and serve.
Posted on June 28, 2015
It seems to me then as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time. ―W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
You feel what follows you. Lately I’ve been thinking about an old friend. Let’s call her K. We met at Columbia, at one of those forced gatherings where everyone was fresh-faced and feckless. Where everyone traded stories about their high hours at Bowdoin and Swarthmore, or talked about the new Rick Moody and the old Joan Didion. They were mostly white and hailed from New England or some other tony town they were intent on fleeing. Towns that would forever haunt their fiction, even though they didn’t know it, even though they were equally desperate not to show it. I thought I had this game racked having graduated from Fordham, where affluence was ubiquitous, where my friends rowed crew or played lacrosse. College was the first place I learned that people could summer and winter. But this was a whole other level of wealth–my classmates had the kind of money that afforded them the ease of worrying about how to fill the hours, while I was calculating the time from now until I had to return to work so I could afford all the books and supplies necessary to learn how to write.
I remember sitting on the grass eyeing the exits, wondering if it would be rude to run. What was I doing here–a failed banker turned dot-comer–with my stack of sloppy, overwrought stories about my mother? I’d spent much of life writing my way to her as if she were an undertow from which I wanted escape and absolution. While these strangers had their two-floor homes and childhood rebellions, I had a specter with hair that was a forest I’d spent my childhood wanting to get lost in and the feeling that I would never fit in. These strangers would soon read my stories (and butcher them) and I was frightened of being second rate, of being found out.
I thought again about running. There was still time to withdraw. I could cancel the loans, get back my deposit and go on with my life. I wonder now how my life would have been different if I left. I think about that a lot sometimes, although I try hard not to because there’s no sense in revisiting a past that’s impossible to rewrite.
Then someone suggested an icebreaker: let’s all name our favorite authors. I thought I was well-read until I heard my classmates speak. When it came my turn I talked about Salinger, Cheever and Bret Easton Ellis. I’d read American Psycho in college and I was obsessed with Pat Bateman’s pathology and the nihilism in Ellis’ work. This guy was dark and I was having all of it. And although it was a dark that was foreign to me–wealth, beauty, privilege–Ellis’ rage, anger and rawness was palpable. These were pretty people doing ugly things and not giving a fuck about it, and when I was 24 that was all I wanted to talk about.
Judging from the uncomfortable silence I was the only one in the group who wanted to talk about Bret Eason Ellis. Until K. Until a beautiful blond from California–specifically, Newport Beach–leaned into me and confessed that she loved Bret Easton Ellis. We became fast friends because I suppose we felt like outcasts. She took a workshop with Ben Marcus and everyone skewered her stories set in Los Angeles and Vegas. They judged her striking beauty and her predilection for tight clothes. And I, well, I was strange, insecure.
Back then I was the kind of woman who’d already be drowning before I set foot in the water. You’ll drown before the water lets you in. The trick, what I’d mastered, was how to breathe while treading water.
K had a sister, and their story played out like Less Than Zero. K was the good daughter, although her family thought it silly that she’d fought hard to go graduate school (To write? On the East Coast?) because she’d only come home to marry a real estate developer and bear his children in their McMansion. But they allowed her this diversion, this temporary $100,000 vacation while her sister liked her party favors more than she should.
Looking back, I think K and I became close because we were alone, lonely.
After my first semester I dropped out of the writing program because I too liked my party favors more than I should, while K pressed on, writing her stories. We were friends for the two years she remained in New York, and I remember following her out to Los Angeles for a week-long vacation. It was the second time since I’d been to California (the first was a Greyhound I took to meet a pen pal when I was 17), and I climbed into her SUV at LAX and she laughed at my-all black outfit and told me I had to change. We spent that week drinking in yacht clubs and doing far too many drugs. And for a long time that’s how I regarded Los Angeles–a city where one could so easily drown. A prettified place where one comes undone. I boarded a plane back to New York and I felt strange. I felt a clock ticking, our friendship expiring. It would be another year until she’d tell me that she wanted to go back home, she had to because California was home.
Where does everyone go when they say they have to go?
This would be a year before we sat on the shoreline in a beach in Miami watching the sky paint the waves black. This would be a year before she’d order ceviche and we’d sneak out of our cheap motel with scratchy blankets for dinner at the Delano. This would be a year before she’d tell me that we’d always be friends. This would be two years before I learned that we wouldn’t always be friends.
You feel what follows you.
It’s been over a decade since K and I have spoken. She’s married with a beautiful child, living in a home with a man I never liked. And it occurs to me that this is the coda to the two stories of friends I’ve lost (I’ll meet S a few years later after K), the refrain of look at her get married, look at her have children, look at her go… It occurs to me that S and K are from Los Angeles. We share a broken familial lineage, a history of drugs, and intense loneliness.
It’s only until this week did I take responsibility for two great loves falling out of my life. Granted, they’re not without fault, but while they climbed their way out of the dark I was still content on burrowing my way in. I wore my sorrow proud, and felt defined by my history. For years I hated Los Angeles–I used all the storied stereotypes, talked about how I was team Biggee, went on about how could one live in a city filled with so many cars–because the place of their origin was a reminder of their limits. Maybe there came a point when they decided it wasn’t worth it to follow me into the dark. Perhaps they realized before me that pain wasn’t beautiful, cathartic or romantic–it was just pain and they were tired of feeling it. It would take me years to climb out and I did it mostly alone.
I’m this close to signing the lease on my new home in Los Angeles. Come September I’ll be in a new home, and I’m relieved that I no longer conflate an entire state with my broken friendships.
This weekend I found myself cleaning, sorting, packing, and I came across photographs of me and K from that weekend we took in Miami. I think about her now, I wonder about the terrific stories she wrote that she never published, and I hope she’s happy. I hope they’re both happy.
You feel what follows you.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, slightly modified.
For the crust
3 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup toasted almonds, divided
1/4 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
For the filling
1 pound strawberries, stemmed and cut in half
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp maple syrup, divided
3/4 cup + 1 tbsp apple juice, divided
3/4 tsp powdered gelatin (the original recipe called for agar flakes, but I couldn’t even find these in the specialty store)
1 tsp arrowroot (you can also use cornstarch)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups fresh raspberries
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line the bottom of a 9inch springform pan with parchment paper, and lightly oil the sides.
Grind 1/3 cup almonds, oats and salt in a food processor until coarsely ground, about twenty seconds. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the flour. Hand chop the remaining 1/3 cup of almonds and add to the mixture. Drizzle in the olive oil, and mix with a fork until all the flour is moistened. Add maple syrup, vanilla, and almond extract. Mix well until evenly incorporated. Wash and dry your hands and then press crust evenly into the prepared pan until you’re a 1/2 inch up on the sides. Prick bottom several times with a fork and bake for 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Raise the oven temperature to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Add strawberries and drizzle with olive oil and 1 tbsp of maple syrup. Toss until coated and roast for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Combine 3/4 cup apple juice and gelatin in a small heavy-bottomed pot and bring to boil over a high heat. Whisk, cover the coat, bring the temp down to low and allow it to simmer for five minutes. In a small bowl dissolve the arrowroot in 1 tbsp of apple juice and slowly drizzle into the hot gelatin mixture, whisking vigorously. Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining tablespoon of maple syrup and vanilla. Set aside, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
Place roasted strawberries in a bowl and pour in the warm gelatin mixture. Stir gently with a rubber spatula. Add raspberries, and toss until evenly distributed. Working quickly, transfer the mixture to the baked tart shell and carefully spread out the filling in an even layer. Refrigerate for 25-30 minutes until filling is completely set.
Posted on June 8, 2015
What a weekend. Actually, I’m glad it’s over, and I never thought I’d say those words aloud. On Sunday, I discovered this print via an online friend and I bought it, immediately. If I could mark these words along my body, I would, because sometimes I need to be reminded of the obvious. Ignore the expletives, which only serve as shock value (although in this day and age fuck seems less profane and more commonplace), for the advice is spare and honest.
This weekend, I learned that an old friend ushered in a new life, and while I’m happy for her this happiness is imbued with a certain kind of sadness. The kind of sadness where you’re nostalgic about the friendship you used to have, the people you used to be, even if you realize both have no a place in the life you’re living now. Sometimes you think of this friendship as if it were a postcard and it hurts to remember all the strained, uncomfortable silences that punctuated between the lines. You know the friendship ran its course, was good for what it was while you had it, but still.
It also occurred to me that I’m leaving, really leaving. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on joining the legions of long-term tourists and their cringeworthy odes to Joan Didion’s seminal essay because there’s no romance in my leaving, it’s just something I need to do. I’ll spare you the diatribe, but I will say this: one day I woke up and my home became a stranger. One day I was a sophomore in college and everyone I knew had the same points of reference–most of us grew up here, lived our lives here, but time took it all, whitewashed our references, and while others strayed, I remained and struggled to preserve what it was like to be a city kid. And then came a moment when I thought it would be nice to stop struggling. It would be nice to have a new point of entry, frame of reference, and the decision to leave came as swiftly as the sorrow that preceded it.
But I’m rotten at goodbyes–I prefer hellos. So there’s that, and all the logistics (financial and otherwise) that I’ve got to manage within two months. It’s…a lot.
When I read the aforementioned print, a line lingered: The problem contains the fucking solution. Pacing my home, I kept saying that line, over and over. I wrote down each worry, every consideration and dissected it to find the solution. With regard to my former friend, I was sad that I’ll only have the kind of closure I’ve created for myself, and I have to let it all go. And on it goes. On to the next. Committing to paper all the problems and ferreting out the solutions.
Is it no longer that I couldn’t make anything other than what can be tossed into a blender?
Thank pony it’s Monday.
1 cup of almond (or coconut) milk
1/2 cup fresh mango, diced
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
2 tbsp of your favorite protein powder
1 tbsp coconut flakes
1 cup spinach
For smoothies, I tend to start with the base of liquid, fruit, powder, and then I’ll add my vegetables. I’ll blitz this in my Vitamix (you could use a high-powered blender) and then I’ll add the ice so the smoothies doesn’t get watery and all the ingredients cohere. Drink immediately!
Posted on June 3, 2015
But I opened my eyes too suddenly, for no reason at all, and the beach at East Hampton has vanished, along with Bluebell and the cats, all of them dead for years now. The Turkish towel is in reality the white nubbly counterpane of the bed I am lying in, and the cool ocean breeze is being provided by the blessed air conditioner. It is ninety-three degrees outside — a terrible day in New York City. So much for my daydream of sand and sea and roses. The daydream was, after all, only a mild attack of homesickness. The reason it was a mild attack instead of a fierce one is that there are a number of places I am homesick for. East Hampton is only one of them. –From the Preface of Maeve Brennan’s The Rose Garden
I want to go. Now. My landlord asks me if I can send him my utility bill for a rebate. In response, I turn off my phone and bury it under a blanket. At home, where I’m lulled into an odd delusion of serenity, horns blare for five hours straight. Amidst all of this anger, all of this come on, now. All of this I have to be somewhere and why can’t the ant that is your car inch forward? Just drive. Why can’t you move your fucking–? Heel of the hand pumps hard. I’ll show them. I’ll beep this horn longer than they think I can. A woman shouts out her window, you’re a real big shot. You know that? And I don’t know if she’s talking about the dozens of ants in their cars honking or if she’s making small talk. There’s another woman who sometimes paces my block and she talks about how her face is peeling off. Her only salvation is Jesus Christ, so it’d be real good if you people could accept the Lord as your goddamn savior so my face can get back to what it was. I live in a neighborhood forever in repair. I live in a place where people move the curtains to one side, curious. Is her face really off? The woman bellows, can you hear me?
Oh, I can hear you. I think the only thing that can take off your skin is you smoking in the heat. Snakes like the desert; they prefer the heat.
Silence is a tree, I say once. In a forest, my pop says. Where no one’s there to hear it, I complete. I don’t buy that, my pop says. There’s always someone in the forest. A bird, an insect, a body covered in cool leaves–there’s always signs of life, my pop tells me. You can’t erase life out of a forest. One can’t unsound. And I say it’s not about the life which occupies the inside and perimeter, rather it’s our distance from it. So why a forest? Why not a boat in the ocean? A graveyard, he laughs. Ha ha. And I’m all straight when I say there’s probably more life among the dead than among the living. Look at the obsequious somnambulants–all of them–sleep-waking into their phones!
And so it goes.
Over the weekend I watch a funny movie about suicide. Trust me on this one. After the film, I keep thinking about the main character, Sophia, and how I have ashes of my Sophie on top of a bookcase and would it be cruel to put her away, somewhere quiet (but we’ve determined there is no quiet, no unsound, no fucking forest) because maybe it’s time? But this: I remember the rise and slump of her chest, how I held her–all four pounds of her–in my arms. I still own the sweater from the day when I last held her and I think about burning it. Would I keep those ashes in a tin nearby too? Is silence me in a bedroom crying into a chest where a heart no longer beats while a man with a needle and a woman with a towel wait patiently on the other side? Is silence the door that divides the two? Are we nothing if not the architects of our own forest, the makers of our own doors?
There’s a book on the floor, one I’ve been meaning to read–Half a Life. Tick toc, tick toc, toc.
I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life, a woman weeps. What is this, I think. I’ve become the sort of woman who cries over sentimental movies. I never used to be this way. I never used to cry. I used to go through my life not feeling much of anything.
I’m told that neural mirroring is a sign of empathy. Sit in front of a psychopath and yawn. For most, a yawn is contagious–people unconsciously mimic as a sign of compassion. Yet there are those who will sit across from you; they’ll engage in polite conversation and ask if you’re tired, and then you realize you’ve met someone who’s not interested in playing your yawning game. They’ve got their own forest. Their own locked doors. And then you wonder if rationality is standing behind your gossamer curtain, face up in flames. Because you’ve got the itch. Your skin is peeling if only you would just say the words. Give in to Augustine and Montaigne, into a book that foretells a white kingdom where only a privileged few are given trespass.
When I was younger I had a habit of chewing the ends of my hair. I quit it during college because eating one’s hair is the sort of thing that makes you stand out and the irony of college is that the training wheels have come off and being an adult becomes a precious exercise of blending in. Four years later I’m at a party in an apartment where the floor threatens to give way and Cate arrives with a white kingdom in a glassine bag and I’m still Christian. Back then, I still believe in a god but after that first line, after I twirl in a bathroom and maw at my ends, do I wonder if this vast white forest supersedes an old story in the oldest book.
I tell the story of silence like a knock-knock joke. I text my pop, what’s silence. We play this game. We’ve gotten good at it over the years. We rearrange the furniture, dust the curtains and put out a tray of stale cookies. Silence is the sound of holding your breath. Still looking for your forest, he says.
I suppose so. I suppose I will grow homesick for this forest when I make passage to another.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from A Modern Way to Eat (I’ve altered the recipe quite a bit)
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 cup seeds (1/3 cup hemp seeds, 1/3 cup sesame seeds, 1/3 cup black sesame seeds)
1 tsp baking powder
3 medium bananas, mashed
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp coconut milk (full-fat)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat your oven to 400F. Spray a loaf tin with coconut oil and dust with coconut flour.
Mix all the dry ingredients (flours, sugar, seeds, salt and baking powder) in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
In a separate bowl mash the bananas, then stir in the olive oil, coconut milk, vanilla extract and eggs.
Gently mix together the wet and dry ingredients, just until there are no pockets of flour left. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, then bake a little lower down in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the loaf comes out clean.
When the loaf is cool enough, transfer to a cooling rack. This is pretty yummy still warm, but also good at room temperature or toasted and spread with either butter and a little honey or almond butter. You can also use this as French toast or in bread puddings.
Posted on May 6, 2015
Nine months and a handful of days (give or take), and here’s me giving birth to a plate of halloumi covered in macerated fruit. We’ve come a long way baby from the days when I thought it logical to douse everything in cheese, and after nine months of keeping gluten and dairy in exile, I’m able to enjoy both again, albeit sparingly. And by sparingly I mean I can only have gluten or dairy every two weeks. For the rest of my life. I’m going to let that sink in for a second.
Last week I risked it, got cocky, had cheese on my burger and a bite of a tart, and I ended up breaking out in hives. That night I fell asleep with steroid cream slathered on my arms.
Good times, people. Good times.
The good news is that I’m no longer addicted to carbs. Gone are the pasta and muffin cravings, and I finally understand the joy in eating wonderful, diverse food. My journey was never about weight or fitting into a certain size or getting that “summer beach body” (brief aside: it takes everything in me not to punch people who serve up this garbage as gospel), it was about how I felt and functioned. It was about sleeping the sleep of children. It was about coming to my workouts energized and strong. It was about falling in love with my body and everything I put in it. Your body is your house, and do you want to spend your whole life stripping the floors and stuffing it with trash off the street? No, you want to care for it the best way you know how. For me, that was eating the rainbow and enjoying a mostly plant-based diet.
Over the past nine months I’ve fallen in love with flavors and cuisines I’d previously ignored because why bother when there’s a box of pasta in the cabinet and pesto in the fridge? Dinner in 10 minutes flat. Yet, I was never full. Yet I was always sluggish and tired and forgetful. Now I grate cauliflower and saute it with coconut oil. Now I roast chickpeas and cover them in a mustard sauce. Now I eat a beet burger from Sakara, and think, holy shit, this is actually good.
Now I realize that if I have pasta it has to be the good stuff. It has to be homemade and worth the brain fog that will invariably ensue. If I have a croissant, it can’t be the crap kind from the local deli. And my muffins? I’m no longer into the hockey puck of full-butter game. Every time I touch gluten or dairy it has to be worth it.
And can I tell you that this dish was WORTH IT. I love, love, love halloumi, and the sweet berries married with mint really cut the saltiness of the fried cheese. I devoured this along with a salad and felt sated.
It feels good to be healthy, strong and present in my life. It feels good to no longer view a shrunken frame as a badge of honor or something worth fighting for.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Vibrant Food
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1 serrano chile, seeds removed if desired, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (8- to 9-ounce) package halloumi cheese, cut into 8 slices
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, agave nectar, serrano, and pepper to taste. Toss the strawberries with the dressing and set aside.
Heat a very large skillet over medium-high heat and add the 1 tablespoon olive oil. When hot, add the halloumi slices. Cook the cheese for 2 to 3 minutes per side without disturbing, until a deep brown crust forms.
Remove the cheese from the skillet and spoon the strawberry mixture over the slices of cheese. Serve immediately, while the cheese is still warm.
Posted on April 24, 2015
I’ve never been good at keeping things under wraps–my excitement always gets the better of me. And I haven’t been this excited in quite some time. This feeling of eyes widen open, of awe, has happened in only a few key moments of my life: writing my new book, publishing my old one, leaving my job and finding a new one, launching a literary magazine that would go on to feature talented, burgeoning writers and great minds, and that one day, in 1999, when I decided to shift from an ebay powerseller in favor of launching a website (so new at the time!) where I sold designer clothing and accessories at a discount.
These moments are rare and as I grow older I realize the importance of holding on to them.
A few days ago I hinted at a new direction, and so many thoughts and ideas have consumed me since. It’s become such that I’ve become distracted because all I can do think about is the thing I can’t yet tell you about.
But it’s happening.
In the interim, I’m seeing friends who always have a way of inspiring me. And I’m cooking and baking up a storm. Here’s to hatching great plans. Here’s to living the questions and following a life of musts.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Anna Jones’s A Modern Way to Eat
9 ounces grated zucchini
2 handfuls (about 3 ounces) spinach or collard greens, finely chopped
4 tbsp soft crumbly cheese, such as feta or goat cheese (I used goat cheese)
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (I nixed this)
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A few sprigs dill or basil, finely chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
5 eggs (the original recipe calls for 5, but I would use 4 for a crisper fritter)
Olive oil for cooking
Toss all the greens into a bowl. Crumble in the cheeses, garlic and zest with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Toss to mix. Crack in the eggs and mix well.
Place a large frying pan over medium heat and add a good glug of olive oil – you want to be generous with the oil here. Once the oil is hot, carefully lower generous tablespoons of the mixture and flatten to form little patties. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, then carefully flip and fry on the other side for a final 2 minutes, until the egg is completely cooked.
Place on a plate in a low oven to keep warm until you are ready to eat.
Posted on April 9, 2015
We need to talk about this cake and the fact that you should have already baked it. Over the past few weeks I’ve been slowly adding dairy back into my diet (small pieces of cheese), but gluten is still verboten. Quite honestly, I will probably continue to live gluten-free with the exception of an extraordinary piece of crusty bread or homemade pasta. I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would, and I’ve discovered so many new tastes and flavors that I never want to fall back into a rut of food complacency.
As I’ve mentioned, ad nauseum, gluten/dairy-free baking has been a challenge for the past eight months. I’ve purchased dozens of cookbooks to only discard them (purchasing your special blend of gluten-free flour is a prerequisite for baking any of your recipes? No thanks, I’ll pass) because either the recipes rivaled a science experiment or the results were gritty and tasteless. I’ve discovered few cookbooks that truly deliver on flavor and texture, and Flourless is one of them.
So far I’ve made half a dozen recipes and the cakes and muffins do not disappoint. In particular, this almond cake is the sort of dessert that has drawn me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning, eyes filled with sleep. Somnabulent-style, I’ve stumbled into the kitchen to pry a piece out of a plastic tub in the fridge. This cake is THAT GOOD. I love the light cream and soft berries juxtaposed with the crumbly almonds. Perfection.
And to think I randomly picked up this book at Anthropologie!
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Nicole Spiridakis’s Flourless (a hodge-podged a few of her recipes together to bring this cake to life), modified to eliminate dairy
For the almond cake
3/4 cup coconut oil, softened but not melted
3/4 cup cane sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
2 1/3 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
For the coconut cream
1 13.5oz can of full-fat coconut milk
3 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Chill the can of coconut in the fridge, up-side down. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper and grease the bottom and sides with coconut oil. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the coconut oil and sugar until fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until completely combined. Add the coconut milk, extracts, and blend until all ingredients are combined.
In a medium bowl, mix the almond flour, salt, baking powder. On low speed, mix in the dry ingredients into the sugar batter until combined.
Pour the batter evenly into the pan and cook until the top of the cake is browned and a tester inserted in the cake turns out clean, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the springform pan for 20 minutes. Carefully turn out the cake and allow it to cool completely, approximately 1 hour. The cake will be delicate since you’re not working with gluten flour and its magical binding properties so be gentle with the cake, k?
While the cake is cooling, drain the cooled can of coconut milk through a sieve. Discard the liquid and add the solid coconut to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the sugar and extracts and beat for 3 minutes.
Dollop the cream on the cooled cake and add a pile of berries. I had strawberries, raspberries and blueberries on hand, but I can imagine that this would be INCREDIBLE with figs and blackberries, as well.