zucchini, spinach + goat cheese fritters

vegetable fritters

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

DIRECTIONS
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.

zucchini and spinach fritters

almond cake with coconut cream and fresh berries

almond cake with coconut cream and fresh berries
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

DIRECTIONS
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.

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kale fried rice + “being an adult”

kale fried rice

How old are you? My accountant for nearly a decade rises from his chair and asks what he already knows. He moves into another room where I can’t see him. I buy time, ask what he’s making. Pasta fagioli, he says. The way he speaks reminds me of Italian matrons holding court in Bensonhurst, severing vowels at the end of sentences. Fagiol. I stand outside of his kitchen, but never dare enter it, because it would be rude to trespass this space. I think about a profile I recently read on Italo Calvino, penned by his English translator for The Paris Review. For nearly twenty years the two were colleagues, Calvino trusted Weaver with his work, yet the two spoke to one another using the formal address, lei. Even though I make the annual trip to my accountant’s home, even if I sit on his couch and use his pens to make notes along margins, stepping into his kitchen feels like an intrusion, a shift from the formal to the intimate and informal.

I don’t tell Paul my age but I lay down a few cards (not the whole hand, mind you), and reveal what I’m close to, what’s nearby: 40. To which he responds, You make this money but where does it go? Because you don’t strike me as the spendthrift type. He pauses, tries a joke on for size: Are you like the kids? What is it, weed? Alcohol? I laugh and consider the woman of ten, fifteen years past. A woman who loved her red wine and her coke cut into fine lines. She would be unrecognizable to both of us, but perhaps she lingers just beyond my reach. Perhaps she’s someone, if you look close enough, you can still see.

Or perhaps I strike him as the kind who would be anaesthetized with things that are ephemeral rather than the things that collect dust and fade over time. But this isn’t about blow or booze, not really, this is about being an adult. About having your house in order. About making a healthy six figures and still find yourself choking on an even healthier five-figure tax bill. This is about not having a house yet. Not being married yet. Not having kids yet. This is about a woman who spent years in banking but who can barely balance a checkbook.

I tell Paul that I’m still paying the debt from a previous life. I’m paying for the life I thought I needed, a life I felt I deserved. And that life was rife with finery, pretty things that stockpiled in tiny closets. I bought a life that was about to burst and here I am, years later, still paying the debt for all the things I have given away. Because by the time I realized what sort of life I really deserved, it was already too late.

I’m happy, truly happy, but I sometimes find myself bound to the traditional notions of what it means to be a grown-up. I am mature, I’ve the weight of years, knowledge and experience, but I don’t feel it. I look in the mirror and I don’t see 39. And when I look at bank account I certainly don’t fit the role of 39.

Part of me thinks I’ll always be this way–mercurial, nomadic, odd, strong, yet unable to reconcile an income statement. Part of me will always feel as if I’m straddling a strange middle between childhood and adulthood–some kind of curious adolescence. What is it mean to be an adult anyway? I never understood the dictionary with its binary definition of every word. The weight of the word feels unbearable, something to which I can barely live up. Instead I focus on what’s ahead–paying taxes, securing projects, saving for California. Focusing on a new home, hopeful for a new love, a quieter life.

Maybe one day I’ll get this money thing together, I say, collecting my bulk of papers and forms I need to sign with checks I need to mail. We exchange looks that say the unsaid, the very opposite.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow, modified slightly
2 cups baby kale, stems discarded
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
2 clove garlic, peeled and very finely minced
3 large scallions, cut into 1/8 inch diagonal slices
2 ½ cup cooked brown rice
1 tbsp + 1 tsp tamari sauce

DIRECTIONS
Cut the kale leaves in half lengthwise and then cut crosswise into very thin ribbons (chiffonade).

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic. Raise the heat to medium and add the steamed kale and scallions. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the greens have wilted, and then add the rice and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring. Add the tamari sauce and cook for 30 seconds more.

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banana cocoa muffins

Banana cocoa muffins.

We came from zero, and on a long enough timeline we’ll return to that from which we’ve come. Zero. I think about this a lot–life, death–perhaps maybe more than I should, more than what’s deemed healthy, but I can’t help it. I think about planes sometimes, how my greatest fear is being on a plane that dives into an ocean. Sometimes I imagine closing my eyes and humbly crawling back to the cool dark, because although this is the one thing I don’t remember (that one head pushing out, those eyes that opened wide to the first light, and the mouth that screamed so valiantly, even through the terror of being born), it brings me an unexplainable comfort. It’s as if by living through the cycle of life and death I’ve conquered it, and for a time I’m okay until the moment I think about it all over again.

I also think about time. How I’ll never have enough of it, how it’s always running out. I used to wear a watch and have a clock in every room–the old fashioned kind, the sort that ticked. And then time passed as it’s wont to do, and I move through rooms with my phone, checking it every now and again, just to see how much time has passed. How much I’ve spent (or squandered, depending upon the day) from the last moment I checked to the next.

Aren’t you afraid of it? I asked my pop last week. Of what, he said? Death. Dying. Not really, he said and paused. Maybe a little but not a lot. I don’t think about it as much as you do. How is it possible that he’s not frightened? Like me, he’s not swathed in faith–he doesn’t believe in a white kingdom and a god who will carry you all the way home. Like me, he’s spiritual, sees the world as this magical, miraculous place, but we’re not tethered to a faith. Nor do I suspect we ever will be. We don’t have that warm comfort, and while I sometimes agonize over the certainty that these two feet on this floor will no longer be, my father goes about his days undisturbed. He tells me that death is inevitable so why get worked up over something that you can’t control?

The thing is, I like control. A lot. But I’m learning to let go of it, piece by piece.

Illustration Credit: Taro Yashima

Illustration Credit: Taro Yashima

Time is slippery, and since I’ve made the decision to forgo having children, of not establishing a legacy, I look at my work as one of the tangible things I’ll leave behind. I ache to produce and find that this space brings me so much joy because I can write the smaller things here while I consider the bigger things on a blank canvas. I use books (and life) as a bridge between the minute and known (blog) and the great unknown (novel). Lately, I’ve been ordering children’s books at a ferocious clip. Maybe it’s the fact that as a child I never appreciated the complex simplicity in books where a few words and illustrations are forced to convey SO MUCH, or perhaps I see the extraordinary juxtaposition between the size of a book and the length of its words versus the magnitude of its meaning. Children’s books are magnanimous in the sense that they don’t patronize or take a pedagogical approach, rather they allow you to dive in and find your own beauty, at your own time, on your own terms.

After poring over these illustrations (don’t the colors just DO YOU IN?!), I decided to order Umbrella because it’s such an magnificent expression of the tension of time. Of feeling anxious to move from one space to the next. But it’s also a meditation on time and being present, of savoring these moment of being alive. I need a little more of that in my life.

Today, I turned off the television, silenced my phone and kneeled down to play with Felix. For fifteen minutes, I heard the sounds of his purr and breath and all the noise in my head fell to quiet. All that existed was a woman and her cat. I don’t know what that means in terms of legacy, of pragmatism, of leaving something you can hold in your two hands, behind. But what I do know is that holding his small neck in my hands felt wonderful.

Drawing lines, drawing outlines. Unfurling maps.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts
2 large eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup ground almonds (almond flour)
1/2 cup ground gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whisk the eggs, maple syrup, and olive oil until completely combined. Add the bananas and beat until combined. In a large bowl, whisk together the ground nuts, oats, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make sure you have all lumps pressed out (almond flour tends to clump up) before you add to the wet ingredients. The last thing you want is a bit chunk of nut flour in your mouth. I’m saving you, people.

On low speed, add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold until combined. Using an ice-cream scoop, add the batter to the tins and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool for ten minutes on rack before turning out to cool completely.

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chocolate chip almond cookies (grain/gluten free)

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Yesterday, my father took me to the water. Passing a bag of cookies between us, we drank coffee in his car and watched the tide come in. It’s high, he says, look at the waves. I nod. We’re still like this for a time and I love him for this–the ability to share a comfortable silence. My pop and I love the quiet, worship at the altar of it. We are in Long Island watching swans on the pavement and seagulls overhead and I talk about India, how encountering Delhi for the first time felt like an assault of color, of beauty. My pop inquiries about the countries to which I’ve traveled and I speak for a time and then I pause and ask if I’ve gone too far, said too much. Are you bored? I ask. He says no. He tells me that he likes to close his eyes and imagine the countries I’ve been. He likes the words I choose and the spaces I create between them. Through me it almost feels as if he’s been. So I talk about Jaipur, a city painted vermilion and blush pink, and the fumes that plumed up from a volcano in Masaya. I tell him about the parakeets that make a home in the crevices of the volcano, that they can somehow withstand the fumes I could barely stomach.

We spend some time in the car talking about what we can endure.

Yesterday I watch my father run. I’m standing inside a restaurant and a pane of glass comes between us. He legs move swiftly, effortlessly–this is a man who once had to crawl up a flight of stairs because the pain from his hips was more than what he could endure. From inside, I bring my hands together in prayer; I’m thunder, and when he swings open the door I hold him so tight. I practically fall into him because this is the first time in years he’s been able to walk properly, much less run. We take this for granted, I tell him. The fact that we have two legs. The fact that we can use them.

Tell me about your new home, he says. We pass plates of food between us because we’ve always shared food. We’ve always picked at the contents of one another’s plates. We’ve held food in our hands and presented it, as gifts, to one another.

I tell him about the place I want to live and we talk for a while. He understands why I want to leave New York, the place I’ve called home for nearly 40 years, but he’s heartbroken–I can tell. I’ll miss the days we’ve spent doing nothing but feeling the enormity of something. I tell him that I’ll miss sleeping while he drives. I’ll miss our two chairs facing a television and the fact that we talk through every show. I’ll miss the timbre of his voice when he says, Coffee? I’ll hold a mug in my hands out of love, habit, and I’ll miss the slow sips, the deep quiet.

I’ll miss you tremendously, I say. We’re at the train station when he laughs, pulls me close and tells me that he’ll miss me too.

INGREDIENTS
1½ cup almond meal
2½ tbsp melted and slightly cooled coconut oil
¼ cup cacao nibs
3 tbsp maple syrup
1½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp baking powder

DIRECTION
Preheat oven to 350F. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix all ingredients until completely combined. Using a tbsp measure, portion onto a lined baking tray, press down slightly in the center with your thumb.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch the bottoms so they don’t burn. Set on a rack and let cool for 20 minutes before diving in. You can keep these in an airtight container for 3-4 days but they will get crunchy over time.

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flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

flourless peanut butter cookies
I know, you never intended to be in this world. But you’re in it all the same. So why not get started immediately. I mean, belonging to it. There is so much to admire, to weep over. And to write music or poems about…Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going? Let me be as urgent as a knife, then, and remind you of Keats, so single of purpose and thinking, for a while, he had a lifetime. –From Mary Oliver’s “Blue Horses” (via)

I’ve fallen in love with children’s books. Milk smeared above the lip, crumbly cookies by the bedside, a hand gliding across a page, and a small voice inquiring, and then what? We all want the promise of a beautiful life, a kingdom unfurling at our feet, and as children we architect these magical worlds that adults find ways to ruin.

I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember but I recall few children’s books in my hands. There were no Seuss or cats staggering out of hats, rather I moved quickly to books without pictures. I remember wondering what if blue wasn’t the color of the sky? What if the kingdom we were promised ended up underwater? Possibly I got started too quickly, moved from wonder to skepticism; I was impatient and hungry and didn’t believe in magic. I only knew of a world where magic was at the bottom of a vial and money was the church in which we all worshipped.

Lately I feel as if I’m living in reverse. I ache for permanence and firsts, but at the same time I want to crawl my way back to the wonder. Today I was supposed to see my pop and I made it all the way to the train station to then realize I left my wallet at home. By then I missed my train and spent the better part of an hour on the phone with my pop talking about moving to California because New York no longer feels like home. He’s solemn because we’re so close and the thought of thousands of miles between us is unfathomable. Then he tells me he wants nothing more than my happiness. Go, run! he says. And I laugh at the irony of the joke because after a grueling double-hip replacement surgery he’s able to run for the first time in nearly four years. I tell him that I can’t wait to come home next weekend just to see you run.

And then in a few months time he’ll see me make my own passage. We talk about home a lot because I call my apartment home, his apartment home, and I tell him that the word home lacks permanence for me, that for years it was simply four walls and a door and a place where my mail had been forwarded. I realize that home is more than a place, it’s a feeling. Some of my closest friends are home to me. Liz, you’re home to me, even if you live so far away. Angie, you’re home to me, even if it takes you forever to text me back. Pop, you’re home to me, even though we bicker like old people.

I tell him about this book I ordered. It’s a children’s book, “an imaginative taxonomy of houses and a celebration of the wildly different kinds of people who call them home.” A this is where we live, this is where we make our house.

This is where we love. This is where we lay down our head to rest.

I tell my pop that I’ve had a tough few months but I think this is part of the journey out of the dark into light. I think of Dante, of a post I wrote last year asking a pile of questions about my life:

In the midway of this our mortal life,/I found me in a gloomy wood, astray/Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell,/It were no easy task, how savage wild/That forest, how robust and rough its growth,/Which to remember only, my dismay/Renews, in bitterness not far from death. ― Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

My pop listens, his voice cuts in and out because I have AT&T, and he acknowledges that this is a rough time but, (he chuckles) isn’t life sometimes tough or always tough? Don’t we always make it out all right? Don’t we always, he says.

I come home and watch this exquisite illustrated interview with the great illustrator and children’s book author, Maurice Sendak. I’m in love with this world, he cries out. His only lament is seeing his friends pass before him. He pantomimes live your life, live your life, live your life. I play the video over and over and I incant those words as if they were prayer, and I think about Jane Goodall, 81, dancing, living her finest life in the blue years, and I see their wonder. I see it completely. I see it beautifully. I see it quietly. And I can’t wait to break ranks, to join them in this journey in being so in love with this one life.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Nicholas Strand’s (The Peanut Butter Boy) recipe in Go Gluten Free (Spring 2015)
1 jar (16oz) of creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the peanut butter, maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, baking powder and salt until combined and the peanut butter has a “whipped” quality to it. Add the egg and mix until completely combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls (this recipe makes 48, but I got half that since I like my cookies quite big–but go with what works for you) and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. With the tines of your fork, press down gently to make an indentation and then press in the opposite direction. Don’t worry, the cookies won’t spread as you bake so you can crowd to your heart’s content. We’re not playing the flour game.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Don’t underbake because the cookies won’t hold their shape, and don’t overbake or they’ll burn on the bottoms.

Cool on a rack for an hour before devouring. Namaste.

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creamy avocado pasta + a healthy living update

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I’m going to say something that’s rather shocking: I’m no longer in love with pasta. In fact, I’m glad we’ve been on a mini-break. I realize saying that is antithetical to sharing this recipe with you, but bear with me.

I’ve spent the greater part of my adult life in a rapturous relationship with the noodle. If you count the number of recipes on this space over the years (and I have), pasta will far exceed any dish. I’ve made every kind of pesto imaginable; I was the McGyver of spaghetti–you give me a noodle and I’ll find a new way to cook it. I consumed pasta every day, sometimes twice a day (shudders), and when I first met my nutritionist and she asked me about my non-negotiables, what would be the one food I could not live without out, without hesitation I wrote: pasta. My doctor, after reviewing the startling results of a routine blood work, expressed concern about my insulin levels. What are you eating, he asked? Describe a typical day. To which I responded, oatmeal, kale smoothie, or bagel for breakfast, pasta for lunch and perhaps pasta for dinner, a light went off and I imagine he could picture all those refined carbohydrates turning into sugar.

It’s been eight months since I started on this journey to living a mindful life, where I’ve abstained from gluten and dairy (and, for a time, a laundry list of other, unrelated foods), and really thought not only about the food I was consuming over the course of day, but also the composition of food on my plate. Setting the weight loss aside (which wasn’t the primary reason for seeking help, the impetus was related to the severe abdominal pain I’d been enduring for over a year, in addition to a host of other ailments), the journey has been both a difficult and auspicious one, and with a diet primarily comprised of vegetables, legumes, gluten-free grains, lean proteins, and good fats, keeping up my pasta addiction was impossible.

Don’t get me wrong–I’ve found other cruel substitutes (the potato is quite extraordinary as is dark chocolate)–but I’ve gone weeks at a time without even having a gluten-free variation. Because although the new forms of gf pasta are pretty tasty, the best kinds are made with rice and corn, which are not necessarily rock stars in the nutrition department. Often, I’m left unsatiated, and I find myself eating nuts to quell my hunger. I never really noticed this before–the hit that eating a pesto pasta can give you, that momentary feeling of euphoria, before the crash and the desire to eat again all too soon.

In the past month I’ve had small portions of cheese (in Nicaragua), and without realizing, a small bit of gluten (whole wheat flour in a mujadara I’ve been buying, the ingredients of which I only discovered yesterday), and while the flare-ups from this summer have abated I still feel off. I can’t explain it. Even with minor portions I feel bloated, tired and sluggish, and I’m remembering a conversation I had with my nutritionist when she explained that gluten and dairy, moving forward, should be considered treats, indulgences of which I can take part twice a month.

That’s gluten OR dairy two times a month. For the rest of my life. I’m going to let that sink in.

At first I was horrified because I always initially balk at change, but since I’ve had to go around the gluten and dairy business (and gluten-free substitutions for every dish kind of miss the point of being healthy and vegan cheese does not entice me in the least) I’ve discovered so many other foods and flavors that have rocked the casbah.

I’m not even going to talk about the plantain and bean game in Nicaragua without weeping into tissues.

Over the past eight months I’ve had the joy of reintroducing the AVOCADO back into my life. You guys don’t even understand. For nearly 15 years I couldn’t eat avocados because I spent a summer overdosing on them and, as a result, developed a severe allergic reaction whenever I consumed them (similar to how I used to feel eating copious amounts of gluten). This year I slowly incorporated them back into my life, and aside from the glory that is the GUACAMOLE, I’ve been surprised how often I use avocado as a creaming agent. I’ll throw 1/3 of an avocado in my morning smoothie to thicken it. I’ve made a chocolate mousse; that is so strong you won’t even miss the milk. I’ve added it to soups (squash and tomato are favorites) just as I’m about to blitz the mixture in the blender (a nice alternative to cashew cream and you’ll barely taste the avocado, yet reap all of its nutritional benefits), and yesterday I blitzed up a creamy basil pesto.

My god this was GOOD.

I added in twice as much basil from the original recipe and the juice of a whole lemon, which really made this sauce sing. The noodles have a light coating of cream and they’re absolute silk when you stir in some of the reserve pasta water.

And while I LOVED this dish, I was a little hungry (not as ravenous because I had some good fat from the sauce, but still) a couple hours later and hoovered some nuts before I went to bed. But still, this dish is a lovely indulgence without the weight of cream in your system.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook with slight modifications.
9 ounces (255 g) uncooked pasta (use gluten-free, if desired)
1 to 2 small cloves garlic, to taste
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving
Juice from a medium lemon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ripe medium avocado, pitted
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1 to 2 mL) fine-grain sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Lemon zest, for serving

DIRECTIONS
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

While the pasta cooks, make the sauce: In a food processor, combine the garlic and basil and pulse to mince.

Add the lemon juice, oil, avocado flesh, and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. If the sauce is too thick, add another 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the pasta, setting aside 1/4 cup of the pasta water, and place it back in the pot. Add the avocado sauce (and reserve pasta water) and stir until combined. You can gently rewarm the pasta if it has cooled slightly, or simply serve it at room temperature.

Top with lemon zest, pepper, and fresh basil leaves, if desired.

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peanut butter brownies (grain-free)

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If we are blinded by darkness, we are also blinded by light. When too much light falls on everything, a special terror results. –Anne Dillard (via)

A few days ago I met an old friend for coffee. Lauren’s been someone whom I deeply admire, and have been longing to see for a while. Seeing her feels like an exhalation–I can explain it, but I always feel calm in her presence. She’s soft-spoken, introverted and insanely creative. We met years ago when we were online marketing managers at HarperCollins, and we’ve kept in contact over the years–perhaps out of sheer curiosity about where we’d inevitably land. I remember our first lunch after years of not having seen one another, and I shared how much I loved photographing food, and she smiled and shared that she had started freelancing as a professional photographer. At first I felt embarrassed around her because she was the real deal while I was someone with an expensive camera taking pictures of the food I’d made, but she was so generous with her time that I soon grew eager to ask her questions. She advised me about shooting light, Lightroom techniques for balancing out distortion as a result of using my 16-35mm, and general tips about lenses (she shoots with a Nikon while I’ve a Canon).

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This week, in passing, she mentioned that some of my recent photos have been good, really good, and that I should consider submitting them to a few sites for stock photography. At first I balked, I waved her away–who was I to submit photos alongside people who could pontificate for hours about bokeh and light? It’s weird even writing this alongside a post where the food shots are passable at best (brown is hard to beautify, especially when you’re dealing with gluten-free desserts, which are sometimes challenging as keeping the integrity of the sweet becomes a nearly impossible proposition, and food styling gives me massive vertigo because I think the food should always be the star of the show), but when I look at some of my images from Nicaragua (I really enjoyed shooting with a wide-angle lens, and I feel really proud of this photo), Thailand, Fiji, and India, I get excited. They’re not half-bad. They’re decent, even. I also think the buns from this post are pretty foxy.

So I submitted a portfolio of about 30 photos for consideration to one of the cool stock sites, where I can make a few hundred a month (for grocery + transportation $, not bad!). To be honest, I’m expecting to be rejected (I’m not fishing. Seriously, I’m not), but it’s nice to take an element of what I love about this space and finding a way to make a little extra money from it. I even thought about redesigning the space so I can have a section for my photos (the travel shots are the ones of which I’m most proud, since the food photos are simply okay) in hopes that I might sell some prints.

What do you guys think? Am I crazy? It’d be nice to hear your thoughts.

Like I said, ignore the brownies (although they were downright delicious) as an example of my work.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Extra Virgin Kitchen
4 tbsp chunky peanut butter
125g dark chocolate
100g vegan butter (7 tbsp)
2 medium eggs
125g coconut palm sugar
75g almond flour (about 3/4 cup)
1 tsp baking powder

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a small square baking tray (8×8) with parchment paper.

Beat the peanut butter and maple syrup in a small bowl with a fork. Litter the tray with baby blobs. Set aside. In a double-boiler, melt the chocolate and butter, and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until creamy (2-3 minutes). Beat in the almonds and baking powder. Fold in the chocolate and butter mixture. Pour over the peanut butter mixture and even out with a spatula. Bake for approximately 18 minutes.

Cool on a rack for an hour. You can store this in the fridge in an airtight container for a week.

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cinnamon + cacao granola (paleo/gluten-free)

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When I was in Nicaragua I fell asleep at nine and woke at five. It’s been my habit to wear ear plugs when I sleep since the slightest sound could wake me, however, in Nicaragua I was distracted by the fact that there were no sounds from which I could escape. I took a place in the mountains and all one could hear come nightfall were birds flittering through trees and nocturnal animals calling. In the morning were different birds, different animals but the same trees, and it felt as if the trees never resumed their former shape because of all the velocity, the shaking. It took me two days to become accustomed to the quiet and then I welcomed it. It felt natural to sleep and rise in concert with the dark and light, and since I’ve been back I’ve exhausted.

I still sleep, yet there’s so much noise around me. I wear my ear plugs again to quiet the footfalls of men rushing up and down the stairs at all hours, the blare of horns and music as cars race down my street. At dawn I wake to shovels scraping the sidewalk and a host of other tools meant to break ice. I listen to music on my morning commute because everything is just too much, and I even shy away from friends who write that they are so! busy! because it’s as if I can hear the sounds of their disquiet, of rapid movement.

I’m wondering if, like the trees, I’ll ever be able to resume my shape.

People (friends, colleagues, acquaintances) have been asking the perfunctory questions related to a move: have I found a place in California (no, because I only decided less than a week ago that this would be the place to which I would move this year)? What about my health insurance (I’ll have to complete forms)? What about driving (I’ll figure that out when I get there)? What about money (don’t you think that I don’t think about money when I’m not thinking about money)? What about your apartment (I’m leaving, I’m leaving)? What about your book (don’t ask)? What about movers (making inquiries)? What about friends (working on it)?

I’ve been back less than a week, having barely adjusted from moving to one environ to another, and I’m getting killed with questions.

Lately I’ve found the act of multitasking hard, impossible even. I can no longer read and listen to music. I can no longer deal with programming a new phone and reviewing a quarterly analytics report. I’m finding that I work best when I focus on one task at a time, perform it to its measure, and then move on to the next. Right now I’m focused on making enough money to pay my taxes, dental surgeries (will marry for dental insurance!), and enough to get me settled for three months in California. Then I’ll worry about logistics. Then I’ll worry about everything else.

Right now I’m gathering as much information as I can while letting a lot of my possessions go. Right now I need people to help me with information and work and take my things.

Right now I need to hole up in my home and rest while I devour all of this chocolately granola.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe via The Whole Pantry app* (best $2.99 I’ve spent in months see note, below)
2 cups coconut flakes
½ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
½ cup poppy or sesame seeds (I used slivered almonds)
½ cup chia seeds
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
⅓ cup rice malt syrup, honey or coconut nectar
¼ cup melted coconut oil
½ tsp sea salt flakes
2 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cacao powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 125°c / 255°F. Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and use hands (or a spatula) to coat evenly. Line a tray with baking paper and spray lightly. Spread mixture evenly onto tray. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. At this point, you can add in additional dried fruit (I love dried cherries and ginger), and store in airtight container or glass jar for up to a week.

*Note: As you guys know I’m pretty obsessive about researching products before I try them, but admittedly I got seduced by this app while in the Apple store waiting a month to get my iPhone6. I hadn’t learned about the apparent shadiness behind the app and its founder until a reader brought it to my attention a few days ago on Twitter, and a kind reader (thanks, Emi!) posted a comment today. I did some digging and I’m so unnerved (to put it mildly) that someone would lie about surviving cancer and defraud people out of thousands of dollars for her own financial gain. I want to apologize to you guys for not doing my due diligence, and I’m glad you’ve brought this to my attention. I’ll be extra vigilant, moving forward. As always, thank you! For more information about the story, click here and here.

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smoky black bean soup + the art of being beholden to people

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We’re in the business of transaction. Every day we do the maths, scheme, calculate, negotiate until the object of our desire is bought and paid for. We covet what we see and we scrimp and save until it’s mine, all mine, and then we want something else. The ocean of want is seemingly bottomless, endless, and after a while we come to believe that everything has an assigned value. Everything can be bought or sold. Money suddenly becomes the end game. We’ll save this much until we have that glinting object on the shelf. We work 10, 12, 15 hour days because we pay our dues, because one day we will make more than we make now. And if we make more we can buy more, and shouldn’t that entitle us to our happiness? Shouldn’t the sheer accumulation of our objects equate to the amount of abundance in our hearts?

When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I said happy. Everyone had a good chuckle and they proceeded to tell me that what I wanted to be implied a vocation. What was it that I was going to do to make money? Somehow this felt false to me, equating what one is to what one does, and even when I was small I knew that just because you waited tables or delivered mail or plunged your hand and fixed a slow-beating heart–all of that couldn’t encompass the whole of a person. What you did could barely make a dent in all that was you, your innards, how you thought and loved.

When I was in banking, someone asked me what I wanted to do. Did I want to trade derivatives? Did I want to try to break into the old boys’ club and go into investment banking I said, quietly, that I wanted to write, and this person laughed (the timbre of which put me thinking to my childhood) and said, didn’t I know that writers don’t make any money?

“She could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was infinitely bad! She could have done it differently of course; the colour could have been thinned and faded; the shapes etherealised; that was how Paunceforte would have seen it. But then she did not see it like that. She saw the colour burning on a framework of steel; the light of a butterfly’s wing lying upon the arches of a cathedral. Of all that only a few random marks scrawled upon the canvas remained. And it would never be seen; never be hung even, and there was Mr Tansley whispering in her ear, “Women can’t paint, women can’t write …” –Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse

A month later I was accepted in the Columbia writing program and when I explained to my Managing Director at the time that MFA meant Master’s in Fine Arts, and there was the expectant pause and look of sheer terror and confusion–pity, maybe?–and I immediately followed with, I know I’ll probably always be in debt; I don’t care for money. I only want to write.

For a time I was guilty of falling in love with money and the things it could buy. I thought I could define my worth by what I had amassed. I thought the whole of me was composed of the contents of my closet. Money meant: I have this and you don’t. Money was a mask I was intent on wearing. And then I woke, as if roused from a deep sleep–the sleep of children–and I took inventory of my closet and drawers, all the petty finery, and I wanted of it. Slowly, over time, I gave it all away. It’s no coincidence that during that period of my life I read less, I wrote little.

But really I wrote nothing at all.

If you ask me what gives me joy it’s creating. Writing. And I need a way to balance creation and commerce, whimsy and pragmatism. Because while it’s nice to board a plane, see the world and write about it, there’s the here and the now of student loan payments, credit card bills and this small consideration of food and shelter. So, I compromise. Part of my life I write for work. Companies large and small invite me to think of compelling ways to tell their story. I work on branding projects, consumer marketing projects, digital strategy. I do a lot of writing.

And then there’s the writing, the longer, literary stuff (for lack of a better term) that’s personal. It affords me to explore the world through character and story. That doesn’t really pay. The kind of stories that interest me barely pay for a cup of coffee. And then there’s this space–my virtual scrapbook. A home for ideas, food, photographs. A place that wholly mine. A place that doesn’t require me to clock in at a certain time or adhere to a set of contracted deliverables.

Over the past year, I’ve seen a lot more people come to this space, which pleases me. People may feel I inspire them with the words I write or they may get hungry based on what I’m cooking on a particular day–but, for some reason, more people are here. And when there are people there is this question of money. People inquire whether I’ll monetize this space (no). People ask if I’ll do “sponsored posts” (please stop asking me this). People ask if I’ll ask for donations or find some sort of way to make money off of the fact that more people come by every day (affiliate links?), to which I respond, emphatically, immediately, FUCK NO.

Most of my life is about making money to live, travel and support my cat in the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. Why would I make this space about work? That would mean I would take the thing that I love to do–create, simply for the sake of creating, simply for the joy in doing it and the inspiration it brings–and somehow reduce it. And then I’m accountable to strangers. It’s as if my blog is suddenly a stock and all the shareholders are clamouring for their say. When money enters the picture it has a way of clouding things, and slowly, over time, what is mine becomes less mine. It becomes yours, and said with love, I don’t want that. I want to be beholden to no one.

Creating something without the goal of transacting isn’t a failure. It isn’t a missed opportunity or wasted time. Not everyone or thing can be placed for bidding on the open market. Sometimes one becomes rich when creating something from nothing, expecting nothing.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Extra Virgin Kitchen
2-3 cups chopped leaks
1 garlic clove, sliced (not crushed)
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 (400g/15oz) tins black beans, drained and rinsed
1 400g tin cherry red tomatoes
5 cups of vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
1-2 tsp honey
splash of tamari
Salt to taste
Chopped parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS
In a large saucepan over low heat, add the olive oil, leeks and garlic and saute for 8 minutes until everything is soft. Add in the paprika and cumin and stir for 1 minute. Toss in the rest of the ingredients and turn up the heat until the soup begins to boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. While the recipe calls for serving the soup as is, I prefer a puree. So I blitzed this in the Vitamix (a blender will do) and added salt and chopped parsley as a finish.

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glitzy chocolate pudding (gluten/dairy-free)

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At the height of my hoarding, I owned 300 cookbooks. I stacked them wherever there was room, wherever I could find space, until last year when I started letting them go, one by one, and I now I’m down to 50. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to no longer be consumed by the things you own, to not be tethered to clutter. Now when think about acquiring something new, I ask myself: Do I need this? Do I love this? Can I live without this? Would I be willing to pay to move this? Life suddenly holds a considerable amount of clarity and my home a lot more space.

Over the past year, I’ve been cooking from a fixed amount of books because I’ve had to relearn how to eat without gluten or dairy. I couldn’t be tempted by the pages of pasta recipes or dishes smothered in cheese, rather I had to force myself to explore new flavors and foods. As a result, I’ve realized that abundance exists when you live within constraints. I’ve lived seven months without gluten and dairy, and with the exception of an occasional pizza and bread basket craving, I’ve managed to do the unthinkable–live without pasta.

Yet, I miss some of my old mainstays. While going through another book edit, I found myself poring over the tomes I used to cook from and love, and I discovered this incredible chocolate pudding recipe from Nigella Lawson. With a few simple adjustments, I managed to make this work for my diet, and I cannot tell you how much you won’t even miss the butter and white flour. I made this dessert for a dear friend last night and it was a success! She didn’t even notice I used vegan butter!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Nigella Express, modified.
For the pudding:
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
½ cup soft vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup gluten-free flour
¼ tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

For the glaze:
5 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 tbsp vegan butter
2 2.1-oz Butterfinger bars, broken shards (I nixed this)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Break up the chocolate and melt it with the butter in a bowl in the microwave or over a double boiler. Once it’s melted, sit the bowl on a cold surface so that the chocolate cools.

Preferably in a freestanding mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale and moussey, then gently fold in the flour, baking soda, and pinch of salt.

Fold in the slightly cooled chocolate and butter mixture and then divide among 8 ramekins or custard cups. Put in the oven to bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, get on with the glaze by melting the chocolate and butter in a microwave (or double boiler), then whisk to form a smooth glossy mixture and spoon this over the cooked puddings.

Decorate with Butterfinger rubble: you can just put the bars in a freezer bag, set to with a rolling pin, and strew over the top. I nixed this as I don’t eat processed candy bars, but rock it out if this is your bag. However, you can top this with candied ginger or honeycomb–that would be divine juxtaposed with the bitter chocolate.

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gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

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Truth be told, I gave these cookies a bad rap because nothing compares to a cookie made with creamed salty butter and thickened white flour. Try as you might to convince me otherwise, but as someone whose baked for years, I know nothing beats the original. Over the weekend, I adapted a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks and was a tad disappointed with results as soon as the cookies cooled. They resembled changelings, a deformed flattened disk of sugar, and it wasn’t until I waited a few hours did I really appreciate the simplicity of this gluten-and dairy-free chocolate chip cookie. While the original recipe calls for letting these cool in the fridge for at least an hour, I had these cooling for over 4 hours since I didn’t want them to melt completely into the parchment paper.

If anyone has a stand-out gluten and dairy free cookie recipe, give this woman a shout!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table Cookbook, modified. Makes about 3 dozen cookies
1 stick unsalted vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
1 stick salted vegan butter
1 cup coconut palm sugar, packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 16-ounce package dark chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS
Soften the butter in the microwave (or on the stovetop) until nearly melted, about 1 minute. Since I don’t have a microwave, I melted the butters on the stovetop on medium heat. Let cool slightly. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on high, until blended, 2-3 minutes. The mixture will be pale brown and creamy. Add the egg and the yolk, and mix to combine. Add the vanilla and and mix to combine. In a separate small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat on low until no flour streaks remain. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Cover the dough with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Drop tablespoonfuls of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet (about 2 inches apart) and place in the oven. Bake for 11 minutes for soft cookies or 13 for crisp ones. The cookies should be slightly brown and puffy. Let the cookies sit on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes to cool before removing to a cooling rack or a plate.