coconut pancakes + falling out of love with new york

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This is the New York I know: wrenching johnny pumps in the summer because who could afford air conditioning? (white people) We felt cool and slicked as our denim shorts and dollar-store t-shirts clung to our skin. We feasted on hot dogs and icy in Sunset Park, and swam from one side of the 16-foot pool to the other. In the pool, the boys were in the business of acquisition with their cat-calls of shorty, sexy, and dame lengue. What am I, a lizard? My tongue isn’t something I’d willingly give. New York was about flashing old bus passes when you cut class and forgot to pick up the new ones, and getting kicked off the bus because this month’s color was blue and you were still rolling with yellow. We hopped and crawled under the turnstiles because who was stupid enough to buy tokens for the subway? (white people) Come nightfall, we’d inch home and settle on the stoop while mothers braided hair, boys sipped on Colt45 out of brown paper bags and everyone was in the business of dealing. Everyone was working their after-school, after-second-job hustle. Back then, everyone had a plan. Back then, you were prosperous if you owned a color TV with a remote control. Because who could afford cable? (white people) Back then, you made friends with their girls whose mothers made the best rice. You hoped you’d be invited for dinner. You hoped you’d have to bring one of the chairs from the living room and plant it on the linoleum floor. Back then, everyone made room. Everyone ate with their elbows on the table.

The city? WHAT???!!! When you lived in Brooklyn, Manhattan was a whole other country. Uncharted territory, you’d need a compass and map to navigate it. We rode the elevated trains into the city and gawked at the people uptown (white people) and found our home downtown. Back then, you didn’t venture below Avenue A unless you rolled right (translation: didn’t roll white), and we trolled Broadway and hit Unique, Antique Boutique and pawed the spray-painted and sequined denim jackets we couldn’t afford. Boys dressed like girls, yellow cabs, hot pretzel carts and shopping bags–what an unreal city! I had not thought death had undone so many, wrote Eliot. The city glinted–someone in the neighborhood once told us that the sidewalks were paved with glass so we winced and closed our eyes so we wouldn’t be blinded by the glare. The city was clean even with the peepshows and pimps in Times Square, before Dinkins, before Giuliani, before the postage stamp of land in the 40s would transform into Disneyland for the peanut-crunching lot. The city was cleaner from where we’d come. Everyone knew whether you were from Brooklyn, the Bronx or Queens (I can’t tell you how we knew, we just did. I do remember someone asking me if I was Puerto Rican from Brooklyn because I wore red lipstick, but right now it’s been too long to remember how we knew), and we’d observe the hierarchy as our tribes wove the streets amidst the “city kids” — a mixture of LES Puerto Ricans and the rich kids who wanted to pass, who scored for tricks, and tried to roll with the poor kids for fun.

Quite frankly, the city was exhausting, and we were glad to come home although we’d never admit it.

When someone moved, we talked about it for months because no one was supposed to leave. Your whole world was reduced to a mile surrounding the block in which you lived. You had your church for those who wanted so desperately to believe; you had your Carvel, Gino’s Pizza and the Italian bakeries on 13th Avenue and in Bensonhurst; you had the boardwalk in Coney Island and the hot sun in Brighton Beach (although, if given the choice, we’d always choose Coney Island and Nathan’s Famous–a treat!); you had your C-Town supermarkets, your bodegas. You had your cemeteries, funeral parlors, parks, and drug dealers–and know that I’ve included all of these places, in this order, deliberately. Because back then what more did you need? (white people’s flights of fancy)

What I loved about growing up in New York was the smallness of it. Contrary to what the tourists and the people who’ve lived here for ten years (Who made up that rule that if you lived here for ten years you were automatically a New Yorker? Someone who didn’t grow up in New York, obviously) would have it, your whole world was in your neighborhood, and unless work or school took you somewhere else, the notion of leaving was unimaginable. I lived in Brooklyn for the first twelve years of my life and I never once set foot in Williamsburg. You had your tribe, and although I moved a great deal and attended a fancy college, everyone I knew until the age of 19 mostly hailed from New York.

Back then, no one thought of New York as a cupcake, an oft-quoted episode of Sex and the City, home to SoulCycle and drunks who brunch. Back then, no one personified New York (Oh, New York. You’re killing me!–Are you fucking kidding me with this syrupy stuff from romance novels?)–New York was the place in which we lived. We described it based on the people we knew and the places we loved, but not as a real person to whom we would speak or invite to shoulder our sorrow and grief. We were snobby, true, but not about those things. Mostly we complained about the subways, and the anger we felt when we discovered the places we loved shuttered, replaced by new places. Glinting places. Expensive places.

What I’ve grown to hate about New York is the largeness of it. What I’ve grown to hate about New York is memory. Things have moved around like pieces on a chessboard, and I’ll find myself in neighborhoods feeling lost. This used to be here. That used to be there. I suppose everyone who has come before me feels that too, although these mounting losses feel palpable. Everyone’s moved away and meeting someone who has grown up in New York is now a novelty when it used to be the norm. The rampant materialism, which I’m sure existed when I was small but wasn’t as exposed to it, is subsuming. Everything’s loud, everyone’s busy and the subway ride back to Brooklyn feels less comforting than it used to.

Maybe this is what happens when you grow older. You start complaining about everything. I acknowledge that.

Or maybe I’m just tired of living here. But this is home. This is all I’ve ever known. I went to college and graduate school here. I know most neighborhoods. I can make my way. I don’t have to drive. And although this place feels less familiar, it’s more familiar than any other place, I suppose. But do I stay because of the familiar? Do I leave because of the unheimlich? I find myself wondering why I work so hard each quarter to save up enough money to flee the country. I wonder about lots of things.

My return from Thailand this week was difficult. Returning from the glaring sun to the unwelcomed dark was almost too much to bear. I’ve only just recovered from jetlag, but I miss the the space in Thailand (ironic when there’s 12 million people in Bangkok compared to New York’s 8), the warmth, the quiet I was able to cultivate. And while you say, can’t you cultivate that same sort of quiet here, much like these pancakes you’ve recreated from your Thai holiday, I’ll say that I’ve tried and tried and the constant trying is what exhausts me.

I don’t know what this all means, which is to say that I don’t know if I’ll move away anytime soon or if I’ll be able to find my quiet and light in a place that feels like strange, unfamiliar, with the passing of each day. I miss my tribe. I miss how my home used to make me feel.

For now, I’ll have my coconut pancakes and warm home and keep writing my way out, to what’s next.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Foodie Fiasco
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp coconut flour
1 1/2 tbsp coconut sugar
1 tbsp coconut manna (purified coconut)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut milk (I use Thai Kitchen’s Coconut Milk)–make sure you stir the milk (as the ingredients will separate in the can) before you add to the batter)
pinch of salt

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DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, manna, baking powder/salt until completely combined. Coconut palm sugar tends to be gritty and the manna has a thick consistency, so you want to completely pulverize them. Add the beaten eggs, vanilla extract, almond and coconut milks and beat for a good minute on medium. To activate the coconut flour, you need to beat the mixture for longer than you think (don’t worry, you’re not rolling with gluten, so you won’t get hardened discs for pancakes). The mixture should be incredibly thick.

In a large greased pan (I melted some coconut oil), add a 1/4 cup mixture (to make large-ish silver dollar pancakes), making sure you have an inch between the cakes. Cook on one side for a minute or until the top starts to bubble a bit and the edges crisp and flip (gently!) to cook on the other side.

Serve with maple syrup, fruit and nuts!

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grain-free granola (and dear god, this is GOOD)

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Sometimes I miss gluten, I do. I’ll see an Instagram photo of a thin crust pizza topped with pancetta and figs and I’ll mourn. When I was in Spain, I took an apartment next to a bakery and the waft of baked morning loaves was sometimes unbearable. I don’t miss pasta as much as I thought I would, or the laundry list of foods that contain gluten in one form or another, but I miss bread. I miss oats. I miss granola. Now you may wave your pro-oat flag and tell me that there are gluten-free versions of oats, to which I’ll solemnly shake my head and respond, no, you are mistaken. All oats have gluten, and the gf versions simple don’t have the form of gluten intolerable to celiacs. Thus, it’s safe! Let the gluten-free label mania commence!

And then there are people like me, who are sensitive to gluten of all molecular shapes and forms, who break out into hives that one day I indulged in some gluten-free oats in my pancakes. I’ll spare you the visuals.

I thought I’d have to wait 7 more months to have granola until I came upon this paleo-friendly recipe. AND DEAR GOD, ORANGE KITTENS AND CHARRED-CRUST PIZZA WITH CRUMBLED SAUSAGE, THIS IS GOOD. Better than the oat version, my grain and gluten-free friends. Believe me when I say that I didn’t even purchase my requisite coconut or almond yoghurt (don’t believe what people tell you–these versions simply aren’t as good as the dairy-ridden kind)–I ate this granola by the spoonful. I love how it’s at turns salty and sweet, and the softened figs and dates give the granola a lovely texture.

I could eat this for days. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones, one of the bread-eating, pizza-crust-nibbling folk, living a gluten, fanciful life, this granola will kick your crap oats any day of the week.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen, modified
1 cup blanched, sliced almonds
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped
3 dried figs, chopped
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup almond flour/meal
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
seeds from 1 vanilla bean (if you don’t have this, add another tsp of vanilla extract)
pinch of cinnamon + sea salt

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix all of the ingredients. Turn the mixture out onto the baking sheet and spread into a thin, even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring the mixture halfway through the baking process. Let cool completely before serving to ensure that the granola will harden into clusters.

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heirloom + sundried tomato soup (+ some thoughts on kindness + judgment)

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I was going to talk about this soup, and I am, but I’m distracted. I’ll get to the soup, I promise. But first, this:

Have you ever met someone whose voice grated? Or maybe you don’t meet them at all. Maybe it’s someone who stands in front of you while you’re ordering coffee, or perhaps it might be the best friend of a woman you admire, and you end up asking yourself: how could she be friends with her? Have you ever spent time with someone who isn’t your vibe? And have you then rendered a verdict of this person (rights read, quick jury trial, sentencing)? As if to say that you know the whole of them based on a singular encounter?

We judge. Recklessly so. And we do it all the time. We roll our eyes; we smile and nod while plotting escape plans; we become ardent clockwatchers; we shift our seats; we leave altogether. I’ve done this, more times than I’d like to admit, and it’s a flaw of mine that requires constant work. I use to judge people who didn’t read “the right books” (I no longer do, or identify a book in terms of right and wrong). I used to judge people who referred to sunglasses as “sunnies.” I used to judge people who were sloppy drunk and then I reminded myself that I’ve no place to judge since I’ve probably done everything you can imagine to humiliate myself when I used to drink.

We’re often cruel–even in miniature–but we’re cruelest to ourselves. And when you can longer bear the weight of the pain that you inflict on yourself (all this pain, where do I put it?) you easily snap, snip, snarl at others.

There’s a fitness studio I like, I go there often. I have my favorite teachers and I make sure to scan the schedule to ensure there are no substitutes. Over the course of my time visiting the space, I took three classes with this one particular instructor, whose energy was grating. She was too perky, too glib, said the word ass, and when I brought another friend to class with me, we decided, after, that the teacher just wasn’t our scene.

Recently, I found myself early for a class at the wrong location (chalk it up to absentmindedness), and as I was placing my towels on the machine, the teacher who wasn’t my scene came over and told me that I was in the wrong studio but did I want a private class? Because she’d be willing to teach it.

She’d been up since 4AM traveling to work and teaching classes and she could’ve simply refunded my class or shrugged her shoulders, but instead she was kind. There’s no poetic way to say how I felt, which was shitty. For nearly an hour, she adjusted my posture, gave me modifications for poses I couldn’t do, and worked along side me, cheering me along. After, we spent time talking and I found myself really liking her. The teacher was funny, smart, and she talked about how it hurt to see negative reviews of her classes online. How a woman once barked at her, you’re not motivating me!, and how that bruised her, so much so that she was shaken for the rest of class. I was standing in front of a woman who loves what she does, takes it seriously, who practiced grace and I felt…SMALL.

I walked away realizing that maybe I’d thought she wasn’t my scene because she she was exactly my scene. I’ve been told that my personality can be polarizing, that I’m sometimes impenetrable, and often my shyness around “new” people is mistaken for bitchiness. But I know that I’m a good person who is flawed, much like how I imagine everyone else sees themselves. Perhaps I was reacting to this teacher because I had a hard time accepting that I don’t always give a great first impression.

My friends, those for whom I would lay down, tell me that I’m the sort of friend who would go into the dark and pull them out into the light. I go above and beyond; I’ll do everything for the people I love, but when you first meet me you don’t know all of this. How could you? Exactly like how I didn’t expect this teacher’s extraordinary act of generosity. We don’t really know one another until we make the effort to, until we get past our initial discomfort or constructs of how a person should act or be. At the end of class I thanked the teacher profusely, and she shrugged her shoulders and said, We’ve all been there. I know how it feels. In that grace, I saw the lack of grace I’d been practicing, and I was grateful for the awareness. How the act of her kindness made me want to be kinder.

I’m thinking about our exchange, still. There are people who are unkind (and trust me, I’ve excised them), people who don’t deserve a setting at our table, but I have to believe the vast majority of people are good. Most of us mean well, but maybe we’re awkward, maybe we had a bad day or ten or 365. And it’s all made me think that if I can see something good in someone, even a spark or flare, I’m going to try to make the effort to push past snap judgments.

I was going to talk about this soup, I WAS, but I got caught up in all of the above. But know I’m spending the day indoors, working, writing, editing, sipping on soup and watching scary movies.

INGREDIENTS
1 tbsp of avocado oil
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 1/2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
6 sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil, roughly chopped
4 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup basil, packed
Salt/pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot on medium heat, add the olive oil. After a minute, add the chopped onion + minced garlic along with a bit of salt so the onion sweats but doesn’t char and burn. Let the mixture cook until the onions are semi-translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sundried tomatoes, stirring the mixture so that the garlic and onions coat the vegetables. Add the stock and turn the heat up to high until the soup boils. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 25 minutes.

I prefer my soup with buckwheat groats (2 cups of stock for 1 cup of groats, cook per the package directions), but you can absolutely rock this without the groats if you’re nixing grains.

After 25 minutes, add the basil, stir, and the mixture to a high-powered blender and blitz until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot and cook for an additional ten minutes. If you’re rocking groats, I add the groats when I’ve returned the mixture to the pot, so the grains can thicken the soup.

Serve hot, with basil and a little avocado oil, salt and pepper.

avocado squash + butternut squash tomato soup

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Just when I thought I found the perfect soup recipe, there’s always another. Another cookbook, another season rife with fresh produce at the market, and today I think I’ve discovered my favorite soup to date. This version, adapted from the Hemsley + Hemsley The Art of Eating Well cookbook (the gift that keeps on giving, my health conscious-minded folk. Thank YOU, Jamie, for the tip-off.) has everything you could possibly desire in an autumn soup: squash (I used avocado squash, which was a rare find at the market and butternut) and pounds of sweet orange tomatoes. Naturally, I added my buckwheat groats to give the soup some depth, heft and texture, and my recent travels to Spain have got me obsessed with chorizo, so I fried up some sausage and scattered the sliced links on top of my soup. I also love this soup because it keeps well in the fridge–perfect for packing meals for the work-week.

This week is my first week back at work and my regular routine. Pray for a woman enduring jet lag!

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Art of Eating Well (Serves 6)
For the soup
1 pound of butternut squash, cut in fat cubes
2 pounds of avocado squash, cut in fat cubes (note: avocado squash is not the same thing as avocados)
3 pounds of fresh tomatoes (used tinned San Marzano if tomatoes aren’t in season), rough dice
1 large yellow onion + 3 large shallots, rough chop
1/2 garlic bulb
1 tbsp olive oil + Salt/pepper to season the veggies
2 tbsp coconut oil
4 tsp of lemon basil (I found this at the market, but you can use rosemary, thyme, basil or sage), rough chop
4 cups of low-sodium vegetable stock
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
a pan-fried (or roasted) chorizo link per person
Sea salt, black pepper and a little fresh herbs for the finish

For the groats
1 cup of buckwheat groats
2 cups of vegetable stock

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DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 425F. Add all of your veggies (flesh side up), garlic, onions and shallots to a large roasting tray. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt + pepper. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Gently heat the coconut oil in a large pot and add the basil. Fry for a few minutes in low heat as you try not to burn your hands squeezing the garlic out of their skins. You’ll need 6 cloves. The rest you can use in vinaigrettes and perhaps some toast for you privileged GLUTEN-EATING FOLK. Add the contents of your tray to the pot, along with the garlic cloves and the vegetable stock. Cover and simmer the soup for 20 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, add the groats + stock to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes until the water is nearly absorbed. Fry up some chorizo links in a large saucepan. I like all my meat charred so I tend to start the chorizo when I start the groats. However, roll with it. Don’t have timing drama. This is cooking, not baking, which is such a blissful change of pace.

Add the soup to a high-powered blender (or use an immersion blender), and blitz until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, add the cooked groats, and cook for an additional 5 minutes. The soup will thicken. Ladle out soup into bowls, add the chunks of chorizo, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil for garnish. EAT THE FUCK OUT OF THIS.

Or you can be like me and package it up for the week!

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zucchini, corn + pepper fritters (gluten-free)

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Although I loved my two weeks in Spain, nothing compares to home. Nothing compares to a hot shower on a cool night, the feel of your sheets between your toes, and the kitchen I’ll never take for granted again. Andalusian food was everything I expected it to be: simple, fresh ingredients perfectly prepared, but it was challenging dining out. Nearly every item on most menus contained either gluten, dairy, yeast, fish, or scores of other foods of which I had a sensitivity. Dining out required a plan and most days I subsisted on beef, chorizo, delicious cuts of Iberian ham, flash-fried eggplant drizzled with molasses or honey, and patas fritas. Having an AirBNB rental to come home to was a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to eat all the vegetables lacking from my diet during the day.

I actually found myself craving cauliflower and kale. It’s true what they say–when you eat wholesome food, you crave wholesome food. I no longer miss the carbs on which I once subsisted, although I did have an pang while seeing my tour guide slather olive oil and tomatoes on his morning roll. But the desire left as quickly as it arrived, and I didn’t want another fried potato, rather I wanted a heaping pile of greens with roasted chickpeas. While it was much easier cooking in Barcelona (the produce from the Boqueria was incredible, diverse and plentiful), Granada posed a challenge. The climate doesn’t offer a lot of variety in terms of vegetables, and I found myself pining for home, even amidst all the incredible grandeur of the cathedrals, all the Andalusian beauty.

Yesterday, I arrived home, jetlagged. Me being me, I had to unpack, clean and sort my mail within the first two hours of being home. And you can’t understand how it felt to feast on a HUGE bowl of salad last night. Also, the Hemsley sisters’ book, The Art of Eating Well, arrived, and I can’t wait to dive into it this weekend. Lots of veg, lots of color and goodness.

Until then, I’ll be content staring at these fritters I made a month ago, and the fact that I’m finally hitting the gym after a two-week break. Yikes!

INGREDIENTS
1 ear of local, GMO-free corn, shucked, kernels removed with a large knife down the sides of the corn
1 zucchini, grated
3 tbsp mixed sweet bell peppers, cubed
1 tbsp chives, minced
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 tbsp of olive oil

DIRECTIONS
Combine all the ingredients, except for the olive oil, in a bowl and allow to rest for ten minutes. In a large skillet on medium heat, add the olive oil. Using an ice cream scoop, dollop and slightly flatten the fritters, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Cook for 4-6 minutes on one side until brown, flip, and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately with your favorite dressing/dipping sauce. I used this leftover creamy parsley dressing.

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the triumphant return of the groat!

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When I made a seismic shift in my diet two months ago, many were aghast. The top five questions, in no particular order, were (and continue to be) as follows:

1. Aren’t you hungry?
2. No really, aren’t you hungry?
3. So, what do you eat?
4. So, you eat mostly vegetables, because gluten is in everything?
5. So, you can only eat rice and potatoes? Whoa, that’s sad

There’s a thread to these questions–some are filled with curiousity and wonder, and others are trying to imagine the unimaginable–but all of them consider my life change from the perspective of subtraction rather than addition, or dare I even suggest…multiplication. In food, like life, there are additions that are not purely mathematical. For years, I relied on a handful of dishes and foods to sustain me, and know that the irony of this–someone who eats by rote and routine–does not escape me, self-proclaimed foodie. I think it’s because we’re only present for the moment we consume, rarely do consider or tally up the totality of what we’ve consumed until we open our closets one day and collapse under the avalanche of what we’ve collected over time. Until the moment when you fill three huge boxes of food, all of them gluten-based.

Through constraints, you find abundance. You become agile, creative, and I liken this to writing prose, really, because prose requires that you look the world through a different prism. Writing is about what you see when everything else about a object has been stripped away. It’s like looking through the kaleidoscopes you had as a child. The world was filled with color, glass and beads, and as you look through one end, light floods creating patterns based on the reflection off the mirrors. Your whole point of focus has been reduced to the light coming in through the tube, and there were people who recited the list of things they saw, while I always imagined something other. I saw what wasn’t there; I saw the barest thing and from that I fashioned something so far from the collection of random objects. I saw the beauty beneath and beyond, if that makes any sense.

And so after a few weeks of whining and the like (I’ll have you know that my whining now revolves around my skin condition), I decided to reframe and think of all the things I can have. I imagine all the variations on a single food (cauliflower! kale! chickpeas!) and build and mutate, build and mutate, until what I have is so much greater than what I’ve lost. Make sense?

That’s a long-winded way (shocker, this is me we’re talking about) of saying that I can have rice (so many kinds and colors!), lentils (rinse, lather, repeat), quinoa, beans, buckwheat groats, and the list goes on. But beyond that, all the vegetables, meats, fruits, flavors, spices, herbs! It’s like taking a noodle and in one country, it’s Italian, in another it’s Greek, Indian, and so forth.

So I found a few recipes for my beloved groat (ah, the couscous of our gluten-free time!), one of which is this lovely side dish that has a very Indian feel (ginger, turmeric–though, I substituted for curry as I didn’t have turmeric on hand, cinnamon, orange flavors, cilantro), and I plan on hoovering this tonight with vegetables.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gluten, Wheat, & Dairy Free Cookbook, a gift from my dear friend, Amber. I modified the recipe slightly.
2 cups gluten-free vegetable stock
1 1/4 cups toasted buckwheat groats
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric (or curry)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup raisins
2 carrots, coarsely shredded
1/3 cup pine nuts (I nixed this)
Salt + pepper
1/4 cup cilantro and orange zest, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
Bring the stock to a boil and add the groats. Simmer for 5-6 minutes on medium heat. Add one tablespoon of oil, cover, and let cook for 8-10 minutes, until tender and all the water has been absorbed.

Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil and saute the shallots with a pinch of salt over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and slightly browned.

Add the garlic, ginger, and stir for 1 minute. Then, stir in the turmeric (or curry), cinnamon, orange juice, raisins, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the carrots, cooked buckwheat, and pine nuts, and stir until evenly heated. Season to taste with salt + pepper. Add chopped cilantro + orange zest for garnish.

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creamy tomato soup with roasted chickpea croutons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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almond coconut chocolate chip cookies (gluten/dairy/grain-free)

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Here’s the thing–I’ve always approached vegan desserts with reticence because most recipes prattle on about how this cookie, muffin, cake, tastes just like the sweets from your childhood, when, in fact, that vegan muffin doesn’t come close to what you’ve had before. I grew up devouring saccharine sweet Little Debbie cakes, whose ingredients were questionable at best, and I eased into adulthood baking flaky French pastries, two-tier birthday cakes, and cookies that forced you to close your eyes and weep.

You don’t understand the rage I felt when someone would suggest I substitute applesauce for butter. And please don’t even suggest it now unless you’re making an apple cake. Regardless of my gluten, dairy, yeast, and the 500 other things I can’t eat, I’m still an ardent evangelist of full-fat baking. The phrase low-fat doesn’t exist in my vocabulary, as it’s just another way of saying, let’s fill the recipe with a pile of sugar, which inevitably will convert to garbage in your liver. I still believe in baking beautifully but consuming mindfully.

Funny thing, I’ve noticed. I don’t hoover like I used to. Since my diet is heavily plant-based, I’m surprisingly satisfied with just one cookie, 2 heaping tablespoons of dairy-free pistachio ice-cream (and trust me, the coconut and cashew milk are fat enough). I enjoy a small indulgence as much as I can, and then I wrap up the goods and save them for another day, or friend.

I fell in love with the magic that mixing a few ingredients can bring, and when I was forced to shift my diet, baking initially fell out of favor. The stove, rather than the oven, became my new best friend, and I neglected the new flours and ingredients in my pantry. However, lately, I’m finding that I’ve struck a nice balance between discovering new ways of cooking cauliflower (and there are SO. MANY. WAYS.) and finding new flavors in old favorites.

Take the chocolate chip cookie. I’ve baked A MILLION COOKIES a million different ways, and I initially regarded this recipe with disdain. However, when they came out of the oven and I took my first bite, I wasn’t comparing this cookie to a buttery, semi-sweet chocolate chip one, rather, I felt as if I’d encountered something altogether new. I can’t explain it just yet, but it was a different cookie, a richer, smokier, heartier one, and if given the choice I might choose this version over what I’ve had previously because it’s not a pale-down version of the original or a variation on a single theme, rather it’s a new song, a blank page ready for this first word.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m less interested in re-creating than creating. I don’t need a slew of bad ingredients to take me closer to where I was because all it does is reminded me of what I can’t have. This cookie pushes me forward, makes me think of all new flavors I CAN have.

BANANAS, right?

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Oh She Glows Cookbook
1/4 cup of melted coconut oil
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp of almond butter
3/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups of almond meal
1/4 cup of dark or vegan chocolate chips
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend coconut oil and nut butter until combined. Add both sugars and beat for 1 minute more. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until combined.

One by one, beat in the baking soda, baking powder, and almond meal. The dough should be slightly sticky. If your dough is dry, you can add a tablespoon of almond milk to thin it out. Fold in the chocolate chips and coconut flakes.

Using cookie scoop or spoon, scoop 1-inch balls onto prepared sheet. Leave 2-3 inches between each cookie as they spread. There is no need to flatten the dough before baking.

Bake for 12-14 minutes until golden brown on the bottom. The cookies will be soft coming out of the oven, but become chewy and crisp when they cool.

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a woman encounters the AREPA

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If my friend Amber were here right now, I’d give her a pony. And possibly an orange kitten for good measure. All because she introduced me to the glory that is the AREPA. In my humble opinion, arepas are next-level tacos. A corn-based flatbread indigenous to Colombia and Venezuela, arepas have a doughy, yet crunchy texture, and are the perfect haven for all sorts of fixings.

AND AREPAS ARE GLUTEN-FREE.

Today, I fixed mine with leftover chopped chicken, chickpeas, kale and mixed greens. Clearly, I plan to add arepas to my repertoire. I’m envisioning pulled pork and veg, roasted vegetables, and taco beef.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Bon Appetit
2 cups arepa flour (precooked cornmeal)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Desired fillings (such as shredded cooked chicken or pork, stewed black beans with cheese and lime, corn salad with onion and fresh herbs; for serving)
Lime wedges (for serving)

Note: Arepa flour is precooked corn flour, not to be confused with masa harina. Sometimes sold as masarepa or harina precocida, it can be found in Latin markets and some supermarkets.

DIRECTIONS
Combine arepa flour and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and add 2½ cups warm water. Using a wooden spoon, gradually incorporate dry ingredients, stirring until no dry lumps remain. Let rest 5 minutes to hydrate.

Knead dough a few times in bowl, then divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece on work surface into a ball, then gently flatten to about ½” thick.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 4 arepas, cover, and cook until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Uncover, flip, and cook (keep uncovered) until other side is golden brown, 6–8 minutes.

Transfer arepas to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining 1 Tbsp. oil and dough. Let the arepas cool for 10 minutes. Split arepas and stuff with desired fillings (I used chopped up chicken, chickpeas and kale sauteed in a pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper); serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.

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nectarine, yogurt and poppy seed cake (gluten + dairy free)

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While I haven’t quite fallen under the spell of dairy-free chocolate chips (and you don’t even want to know my response to sampling a certain brand’s dairy-free salted caramel ice-cream, unless you want to queue up images of gagging and a face caving inward), gluten + dairy free baking is no longer the traumatizing experience I assumed it would be. And while I still occasionally uncover the packet of yeast I neglected to chuck, or wonder if a few pats of butter will really kill me (no, but I’ll itch and wretch horribly FOR DAYS, so there’s that), I’m slowly becoming accustomed to enjoying a whole new terrain of cooking and baking. And with the cooler months on the horizon, nothing gives me more joy than being ensconced in a hot kitchen, stirring soup and baking cakes.

Remember yesterday’s mini-rage blackout? When I lamented over the fact that I have to get creative with gluten-free cookbooks, because most invariably rely on dairy as a salve for our gluten loss? Aran Goyoaga’s Small Plates and Sweet Treats was one of those tomes, and as I paged through scores of lush and beautifully-photographed recipes, I kept seeing sour cream, cheese, butter, milk, yoghurt, heavy cream, in 80% of the recipes. Case in point, this nectarine pound cake. I fell in LOVE with the snap in the cookbook, and, quite honestly, who can refuse a pound cake? So instead of hurling the book out the window of my yoga studio, I got smart and made quite a bit of substitutions.

The result? A delicious, lemony-rich cake. So good, I had to shove the remainders in the freezer in case I get crazy (although my carb cravings have subsided quite a bit).

This morning I’m expecting a load of groceries and I’m back to recipe exploration. Wish me luck!

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Aran Goyoaga’s Small Plates and Sweet Treats
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted Earth Balance butter, at room temperature
4 tbsp coconut oil, at room temperature
1 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest or lemon extract
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup Almond Dream plain vegan yoghurt
3/4 cup superfine brown rice flour
1/3 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup almond flour
2 tbsp tapioca starch/flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
4 nectarines, halved, pitted and sliced
2 tbsp slivered almonds
1 tbsp coconut palm sugar for dusting

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch tube/bundt pan with coconut spray, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter, coconut oil, sugars, vanilla extract, and lemon zest no medium speed until light, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time. Mix until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl. Add the yoghurt and mix until combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, ginger and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of the mixer and mix on medium speed until it comes together into a creamy batter.

Scoop the batter into the greased pan and spread evenly. Smooth out the top with a spatula as much as possible. Top with sliced nectarines and sprinkle with slivered almonds and coconut sugar. Bake for 1-1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan completely before inverting it onto a cooling rack. Store at room temperature for up to 1 day, or refrigerate for up to 3 days. The cake can be frozen for up to a month.

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tomato + brown rice soup with crumbled sausage

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Yesterday was a dark day. The sort of day where you want to draw all the blinds and burrow under the covers. I was at work when I received the results of my initial bloodwork (celiac coming next week, kids!) and my food sensitivities have been confirmed: gluten, dairy, yeast. Essentially, every food product in AMERICA. I spent the bulk of the day despondent, in a fog, trying to make sense of this–how I went from monthly stomach pains and sickness to hives and food elimination–and more importantly, trying to wrap my head around the fact that this seismic shift affects me in ways I never imagined.

I’m a baker. I love yeasty loaves and plump muffins. Baking gave my hands something to do, kept me occupied during my darkest hours. The alchemy of it, the wonder I felt watching dough rise through the small window of my oven, gave me comfort. And now, all of it, is in ruins. My kitchen appeared tainted, bruised, having just survived a purging of all gluten products, and now this. I needed to spend yesterday mourning the loss of the simple joy that only white flour, sugar, and butter can bring. I didn’t need to hear: there are options! you are strong! be positive!

Why is it that we always race to brand a smile on someone’s face? Why is it that we’re afraid to watch someone sit quietly in their sadness, albeit for a little while? There is always this curious rush to solve, to correct, to fix, when all I wanted to do was sit in front of my computer, work, and say, this sucks for a few hours. Allow people trespass to their sadness–you’re not helping if you try to immediately diminish the weight of it.

I came home defeated, and decided to make this soup. It was delicious, comforting, filling –until I discovered that the chicken stock I used contained yeast extract, and so began the nighttime itch.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to slowly sit with this adjustment. I’m going to have to be more diligent about reading labels. I’ll have to be inventive, patient, and curious. I’ll have to buy books and read new blogs. I’ll have to play this as it lays.

No gluten, dairy, and yeast for at least nine months. I’m going to need to sit with this.

INGREDIENTS (all local/organic)
2 large beefsteak or vine tomatoes
1 28oz can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1 quart of chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 Italian sausage link, crumbled out of the casing
1 large yellow onion, rough chop
4-6 fat garlic cloves, rough chop
2 cups of basil (in season only; tonight I opted to nix this)
1 tbsp of olive oil
1/2 cup brown rice
Salt/pepper to season and taste

DIRECTIONS
De-seed and dice the tomatoes (no need to get all exact about this. My rule of thumb is to cut everything the same size so as everything cooks evenly). Chop the onions & dice the garlic. In a large saucepan, add the olive oil. Add the onions, garlic with pinches of salt & pepper. Cook for 3 minutes on medium-high heat. You’ll notice that the onions are translucent and soft. Add the sausage and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

Once the mixture has softened, add the can of San Marzano tomatoes and the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the salt and pepper to season, and stir for 1-2 minutes. Bring the heat down to medium. Cover the pot with a lid and cook for 15-20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, add the fresh basil. You are ready to blitz! I have an immersion blender (one of the best investments I’ve made since I cook a lot of soup), which I recommend. Blend to smooth. Alternatively, you can blend this in batches in the blender. Warning: when blending hot liquids make sure you fill the blender only half-way & cover the lid with a towel and press down. This will prevent a steam/liquid explosion. After the soup is smooth, return the mixture to the pot. It will look watery! No worries, the starches released from the brown rice will serve to thicken the soup. Add the brown rice and cook for another 20 minutes.

In a medium skillet or grill pan, grill up bits of a sausage until well-done.

Ladle into bowls + serve with the crumbled sausage, olive oil and fresh basil. The soup will store wonderfully in an airtight container for a week.

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there is always a plan: mapping my weekly meal strat

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Saturday night I spent four hours at a tony beach club, scanning the room for gluten-free food. I’ll save you the diatribe and tell you that while the cocktails looked grand, the chow situation was woeful and limited. I was in a world dominated by flour taco bites and quarter-sized burgers on crostini. Everywhere I turned I was faced with a reminder of the one molecule I dare not consume: GLUTEN.

For those of you whom are interested, I am no longer a walking hive. I’m off the steroids, and a semblance of the woman I once was–before the cacio e pepe blitzkrieg–is slowly returning. Never will I take a body free from itch for granted.

Before you lament my situation, know that I was prepared; I had a plan. In fact, my life as of late requires quite a bit of planning to make eating virtuously a conversation that always starts with YES. It makes navigating a gluten-infested work cafeteria palpable (How is there gluten in a black bean burger? A woman is FLUMMOXED!). While these tips are Captain Obvious, they’ve been extraordinarily helpful to me in terms of planning meals + grocery shopping for the week.

1. Planning: Every week (Monday-Wednesday), I scan my five top cookbooks, recent food magazines, and my gluten-free and vegetarian boards I’ve created for myself on Pinterest, in search of 2 “big” dishes and 2 sides that can be recycled. Big dishes will include a meat/poultry-based dish, where I can make the dish once and have it supply me with 2-3 meals. Examples include a chicken + sausage tray bake, beef tacos (I’ll re-use the meat in cold salads and gluten-free sandwiches), stir-fry beef (great with cold rice and salads) or this almond-crusted chicken. I always make a dish that I know I can chop it up, toss in a salad, pair with healthy legumes for the following day.

In addition to my BIG meals, I also scan for sides. Not only are these great accoutrements to a meal, but they serve as a lunch sides (I brown bag three days a week) or for healthy snacks, easily accessible in the fridge. I tend to go with veg-based options. Whether I’m making sweet potatoes that I can mash up later, or a roasted vegetable salad (my fave as of late) or a tub of roasted chickpeas, I commit myself to 2 sides + 2 big meals to supply food options for the week.

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2. Shopping: I hate shopping except for when it comes to food. Food? I can shop all day, multiple times a week if need be. However, once I’ve got my big meals + sides mapped, I make a complete grocery list in Evernote of what I need to order. I also scan my fridge/pantry weekly to see if I’m running out of staples (eggs, almond milk, olive oil, etc) to compile one master list. I use this list to make a weekly order on Fresh Direct. I usually place the order for delivery on a Friday or Saturday, so I can make my meals for the week.

I’ve also accepted that I will pick up items at the grocery/market every other day, mostly gluten-free breads, fresh produce or cuts of beef that I’ll buy from a specific market. This forces me to buy in-season when fruit is ripe and delectable and it also inspires a relationship between me and my butcher. I tend to buy beef/poultry from the Union Square market (I LOVE Flying Pigs Farm, btw) or the USQ Whole Foods.

3. Unpacking: As soon as the groceries arrive, I’m ready with Ziploc bags, markers and Tupperware. I wash all my greens in one shot, dry, label, and secure them in airtight bags. I devote an entire shelf in my fridge to produce and herbs, and everything has a label. I also have Tupperware or smaller snack bags at the ready so I can open, chop, portion and drop. A bag of mixed veggies or fruit on the go? DONE AND DONE. This may sound like a look of effort, but 1-2 hours of prep saves you so much time during the week. I also use this time to check expiration dates on my products, do a clean wipe down of my fridge before the new guests arrive into their home.

4. Meal + Snack Prep: On Sundays, I spent 2-3 hours cooking and portioning my meals for the week. Sometimes I’ll split this between Saturday and Sundays, but usually with meat dishes I like to cook them as close to consumption as possible. The bottom shelf of my fridge is devoted to my stockpiles. I have two Tupperware (or 1 Tupperware, one Ziploc) per day. Meal is on the bottom, snacks are on top. Every day, all I need to do is open the fridge and dump my meal in my purse. Easy-peasy.

5. Purse snacks and side-eye events: Since I’ve learned that KIND bars are the spawn of Satan, I’m packing very healthy, virtuous options for on-the-go snacking (for the days when I’m not in the office) or in the event I have an event where my gluten-free options are limited. I usually pack homemade bars, Think Thin bars (look for really low levels of sugar), fruit, nuts (don’t get crazy with the portions) freshly-cut veggies or a protein shake I’ll make in the morning. This weekend, I carted a glass, lightweight tub filled with fresh apricots, figs, 2 protein bars and my avocado chocolate mousse. Not only was I sated at the event, I didn’t pick at snack trays. I wasn’t even TEMPTED.

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I’m sure there are a ton of apps and programs that I could use which would make this process infinitely more efficient, but I actually like the tactile feel of going to kitchen, taking inventory and writing down what I need. If you have any meal prep tips, sites or other cool ways to map out your eats for the week, let me know!