chocolate swirl coffee cake (vegan/gluten-free)

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It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. —Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark

In March, I wrote about the desire to focus on hope rather than blind positivity. We’re constantly told to swallow our voice. We could practically hear the shouts of Be happy! Be positive! drowning the reality of our waking hours. We’re admonished for feeling blue–sorrow is a demonstrable sign of weakness, of laziness, not to pick ourselves up and shake off our sadness even when it feels as if we’re choking on sunshine. When you’re told to be a binary, it’s not realistic or helpful, rather, it’s a temporary salve that gives others comfort because we live in a culture that is repelled by discomfort. And then you feel even more paralyzed because now you’re not only carrying the burden of your own sorrow, you’re now responsible for what others carry. While everyone scrambles to fulfill a social contract of being fake, no one actually feels better.

We’ll do anything possible not to feel uncomfortable because who wants to sit in sadness when we can snap filtered photos of ourselves living our best lives, right?

Wrong.

Blind optimism and pessimism are binaries that don’t require action, whereas hope gives you the power and possibility to alter an end result. Everything may not be okay, but at least you’re in the proverbial driver’s seat instead of closing your eyes while someone else drives. Hope is realistic. Hope gets you through the day. In March, my psychiatrist asked me how I felt after a month on meds and intensive therapy and I said, hopeful, which is a hell of a lot better than helpless.

In the midst of my depression, I remember someone telling me that I wasn’t being positive enough. Be happy, someone wrote on my Facebook wall, to which I shouted, what the fuck does that even mean? How does “be happy” solve the real problems in my life instead of throwing a convenient blanket over them?

I’m thinking about this today not only because I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s slim, yet extraordinary, book of essays on hope, but I have a lot of uncertain days ahead. I don’t know if I’ll find the right partner, or how my book will be perceived, or how my life in Los Angeles will pan out. But I do have hope and at least that gives me a path to action, possibility.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Maya Sozer’s Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches
For the dry ingredients
2 cups gluten-free flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder

For the wet ingredients
2 bananas, mashed
3/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used coconut nectar)
2 tbsp almond butter (or any nut butter)
1 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. This recipe couldn’t get any simpler. Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl except for the cocoa. Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Pour 2/3 of the batter into a small loaf pan (5×7). Mix the cocoa into the remaining third of the batter and add it to the loaf pan. Using a fork, create a marbling effect by swirling the fork between the two layers. Bake for 45-50 minutes, but start checking after 40 minutes.

Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack. Allow to cool for an hour before diving in. I didn’t obviously, because who can wait an hour?

cake + sweet loaf recipes gluten-free

butternut squash mac & cheese

butternut squash mac and cheese

To say that I’ve been in a food rut would be an understatement. Since I moved to California, my tastes, in general, have changed. I no longer want to resemble a bruise with all the black and blue I used to wear, so I’ve set aside the darkness in favor of the light–pale blues, creams, blush. Labels no longer interest me because I spend most of my days working in a coffee shop or a couch, and I rather pay down debt and book trips that hoard purses. I never thought I’d want anything mustard in my home, but now I’ve got gold and mustard all the joint.

And then there’s food. Before I left New York, I was disciplined. In the morning, I’d have a protein shake and there would always be some salad over the course of the day, and gluten and dairy were verboten. Now that I live in Los Angeles and have lost the ease in which I can move about a city when I eat out it’s planned around location and traffic, but mostly I cook at home or eat locally because it’s cheaper and I don’t have to worry about sitting on the 10 or 405 for an hour just to get across town. I’m lucky in the sense that eating healthier here is ubiquitous There’s no corner deli serving up bacon, egg, and cheese, and finding good bagels are challenging. Eggs, shakes, and acai bowls are the norm, and I’ve often had to roll my eyes at eateries that sport “bone broth” on the menu because they’ve basically gussied up chicken stock with some clever Kinfolk-esque re-branding.

I’m also lucky (and privileged) to live in a city where everything is in walking distance. I have two markets in a five-block radius of my home, and the Santa Monica Farmer’s market is worth a weekly visit.

But my tastes have changed. I can’t explain it. I’ve paged through the cookbooks that gave me joy in New York and I’m uninspired. I’m also tired of overcomplication.

A year and a half ago, I went at life so hard. Workouts weren’t worth it unless I felt like I was going to die. Cooking food wasn’t great unless I was hunting down ingredients. Work wasn’t purposeful unless I juggled a pile of projects. All this velocity became exhausting. Perhaps this is why I haven’t returned to the megaformer (I’m just not interested in pushing myself until I faint, vomit, or both, so now I spin or do pilates), stopped ordering ingredients off the internet, and have focused my energy on juggling 2-3 projects at a time.

So, this pasta. Last week, I was in Barnes & Noble and I found Maya Sozer’s book on the New Releases table and the burger on the cover gave me pause. I thumbed through the book and not only did I find the meals tasty and pretty easy to assemble, they were healthy. I’ve made dishes with squash as a “cheese” sauce, like this penne and chicken & this lasagna, but I’m trying to chill with my gluten and dairy intake (I normally have either once a week and I make sure it’s GOOD–like a baguette with butter, cacio e pepe, or a homemade grilled cheese sandwich). Enter this pasta.

I will say a few things. This sauce is a bit too much for a pound of pasta. I think you can dial this back by 1/2 cup and save it or add more pasta. And while this doesn’t taste like “cheese” (and it shouldn’t because that would be really lame), the nutritional yeast and cashews give a creamy, comforting texture, and the spice mixture gives the dish a pop. I fried up some sweet italian sausage and mixed that in, along with some diced sundried tomatoes and fresh parsley, and I hoovered two bowls and saved the rest for lunch tomorrow.

Easy peasy.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Maya Sozer’s Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches (I modified based on what I had on hand)
For the mac & cheese:
1/4 cup raw cashews (this is important–you can’t use salted, roasted or any of that other nonsense)
1-3/4 cups cooked butternut squash or 3/4 of a 15oz can of squash puree
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-3/4 cups almond milk (must be unsweetened, unflavored)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons sweet curry powder (I have regular curry powder and it worked fine)
1 to 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (I didn’t use this as I didn’t have ginger on hand and don’t much like it in cream sauces)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne rigate or rigatoni pasta

Optional garnish:
Fresh parsley (or thyme)
sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil

DIRECTIONS
Put all the ingredients, except the salt, black pepper and pasta, into a food processor or high-speed blender and mix until smooth. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Add the butternut squash sauce to the same pot after draining out the pasta water. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the pasta is dressed with the sauce and is piping hot.

Add your garnishes, if you’re feeling it.

dairy-free recipes gluten-free pasta recipes

spaghetti with tomato and walnut pesto

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I made this dish for a friend who came over for brunch one Saturday. I greeted her, and a guy I’d hired off Task Rabbit to assemble a file cabinet (naturally they arrived at the same time), with a deafening smoke alarm from the tomatoes I’d been roasting in the oven. The three of us held up towels and magazines, trying to air out my apartment from all the smoke that had accumulated, and we ended up laughing because my cat nearly went airborne trying to flee the alarm. Good times. 

I just finished Heather Havrilesky’s excellent column collection, How to Be a Person in the World (buy it, read it, effective yesterday), and one of the Ask Polly columns resonated so deeply with me–a woman moved to a new city and struggled to make new friends. While I prefer to spend much of my time alone (I actually take solace in the quiet of my own company), I do miss the ease of my east coast friendships. The feeling that I could hop on a subway and see a friend in the middle of the day. Since I’m a consultant much of my time is spent at home, in seclusion, and while I have a set of good friends, I wouldn’t mind a slow and deliberate expansion of my circle. A loosening of a belt, if you will. And I loved how Heather talked about opening your heart in the sense that you’d be surprised how the people who remain and thrive are those whom you least suspect. It’s okay to connect with people who are not your vision of an ideal friend because we need people, and companionship, in any form, is a comfort. 

So I’m joining a few groups, took up membership at a really cool gym where the members actually socialize (who knew?) and talk to one another, and I can’t wait to have new friends over for dinner. 

DIRECTIONS: Recipe from Bon Appetit
⅔ cup walnuts
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons plus ⅓ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher salt
6 oil-packed anchovies, coarsely chopped (I nixed this because fish)
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about ½ cup), plus more for serving
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces spaghetti (I used gluten-free fettucini)
½ cup (packed) basil leaves

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until slightly darkened, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.
Heat broiler. Toss tomatoes with 2 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt. Broil, tossing once, until tomatoes are blistered and have released some of their liquid, 5–7 minutes. Let cool.

Pulse anchovies, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and ½ oz. Parmesan in a food processor until finely ground. Add walnuts and half of tomatoes, then, with motor running, stream in ⅓ cup oil; process just until combined. Season with salt. Transfer pesto to a large bowl and stir in black pepper.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid.

Transfer pasta to bowl with pesto and add a splash of pasta cooking liquid. Toss, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Add basil and remaining tomatoes.

Divide among bowls; top with more Parmesan and black pepper and drizzle with oil.
.

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mini cinnamon pancakes

mini cinnamon pancakes

I need to stop reading this is forty posts. It’s a saccharine, pensive version of the turning 30 post, as if what we know can be compartmentalized so neatly into the kind of age range boxes we check off on forms. As if our unique journeys can be collapsed on a timeline that reminds us that we’re inching toward flat-line. As if the learnings are so revelatory. From the moment we’re born, we’re inching our way back to that from which we’ve come, and our life serves as an oscillation between and within those two states. There exists no linear trajectory, save for physical time because we’re constantly going back and refining for the now and what’s to come. 

At the end of the day, whether you’re 30 or 32 or 43–the number doesn’t matter, what matters is the continuation (and hopefully, evolution) of one’s experience. 

I turned 40 at the end of last year and I’ve endured what felt like insurmountable losses–some of which I’ve written about here, some I’ll never write about. When I moved to Los Angeles, all healthy-eating, fresh-faced and hopeful, never would I have anticipated the dark months that followed. Never would I have imagined that the losses would go on. I used to tell friends that I wanted to meet a man who’d been through war, but wasn’t still dressing the wounds, and now when I look at those words, which read so well on paper, I know that there’s no nobility in bloodshed. There’s no romance in taking up residence in the dark places. This was the year that I learned that I struggled with lifelong depression. This was the year when I realized I’m closer to where I want to be in life, but I’m not there just yet. This was the year where I keep telling myself that this time wasn’t wasted simply because my first ten months here weren’t what I expected.

The last time I saw my therapist he asked me if this was how I always lived my life, to which I responded what do you mean by this? He said, fast. He suggested that I’d been living in a kind of accelerated permanent velocity and the one time I was forced to be present without diversions was the moment when I had to confront the avalanche of all that I’d bypassed. Moving here, away from the creature comforts of New York, forced me to be present in a way that I’d never been, and this was the time when I thought about what I was, what I’d been doing and how I’d been living (or not living) my life. Maybe that’s why I wrote a book in two months–I was desperate for emotional diversion. I’d do anything not to remain still. 

I tell myself the realization that comes from this stillness isn’t a regression, rather it’s a long-overdue, necessary pause. 

Right now I’m in the contract phase of two projects that will help alleviate the cost my depression incurred. And that put me to thinking that I invest so much of my money on organic and locally-sourced food, on removing chemicals from my home–all to prevent future physical illness. I wonder why I hadn’t made the same level of investment in my mental health so I could avoid these “out-of-pocket” costs if you will. Investments in therapy, wellness, a calm home life, travel, quiet, reflection, proper medication. 

This is what I learned this year. Not what I learned at 40.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Cookbook, with slight modifications
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of fine sea salt
3 large eggs, room temperature (you can use 3 flax eggs if you’re living that life)
3/4 cup almond milk (or any nut milk, really)
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 to 2 tbsp ghee, butter or coconut oil, for greasing the pan (I found that I had to use a little more. I’m ALWAYS using more oil. What is wrong with me? With them? If you’re trying to get a pile of hotcakes out of one measly tablespoon of oil, HAHAHAHAHAHA with that nonsense. But I digress.)
Maple syrup, for serving

These pancakes are the truth. I’ve made a lot of gluten-free pancakes in my day, and most of them are good but not great, and I’m happy to have eaten them because at least I’m not eating broccoli. You make this kind of concession after you’ve issued a permanent fatwa on gluten and dairy, and you wonder if all the joy has been removed from your life. These mini cakes remind me that there is JOY in life. The cakes are doughy, fluffy, and delicious. Know that I had to shove nearly all these fuckers in a Ziploc bag in the freezer because when I like something I go at like a Dyson vacuum attacking cat hair. 

DIRECTIONS
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, almond milk, honey and vanilla extract. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix until smooth.

Grease a large saute pan or griddle pan with your fattening agent and place it over medium heat. Using a 1 1/2 tablespoon cookie scoop (or you can just use 1/4 cup measure, but fill it 1/2 way), pour the batter onto the pan, cooking three or four 2-inch pancakes at a time. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until bubbles begin to form in the batter, then flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the pancakes are fluffy and cooked through in the center. Remove from the pan and set aside, then repeat with the remaining batter.

Serve the pancakes topped with maple syrup. I had mine with blueberries! Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to two days or in the freezer for one week and thaw them before reheating in the pan.

mini cinnamon pancakes

dairy-free recipes gluten-free pancake + breakfast recipes

the grain-free granola you need in your life

Grain-free granola

This post was a series of starts and stops. It was a stutter that got silenced, a long note that ended up being deleted, and I’m finding it challenging to translate my offline life to my online one. Yesterday, I bumped into a friend and she told me I had this glow. I shrugged it off, made a flippant joke about being on anti-depressants, and she said that what she’s seeing is so much more than a pill at work. It’s more like a life well-lived, and I’m inclined to agree.

I’m really good at settling into dark spaces and sitting uncomfortably in them. The dark is familiar territory to me, a terrain I’ve devoted my life to navigating. Fancy publishers have remarked on my talent and skill as a writer, but her work is so relentlessly dark. For a time, this baffled me because when your life is reduced to night vision you can’t fathom people who complain about not being able to see their hand in front of their face. I can see just fine, you think, and you never consider that the dark has its own capacity to be blinding.

I spent most of my days at work. Working on client projects and working on myself. On paper, my days are seemingly unremarkable but they are because I don’t feel the way I did three months ago. I don’t sleepwalk through my days. There exist a calm and a centeredness I hadn’t felt previously, and I’m finding it hard to write about this in a way that doesn’t seem trite or fatuous. Maybe it’s best to simply live through it and write as plainly and simply as I can. Forget about advancing the plot or language.

When you’re writing a book, it’s a given that the first draft will be garbage. It’s the kind of work you don’t show anyone, and you spend what might seem like forever cleaning up the mess you’ve made. And in that cleaning, in that work, the story will invariably emerge. Just keep at it. Keep doing the work.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Nourish
1/4 cup (50g) raw coconut oil
1/3 cup (80m) honey
1/3 cup (85ml) maple syrup
2 cups (200g) coconut flakes
1 cup (115g) almonds, very roughly chopped (I used cashews, as that was what I had on hand)
3/4 cup (80g) sunflower seeds
1/2 cup (80g) pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon rosewater (I didn’t have this on hand)
1 1/2 cups (200g) dried apricots, roughly chopped (I used mixed dried berries instead)
2 tbsp hemp seeds
2-3 tbsp dried rose petals (who has this?)

grain-free granola

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 325F (170°C/gas mark 3) and line 1 deep-sided baking trays with baking parchment. Melt the coconut oil, honey and maple syrup in a small saucepan until it starts to bubble and simmer, then turn off the heat.

Combine the coconut chips, pistachio nuts, dried fruit, hemp seeds, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds in a largish bowl. Add the honey mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. There should be enough of the honey mixture to lightly coat all the dry mix, but if you feel there is not enough just add more honey mix using equal amounts of melted honey and coconut oil.

Spread the mixture onto the lined baking tray, making a layer that isn’t too deep, otherwise, it won’t all crisp up. Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes so that all the mix turns a lovely golden color and doesn’t burn, which it can do easily due to the coconut. I actually cranked up the heat to 350F five minutes before I took it out of the oven. Remove from the oven, allow it to cool for ten minutes then sprinkle over the rosewater if you’re using it. Lastly, stir through the petals if that’s your life.

grain-free granola

gluten-free

I’ve got a brand new look + vegan chocolate mousse!

Chocolate mousse

You might have noticed I’ve done a little sprucing around these parts. Well, that’s actually a lie–my dear friend Lorissa Shepstone (psst. hire her!) did all the heavy lifting while I sent emails asking if we can make the link color blue and could you remove that film in the header photo because it’s driving me bonkers–that kind of nonsense. I’ve known Lorissa since 2002, and she designed and built author sites when I worked in book publishing, and she’s my go-to designer/developer for all my client work not simply because she’s talented, but because she’s kind. She cares about her work and it shows. While this site was down for a couple of days, she panicked, and I shrugged my shoulders and said, it’s not that serious. I love what she’s done with this space and I feel this spring cleaning is a minor prelude to some of the big overhauls on the horizon.

If you’re one of the five people wondering why I made the change, I could share any number of reasons but mainly I wanted a change. I grew tired of the inflexible WP.com platform and wanted all the bells and whistles of WP.org. I craved something simple, warm, and I wanted to make sure you didn’t have to click to read more because that irritates the fuck out of me. I’m not here for page views.

More importantly, I’m thinking ahead and considering the bigger picture. I’ve got plans to build a separate site under my own name, which will focus more on my work (writing books + composing marketing plans–all under a storytelling arc) — a virtual shingle to hang my hat if you will. I’m thinking about how I can merge two seemingly disparate worlds–marketing + business with writing fiction–and it occurs to me that both worlds rely on a certain level of suspension of disbelief. People will always cleave to a good story.

pasta salad

Last night, I invited a friend and her husband and daughter over for dinner, and it occurred to me that I’ve entertained more in Los Angeles in one month than the whole of my last year in New York. I no longer feel the need to recede, to hole up in my home as a form of escape from everything that lies on the other side of my front door. Call it space, clarity, or the right dosage of anti-depressants, but I feel present and focused in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. When a check I direly need to pay my rent arrived two weeks late (thus making me two weeks late in paying my rent), I didn’t freak out like I normally would–I knew the money was coming and what would I achieve about freaking out over that which I can’t control. Nothing. Over the next six months, I plan to work a lot (and consult with a debt counselor) because I really would love to feel what it’s like to not have debt. I want to be at the financial place I was before I moved to Los Angeles with the calm I occupy now. Granted, achieving this balance requires a lot of work and humility, but it’s worth the stretch.

I had planned to make my friends a homemade pizza, but the dough fell on the floor and then the cat decided he needed a new toy, and I subsequently found myself back at the market, covered in flour. Instead of pizza, I took all the ingredients and transformed it into a spicy pasta dish (basil walnut pesto coupled with chorizo and sliced pepperoni). My starter was a kale and baby arugula salad topped with sliced fresh apricots and blueberries dressed in a honey-shallot vinaigrette.

After talk of politics, books and rape culture (good times, good times), I served up this chocolate mousse, which wowed the crowd. My friend’s daughter wiped her ramekin clean and my friend’s husband was pleasantly surprised by the avocado, which he couldn’t detect. Frankly, this was the highlight of the meal. I’ve made vegan chocolate mousse before, but this version is more substantial–more pudding than whipped mousse, more nuanced in flavor (the almond butter helps balance out the avocado taste)–and it was such a hit that I plan on adding this to my dinner party dessert repertoire since everyone is allergic to something these days.

If you LOVE chocolate and want a little protein in your life, make this mousse. It’s THAT GOOD. Hope you enjoy the recipe and my new digs.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy
1 large ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
2 tablespoons almond butter
Sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla powder or vanilla extract
1⁄4 cup brown rice syrup 1⁄4 cup maple syrup
1⁄4 cup raw cacao or unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1⁄4 cup almond milk
1⁄4 teaspoon liquid stevia (I didn’t use this because I didn’t have it, and the recipe turned out fine)
2 tablespoons coconut oil (this doesn’t need to be melted)

DIRECTIONS
In a blender or food processor, combine the avocado, almond butter, a large pinch of salt, vanilla powder, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, cacao, almond milk, stevia, and coconut oil and blend for 2 minutes, or until very smooth.

Divide among four ramekins; cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

dairy-free recipes gluten-free pudding recipes

life lately: pups, smoothies, and lots of work

puppies!

I was once part of a turtle rescue in Prospect Park. It was a Friday and I walked the length of the park when I encountered a large turtle crossing the bike pathway, making its way to the street. Right before the encounter, I saw a man shove another turtle in a bag and I shouted at him as he walked out of the park. All of this was odd–the man in a cloth hat, a random turtle in Brooklyn–and I paused, unsure of what to do. As luck would have it, a woman riding her bike stopped and told me that she’d just a job at an animal reserve, and we stood as she tried calling her boss to find out what we should do with said turtle. For an hour, we guarded the creature amidst catcalls from boys on bikes and strange looks from passersby. Finally, the woman got through to her boss and promised she would foster the turtle for the night until proper arrangements could be made. The woman and I exchanged numbers and she walked, turtle in tow, back to her Coney Island apartment.

I followed up with the woman on the bike and she sent me photos of the turtle at the reserve. Safe. Seemingly happy.

I love animals, irrationally so. My pop and I used to joke that we preferred animals over people because animals don’t know artifice–they’re primal in their wants and honest about their affection. I’ve always had a pet, cats mostly, and I regarded every one of them as part of my family. Long-time readers know how devasted I was when I lost my Sophie in 2013. Even though she paw-swatted, hissed and had her way with my carbs, I adored her. At the time, I couldn’t fathom having another pet, and then I met Felix, my sweet boy, and I often joke that he’s a dog in a catsuit. Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting him a companion. The shelter, from where I adopted Felix, warned me not to get another cat because Felix experienced early trauma in a multi-cat household and became an alpha feline. I couldn’t imagine Felix hurting anyone (he doesn’t even hiss!) until a dog entered our home (long story), frantic, and Felix made sounds I never conceived he could make. Recently, I’ve been talking to local shelters and animal behaviorists, and it is possible to introduce a new pet, but the integration would have to be mindful, slow and it’ll require a great deal of my time. I’m saving $ for a money to a small home where I could have a little yard so that Felix would roll around in the grass (#goals, etc), and I’ve been thinking about adopting a young dog.

So when my friend Alexis text’d me with a photo of a puppy pile and a message that she was fostering 7 pups and one mom until Sunday, I replied back, inviting myself over. Alexis is this incredible human, and she’s been working with Social Tees NYC, an animal rescue, to foster dogs–even from Los Angeles! If you’re one of my unlucky followers on Instagram or Snapchat (I’m @felsull!), I spammed you with an endless stream of puppy videos, because when you’re with cuteness for three hours you tend to cuddle with one hand and snap photos with the other.  I actually fell for the mother, a pup with fox ears and a mean little strut, and I told Alexis that I would be interested in adopting her when she’s ready to be weened from her pups in three months time. And even if I don’t get this pup, at least I’ll have time to research how to acclimate Felix with a new friend without him going on rein of terror. (Any thoughts/advice are welcome)

I’m still baffled that these pups were in a kill shelter. They’re so sweet and beautiful and if you don’t fall in love after feeling their small hearts beat in your hand, you’re the worst kind of animal.

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I arrived in California, fit and healthy, and over the course of seven months, all of my hard work from the past year went asunder. I ate baguettes slathered in butter. I ordered personal pizzas on the regular. Cheese became my primary food group. A bottle of wine a day was par for the course. And then I went into therapy, got on meds, regained my sanity, got off the sauce, re-entered the world, scored two amazing projects, and decided to get my health back on track. After enduring a skin blitzkrieg (raised burning hives, anyone?) and a skin reaction that followed as a result of the medication to alleviate the hives, I made some rapid changes in my diet and life. I nixed gluten and dairy from my life (although I do have small amounts of cheese a week), I resumed blitzing my morning protein smoothie, replaced all my household cleaning products and skin products with ingredients I could read. Greens resumed their role as the headliner rather than the backup dancer on my plate, and I’ve returned to my meditation and exercise practices. Again, this is not about being skinny or depriving myself of food, this is about making it to 90 (isn’t this woman INCREDIBLE?) and still be spunky and aware, and have the ability to punch people in the face if I needed to. So I’m returning to healthy eats and I’ll be sharing recipes on this space.

Want this yum recipe? Get it here.

blueberry smoothie
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california living smoothie recipes

mexican meatloaf

mexican meatloaf

Meatloaf never makes for a pretty picture, no matter how many pressed linens or bone china plates you add to the mix. It’s sloppy, messy, brown and red (tough colors to photograph), but it’s the kind of mess I like. It’s the juices-running-off-your-chin messy. It’s the I-got-chorizo-all-over-my-shirt (this actually happened) messy. Meatloaf is the kind of food you eat standing up, fork digging into the loaf pan, mixing moistened meat with scalding sauce. It’s the kind of food that will stink up your refrigerator, but who cares? No one should judge you for the contents of your fridge.

Most of the week I’m crazy busy, but I reserve Saturdays for “me” time. Now this isn’t the sort of time I use to get perfunctory work or errands done because I consider that work, rather it’s a day when I read long books, watch good movies, bake meat in loaf pans and take copious pictures of my cat pressing his vanilla paws into his face. However, lately, I’ve also been using it as a means to learn something new each week. This week a friend (and colleague) taught me how to use Snapchat, a non-intuitive platform that I abhorred using for a while. An old friend from New York and I chatted via Skype yesterday while she taught me sophisticated ad targeting techniques. Another friend taught me how to take better pictures (I’m still learning). And yet another friend reminded me about being patient, how to play the long game when it comes to my life and career. Not all of us have the means or privilege to “hunt down our passion” or “quit our day job”, but there exists nobility in finding purpose in the work that you do and then making time for the things you love to do that don’t necessary yield profit.

During my recent financial crisis, where I was living off my credit card and frightened of eviction, some of my friends suggested I monetize this space. I have a fair amount of traffic and readers and I could make some decent change by adding affiliate links to the books I suggest since I tend to read a lot of them. I thought about this, albeit briefly, and shook my head no, not because I was taking a moral high ground, but rather it would make this space work. Making everything about work takes the joy out of the pursuit. Or to put it bluntly, Lenny Kravitz learned from Prince that”[e]verything isn’t for business. It’s for the sake of doing it. It’s about the art, the moment, the memory and the experience.” While I’m not suggesting I create art on the level of Prince on this space, I do get a great deal of joy coming here without the burden of being beholden to people or feeling frightened that I’m not making as much money as I should. I don’t come here with the intention of creating posts that will generate more traffic (I mean, come on, I write 1,000-word posts that have nothing to do with meatloaf). I come here because sharing the food I make, the books I read, the experiences I endured make me happy in a way that’s difficult to describe.

Yesterday, I focused on learning and taking care of myself. I made meatloaf, and while you’d hesitate in wanting to take its picture, this is the kind of meal you want to be eating.

I have a hectic few weeks ahead of me, and I keep saying to myself: take care, take care, take care.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook, modified slightly
1 pound ground beef, make sure this has 80% fat or your meat will dry out
1 pound chorizo
1 red bell pepper, dice
1 shallot, minced
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 tablespoon garlic powder
1⁄2 tablespoon onion powder
1⁄2 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup blanched almond flour
1 large egg
1⁄4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
2 cups salsa of choice, divided
DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. The original recipe doesn’t make the following notation, but trust me, it will save you agony later on. Layer the pan with a sheet of parchment paper that hangs a few inches off the sides. This will help when you want to remove your boiling hot loaf from the pan without an epic collapse.
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the salsa. Press the mixture firmly into the prepared loaf pan. Pour 1 cup of the salsa on top of the meatloaf. Bake for 1 hour to 1hr 15 minutes until the meat is completely cooked through in the middle. Remove the meatloaf from the oven, top with the remaining 1 cup of salsa, and garnish with extra cilantro.

making mexican meatloaf

mexican meatloaf

dairy-free recipes gluten-free meat meat, chicken + fish recipes

homemade fennel apple sausage…on a pizza

gluten free pizza with homemade apple sausage, ground beef and bacon

I’ve been holed up in my home the entire weekend working, and  trust me, I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m the happiest I’ve been in months. Last week, I had a wonderful dinner party where my friends and I toasted our successes on my balcony. I onboarded a new client, sent out a contract for a second client and met a woman who’s the epitome of extraordinary. Come Friday I took a long nap and woke Saturday ready to get to work. When you’ve spent months without work as I have, you become grateful for employment. You stop complaining about the work because you realize, in the absence of it, you’re privileged to have it. So I read through 35 files, analyzed data reports, and compiled findings that will lay the groundwork for my client’s marketing strategy.

But a woman’s gotta eat.

Since I now have to return to a life free of dairy and gluten, I’m returning to reinvention–I stocked up on cauliflower, blitzed my morning smoothies, and pored through my cookbooks to discover recipes that are filling and wholesome. Over the past five months, I slipped into purchasing convenience foods and frozen Amy’s enchiladas because I’m making food for one and convenience doesn’t equate to costly. Now that my life is a little more stable, I’m able to control what comes into my home and what goes into my body, and I’m the better for it.

This pizza was SO GOOD that I didn’t even miss the cheese. And quite frankly, you don’t need to put cheese in your pesto if the herbs are fresh and fragrant. After a few slices, I feel confident to crawl back into round two of work.

No complaints. Always grateful.

P.S. You might have noticed that my posts lately have been a little shorter. Bear with me as I get accustomed to my new work schedule.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook
For the sausage
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 pound ground pork
½ red apple, diced
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp ground sage
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp dried rosemary
¼ tsp black pepper
3 tbsp butter, ghee, or coconut oil

For the crust
I love making pizza crust and you can make an amazing gluten free one using this recipe. Since I’m crazy busy today, I purchased a gluten-free crust from the market.

For the parsley chive pesto
You can find the recipe here.

For the additional toppings
1/2 cup bacon, roughly chopped
1/4 lb ground beef

DIRECTIONS
In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the fennel seeds for no more than 5 minutes, until fragrant. Place all the ingredients except the coconut oil in a large bowl and mix until well combined.

Divide the sausage mixture into 8 patties and flatten them between your hands. In a large cast-iron skillet (I don’t have one so I used a large non-stick skillet) over low heat, melt the butter. Add 3 or 4 patties to the pan and cook for 5 to 6 minutes per side, until golden brown and cooked through. Keeping the heat on low will help cook the inside of the patties without burning the outside. Patience is key here.

While this is going on, preheat the oven to 425F. Pre-bake your crust (regardless if you’re getting a store-bought crust or making the gluten-free one I made last week) for 10 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven, briefly, and set aside.

Once you’re done with the sausage, use the fat from that pan to brown the bacon and sausage. Drain and set aside with the patties.

Make the pesto per the instructions. Add the pesto to the pre-baked crust. Crumble up 4-5 of the sausage patties, and add the bacon and ground beef to the crust. Bake the pizza for another 10-12 minutes until the crust is lightly browned and the meat is glossy and sizzling.

Add some fresh parsley to the top and chow down!

homemade apple fennel sausage

homemade apple fennel sausage
homemade apple fennel sausage

gluten free pizza with homemade apple sausage, ground beef and bacon

bread recipes dairy-free recipes gluten-free meat, chicken + fish recipes

the captain awesome dinner party, chrissy teigen style

pasta a la norma chrissy teigen cookbook

Last night was a photograph worth taking. Ten incredible women feasted on cheesy pasta, brussels sprouts salad and grilled chicken and kale salad. I planned the party last month before I secured two incredible projects. Before my life resumed any sense of normalcy. Sending out the invites was a bet on myself, on my comeback. So much of my life feels tethered to the east coast, and last night was the first time I feel as if I’d established roots. I was surrounded by mostly New York transplants–people who wanted a different kind of life, women who wanted to break ranks without breaking themselves down–and it felt good to see my friends trade numbers and friend one another on Facebook. It felt good to have my friends Merrill and Meghan linger after everyone had left and we talked about the New York we used to know and the women we were a decade ago.

I take none of this for granted.

While I slowly work to pay down my debt, repay my friends, and get some semblance of a real budget in order (I’ve resolved that this will be the year I get my proverbial house in order, I’m making it my point to help as many people as I can. Experiencing random acts of kindness from friends and strangers saved me, and I want to be able to share that compassion and kindness with anyone whom I can help.

To be honest, I’m exhausted, but I wanted to share the culinary highlight of the evening–Chrissy Teigen’s pasta a la Norma. I passed around Teigen’s cookbook and everyone paged through the recipes and called out their favorites while feasting on this cheesy dish. And while I couldn’t eat a bite, it made happy to see my friends fawn over this dish. It made my night seeing them leave, stomachs full, new friends made.

It’s good to be home.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings
For the eggplant:
1 cup olive oil
2 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp red pepper flakes

For the baked ziti:
1 pound ziti or penne pasta (with ridges)
Perfect Tomato sauce (recipe below)
2 cups goat cheese
1 1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella (buffalo)
1 cup basil leaves (hand torn)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes

For the Perfect Tomato Sauce:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onions
2 tbsp finely minced garlic
3 1/2 pounds juicy ripe Roma (plum) tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
For the eggplant
In a large skillet or a wide soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When you can see little waves in the oil, carefully add the eggplant and sprinkle on the salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook stirring once in a while, until the eggplant is soft and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

For the baked ziti
While the eggplant is cooking in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the ziti to al dente according to the package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Preheat the oven to 400F. Add the eggplant (and any oil from the skillet) to the pasta along with the tomato sauce, goat cheese, two-thirds of the mozzarella, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, the black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Dump the mixture into a large baking dish and top with the rest of the mozzarella, gently pressing the pieces into the pasta.Bake until golden and bubbling, about 1 hour. Let stand for 5 before serving.

For the Perfect Tomato Sauce
In a 4 quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until translucent and beginning to turn golden, about 13 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and then 1 minute longer. Add the tomatoes, oregano, thyme, remarry, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens slightly, 25 to 30 minutes for fresh tomatoes, 20 to 25 minutes for canned.

brussels sprout salad chrissy teigen cookbook
cooking from chrissy teigen's cookbook
grilled chicken kale salad
brussels sprout salad chrissy teigen cookbook

cookbooks pasta recipes