sausage and fennel rigatoni (gluten + dairy-free)

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Last night, I spent time with new friends who probably love food more than I do. They’re all about the hunt. Forget the fancy pants, reservations-only eateries, they’re more into the hidden gems–L.A. institutions and incredible Korean BBQ in strip malls. Yesterday, we feasted on Greek food that was full of flavor and low on price.

While we were chowing, my friend’s husband and I talked for a good half hour about chicken. How to make it, the unlimited permutations, and the glory that is homemade stock. I made stock last week from a leftover chicken carcass, and believe me when I say that if my home could smell like chicken soup 24/7, I’d never leave. Anyway, we got to talking about cookbooks and I said that I got really into cooking in 2002 when I started to watch The Food Network. Ina, Giada, Mario, and Nigella–I spent hours learning recipes and technique, and I’d discovered a true passion.

So call me nostalgic, but I tuned into Ina today and she made this pasta recipe that nearly made me fall off my couch. I was hesitant because cream makes me violently ill and then there’s the issue of my fennel fatwa. However, I assure you that faux cream can be made and the fennel flavor is subtle, at best.

Trust me, you will want this pasta in your life.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Ina Garten’s Cooking for Jeffrey, modified.

  • 1 cup cashews + 1 cup water + 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large bulb of fennel, chopped
  • 2 large shallots, chopped
  • 1 1/4 pounds sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, divided
First, you want to make the cashew cream. You’re probably thinking…what? Cashew cream? Surely, you jest. However, it’s one of the few nuts that really delivers on the texture of heavy cream. Unlike coconut cream or milk, the flavor of cashews is subtle and it typically takes on the stronger flavors/seasonings of a sauce–kind of like tofu. Anyway, if you have a high-powered blender, soak 1 cup of nuts in water for 2 hours. If you don’t, soak the nuts the night before you make the dish. After you soak the nuts, drain, rinse, and add to your blender along with 1/2 cup of water + 1 tsp of salt, to start. I start with a 1/2 cup because you can make a sauce thinner but it’s challenging to thicken it. Blend for 2 minutes on high, and add water as you go to get the consistency you desire. Set aside.

Now, we’re all about making the sauce. Saute the chopped fennel and shallots in a large pot (I used a Dutch oven) on medium heat for about 7 minutes or until the mixture is translucent and slightly browned. Add the sausage and gently break apart with a wooden spoon. DON’T overwork your meat by continuously stirring. It takes about 8 or so minutes for the pork to cook, so I come back every few minutes, break apart, stir again.

While that’s cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (read the package directions, and cook for a minute or so less). Drain the pasta and set aside.

Once the sausage is cooked through, add the garlic, fennel seed, red pepper, and wine. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the cashew cream and tomato paste and stir until completely combined. I like my sauce super thick and luscious (see Exhibits A and B, above and below), but if you like your sauce on the thinner side, you can add more wine or stock. And if you’re not feeling wine, you can use chicken stock, no big deal.

Add your pasta directly to the meat sauce and stir until completely coated. Remove your pan from the heat and you can add freshly grated parmesan (I used a vegan kind, which is actually pretty decent), and chopped parsley if you’re feeling it. Candidly, I was so into the pasta that I ate it directly from the pot and forgot about the parsley.

Chow down, people.

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thai sweet potato + carrot soup

thai sweet potato and carrot soup

It occurs to me that I never complete the “in case of emergency” line on most forms. Sometimes, a receptionist will tell me it’s mandatory, that they have to have a person with whom they could contact in the event of… In response, I make a joke. I say, my friends will know what’s up if I stopped tweeting for a few days or I fail to respond to their texts. I tell receptionists that I don’t need to write down a name and a phone number because my Twitter account is my proof of life photo. Last week, a man behind the counter pushed a clipboard in front of me. I was another form to process, another insurance card and state ID to photocopy. I was the 3:30 and appointments don’t have a sense of humor much less proof of life photos. So I scroll through my phone and scribble down the name and number of a friend who lives in New York.

I don’t mind this. I prefer not to belong to people. There is a certain kind of freedom being without kin. It also occurs to me that the words kin, kind, and child are related from an etymological standpoint.

A few days ago, I told a friend that I loved the holidays. We were styling and photographing a shoot for a client, and I spent the better part of Wednesday shopping for all things Christmas and Hanukkah. I was uncharacteristically giddy, thinking about snow, morning coffee, and presents under a tree and then I remember that most of my holidays were cleaning up pine needles from trees knocked over and long stretches of silence. It was only until my college best friend welcomed me into her home did I feel what most people take for granted: trees festooned with family ornaments wrapped in tissue awaiting their unveiling, a home teeming with life, leftovers packed in Tupperware.

There was a time when I’d spend my holidays with my pop, but lately, our silences have become palpable. We haven’t spoken since February. I just can’t let it go that internet strangers exhibited more compassion in my darkest hours than the man I’d known for the greater part of 30 years. He was the last vestige of what I considered a family, and while I feel the chasm between us widen with the passing of each day, I can’t let it go.

There existed people whom I considered family who were demonstrably silent during that time, including my pop, and it’ll take me a long time to move past it if I’m able to forgive at all. And those memories of which I spoke, halcyon holiday moments, belong to another family, and I sometimes feel as if I’m a child whose face is pressed up against a glass peering in–the only proof of life is the breath that fogs the window.

The holidays are approaching–another Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday, and while there are so many things for which I’m grateful I feel the uncomfortable comfort of being rootless, without kind kin, still feeling like a child pressing her eyes shut and if she’s good she’ll get all her wants tucked neatly under a tree.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from the Oh She Glows Every Day cookbook

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 cups chopped yellow (sweet) onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, plus more if needed
  • ¼ cup raw almond butter or peanut butter
  • 3 cups diced peeled carrots
  • 3 cups diced peeled sweet potatoes
  • ½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Up to ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, if you like spice)
Toppings
  • Minced fresh cilantro
  • Fresh lime juice

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DIRECTIONS

In a large pot, melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the curry paste. In a small bowl, whisk together some of the broth with the almond butter until smooth. Add the mixture to the pot, along with the carrots, sweet potatoes, salt, and remaining vegetable broth. Stir until combined.

Bring the soup to a low boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are fork-tender. Ladle the soup carefully into a blender. You will likely have to do this in a couple of batches, depending on the size of your blender. With the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape, blend on low and slowly increase the speed until the soup is completely smooth. (Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender and blend the soup directly in the pot.)

Taste, and season with salt and black pepper. If you’d like more spice, add a pinch or full ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, and blend again. Transfer the soup back to the pot and reheat if necessary. If desired, you can thin the soup out with a bit more broth if it’s too thick for your preference. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with minced cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, and optional tamari almonds. This soup will keep in the fridge for up to a week, and freezes well for 1 to 2 months.

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.

mini cinnamon pancakes

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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.

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gwyneth paltrow’s carrot + ginger soup

gwyneth paltrow's carrot + ginger soup

I was supposed to work this weekend because I’m still in debt and would love to live a life without having to spend an hour of meditation as preparation for dealing with my credit card statements. But then the third season of Bloodline dropped on Netflix, and I found myself seven pages into a new story. Part of me wishes I had the waistline and creative velocity of October, before the deepest of my depression pancaked me, Mack-truck style. So when a story rolled up, I closed Powerpoint and remained in a word document coma for the remainder of yesterday. I even cancelled my beach plans for today because it’s been open-heart surgery to get words on the page. So when the words finally do come, I’ve learned that I need to down the volume down to low on everything else. I’m even having a hard time writing this post because all I keep thinking about is you have to finish the one story that doesn’t end in someone singing out their sorrow like a sermon. Writing about hope is unchartered territory but it’s one I can’t wait to navigate.

 

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from It’s All Easy, modified
2 tbsp olive oil oil
2 shallots, minced
Salt
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 pound carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces (2 1/2 to 3 cups)
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock
Freshly ground black pepper

gwyneth paltrow's carrot + ginger soup

DIRECTIONS
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook for a few minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the cumin, coriander, and garam masala and continue to cook, stirring, for another minute.

Toss in the carrots, stock, and another big pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Turn down the heat and simmer gently until the carrots are very tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Blend the soup in the pot with an immersion blender or, if using a blender, let the soup cool for at least 10 minutes and then carefully pour it into the blender and purée until smooth, working in batches if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls.

gwyneth paltrow's carrot + ginger soup

grain-free sweet potato waffles

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Yesterday, I hit the pause button. I woke to see many of my friends arguing in a private online group about an article that had circulated overnight. I’m pretty desensitized (I mean, the first film I ever saw was The Shining at age 5), but when I clicked over to xojane to see what the kerfuffle was all about, I felt ill. I felt as if someone kicked me in the stomach and kept on kicking. A woman penned an essay (which has since been taken down, but I’ve heard a cached version still exists) essentially calling her “friend’s” (and I use that term loosely since they were clearly not friends) suicide a blessing. The woman continued to kick dirt over her friend’s face by slut-shaming her, airing unnecessary dirty laundry, and in the end, the woman is better off as a result of taking her own life. 

You let that sink a little. 

I messaged one of my friends with, this is a joke, right? Because what kind of heinous sociopath would so callously capitalize on a woman’s suicide? Imagine if the victim’s mother read this. Imagine if her friends read this. Imagine if people, who already believed their life would be better if it were snuffed out, read this as an affirmation of what they already believed. That their loved ones would be better off if they were no longer here even though decent human beings know that this is a cruel fiction. 

I read horrible things every day. Yesterday morning I read a man’s response to Oklahoma’s desire to make doctors who practice abortions illegal. Rape ’em, I say. Send them to Mexico and rape ’em because they deserve it for killing a baby. I read posts from people who eviscerate strangers. I read Adam Gopnik’s Trump piece and I close my eyes. I scroll through hundreds of Facebook posts where women practice a form of feminism that disturbs me–applaud women regardless of their actions. Ignore culpability and basic human decency because our role is one we must always assume. Smile and play nice. I thought: are you fucking kidding me? Feminism and sociopathy are mutually exclusive conversations.

The ugliness is ubiquitous and pungent, and it’s easy to feel as if you could so easily suffocate from it. 

But this essay put me on pause. It altered my day. I talked about it with a friend during lunch. I talked it about with a friend from NY on Facetime. I chatted with friends on Facebook messenger. I cried. A lot. And then I read this and this and thought thank goodness the world isn’t a complete and utter ruin. 

There were many times in my life when I contemplated taking my own life. I was very well near it months ago until the compassion of those whom I love was enough to make me get my life back on track. And I’m grateful every day for that. I’m grateful for being here. I’m grateful for psychiatry and Wellbutrin and people who don’t carry a stigma against mental illness.

The cruelest thing you could say to someone is: You’re not necessary. You don’t need to exist. You take up too much space.  

I could go about is this Trump’s America rising up and waving their bleached-white flag, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell everyone I know and love, regardless if they have a form of mental illness, that they deserve to exist. That it’s a gift that they’re here. I’ll remind myself that every single day is a gift, and that might sound trite or fatuous, but it is. 

I had plans this weekend but I cancelled them to stay in, read, work, lay low and quiet, and make food that gives me pleasure. Do the things that give me joy, and cooking is one of them. 

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook, with slight modifications for my taste
1 small white sweet potato or 1 cup mashed sweet potato
3 large eggs, room temperature, whisked
4 tbsp maple syrup, plus more for drizzling
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 cup almond flour
1/3 tapioca flour/starch
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

sweet potato waffles

DIRECTIONS
You can be crazy and roast your sweet potato for 30-40 minutes at 425F. I mean, it’s your life, you can be all laissez-faire, however, if you crave sanity, put this bad boy in a bowl in a microwave for four minutes. Let the sweet potato cool to the touch. Peel off the skin, put it in a small bowl and with a fork, mash until smooth.

In a large bowl, mix in the eggs, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and coconut oil, and whisk until smooth.

Add the flours, baking soda/powder, and cinnamon and mix well. You might have lumps. It’s not that serious.

Heat up a waffle iron and add about 1/3 cup of the batter (I did not because I like big waffles and I cannot lie…) into the iron. Cook until crispy and golden brown on the outside. Set aside and repeat with the remaining batter. You’re supposed to get 6 waffles out of this recipe, but I got 3 and I have no regrets.

Serve with maple syrup. If you have leftovers, these waffles freeze really well.

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

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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.

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

gwyneth paltrow’s moroccan chicken salad

gwyneth paltrow's moroccan chicken salad

This week I was reminded of a woman, a close friend, who broke my heart.

Ten years ago, I worked in book publishing and I met a woman who was, up until then, the smartest person I’d ever met. To this day, much of how I think and work is a result of our friendship. I worked hard because I thought I was never as smart or as capable as she was, and it was only until a few years ago she told me she’d felt the same about me, which, frankly, was astonishing. Professionally, she was always this bright light that shone perhaps too brightly and I felt as if I was forever regulated to the role of her shadow.  She’s probably one of the most achieved and brilliant brand marketers I’ve ever met, and we spent 2013 giving each other the equivalent of an MBA (she already has one, but whatever). This friend taught me everything I know about brand marketing and I taught her everything about digital. I shadowed her on a brand project and the reason I’m able to now build brands from the ground up was because of her and that year we spent working closely together.

We even talked about forming a partnership because together there wasn’t nothing we couldn’t do. I loved her, I really did. Even if she didn’t know it, even if I didn’t always show it. She was the friend who picked me off up from the couch when Sophie died and drove me, hung over, thick in relapse, to Bark where I found Felix. A mother of two with a c-suite job she drove me around all day while I spoke in non-sequiturs and told her that I view love and loss as two sides of the same coin.

She was the friend who told me that my friendship with S was unhealthy; she worried about the codependency nature of our friendship. My friend was rational, pragmatic, and we never fought because when either of us had an issue with the other, we talked it out, calmly.

This person was also one of my closest friends, and when I told her I was moving to Los Angeles, she stopped speaking to me. I was devastated. I called her, wrote her–nothing. Never would I have expected this to happen, and when I told people who knew her about what had happened, they were incredulous. They said, [INSERT NAME]? That’s not like her. And I’d nod, tearfully, feeling bitterness and hurt creep into my voice when I talked about the irony of when [INSERT NAME] said S was a coward for not giving me the dignity of a proper friend breakup. Friends shared their opinions on why she did it, none of which I won’t say here because I’ve no right to share the intimate details of her life.

It’s a funny thing, though, I remember she said once: I would never do what S did to anyone. Until she did.

It’s been a year since she excised me from her life after ten years of close friendship and symbiotic mentorship, and the hurt still feels new and raw. I’ve come to realize that this loss was far more painful that the others because I didn’t expect it. Because this friend was one of the few people with whom I could truly let down my guard.

I was reminded of her this week when I met a founder of a well-funded start-up. The product is extraordinary, and the whole time I was brainstorming with the founder and the woman who introduced us, I was thinking, this is an [INSERT NAME] kind of project. This is the sort of thing my friend would have knocked out of the park–the very thing she taught me how to do. For a moment I felt curtained, I felt her presence like a specter at that breakfast. This is the kind of project where I would’ve called her, shared my proposed approach, and asked, what do you think, muffin? And I would’ve considered her voice as a blanket, her agreement a validation of my intelligence and competency. I know all of these things aren’t healthy or right, but I feel them anyway.

I think about this friend often, and I’m still not over the hurt, but I guess I’m grateful for the time I did have with her and the fact that I’m able to build brands as a result of that friendship.

So here I am, with a tiny space in the day to think and cook. I made myself a quick lunch from Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cookbook. I’m not a fan of the actress or her energy, but I do admire her cookbooks, even if this one doesn’t feel like it’s right for the busy mom–maybe the busy affluent mom? Anyway, the book is filled with what appears to be quick and tasty meals, and if the recipes are as tasty as this salad (which is shown as a wrap in the book), I’m going to ignore the obvious slight blanket of pretension.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy
2 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 1 1/2 chicken breasts)
1 celery stalk, finely diced
2 scallions, chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground coriander
6 tbsp Vegenaise, or more to taste (more seems like a crazy idea, to be honest)
1 tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)
1 tsp agave nectar or honey
Salt/ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir wall. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I like this a bit cold so I put this in the fridge for a half and hour before chowing down.

gwyneth paltrow's moroccan chicken salad

 

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