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.

dairy-free lemon crèmes with oat crumble

dairy-free lemon crèmes with oat crumble

Remember that bit about shopping my cookbooks? Well, over the past week, I’ve been on a spree that would put Cher Horowitz’s heart on pause. It’s been nearly a year since I made the decision to overhaul my diet and focus on a plant-based diet, and if I looked at posts from then and compare them to now I’m very much a changed woman. Yesterday I found myself paging through two old cookbooks, Sprouted Kitchen and Sweet Paris, and had this been a year ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about baking rich pastry or dousing my countertops with bread flour. The more virtuous cookbook would have been treated like a changeling, paraded out for the occasional post where I’d fix a salad.

Don’t get me wrong–Sweet Paris is a gorgeous book. The photography is lush and the paper stock, generous. The recipes are decadent, presenting Paris in all her plumage…BUT. I’m able to consume gluten and dairy, albeit infrequently, BUT. I can’t explain it other than to say I couldn’t get it up for brioche. The affection I once had for sweet hasn’t completely abated, rather it’s changed shape and form. While I’ll always love my cookies, sweet loaves and crumbles, I no longer have a taste for the heft of gluten or the saccharine sweet pile-on of granulated sugar. Rather, I’m constantly intrigued by imaginative baking–new ways to transform ingredients you’d never of in a dessert.

Take this lemon crème. Traditionally, I would have made this with lemon, egg yolks and heavy cream, but this version seemed wonderfully odd. If I’ve found success in using avocado as a creaming agent in pestos and chocolate mousses, I thought I’d make the leap with silken tofu.

TOFU.

God, who am I?

Funny I should tackle a vegan dessert after having read this piece on veganism and idealized body types (this article warrants a whole other post, so I won’t get into the politics right now), however, I will say that this crème DOES. NOT. DISAPPOINT. It’s wonderful chilled after four hours but I downed it for breakfast this morning and it’s downright glorious. I love how the honey and lemon are dominant flavors while the tofu serves to give the texture one needs for a pudding. The oats give it a nice finish–all crunch–and made me feel as if I were eating a parfait rather than dessert.

But who can refuse dessert for breakfast?!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook
For the lemon crèmes:
1 12.3-ounce package extra-firm silken tofu*
2 tbsp fine or medium-ground cornmeal
Pinch of sea salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup honey (for vegans, you can use agave!)
Grated zest of 1 Meyer lemon
3 tbsp freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice

For the oat crumble:
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup old-fashioned gluten-free rolled oats
1/4 cup chopped raw almonds
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

*This is important. Do not get regular tofu as it’s grittier. Get the kind marked Silken.

DIRECTIONS
For the lemon crèmes: Wrap tofu between a few layers of paper towels and set aside to drain for 10 minutes.

In a food processor or in a bowl using a whisk, blend tofu, cornmeal, salt, honey, and lemon zest and juice until completely smooth, about 1 minute if using a food processor. Divide mixture among 4 small bowls and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

For the oat crumble: Preheat oven to 350°.

Melt coconut oil until liquid in a small saucepan or in the microwave. In a bowl, stir together coconut oil, vanilla, sugar, and salt. Add oats and almonds and stir to coat everything evenly. Rub half of the thyme leaves between your fingers to release their fragrance and stir them in. Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until just toasted, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Once crèmes are chilled, sprinkle cooled crumble on top. Garnish with remaining thyme.

dairy-free lemon crèmes with oat crumble
dairy-free lemon crèmes with oat crumble
dairy-free lemon crèmes with oat crumble

chocolate banana mousse (vegan)

chocolate banana mousse (vegan)

Yesterday I had lunch with my marvelous agent, Matthew Carnicelli, and I left inspired, invigorated and ready to start another novel. We spoke at lengths about my first book (he’s still making the rounds) and the tremendous feedback it’s received balanced with the fear of publishing my book because it wouldn’t break through, it wouldn’t be big because it’s largely so dark. My book is this beautiful, risky thing, was the constant refrain from book editors, and Matthew and I brainstormed possibilities while he tries to sell this dark little thing I’ve created.

We spent two hours talking about what I write on this space and we decided that what I write here (personal stories connected to food, career advice, issues of race and identity, how I’m redefining success for myself on my own terms) should be kept here. The writing on this space is honest, good, and brings me joy in writing it and sharing it with you. So it’ll stay here and I’m privileged that you’ll bear witness to its inevitable bloom.

I talk about a new project that’s been stirring. The problem with how I write is that I never, ever think of plot, a story fully realized. I start with characters and a few scenes. I figure that if I know the people they’ll do some interesting things and the plot will follow. So I’ve a rather ambitious idea, one that will yank me out of my comfort zone, and it centers around a neighborhood in Brooklyn and a prominent (and potent) Puerto Rican crime family. Naturally, me being me, I have a few fully-realized scenes toward the end of the book, when I laugh and tell my agent this, he rolls his eyes because he’s been down this road with the last book. I always start in the middle of things and give him a 100 pages and inquire whether what I’ve written is any good. It’s always good, he assures me, and I can tell he’s relieved that this story is manageably dark, rather than relentlessly so.

I pause in the middle of our lunch, stir food around on my plate, and ask, timidly, the novel isn’t that dark, is it? He laughs because what I’ve asked states the obvious, because the title of my book is Follow Me Into the Dark, and he says, Felicia, it’s dark. But it’s also beautiful and good and we’ll find it a home.

I left reminded of the singular rule I was always taught in graduate school. Don’t just lean your hopes on this one great thing. Write new books, tell new stories, scatter them like confetti all over the place. So this is me, investing more time here, more time away from here. Writing. Creating something new. Every day.

INGREDIENTS
2 medium ripe bananas
½ ripe avocado (3/4 cup)
¼ cup cacao powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp maple syrup (or honey)
½ tbsp water

DIRECTIONS
Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend for 30 seconds or until smooth and well combined. I added cacao nibs and pistachios to my mousse, however, I can imagine this would be AMAZING with some whipped coconut cream. I let this chill in the fridge for an hour before serving.

chocolate banana mousse (vegan)

glitzy chocolate pudding (gluten/dairy-free)

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

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

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

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

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

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

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

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

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

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

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

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frozen pistachio nougat mousse + some thoughts on the cult of busy

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In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal? I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul. –From Omid Safi’s “The Disease of Being Busy”

We live in a cult of busy. We wear our inboxes as a humble badge of honor. We take secret pleasure in telling the friends we rarely see that we’re booked for weeks. We embrace the tools and technology as our deliverance because ordering from Seamless while in our Uber is our salvation. Never mind the fact that we don’t know what’s in the food we ordered, or perhaps we’re handing over our hard-earned money to misogynists who sometimes refer to their company as “Boober,” but that’s for another time. We desire the world and everything in it because we want the whole of life right now; we’re frightened of missing out, of not being, of fearing the other side of the what if we didn’t? question. We pin, tweet and talk about all the ways in which we can be efficient, how we can maximize time. For what? So we can spend more hours of the day filling it with stuff? Seeing people we don’t care to say or scrolling through pages on the internet so we can feel culturally attuned or relevant?

Many of my friends are mothers and I have such a profound respect for their second shift. My closest friend tweets at me that she wish she could experience this thing we call “me time.” We’ve been conditioned to fill our days with meetings that get us nowhere under the guise or promise of somewhere (let’s solve this problem by calling an hour-long meeting!) and we overschedule ourselves into oblivion, and hold some sort of secret, yet torturous pride over the fact that we are so busy. It must mean we’re moving in the right direction, right? That this is our personal velocity, right?

I don’t know. I say this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t even have children yet is busy. Still. I’ve got a lot going on. I’m juggling three incredible projects so that I’ll have the means to pay taxes, pay for dental work that insurance won’t cover, pay for said insurance, student loans and credit card bills. I take on projects to save for holidays and this journey I’m taking out west toward the end of the year. When I’m not commuting four hours a day, 3 days a week, I’m seeing beloveds, I’m dealing with family/personal stuff, I’m writing, editing, baking, and taking care of all the little things that manage to consume an inordinate amount of time.

And through all of this, I wonder if I’m being present. I’m not. I’m forever in-between time, dodging it, tracking it. And I worry how all of this busyness will get me back to the wonder. I wonder what happens if I stop saying I’m busy and fill some portion of my day with nothingness.

A small step forward? I’m participating in the Bored but Brilliant project–an attempt to pry myself away from my cell phone so I can spend that time being creative. And while this may seem like a way to get efficient, for me, it’s about getting minimal. About replacing something wasteful with something meaningful.

And then I plan on asking myself–what is making me so busy? Am I being present? Who or what is taking me away from it? How can I get back to the wonder.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Small Plates, Sweet Treats, modified
1 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 cup unsalted pistachios
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup coconut cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/4 cup honey

DIRECTIONS
Sprinkle 1/3 of the sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until the sugar begins to melt. You’ll be tempted to stir it, don’t. Resist temptation and let the heat do its thing. Sprinkle another third of the sugar and let this melt as well. Add the rest of the sugar and continue cooking until the color is a medium amber. Swirl the pan so that all the sugar caramelizes evenly.

Stir in the pistachios and coconut and immediately pour the caramel onto a baking sheet lined with lightly greased parchment paper. Let it cool completely and then chop it coarsely. I found this easier to break apart with my hands, but you do you.

In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Make sure you’re on the highest setting, and if you’re clueless about soft peaks, check out this cool pictorial. Soft peaks is the stage where the cream begins to hold its shape and then abandons it completely. Reserve in the refridgerator in a large bowl until you’re ready to use.

Wash and dry the bowl (I love how some bakers assume that you’re rolling with multiple stand mixing bowls–but I digress) and place the egg whites in the bowl and whisk them on high speed until they’re light and tripled in volume. Essentially, you’re a hair beyond the “frothing” stage. While you’re whipping the whites, heat the honey in the microwave or on the stovetop until it’s barely simmering (30 seconds). Gradually, on low speed, pour the honey into the whipped whites. Turn the speed back up to high and finish whipping to stiff peaks and until the bowl feels cool to the touch.

Gently fold the meringue and the caramelized nut/coconut mixture into the reserved cream. Pour into a freezer-safe container and freeze until solid (at least four hours). Remove from the freezer 5 minutes before serving.

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feather-light (vegan!) chocolate mousse

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Truth be told, I’m a little infatuated (read: addicted) to Organic Avenue’s Chocolate Mousse. Over the past few days, my travels invariably have me jetting into this uber-expensive health joint, and I’ve been seduced by the idea of a semi-virtuous sweet to take the edge off the fact that I’m on steroids, detoxing from gluten and feeling ravaged. Believe me when I say that I never, ever, want to have gluten again. It’s not worth all of this suffering. It’s not worth enduring this cruel invader who cleaves to every cell while my body retaliates with a full-blown gluten exit strategy.

Gluten, there’s the door. Thanks, bye.

While gluten is making its exit, I’ve been foggy. It’s been harder to concentrate and write, and I find myself revising posts for hours because I can’t think straight. I’m privileged to have been off work these past few days because I can’t even imagine functioning in the workplace, and if there’s one thing I CANNOT stand, it’s not being at 110%, especially when I work with people whom I respect and admire. Walking around in a daze, simply in an effort to move, I took two new business calls with major corporate clients, sent bids, sent emails, spoke to friends, and I woke at 1:30AM thinking, what did I do yesterday? How did I do it?

Suffice it to say, I didn’t have the sleep of children. One of the side effects of taking steroids is insomnia, so I paced my apartment for the great portion of the early morning hours, feeling sick, slightly faint, and I only felt slightly better when took my next round of meds.

Seriously. I can’t wait for these hives to EXIT. I can’t wait for gluten to leave. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, etc. I can’t wait to be talking about something else other than gluten.

Which brings me to this mousse. Bad segue, I apologize, but I’m not at 110%. While chatting with Dana this week, I revealed that I’d become smitten with the OA sweet, of which she shared that the mousse came from a recipe she’d initially developed for OA, although the finished product was a bit sweeter than she’d anticipated. Luckily, I can now make this treat at home, and not only do you not taste the avocado, you won’t even miss the fact that this is DAIRY FREE. The glory, friends. The glory.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from my food coach, Dana James, adjusted slightly (Serves 2, 260 calories per serving)
1 ripe avocado, peeled and chopped
3 tbsp raw cacao powder
1 tbsp coconut butter (or coconut oil)
2 tbsp coconut milk
3 tbsp coconut sugar or agave
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch Himalayan salt
pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
To serve – 2 tbsp coconut flakes & 1 tsp raw cacao powder

DIRECTIONS
Put all ingredients in a powerful blender such as a Vitamix and blend for 2 minutes. Add more coconut milk if pudding is too thick. I chilled my mousse in the fridge for an hour before diving in.

Serve in a mini-bowl topped with raw cacao powder and coconut flakes lightly toasted in a cast iron skillet.

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