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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cookbooks worth coveting: a roundup

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I own a lot of cookbooks–so much so that before I moved to Los Angeles I had a massive purge because books are HEAVY and expensive to cart across the country. Many of my books were acquired in 2002 when I started making things as a means to occupy my hands. At the time, I was recovering from one of many addictions and I needed to create something from nothing instead of pillaging everything in my wake. My first cookbook was Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, where I learned how to make simple cakes and loaves. My experiences boiled down to a lot of trials, but mostly error, and let’s not talk about the time I used confectioner’s sugar instead of granulated in a cheesecake and say we did. Ina, Martha, Tyler, Giada–as my prowess grew so did my library. For nearly a decade, I identified myself as a baker of towering cakes and flaky pastries until a few years ago when a sickness ravaged my body and I had to gut renovate my diet.

That’s when the exploration really began.

My diet was paleo with grains, gluten-free vegan with meat–essentially, there was a hodgepodge of foods I could eat and a lot I couldn’t. My mainstays–pasta, paninis, muffins, and croissants had to be replaced with almond milk, nut creams, cauliflower and copious amounts of legumes and vegetables. The adjustment was a difficult one, and I purchased many cookbooks that inevitably gathered dust. I had to replace sugar and carbs with good fats and flavor, and it took me a while to regard my new batch of books without skepticism.

After last week’s burning hive assault (and my closing on a new project), I found myself returning to the cookbooks I’d briefly abandoned because over the past six months I’d slowly become addicted to cheese and yogurt and now those foods are verboten. Back to the drawing board, as it were.

Cookbooks these days are REALLY hit or miss. Many are published without the rigor of recipe testing or basic copyediting. Faulty measurements, obscure ingredients, and a bland finale often had me wanting to hurl my books out of the closest open window. Believe me when I say that these books are the BUSINESS.

The Paleo Kitchen: The only reason this fine book wasn’t included in the photo above is because I took the picture at 6:30am and I didn’t realize it wasn’t included until I started writing this post. Let me tell you, Juli Bauer’s book had me changed on the uber-trendy paleo lifestyle simply because the recipes are GOOD. The recipes are pretty easy to make (except for a cinnamon bun recipe that was lackluster), and most of the ingredients are probably in your pantry or easily accessible at your local market. Some of my favorites are the: sundried tomato sweet potato hash, sweet plantain guacamole, sage & shallot soup, pumpkin tomato soup, rosemary sundried tomato meatballs (WHOA), spaghetti squash chicken fritters (my top pick of the lot). I’ve made 70% of the recipes in The Paleo Kitchen and I was so pleased I purchased Bauer’s follow-up book, Paleo Cookbook.

The Oh She Glows Cookbook: After the purge of 2015, I now have about 50 cookbooks, and this one is in the top five. I LOVE THIS BOOK. As a proud carnivore, I’ve given a lot of vegan books the side-eye because I’m not a fan of faux meats or the idea that meat can be recreated, however, Liddon developed the most imaginative, tasty recipes. From her, I learned about using tofu and avocado in smoothies, desserts, and as a substitute for cream. I still think about my creamy avocado basil pesto pasta and faux vodka sauce made with cashew cream (so surprisingly good!). I made crave-worthy veggie burgers and a slew of soups, salads and main courses that won over the most discerning palates.

A Modern Way to Eat // At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Perhaps it’s the design of the books or the photography, but I use these two clean-eating tomes interchangeably and often. A Modern Way delivers wholesome, flavorful vegetarian recipes including green fritters (LOVED these), the perfect chili, squash tarts, pizza, hummus a million ways, chickpea and veg stews and some of the tastier desserts I’ve encountered. Judging by the markings in At Home in the Whole Food, I use this book a bit more. This is the book on which I relied to build and outfit a whole food pantry. Grains and legumes are discussed in excruciating detail, and I came away with a great deal of knowledge about the food I was about to consume (as well as the corresponding health benefits). From the simple red lentil soup and blackberry cornmeal muffins to the best cherry coconut granola you’ll ever make–the recipes are filling, complex and delightful. I’m loath to use the word marvelous, but you’ll feel a sense of wonder paging through the book. I’ve made over 50% of the recipes in this book and I’ve yet to encounter a flop.

Cravings: FML with this book. Of course, this book came into my life the very week I had to stop consuming dairy. Many of the recipes contain cheese and you will weep salty dairy tears. I wouldn’t dare say that this book is healthy by any stretch of the imagination, but the recipes are drool-worthy. You will want to make all the food and lick all the plates. I’ve made four dishes out of the book pretty successfully, and I’m trying to devise ways to manipulate the recipes for my palate. I’ve found that nuts + nutritional yeast + seasonings evoke the flavor of spicier cheeses even if I know in my heart that the alternative pales in comparison to the original. I’m having a dinner party this week and I’m making the brussels sprout + kale salads as well as the eggplant baked ziti with mozzarella bombs. I plan on staring at my friends while they feast on fried eggplant and cheese while I toss around dairy-free pesto pasta on my plate. SOB.

Kitchen Stories: My friend Denise Hung, culinary pro and astute coffee connoisseur, is one-half of the genius duo who authored this great book. I met Denise while I was in Singapore last year and it was heart-at-first-sight. The book centers recipes around certain moods and emotional states, and although you’ll have to master the metric system (there exists no U.S. version of this book), the simple and delectable recipes are worth the stretch.

when your friend is sick, you make chicken soup

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My friend Amber is in town for a long weekend, and having her here has been a needed respite from the daily financial anxiety which is my life. We drove to a secluded beach in Malibu after we ordered piles of fish tacos and cheeseburgers, and walked along the shore in Santa Monica. Amber arrived with a scratch in her throat and in two days time found herself run down with a horrible cold. Yesterday we spent the day watching season one of The O.C., and talking, and it was honestly one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. At one point she admitted that she still can’t believe I live in Los Angeles. Yeah, I thought. Sometimes I can’t believe it either. But I’m here and I wake to seagulls and fall asleep to quiet and I’m hoping, praying (even though I’m atheist) that I won’t be forced to have it any other way.

While Amber made a makeshift home on the couch, I refused her requests for Panera soup in favor of making her something homemade because she’s been such a beautiful friend to me over the past few months when my life has been filled with omnipresent darkness, that fixing up a bowl of chicken noodle soup was the least I could do. I haven’t cooked meals that take longer than 20 minutes in some time, so it was nice to stand over the stove and linger. Even if it was skimming fat off the surface of the soup.

So we spent the day like that, she on the couch sipping soup and me in front of the stove inspired to make bolognese sauce. I’m sad that she’ll be leaving tomorrow because this reprieve has been wonderful.

After Monday, I’ll go back waiting for emails, waiting for work, hoping I won’t default on all my loans come April. Until then, there’s always soup.

INGREDIENTS
1 4lb whole chicken, try to get organic/local if you can
5 large carrots (I bought my carrots from the farmer’s market, and I tell you that buying local really did make a difference in the soup)
4 celery stalks
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 1/2 tsp of whole peppercorns
1 1lb of egg noodles
Salt/pepper, to season

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DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, add the chicken. Dice 3 of the carrots and 2 of the celery stalks into a 1-inch dice. Set the other carrots/celery aside. Add the three diced carrots, two diced stalks, quartered onion and peppercorns to the pot with the chicken. Add cold water until the chicken and vegetables are completely submerged. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, skimming the surface fat every ten minutes.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and set aside to cool. Strain the broth and add the vegetables and strained broth back into the pot. Add the egg noodles, bring to a boil, and cook for ten minutes.

Shred the chicken with two forks and add the meat to the cooked noodles and broth and serve immediately. Season with salt/pepper.

easy zucchini fritters

zucchini fritters
I’m a creature of habit. While I took conference calls from my air mattress, waiting for my furniture to make the long crawl across the country, I feasted on a small gluten-free sausage pizza–every day. My neck hurt? Order the double sausage. My furniture’s uncertain location and delivery date? Order the double sausage. Missing my friends who were no longer a subway ride away? Please, please, deliver me the double sausage. It got to a point where I was on a first-name basis with the Fresh Brothers cashier and delivery guys. Even now, even as I type this, I miss that pizza because it was so damn good.

I’ve an addictive personality, and when I get hooked on something, I tend to consume it to an unhealthy degree. Years ago I lived on avocados for a month, so much so, I developed an allergy to them and I couldn’t eat them for over ten years without getting violently ill. Last year I had to put a fatwa on chickpeas because my affection for them was getting out of hand. I tend to skirt the extremes, and it’s taken a lot of effort to create balance in my diet.

The double sausage and I are on a mini-break.

Last year, I was a wreck. Raised burning hives covered 85% of my body, and I had to cycle through steroids for a week and maintain a strict diet for months in order to heal myself. Come Thanksgiving, I couldn’t eat turkey, cranberries, gluten, dairy, yeast, and a host of other foods, and I found myself along eating gluten-free pasta because I was too embarrassed to ask my best friend, whom I see every year for the holidays, to make a special plate just for me. It’s taken over a year but I feel the healthiest I’ve ever been and I’ve fallen in love with foods I never thought I’d tolerant. Because when you live boxed in, you have to get creative. And while I’m able to occasionally indulge in gluten, I’ve no longer a taste for bread or pasta (I can’t even believe I’m typing this because I was a carb junkie, hoovering two plates a pasta A DAY).

Now that I’m on a break from the double sausage, now that I’ve got a stocked kitchen and a table on which to finally eat, it’s been a joy to comb the farmer’s markets and bring home fresh produce. From plump figs to corn and heirloom tomatoes, living out west makes me EXCITED for food in a way I hadn’t felt back east.

I mean, who gets jazzed over vegetables? (Raises hand)

When my friend shared this zucchini fritter recipe on Facebook, I dropped my plans to make an heirloom tomato and leek soup. My predilection for the fritter runs deep, and I went to the market today for fresh, local ingredients because who doesn’t want a fried crispy vegetable?!

I made some alterations to the original recipe to suit my palate (I love the lemony pungent nature of thyme over oregano any day of the week), and I tend to go heavy on the shallots (the only onion I can tolerate) and pepper.

And while these fritters don’t come close to the creature comfort of the double sausage, I’m loving the return of fresh vegetables to my diet.

Enjoy!!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Healthy Holistic Living: Makes 6 fat fritters
3 small green zucchini
1/4 cup fresh basil, minced
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and minced
1 small shallot, minced
2 small cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium eggs, whisked
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp gluten-free flour (you can also make this with almond meal!)
1 tsp sea salt, divided
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Using the large blades on your box grater, grate the zucchini onto a cutting board. Transfer the zucchini to a colander lined with a kitchen towel. Add 1/2 of the sea salt, toss, and leave for 10 minutes. Wrap up the zucchini in the towel and squeeze, hard. Trust me, you won’t even believe the amount of water zucchini releases!

Add the zucchini to a medium bowl. Add the herbs, shallot, garlic, salt, pepper, eggs, and flour and toss until all the flour is absorbed. Let the mixture rest for ten minutes.

In a large skillet, add 2 tbsp of olive oil. Wait 2-3 minutes (or until a small piece of the fritter dough sizzles when it hits the pan) until the pan is searing hot. Add 2 tbsp of mixture for each fritter to the pan. Allow it to fry until the edges are crisp and brown, 3-4 minutes. Turn on the other side and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.

Transfer the fritters to a cutting board (or baking sheet) lined with paper towels. Although the original recipe calls for an avocado dill dip (YASSSS!), I couldn’t wait and devoured half of these fritters in one sitting.

zucchini fritters

zucchini fritters

kale, chickpea, cherry + wild rice salad with spicy yoghurt dressing

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Maybe it’s the weather or possibly I’m bananas, but I bolted out of bed this morning with the feeling of so much possibility. Over the weekend I sent out notes to contacts in my network, alerting them about my pending move out west and I was so thrilled that so many folks responded with well wishes and offers to help once I get settled in. I also mailed out little gifts to my closest friends, people who continue to be home to me–friends who shouldered some of my difficult moments this year. And finally, I mailed out my tax payment checks, relieved that I don’t have to deal with the IRS until next year.

Lots of mailing!

And so much goodness happened over the weekend! I finally secured a project that will allow me to work closer to home so I can resume a normal feeding schedule and not be bound to a daily four-hour commute. Also, I caught up with some close friends and brainstormed new side hustles, and I made so much good food.

I know I sound a bit scattered and far from poetic, but I guess sometimes you have to express your joy plainly. Sometimes you have to post a delicious kale salad and be happy that you’re starting off the week, exhilarated!

INGREDIENTS
For the salad
1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed from the can*
¾ cup wild rice
2 cups baby kale leaves, de-veined, coarsely chopped (you could also use spinach for this)
¾ cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
½ cup pomegranate seeds

For the yoghurt dressing
⅓ cup coconut yoghurt (I used a dairy-free version, but I quite like Sigis’ line of yoghurts)
2 tbsp macadamia oil
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Sea salt, to taste

*If you’re using dried beans, soak 1/2 cup dried chickpeas overnight, rinse, drain and cook for 1/2-1 hour until tender. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

DIRECTIONS
Soak the rice in a medium bowl filled with cold water for 30 minutes. Drain, rinse and add 2 1/4 cups of water to a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes until the rice is tender. Drain and set aside to cool slightly. Now you’ve got a bowl of your chickpeas, chilling, and rice, resting.

Now on to the dressing! Whisk all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Season with salt and set aside.

Combine the rice, chickpeas, kale and cherries in a large bowl. Coat the salad with the dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and then add the pomegranate seeds.

Serve at room temperature or cold. This will keep in a airtight container for 3 days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But really I wrote nothing at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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creamy red lentil + squash soup with purple potato chips

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My story this week is one of exhaustion, but a good kind of tired. I’m not talking about the tired that comes from living a life in a conference room, clock-watching, because I’ve been there, done that, and have the war wounds to prove it. Rather, I’ve taken on two exciting brand projects and a large-scale strategy project for a national franchise restaurant brand–all of which require a lot of heady thinking, collaboration and planning. I’ve spent most of this week in meetings listening and talking to people, and the bulk of today holed up in my apartment, creating. All of this put me to thinking about a piece I read this week espousing the benefits of flexible schedules. I spent 16 years chained to a desk and tethered to a computer with the expectation that I produce swiftly and brilliantly. No one ever took into account that people have different or more productive ways of working, and I feel privileged that I’ve designed a life where I get to have the necessary solitude in which to think, balanced with the deep need to connect and learn from people.

But I’m still a little tired.

Now more than ever do I recognize the value in shedding unhealthy attachments–those intent to cleave, drain and smother. I don’t have time for the extraneous, the superfluous, the dramas and intrigues. I only have room for those whom I love, friendships that need tending to, and my own self-care. Everything else is periphery, background noise.

In this life I’ve designed for myself, I’ve recognized the need for “me” time. I’m not talking about staring at my phone or refreshing my Twitter feed (as I’m wont to do), but it’s more about doing something tactile, creating something with my hands. So every Thursday afternoon, regardless of my schedule for the week, I make something. I spend a few hours in complete silence chopping, whisking, mixing, stirring. It’s a moving meditation of sorts, allowing me a break from the writing, the marketing, the stories, the people, and allows for something, anything, to come in. I get clarity when I cook or bake–I find new ideas of simple salves for old problems. Or I just make something really lovely to eat, and today is no exception.

I haven’t made a mirepoix base for a soup in some time, and I enjoyed the earthy feel of this soup and its depth of flavor with the two potatoes and varying textures (creamy and crisp), and I never met a squash soup that I didn’t love.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Small Plates, Sweet Treats
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
1 small butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded and diced (about 3 cups diced)
1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced
6 cups chicken stock (replace with vegetable stock for a vegetarian version)
2 small purple or yukon gold potatoes, very thinly sliced

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DIRECTIONS
For the soup: In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper. Cook the vegetable, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until tender but not mushy.

Add the red lentils, squash, russet potato, chicken stock, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simMer for 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. Puree the soup in a blender. Adjust the seasoning if needed and keep warm.

For the potato chips: In a small sauté pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the thinly sliced potatoes in batches and cook until golden. Drain them on paper towels, reserve.

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a virtuous grain-free banana bread + some thoughts on the art of balance

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The innocent mistake that keeps us caught in our own particular style of ignorance, unkindness, and shut-downness is that we are never encouraged to see clearly what is, with gentleness. Instead, there’s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, then we would be happy. –From Pema Chödrön’s The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness

I never understood this inclination or desire to flee from darkness, to live anesthetized through your waking life. I once knew a woman who proudly told me that she never consumes anything that makes her upset or cry. Instead she paints herself a world of pink and tulle, and lives in her kingdom where nobody dies and everyone sings pop songs. This is a world where the whole of one’s life is reconciled in a neat 30-minute television episode. Another woman tells me, in passing, that she can’t bear to know what’s going on in the world. How do you do it, she asks, read those articles every day? The rapes, mutilations, pillaging and murders–all of it is too much for her to manage. So instead she reads enough for casual conversation, enough to appear informed, and I tell her, without hesitation that this is actually worse. Hitchcock once talked about fear being afraid of the jump instead of the actual jump. You walk into a room, slide up against a wall and the moment before the lights flick on is the worst of it. It’s the anticipation of the fright that makes the fear scarier than it actually is. Because the lights go on, it never is as scary as you imagined it would be. So imagine living your whole life right before the jump, skirting the edges of doom instead of breathing through it. The fear of reading past the headline, of seeing that horrific image–this is the constant state of anxiety because you’re not equipped to process and understand darkness. And how, I wonder, can you ever make it out onto the other side? To true and breathtaking light?

If people exist simply to shuttle themselves from one happy moment to another careful television show to another sweet song, what is it that they’re escaping? For me, this seems like a sort of prison, a like life. Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are. Perhaps because I’ve spent most of my life holed up darkness, building a home it, harvesting a garden in it–I don’t fear it as much. You could say I’m comfortable in it–I write mostly from inside of it or from the memory of it. However, I see the danger in this extreme, too. A home you so assiduously built burns to the ground as you flick a lighter (on, off, on, off) and get lost in the flame. Your thumb burns from the friction of hot metal. Limbs buried deep, painful memories locked six floors down, have no other place to sprout and grow but up, up, and around you. Until you’re tangled in it. Until you become smothered by it. Until you think the fall is bottomless, and your breath is what gives it away.

When I was younger I used to write stories where everybody dies because I thought that was the natural order of things. A man kisses her wife goodnight and he dies. A woman drives in the night and dies. A child lays her head down on the earth because she thinks it has a heart that can beat, and when she hears no sound, no thump thump, she becomes absorbed from the place from which she came. I wrote stories about people dying because everyone does, and this was the mark of my own imprisonment. Where my body was a house was an abattoir, and there was no room for life or light. I used to think that a life lived was one where one mastered the art of breathing underwater. Instead, imagine this:

“Then the children went to bed, or at least went upstairs, and the men joined the women for a cigarette on the porch, absently picking ticks engorged like grapes off the sleeping dogs. And when the men kissed the women goodnight, and their weekend whiskers scratched the women’s cheeks, the women did not think shave, they thought stay.” ― Amy Hempel, “Weekend”

Imagine seeing the world, the moment, as it happens. Imagine a life without the need to perfect every waking moment of it, without having to build ourselves into fortresses of our own discontent, denial and ignorance. We are human, infallible and flawed. We will oscillate wildly–from dark to light and back again–and the wisdom comes from balance, from understanding that equilibrium exists in the space between light and dark, that nothing good comes from being tethered to one extreme or another. Joy doesn’t come from something wrapped in a box or a denim size or letters after an altered name–it comes from a scratch on a cheek, it comes from the person, friend, beloved who stays.

That is the moment. Everything else is just background noise.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Hemsley & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well, with modifications.
3 ripe bananas
1/4 cup coconut oil, at room temperature
3-4 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cups (7oz) ground almonds
1/4 cup tigernut flour (If you don’t have this, use another 1/4 cup of almond meal)
1/4 ground flaxseed
1 tbsp whole flax, for sprinkling
sea salt

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DIRECTIONS
Over the years, I’m realizing that I’ve fallen out of love with the saccharine sweet taste of the old banana breads packed with buckets of sugar and butter. But I’m also fleeing the rough brick-like texture of the whole wheat varieties. So here’s my balance. A loaf that’s got some sugar in the form of maple syrup, virtuosity in terms of the flax and nut bread, but flavor and fat because…nuts.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a loaf tin measuring about 9in x 5¼ in with enough baking parchment to double as a wrap for storing the banana bread (if it lasts).

Mash the bananas and coconut oil in a mixing bowl to a pulp with a fork. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, eggs, baking soda, and a small pinch of salt. Mix well with a fork.

Add the ground almonds and ground flaxseed and mix well. Or, even speedier, you can throw all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and blitz together.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle with the whole flax and bake for 1–1¼ hours. It’s ready when a skewer inserted at the centre comes out dry. If your bread starts to look quite brown after the first 30 minutes, then cover the top with baking parchment until it has finished baking.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool a little. Serve warm or at room temperature with some lightly salted butter, jam (I absolutely recommend jam for those who have a sweeter tooth as this isn’t the banana bread loaded with sugar and butter of which you’re probably accustomed) and a cup of tea. Store the bread, covered, in the fridge (remember there is no sugar or preservatives) for up to a week or slice and freeze (that way you can enjoy a slice at a time reheated under the grill).

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sprouted chickpea + sundried tomato hummus

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During last week’s session, my nutritionist offered me a cooking challenge: sprouted hummus. I’ve made hummus countless times and it’s probably the most simple, yet satisfying dish one could make, but after she went on about how the flavor profile of sprouted versus non-sprouted–well, there is no comparison–my interest was sufficiently piqued. Enough to read up on the benefits of sprouting your own beans (less abrasive on your digestion system, easier absorpotion of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc!) and all the delicious recipes one could make with said sprouts.

Honestly, this process does require a lot of patience. Consider this an occasion hummus because sprouting beans is time consuming. First, you have sort your beans to remove any grit or shells before soaking them in a bowl of water overnight. After, you rinse the beans and throw them in a large pot of water to cook for 90 minutes. Then there is the shell removal, which is Odyssean. Shell removal is crucial in yielding that creamy texture of which I spoke, and PEOPLE, IT’S WORTH IT.

FOR THE LOVE OF ORANGE KITTENS WITH SMALL EARS.

This was simply the best hummus I’ve ever had. The texture is feather-light, with an almost mousse-like quality and the taste is unbelievable. None of the grit from traditional hummus, and it was so glorious I stood at my counter eating this right out of the bowl with a spoon. No accoutrement needed, except for a spoon and a PUFFS PLUS for your sweet tears.

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup dried chickpeas (will make about 1 cup + 1/4 of chickpeas, when sprouted): I purchased mine from Jansal Valley
2 heaping tbsp of tahini
6-7 tbsp of olive oil
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes in olive oil, packed
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp coarse black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Sprout your beans per the package directions, or use the method I’ve outlined above.

Once the beans are softened and the shells removed (I drained the beans and rinsed them in cold water so I wouldn’t get asbestos hands removing said shells), add them to a food processor along with the other ingredients and blitz until smooth and creamy.

Eat and weep, friends.

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my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: hitting the six-month mark

via @frametastic

Do you know what it’s like to regard the once object of your affection with utter repulsion? Yesterday I was in an elevator with a man who carried a bag of MELT grilled cheese sandwiches, and I seriously thought I was going to be sick. He carried the most glorious of cheeses, gruyere, and I could practically taste the butter staining the wax paper. I felt waves of nostalgia and sickness and I had to cover my face with my hat so I could stop smelling that goddamn cheese smell.

Welcome to a life six months free of gluten and dairy.

We can talk about the incredible changes–30 pounds lost (and counting), muscle mass gained, nights of fitful sleep achieved, a fitness challenge victoriously completed, a host of new foods and tastes discovered–but we should also consider the losses. While I’m now able to incorporate certain foods back into my diet (blueberries, sweet potatoes, turkey, cranberries etc), many of the foods for which I once longed have become terrifying strangers. Since my reaction to gluten was so severe, when I’m able to resume a diet of gluten and dairy, I’m only able to have either of those foods ONCE EVERY TWO WEEKS, and I need to start with dairy, which is less perilous to my system. However, with the exception of cheese, halloumi and gruyere in particular, I don’t much care for dairy or miss it. And after yesterday’s bout of nausea, I wonder if I can enjoy the foods I once loved without feeling repulsed by them.

Did I tell you that when I have sugary desserts, the sugar tastes like acid? It actually burns. I’ve made several incredible desserts with the highest quality sugar I could find, but that first bite is brutal. Successive bites are less so, but it puts me to thinking about the first time I had Diet Coke after years of not consuming it and having to spit it out in the street. It was that unpleasant. And while I don’t think I’ll have that severe of a reaction to an almond croissant, I know something in me has changed.

I’m now that sort of woman who gets excited about seasoned chickpeas in a kale salad. Exhibit A, below. Try telling me that salad doesn’t look downright GLORIOUS.

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I’m the sort of person who marvels over the fact I sort of like nori. NORI? From a fervent fish-hater? Who knew? Over the past six months, I’ve discovered scores of tastes and flavors I’ve slowly come to love, and I feel as if the journey has only just begun. I’ve also been listening to my body, really listening, and I’ve noticed how sluggish it becomes when I binge on carbs (hello, gluten-free pasta with vegan cream sauce three days in a row, followed by cake) and how my performance during workouts suffer.

Speaking of which, since I’m forever a month early for everything, I spent some time before a recent Brooklyn BodyBurn class chatting up one of the instructors. This instructor has an enviable figure (it’s hard not to notice), and her classes have been one of the hardest I’ve taken, but I was surprised to hear that, up until two years ago, she barely thought of eating to nourish and exercising for strength. Food was an endless foe that had to be conquered, with exercise being one of the many weapons in her arsenal. She juice-cleansed, starved, binged, couched, and it wasn’t until she got into the rhythm of listening to her body and tuning in to what it needed, did she find herself in the best shape of her life.

We’ve heard these stories before, I read them every month in fitness magazines, but it’s good to be reminded that your body is a house worth preserving, not one worth burning to the ground.

I’ve got eight more pounds to lose (my nutritionist would say 13, but in this we disagree), the last stubborn reserves, and I’ve made some slight modifications to my diet (swapping my almond milk cappuccinos for almond milk cortados, eliminating nuts/nut butters for a month) to get rid of the pounds before I go back to maintenance eating, which is still heavily plant-based, but is freeing in the sense that I can increase the carbs and fat since I’m not trying to lose when I hit my goal. Truth be told, I’m taking this all in stride. I feel good and I’m not in a race with the scale. The weight will come off when it needs to and I just need to focus on being present at every meal. And look at the snap above? Does healthy eating look like torture? HARDLY.

Finally, I’ve achieved the unthinkable: I finished my 30-day, self-imposed Brooklyn BodyBurn challenge without dying. Remember how nervous I was when I started? I was sure that I would give up midway through the month, or fall and crack my head open when it snowed this week, but taking pictures of myself at BBB made me oddly accountable to myself. Before every workout, I’d say to myself that I’m going to do the best I can do, and the fact that I showed up matters. The rest, well, is golden.

I did show up for a month, and I got stronger. And while working out on the megaformer will never get easier, it feels good to show up. It feels good to do the thing you never thought you could do. It feels good to crave healthy foods. It feels good to love chickpeas.

It feels good to be golden.