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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the best roasted chicken you’ll ever make

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It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Candidly, I started to resent putting myself out there so publicly, feeling odd when strangers seemed to think they know me based on what I chose to share online. I won’t return to this space daily or share to the degree of intimacy to which you’d grown accustomed, but I miss sharing the food I love to eat. I missed cooking.

2016 was a year worth shredding. This year, I resolved to wake from my sleeping life. The company that I’d started last year — a marketing collaborative — was starting to grow, and the novel I’d spent three years writing finally crawled its way into the world. For a while, I was comfortably coasting until I became comfortably uncomfortable.

For most of my adult life, food had been a passion of mine. I’d been an enthusiastic home cook and avid baker, and I’d spend weekends browsing bookshelves for the latest culinary tomes. I’d spend hours watching The Food Network when it wasn’t a reality show ratings grab. In 2006, a time before filters and iPhone photo-editing apps, I started snapping photos of the dishes I’d made with a pocket-sized Olympus camera. The photos were laughable — all close-ups and blurry shots under the glare of fluorescent kitchen lighting — but I didn’t care because nothing gave me greater joy than sharing the meals I’d made with others. Over the years, making food and writing about it on my blog had been a refuge, a way to recover from the day’s stresses and the slew of fire-alarm emails that never seemed to abate. I worked in a company where everyone acted like we were curing cancer, but really we were finding new ways to hock our clients’ wares on the internet.

Over the years, the meals I made became more ornate and complex and I invested in fancy cameras, photography and cooking classes because when clients are screaming at you on the phone all day long your stress-relieving hobby becomes a necessary lifeline — the thing that will stop you from stapling things to people’s heads.

Last year, all that hard work was rewarded with a handsome contract to work with an incredible company that sold premium kitchen appliances. Someone was actually paying me to do what I loved — make food, photograph and write about it! Nine months later, it occurred to me that I hadn’t bought a cookbook and I only made food for company. My fridge was anemic and I engaged in a torrid love affair with Postmates, sometimes seeing DoorDash on the sly. The work (make no mistake, professional grade photoshoots–working with stylists, pro-photographers–is HARD, and the mounting stress from it, somehow transformed the thing I loved to something I’d grown to resent. Years ago, someone asked me if I’d ever entertained the idea of going to culinary school or opening a bake shop, and I laughed because I knew the moment you made money from a hobby you loved, you’d strip away all the joy that comes from it. Food was sacrosanct until it wasn’t, and this year I made the difficult decision to let that project go.

Maybe I’m insane for abandoning the only consistent income I’ve had in years, but I love food. I miss it, and the idea that I’d become allergic to it was too much to bear. Not everything you love has to come with a paycheck.

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I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. A lot of my work is dark, relentlessly so, and friends often joke that they couldn’t imagine me writing a book or a short story where someone didn’t die. It’s true, most of my characters meet their end in cruel, unimaginable ways. Nearly all of them are in some state of disrepair. Most carry their pain like armor, shielding them from really connecting with anyone in the world. But I love my broken people. I love writing small, dark experimental books because, like food, it gives me a joy that’s impossible to quantify. Let my marketing strategy work pay the bills while my writing helps me make sense of the world.

I secured an agent in 2006 when I’d finished my first book, The Sky Isn’t Visible from Here. Although my agent represented big, commercial books, I’d always felt that he nourished his creative side by working with me. He was my champion, editor, cheerleader, and truth teller. He was instrumental in helping me revise my second book, Follow Me Into the Dark, but I couldn’t shake the conversations steering me toward commercial books. A few other things didn’t sit right with me, and last month I made the difficult decision to resign my agent.

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Two break-ups in one month — talk about yanking off the training wheels and driving the bike into a tree. Last month felt like tears and scraped knees. Fear — of not getting a new agent or another paying client — was what tethered me to discomfort. Fear bound me to relationships that weren’t serving me, and the only upside was the consistent knowledge of this discomfort. It’s relatively easy to settle into the things that prevent you from moving forward because what if I’ve traded discomfort for creative and financial ruin? The unknown is also a kind of cancer, one that gnaws away at you until there’s nothing left. Until you start doubting your worth and ability to reclaim the joy you perhaps took for granted.

I’ll be honest — I’m anxious. I’m querying agents after ten years and I worry that I won’t find the right match. I worry that I’ve given up financial security and what if I can’t keep my deal flow going? So far, I’m doing okay–I have an exciting 5-week gig leading the marketing side of the Los Angeles Review of Books/USC Workshop, I have a pretty consistent client based in NY, and I got a fun cat gig that keeps me smiling.

But a part of me, in a smaller voice, says, what if you don’t fail? What if you find an agent who loves your work for what it is rather than what he or she wants it to be? Fear locks all the doors. Stepping into the unknown empowers you to break the doors down and jump, feet-first, to the other side.

Now, on to the chicken!

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 chicken thighs, skin on, bones in
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 sprigs of thyme, minced
  • 2 springs of rosemary, minced. Add two more for garnish at the end
  • Salt // pepper

DIRECTIONS

Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Make sure your chicken is at room temperature and you pat the skin dry. In a large bowl, add the olive oil, lemon juice, zest, minced rosemary + thyme, salt, and pepper. Toss until all thighs are coated with the mixture. On a large baking sheet, add the chicken, bone side down. Roast for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 375 and roast for another 10-15 minutes. Allow your meat to rest on the sheet pan for a few moments before you serve. I made my chicken with roasted potatoes, or you can add chickpeas (tossed in salt and pepper) to your sheet pan when you start cooking the chicken. I LOVE chickpeas and have no shame about adding them to any recipe.

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life lately: pups, smoothies, and lots of work

puppies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want this yum recipe? Get it here.

blueberry smoothie
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cookbooks worth coveting: a roundup

cookbooks

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.

recipe: pasta with chicken + chive/parsley pesto

gluten-free pasta with chicken and chive/parsley pesto

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a recipe around these parts. In all candor, keeping up a food blog is pretty expensive and my meals as of late have been about what can be repurposed or stretched and what I can afford. I love this dish because it gives me four filling meals (especially with the lentil pasta), there’s an ocean of green on the plate and it’s delicious. Luckily, I live by a farmer’s market where the produce is inexpensive (the herbs were $1.50 each for a huge bunch!) and fresh.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups parsley, chopped
1 cup chives, chopped
1/2 cup pistachios
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 lb chicken breasts chopped into 1/2 inch cubes/strips
1 lb gluten-free pasta (or you can use this delicious lentil pasta)
Optional: 1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese

DIRECTIONS
In a blender (or food processor), blitz the first seven ingredients until smooth and creamy. Set aside.

Cook the pasta per the directions on your box, removing a minute early so the noodles are al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water–you’ll need this to make the sauce super creamy.

In a large non-stick skillet, add 1/2-1 tbsp olive oil, the chicken, salt, and pepper and saute until brown, 5-6 minutes.

Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the skillet along with the pesto. Mix until the chicken and noodles are complete combined. Add the reserved pasta water. Finish off with cheese, if that’s your bag. Enjoy!

chorizo-spiced squash soup

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The first movie I remember seeing as a child was The Shining, on a weekend when the rain came down persistent and in sheets. I didn’t understand what I was seeing, only that it was arresting, and that there was so much red all over the screen. I didn’t cover my eyes through the scary parts (or so I was told), rather I sat mute, transfixed, curious. Often I joke about how good I turned out, considering. But it occurs to me that I’m rarely able to stomach movies that people find popular. I slept through E.T., refused to see Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and anything that remotely resembled action, comedy or romance sent me fleeing in the opposite direction. I made exceptions for John Hughes movies, and anything involving Corey Haim, Robert Downey Jr., or Andrew McCarthy because who could refuse stories of teenaged angst, alienation, and rejection, or the current guys sprawled across the glossy covers of Teen Machine and The Big Bopper? I grew up without cable TV (too expensive, too frivolous), and by the time I got to college, there was so much vocabulary from contemporary entertainment I’d been missing.

Instead of quoting lines from Beavis & Butthead and Bill & Ted, I read books and watched movies that had been edited for television. I used whatever money I had to rent horror movies from video stores and when I wasn’t watching somebody getting mauled, I read from one of the many books I borrowed from the library. As I grew older I became interested in art (painting, illustrations, comics, sculpture), history, languages, and philosophy, and less interested in pop culture. Admittedly, this can make dinner conversations awkward because I haven’t seen the latest movie or streamed the latest “IT” show. So while everyone this weekend was prattling on about Star Wars (I’m sure it’s good, I’m just not interested), that Tina Fey/Amy Poehler movie (I don’t always find them funny), and another movie about white bros in finance, explaining finance (why bother, as I can just reply the three years I worked in banking?)–I discovered Queen of Earth.

I’ve already watched the film three times (it’s on Netflix streaming). At the foreground, we’re witnessing, to a claustrophobic degree, the psychological unraveling of Catherine (played brilliantly by Elisabeth Moss) after the loss of her two greatest co-dependent relationships: her artist father to suicide and her boyfriend to his freedom. Catherine spends the week in “exile” at her best friend Virginia’s summer home (Katherine Waterston’s quiet, chilling performance is a terrific foil for Moss’s downright feral unwinding), and we learn that only the ones we love truly have the capacity to damage us. While we observe Catherine’s fragile emotional state, we’re reminded, via flashback, to the previous summer, where the tables were turned and Catherine was a lesser friend to the suffering Ginny.

Everything about Queen of Earth awed me–from the smart writing to the performances and the haunting score, to its depiction of mental illness (the unbearable silences and suffocation of depression), and the terror one feels when friends are no longer a refuge. The feelings of confinement and loss struck me, and I’m finally, slowly, writing something new again. Though part of me wonders when I’ll feel “normal” again.

So this is me, making soup, writing stories, watching dark movies. Just like childhood only with a few more years tacked on for good measure.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Year of Cozy, with modifications.
1 acorn squash (2 1/2 pounds), halved, seeds scooped out*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15oz canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon salt + additional, to taste
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
Teeny pinch of ground cloves
3½ cups chicken stock
Juice from ½ lemon

*I opted to use 2 lbs of cubed butternut squash + 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper and I roasted the squash for 40 minutes. It made for less mess and easy cleanup, and the soup was delicious.

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SOUP TOPPING (optional, modified based on what I had on hand)
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon ancho chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of ground coriander
Salt
3 tablespoons crème fraîche (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the squash, cut sides down, on the baking sheet and roast for about 30-40 minutes, or until mostly tender. Scoop the flesh into a small bowl if you’re working with the acorn squash. If you went the pre-cut butternut squash route, set the baking sheet aside. There might be some bits of the squash that aren’t completely cooked–not to worry, the rest will cook in the pot with the broth.

In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, cooked squash, pumpkin, chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt, oregano, cumin, coriander, and cloves. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the spices are fragrant.

Add the stock and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the squash is completely softened. Using an immersion blender, pulse until smooth, about 30 seconds. (If you don’t own one, just transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender. Add salt/pepper to taste.

To make the soup topping: In a small skillet over medium heat, add the seeds, oil, chile powder, cumin, coriander, and a pinch of salt. Toss to combine and toast for about 2 minutes.

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kale, brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad

kale brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad

You can’t imagine how wonderful it feels to make healthy food after The Epic Sadness Q4 2015 (sometimes I need a little humor to shine a light in the darkest of situations). For weeks, I stared into an anemic refrigerator, unable to cook or bake with very rare exceptions. Instead, I ordered out and made recipes that required me only boil water. And for those who’ve been following my journey to eat mindfully, know that what you put in your body directly contributes to your emotional and physical well-being. So in an effort to turn the beat around, I made (and reserved the leftovers) a pound of chicken cutlets to accompany all sorts of recipes. My favorite dish is chicken cutlets breaded in almond meal and fried in a butter/oil mixture, topped with fresh cheese. I usually pair this with an arugula salad because I love the buttery chicken juxtaposed with the sharpness from the bitter greens. In a former life, I’d dump the chicken over pasta or macaroni and cheese (!!!) but I want to feel energized after every meal instead of falling into a catatonic state. A heaping serving spoon (or three) of pasta will do this to you.

This morning I woke early and decided to make a simple salad. If you would’ve asked me a year ago if brussels sprouts would be part of my salad repertoire, I would’ve accused you of smoking crack. I used to LOATHE the brussels sprouts, however, I think the taste is predicated on how you cook (or don’t cook) the vegetable. Now I love sprouts charred and roasted, topped with a little maple syrup, or served raw when it’s shredded and dressed in oil.

Know that I’m typing this forking salad into my mouth. Enjoy!

 

INGREDIENTS
For the salad
1lb brussels sprouts
3/4lb Lacinato kale
1/2 pomegranate seeds removed
Optional: 1 avocado, skin removed and roughly chopped

For the lemon mustard dressing
1 large shallot, roughly chopped
1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey (or you can use 1/2 tbsp maple syrup)
Zest + juice of 2 small lemons
1/2 cup macadamia nut oil or olive oil
Salt/pepper to season

DIRECTIONS
First, make the dressing. Place the shallot, garlic, mustard, honey (or syrup), zest and juice into a small bowl. Mix until combined. [Here’s a captain obvious method for not getting seeds into your dressing: squeeze your lemon over a strainer.] Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify the mixture. Essentially, your dressing should be creamy and pale blonde in color. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Honestly, the hardest part of making this salad is shredding the sprouts. Don’t use a box grater–I tried that and made a mess all over my counter. Instead, remove the outer skin layer and chop off the stems. Using a sharp knife, slice the sprouts thinly. Pull them apart and the look will resemble confetti. Add the shredded sprouts to a large bowl. Once you’re done, chiffon the kale and add them to the bowl of sprouts. Slice a pomegranate and remove the seeds. Mix in the pomegranate seeds, add the dressing and stir until all of the leaves are coated. I like to set this aside for 20 minutes so the flavors really come out. Chow down immediately after.

I had this salad with some leftover chicken.

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kale brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad
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orange + olive oil cake

cake

 

Note to self: don’t drink fancy local trade coffee at 8pm and binge-watch Jessica Jones. You’ll stay up until four in the morning, flipping through episodes on Netflix while reading through Pank, comforted there are others who write strange, miraculous fiction.

I’ve just finished a draft of an exciting new project. I’ve got the words down but the visual and multimedia aspects aren’t quite there–essentially this is text with customized/commissioned illustrations and images, not the full spectrum I’m trying to achieve. I’ve published a few pieces here, which you can read at your leisure. Part of me wrestles with the joy this project has brought me and the desire for people to read my work–it’s not a new struggle by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to prioritize lasting and fleeting joys. The deep joy is in the creation, collaboration and assembly. The fleeting is in the work’s reception. I have to remind myself, daily, that the success of what I do is not predicated on the velocity of its online movement or perception. If I tether myself to the applause I also have to accept the jeers. I also have to remind myself that I’m playing in a space where inbalance still exists, where women are perceived as good if they’re writing toward white men. I have to wonder if my work will be harder to push into the world because I’m not popular, I don’t have a writerly tribe, I’m not part of the elite, I’m not purely white, and male. But on I go, you know?

The story of my life is wanting what I cannot have or, perhaps, wanting what I dare not allow myself to have. —Roxane Gay

I started seeing a psychiatrist this week (I don’t plan to go into any detail here other than to say I’m focusing on getting well), and he asked me what I wanted from our work. I said two things: not to feel this way, and, more importantly, not to use the words love and loss interchangeably. To return to the things that bring my joy (baking, cooking, photography). Last night, I spent hours on Stocksy (check out my friend Lauren’s work–isn’t she marvelous?!) and I marveled over the talent of teenagers in Slovenia and women in Nebraska. How they have the ability to make you see by the photos they take with a lens. That’s what an artist does–makes you see how they interpret the world, and I wish I had the ability to move through image and type seamlessly. Perhaps because it’ll make this project I’m working on easier. If I could just do it on my own.

I suppose that’s my view on most things–why can’t I just do it by myself, alone?

This morning I baked a bundt cake, trying slowly to return. I curled up next to my cat, existing between the space between sleeping and waking, the space between loving to bake and making myself do it to feel. So that I could see.

 

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s Baked Explorations
3 cups gluten-free flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups organic cane sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
freshly grated zest of 2 oranges
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted for dusting

 

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter and flour a 1o-inch bundt pan

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks until they are pale and light; slowly pour in the sugar until it is completely incorporated. Add the yogurt and olive oil and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the orange zest and vanilla, and mix until just incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in two parts, beating after each addition or until just combined (this will take about 10 seconds). Scrape down the bowl and beat again for 5 seconds.

In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Scoop 1 cup of the egg whites into the batter. use a rubber spatula to gently fold them in. After about 30 seconds of folding, add the remaining egg whites and gently fold until they are almost completely combined. Do not rush the folding process.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, or until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan (I sometimes use and offset spatula for this) and turn it onto the rack. Just before Serving, dust the cake with the confestions sugar. The cake can be stored at room temperature, covered tightly for about 3 days.

the simplest + sweetest strawberry crisp

Strawberry crisp

I’ll never again take lying in a bed for granted. We slept the sleep of children last night–me curled up next to Felix. I love Santa Monica because the skies are perennially pink come nightfall, and the air is cool and crisp. I’m near the ocean and I sleep with my windows open, which is a luxury, really, because not too long ago I was enduring relentless heat and humidity. I lived in a home where false cold air blew in.

My furniture finally arrived yesterday (it’s been a month in the making), and I spent five hours cutting up boxes and unpacking. 39 of the 49 boxes contained books, and I’m still sore from moving them around my apartment, trying to make room for all that I’ve collected over the years. A friend sent me a note last night, asked if I’d seen the sky. She was driving home from Marina Del Rey and caught sight of it. I paused and walked downstairs and saw the sun settle into the horizon, and there was a kind of purple haze to it, a cool fire, and I felt the word home.

I fell into bed around 8:30pm, aching, exhausted–hands all cut up and bleeding–but happy that everything I love occupies this space. I don’t have my couch yet, but you can sort of tell from the mess below it’s coming together. Slowly, but surely.

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I’ve been on work calls since seven this morning, and I finally had some time this afternoon to bake. I bought three pints of fresh strawberries for $7 and couldn’t wait to make a crisp.

Odd thing is, I wasn’t excited about photographing this. I brought the plates, napkins, and marble slab out onto the deck and it felt…false. I can’t explain it. I brought everything back in and set the dishes on the counter and took photos with my phone. I guess it felt more real to me–a first home-cooked meal in a new house. It felt like, okay, this is it.

I live in California.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat, with modifications
1 pound hulled strawberries, cut into halves and quarters
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic cane sugar sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup almond flour
1 cup gluten-free steel-cut oats
5 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut into cubes (I found goat butter in my local market and it is INSANELY good)

Strawberry crisp

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Put the strawberries into an ovenproof dish (a pie pan is a good size) with the 2 tablespoons of sugar, orange zest and almond extract.

Mix the almond flour, oats, and the rest of the sugar in a bowl.

Break the butter into little chunks and add it to the bowl or pour in the coconut oil and then use your fingers to rub the mixture together, lifting them out of the bowl to get some air into the crisp topping. Once the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs and there are no big lumps of butter, you’re golden. I used an old fashioned pastry cutter.

Pile the mixture on top of the strawberries and bake in the hot oven for 25 minutes, until the top is golden and the strawberries have shrunk and started to caramelize around the edges.

Strawberry crisp

blueberry mango coconut smoothie

Blueberry mango coconut smoothie

What a weekend. Actually, I’m glad it’s over, and I never thought I’d say those words aloud. On Sunday, I discovered this print via an online friend and I bought it, immediately. If I could mark these words along my body, I would, because sometimes I need to be reminded of the obvious. Ignore the expletives, which only serve as shock value (although in this day and age fuck seems less profane and more commonplace), for the advice is spare and honest.

This weekend, I learned that an old friend ushered in a new life, and while I’m happy for her this happiness is imbued with a certain kind of sadness. The kind of sadness where you’re nostalgic about the friendship you used to have, the people you used to be, even if you realize both have no a place in the life you’re living now. Sometimes you think of this friendship as if it were a postcard and it hurts to remember all the strained, uncomfortable silences that punctuated between the lines. You know the friendship ran its course, was good for what it was while you had it, but still.

It also occurred to me that I’m leaving, really leaving. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on joining the legions of long-term tourists and their cringeworthy odes to Joan Didion’s seminal essay because there’s no romance in my leaving, it’s just something I need to do. I’ll spare you the diatribe, but I will say this: one day I woke up and my home became a stranger. One day I was a sophomore in college and everyone I knew had the same points of reference–most of us grew up here, lived our lives here, but time took it all, whitewashed our references, and while others strayed, I remained and struggled to preserve what it was like to be a city kid. And then came a moment when I thought it would be nice to stop struggling. It would be nice to have a new point of entry, frame of reference, and the decision to leave came as swiftly as the sorrow that preceded it.

But I’m rotten at goodbyes–I prefer hellos. So there’s that, and all the logistics (financial and otherwise) that I’ve got to manage within two months. It’s…a lot.

When I read the aforementioned print, a line lingered: The problem contains the fucking solution. Pacing my home, I kept saying that line, over and over. I wrote down each worry, every consideration and dissected it to find the solution. With regard to my former friend, I was sad that I’ll only have the kind of closure I’ve created for myself, and I have to let it all go. And on it goes. On to the next. Committing to paper all the problems and ferreting out the solutions.

Is it no longer that I couldn’t make anything other than what can be tossed into a blender?

Thank pony it’s Monday.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup of almond (or coconut) milk
1/2 cup fresh mango, diced
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
2 tbsp of your favorite protein powder
1 tbsp coconut flakes
1 cup spinach
ice

DIRECTIONS
For smoothies, I tend to start with the base of liquid, fruit, powder, and then I’ll add my vegetables. I’ll blitz this in my Vitamix (you could use a high-powered blender) and then I’ll add the ice so the smoothies doesn’t get watery and all the ingredients cohere. Drink immediately!

blueberry mango coconut smoothie