pumpkin, sage + goat cheese risotto

pumpkin, sage and goat cheese risotto

I read a post this week, one of those exhausting listicles from someone who purports to have learned universal truths and feels impassioned to pass them along. I hate these lists because they carry an assumption that life is neatly demarcated, as if a decade of years can be excised and put under a microscope for observation and analysis without realizing that truth doesn’t reveal itself in a linear continuum. I never compare decades, rather I think of what I’ve learned, and more importantly, unlearned, in the context of a complete life. We’re forever trying to figure things out; we’re always students and teachers at once–the only difference that age brings is the shifting balance between the two. In Hridaya Yoga, there’s a concept called spanda, or the primordial tremor of the heart, and I like to think of this in terms of pulsation between points in time–a present heart oscillating between the past and future, and life feels as if you’re always reconciling the two. There are things I knew about life intuitively when I was 10 that I struggle with now, at 39, and vice versa.

When I was ten I started to realize that you could lose people. Kids hopped off roofs and fell out of windows. The junk-sick lay, arms outstretched, in the park, their eyes and fingers jaundiced. And although the police have covered their bodies you could still see their toes, a patch of skin. People took pills, lots of them, and fell into a dark, undisturbed sleep. Cancer and tumors serve as breath-robbers and we lie on the pavement trying to memorize the license plates of cars that read, I keep on living. Time doesn’t take it, rather it shows you the inventory of what has been lost and how you’ve navigated your way through sorrow and fear, how you continue on as one of the living until you’re the one somebody cries over. You have become paper-thin, ash, a figure in the past tense. In the space between you will lose and you will be lost, you exist in the phrase, I am here. In the present, I order $400 worth of end-of-the-world supplies (iodine tablets, masks, 3,500 calorie food bars and packaged water) because you never know. In the present, I meet an extraordinary poet, a fellow introvert who skulks in corners and writes operas, and I think it used to take me a bottle of wine to walk into a room and wonder if meeting people, the excruciating fear of it, will get easier.

It’s easy to meet people but hard to cultivate a tribe, and while part of me aches for my friends back home and the ease with which I could see them, I love being in California because it affords me the thing which I thought inconceivable–a fresh start. And what I know at 39, I knew at 10–sometimes it wonderful to know someone without the burden of your history. The burden of that specter–who you used to be–no longer exists, and there is the only the present and the future and you’re retelling of your history.

I’ve spent much of my life as the caretaker of my own company. This is not a cause for slow-singing–I prefer solitude, however, I know the downside of that: the fear of never finding where I fit. The unease that accompanies an odd sort of voyeurism–while I prefer to be distant from things I sometimes long to be a part of things, and my struggle is achieving a balance between the two. Facebook is sometimes terrible in the way that it reminds me of all the things of which I’m not a part while at the same time providing a forum for which I can meet new people. Facebook reminds me that I’ll have to get blurbs for my book at one point and it’s harder because I’m not part of the “club”. Facebook reminds me of all the conversations I feel intimidated to participate in because I’m not part of the conversation. Most times I feel like an interloper, eavesdropping on conversations, skirting the edges. Most times I’m reminded that I’m not a part of something. Part of me is fine with this because belonging has its own set of rules, etiquette, and potential baggage, but what I knew at 10 is the same as 39–we yearn for people, we long for a place to lie down our head.

Last night I met a few extraordinary artists. One of them approached me as I was studying my story, head-down in a corner. Another came over because she preferred the quiet of corners too. An old friend, the host of the event, interrupts the conversation and I talk to her about her work. A decade ago she published a remarkable story collection and time and the business of work has altered her affection for work. We talk about the installation she’s created on the wall–a visual odyssey of her zig-zag journey across the country–all in an effort to understand and reconcile loss. She’s struggling with the project because the journey wasn’t (and isn’t) a linear one. The story doesn’t start at point A and ends with point B, rather depending on where you are in your life when you enter the story you might cleave to point C. Or point D may be your beginning. The narrative alters itself based on your experience (or point-of-view). I told her that I started the installation at one place, the middle, and the mess, and found myself reading not from left to right, not to establish a point of entry, rather I tried to understand her journey as a kaleidoscope, where one oscillates between confusion and clarity and the only thing that time brings is an accumulation of experience. And while she’s back in Los Angeles and has some sort of roots planted, she’s still traveling and I get it. I’m here, but I’m still traveling. I moved here because it offers the advantage of geography–physical and emotional space on terrain that is new, undiscovered, and alive.

At 10, at 18, 24, and 39, I’m still nomadic. I’m still trying to find my tribe.

INGREDIENTS
1 qt (2 pints) low-sodium, organic/local chicken stock (or you can use vegetable)*
1 shallot finely diced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp chopped fresh sage
1 cup of arborio rice
5 tbsp of pumpkin puree (you can use canned pumpkin, but DO NOT use pumpkin pie mix. This is a common mistake as both products are merchandised alongside each other)
2 tbsp truffle goat cheese (you can use regular goat cheese, as well)
1 tbsp pecorino romano cheese
1/4 tsp sea salt; 1/2 tsp white pepper
*1 quart is the equivalent of 32oz or 2 lbs

pumpkin, sage and goat cheese risotto
pumpkin, sage and goat cheese risotto

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Keep this pot next to our sauté pan, as you’ll need to continually ladle from the stock to the skillet, so proximity is key.

In a large sauté pan (translation: a skillet that can hold 3-4 quarts), sauté the shallots and salt on medium heat until translucent (1-2 minutes). Add the sage and stir for another 30 seconds. Pour in the rice and cook until the rice is translucent and browns slightly, approximately 1-2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. You do not want burned onions or rice, so if this starts to happen ladle in liquid immediately. Do you want to sob over burnt risotto? My guess is NO WAY, NO DAY.

Add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stir, and stir, and stir, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Keep ladling in the liquid in increments until all of the water is absorbed and the stock is thick and creamy. Remember, risotto isn’t a dish that will cook itself, it requires dedication, so be prepared to stand in front of the stove stirring for 20-30 minutes. I’ve been blasting Lil Wayne’s “I Feel Like Dying” in these sorts of parallel parking scenarios.

Once all of the water has been absorbed, stir in the pumpkin and pepper until the risotto transforms into a satiny orange. Mix in the cheese. Stir for a good minute and serve hot.

pumpkin, sage and goat cheese risotto
pumpkin, sage and goat cheese risotto

caramelized banana and coconut ice cream

caramelized banana and coconut ice cream

I had such a wonderful weekend! I’ve a dear friend (and client), who launched a successful marketing communications collaborative, and it’s been a joy and privilege to work with her. It’s the kind of work where you don’t mind late-night emails or weekend brainstorm sessions, because the work is interesting and the clients, reasonable. We spent the day talking about a big client idea as well as bigger ideas for her business. After a snuggle session with Felix, she left and I spent the rest of the day blissfully alone.

I can’t tell you how much I need and value solitude. I’m reading Kate Bolick’s Spinster, and I feel her a mix of literary sister and kindred spirit because the idea of marriage gives me vertigo, while the notion of complete and unabashed freedom gives me shelter. Solitude allows me to recharge, to plan, and think, and I often tell people I’m booked for the weekend even though I only have a handful of social or work obligations on the calendar. I explained to my friend that I am booked because my time is spent nourishing me, and what better gift can I give a friend than my undivided attention, most present and refreshed self?

The rest of the weekend I oscillated between reading and watching movies and managing all the details of my upcoming Singapore/Bali holiday. I had a minor heart attack over how much I’m spending on this vacation, but I’m trying to remind myself that this is my one life and I’m spending it seeing as much of the world as I can before my final breath slouches out.

On Sunday, I attempted to take an archery class but was so irked by the energy in the space (spoiled, privileged children and the parents who attended to their every whine and whim) that I left before class started and had lunch at one of my favorite spots and spent the day planning and making this divine ice cream.

Fist pump for the week ahead and fingers crossed in hopes that I score another project to pay for this epic holiday. GULP.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from A Modern Way to Eat
3 medium ripe bananas
drizzle of honey
1 15oz can of coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat oven to 350F. Slice the bananas into 1/2inch-3/4inch pieces and toss them with the honey in a baking tray lined with parchment paper. I made this recipe twice and the first time going without parchment made clean-up a NIGHTMARE. Heed my advice and don’t add any unnecessary stress to your life. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring once during baking, until the bananas are browned and cooked through. Scrape the bananas and any syrup into a Vitamix or food processor. Add the coconut milk (contents of the entire can), vanilla, lemon juice and salt, and puree until smooth.

Chill the mixture in the fridge until cold (about an hour). The original recipe notes that you can freeze this in the freezer sans ice-cream maker, but the texture was off and a bit too icy for my taste (and yes, I stirred this consistently). I’d recommend placing the mixture in an ice-cream maker and follow your maker’s directions. I did this on the second go-around and the ice cream came out like a dream, velvety, sweet and a little salty.

caramelized banana and coconut ice cream

mujaddara: spiced lentils + rice with fried onions

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ties the bind, the power of female friendships. For most of my childhood I lived in the confines of my imagination. I devoured books at an unusual pace, and assumed a small role in every story I read. Mostly I immersed myself in a succession of books about blonde girls with credit cards. They drove fast cars, wore silk blouses, and lived in houses with two floors. Panic was breaking curfew. Tragedy was selling the pearls and the minks. Forced to wear cotton and bow out of boarding school, the blondes pressed their hair, frantic, and wondered how they’ll live and whether they’d be found out. But in the end, the stock market never crashed, money mysteriously appeared, and everything had been set to rights. The blonde girls’ lives were a power ballad played on repeat.

I grew up in a place where endings weren’t tidy and happy, rather happiness was simply the fact that could endure the hand dealt to you. Escape was tantamount, and I sought refuge in the seemingly uncomplicated pristine worlds of the affluent and privileged.

Since I was alone a lot, and often teased and picked-on for most of my childhood, books were my companion. On the occasions I had friends, I was clingy, possessive and idolatrous. I was jealous and insecure. Frightened of abandonment, I imagined my friend as a life raft and I was hanging on for dear life. I typically had a single friend, one who rose above the din, and I would fixate all my energy on her. People used to call me intense, ferocious, because nothing existed outside the confines of my friendship. And anyone who threatened that friendship–a new friend, a boy distraction–became objects for me to conquer and ruin. It’s funny–I’m reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, and I deeply identified with Elena and her fixation on her fractured, yet brilliant friend, Lila. I always befriended girls who were strong-willed, beautiful, and admired because I thought proximity to people who didn’t only shine, but glared and burned, would somehow rub off on me. That I would be the one who would inevitably burn bright.

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Suffice it to say, I didn’t know how to be a good friend. It wasn’t until S and I parted ways that I finally understood the meaning of unhealthy attachments. That it was perfectly normal to have more than one friend. That it’s okay to grow past the notion of having a “best friend.” That I didn’t need to be a barnacle. That I didn’t need to be surrounded by a crowd, rather it became natural for me to float amongst a few. That I didn’t need for my friends to meet my every need and desire. That I didn’t define the strength of a friendship in relationship to the frequency and intensity of our encounters.

This week I read an article about how women of a certain age get surgical about the people in their life. They crave fewer friends, and work to enrichen the ties that bind them a smaller number of people. I’ve written at length about my desire to have fewer people in my life. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become comfortable with solitude–I actually need to spend time by myself because I become drained when surroundeded by people for extended periods of time. I need space and quiet to think, and that, coupled with a considerable amount of professional obligations, doesn’t leave much time for people in my life.

So I had to get surgical. I’m disciplined about the people with whom I surround myself. I’ve a handful of very close friends whom I see pretty regularly, as well as a host of acquaintances whom I see less frequently. However, I’m starting to realize that with my pending move I’ll be separated from the people I love. And while I’m not at all concerned about my beloveds and losing them (friendship, real friendship, extends beyond the confines of a zip code), I’m actually worried about meeting new people.

I’ll be honest–new people exhaust me. I’m an introvert who spent a decade cultivating incredible people in my life, and the very idea of having to rebuild makes me anxious. I keep telling myself that one or two people are all I need to stop me from going bonkers in another state (because even I have limits to how much time I can spend alone), and part of me feels grateful for the online space because it’s allowed me to connect with people I’d otherwise never encounter. So I’m building these friendships slowly, virtually. One or two people at a time, in each state, as that’s all I can manage. In a weird way, I feel part of me has reverted back to my childhood, where I’d fill out pages in “friendship books,” mail them to a pen-pal in hopes that I’d meet a couple of new people.

New people. I’m still anxious.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
1 1/4 cups/250 g green or brown lentils
4 medium onions (1 1/2 lb/700 g before peeling)
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
about 1 cup/250 ml sunflower oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 cup/200 g basmati rice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cups/350 ml water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Place the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite. Drain and set aside.

Peel the onions and slice thinly. Place on a large flat plate, sprinkle with the flour and 1 teaspoon salt, and mix well with your hands. Heat the sunflower oil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan placed over high heat. Make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Reduce the heat to medium-high and carefully (it may spit!) add one-third of the sliced onion. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the onion takes on a nice golden brown color and turns crispy (adjust the temperature so the onion doesn’t fry too quickly and burn). Use the spoon to transfer the onion to a colander lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a little more salt. Do the same with the other two batches of onion; add a little extra oil if needed.

Wipe the saucepan in which you fried the onion clean and put in the cumin and coriander seeds. Place over medium heat and toast the seeds for a minute or two. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with the oil and then add the cooked lentils and the water. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat, lift off the lid, and quickly cover the pan with a clean tea towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes.

Finally, add half the fried onion to the rice and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Pile the mixture in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion.

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on crippling fear + living your best life

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Of course Willie noticed it first, I now think: children major in the study of their mothers, and Willie has the elder child’s umbilical awareness of me. But how is it that I didn’t even question a weight loss striking enough for a child to speak up about? I was too happy enjoying this unexpected gift to question it even briefly: the American woman’s yearning for thinness is so deeply a part of me that it never crossed my mind that a weight loss could herald something other than good fortune. –from Marjorie Williams’s “A Matter of Life and Death”

To be honest, it’s been hard coming to this space over the past few days. Every post has been a series of stops and starts because I feel like the person who invited a few friends over for dinner and then opened her door to witness an entire village whispering at her feet. I don’t host parties; crowds give me vertigo, and I usually recede from waves of intensity. There’s the noise and chatter in my offline life–most of which I keep private and sacred–so this space has always served as my refuge. My source of calm and quiet amidst the noise that’s life. Is it strange to say that I write and think better when I think no one is reading or listening? When it’s just me in my home on these keys typing my way out of the dark?

I’ve been thinking about fear a lot. How it can be all-consuming, how it cradles you. How it tells you it’s the one lover who will never leave. At work yesterday, I talk to a colleague who views me as her mentor, and she confides to me about a series of fears that have to do with control. She can’t board a plane; she worries when people don’t immediately text her back–and as she makes her list I see in her face that these fears are real, crippling. Her shoulders cave inward, she becomes slightly undone. I spend an hour with her telling her that it never is as bad as we think it’ll be. Fear is a wall we’ve built to protect us from what’s unseen, from what our imagination conjures, from the unimaginable. But imagine the unimaginable. Play out the scene, and you’ll see that you can weather almost anything. The fear is always worse than what’s just beyond it, the elusive tragedy just beyond our reach. I spent the great deal of my life in fear of bandaids, of ripping the off, so I erected a wall and kept it standing through my excessive drinking.

The two times I quit the drink I ripped off the bandaids and while there was pain (there will always be immediate pain), the intensity of which began to fade over time and I took the days as they lay. I breathed through difficult spots because the ebb and flow of life, that paid which I’d conquered to bear witness to the light on the other side — all of this was greater than having not felt any of it at all. I’d rather endure sorrow and heartbreak rather than elude it, because we tend to forget that what we fear is temporary, and that states alter and transform. How we tether to fear is really a manipulation of time because we don’t want change. We don’t want the things we can’t control or see, so we tend to fear like it’s our private garden because it’s the one emotion whose state we think we can control.

Over the weekend, I read a remarkable essay that put my heart on pause. It was funny, acerbic, valiant, heartbreakingly honest, and downright beautiful. A writer is diagnosed with Stage IV liver cancer and delivered a death sentence of 3-6 months and manages to live out four years. Within that space of borrowed time, she doesn’t have time for fear because she knows what’s on the other side of it, so instead she uses what little time she has to live, love and laugh. She tries to live her best life. She calls out people and their pithy platitudes and breathes through each treatment, doctor visit and precious moments with her family. I read the essay twice and wept both times. It was a deep cry because I was overwhelmed by her strength, vulnerability and beauty. How she starts the story one way and ends in another place. How fear exists (how could it not?) but it’s a door she kicks down, a wall she breaks through, because why should she allow it to take her away from that which she loves?

Immediately after, I read another essay about a young man who traveled to Africa in the 1960s and began his odyssey on collecting oral history. He was told that oral storytelling was a dead art; he was told that traveling through Africa, post-apartheid, wasn’t the wisest idea. He knew that he couldn’t understand and translate the nuances of dialect and how one tells a story, but he did it anyway. He walked thousands of miles, knocked on doors, begged friends for fresh batteries, and came back to the U.S. changed.

I never had a car, I never had an interpreter or a translator, I simply started walking. –Harold Scheub

On the surface the two essays couldn’t be more different. Yet, both remained with me over the weekend and even through the first long day back at work (is it just me or did Monday feel like a month?). Both made me think about fear and the possibilities beyond it. The things I can’t see. It made me think of risk versus reward. It made me quietly reflect on my own fears.

As many of you know, I’m embarking on a trip out west this year. A year-long journey where I plan to live in four different cities, places antithetical to New York–all in pursuit of my return to wonder. I’m starting my journey in New Mexico and ending it in Seattle, and who knows what will happen during the year or the hours after. And while this is SO EXCITING, and all of my friends want to hear every detail and plan, I’m terrified. I’m afraid that I won’t secure enough freelance work to keep me afloat because so much of my life is bound to New York. I’m afraid of losing my apartment even though I realize how innane that sounds. I’m afraid of feeling lonely even though I mostly like to spend my time with very few people or alone. I’m afraid that I’ll fail in a way I can’t quite identify. I’m afraid that I won’t have enough money to keep paying off my mountain of debt. I’m afraid of the people I might lose even though I know in my heart that people can’t be lost. I’m afraid of getting into a car and driving it. I’m afraid of being in places unknown to me even though I travel extensively and, at turns, thrilled with the idea of living in the unfamiliar. I’m afraid of getting on a plane (always). I’m afraid of lots of things I’d rather not share on this space.

But then I re-read these essays, get inspired by people who lived bravely and valiantly. People who broke ranks by moving past fear. I think about that. A lot. And then I think about my trip and all that’s waiting for me on the other side.

love.life.eat. of the week: a woman refuels

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This week really wiped me out. So much so that I left a workout class early last night because all I wanted to do was crawl home, shower, and hide under the covers–resting in complete and utter silence. It occurs to me that I can never work full-time because the idea of being in an office five days a week until the end of days is, quite frankly, the end of days. Not that I don’t love being around inspiring, smart people — it’s just that I need a break from them, OFTEN, and the weekend is simply not enough. Thursdays are my quiet time, when I clean my apartment {believe it or not, cleaning gives me great joy}, catch up on my favorite podcasts and blogs, and indulge in really simple beauty regimens.

I don’t shop all that often because I fervently believe that clutter and excess induce anxiety, and I never want to feel defined by the things that I own. What I buy either tends to be functional {a need}, food for the brain {books, art, trips}, or minor indulgences that allow me to rejuvenate and refuel, blissfully {candles, a single cozy linen shirt}. Since I haven’t purchased an article of clothing in about a year–safe my workout gear and a few pairs of pants for office wear–I realized I had to add some foundations to my wardrobe. Hence, my mini massacre at Madewell.

And by massacre, I mean I bought five things. I have this linen sweater in two colors. It’s lightweight, with clean linens and drapes beautifully over pants and skirts. Plus, it’s NOT see-through, which appears to be ubiquitous this season. I also stocked up in this tee in two colors, since it layers perfectly under jackets and cardigans and feels seasonless for me–and it serves as a wonderful complement to this enamel link bracelet, which I wear on the regular. Finally, I normally run around the city in my workout clothes, and these comfy linen pants are SO SOFT and SO BLUE.

I have to thank Grace Atwood for being a Tata Harper pusher. Yes, their products are A MILLION DOLLARS. I got insane sticker shock at the register, and GULPED, however, I really, really, really love their products. I started out with the moisturizer and secretly swore that I’d impale Grace if it didn’t work. Luckily, I feel in love with the moisturizer after a few weeks of use and have since invested in the Regenerating Cleanser, the gift that keeps on giving. I love the fact that Harper’s products are made mindfully, formulated and packaged in the U.S., and make my skin glow. At this point, I’m hesitant to use anything else.

So essentially, I have to keep working to pay off my Tata Harper habit. SIGH.

Finally, as I’m refueling from the past three days, which were filled with meetings, plans, outlines, etc, etc, etc, I’m burning this Scents of Land Jasmine Candle while listening to this podcast, RIGHT NOW.

And by the way, I’m going to SPAIN this fall. Very excited.

on perception, and the delicate dance of masks

I had dinner with a new friend the other night–someone whom I’ve admired for a while–and she told me that she was delighted that I turned out to be warm, funny and accessible in person, because while she loved reading my blog and found me intelligent, she’d gotten the impression that I was intimidating and aloof. What a wonderful surprise, she thought, because normally she’d encountered just the opposite; she’d fall in like with someone who possessed an effusive online persona to only discover, in real life, the person was a raging asshole. We laughed and traded stories about relationships we’ve cultivated by being online, and…

WAIT. HOLD THE PHONE. I’m ALOOF? {sniff}

Truth be told, I’ve heard this before. From former coworkers who’ve become close friends to acquaintances who appear relieved that I don’t quote sonnets over pasta {brief digression: I’m barely surviving my second week without pasta}, people have expressed their glee over the fact that I’m not as esoteric and intimidating in person. My response is normally one of a fierce twitching. On a scale of 1-10, my discomfort registers at about 40 {HOW AM I INTIMIDATING?}. But here’s the thing — if you immediately balk at constructive criticism or observations that give you discomfort, part of what you’re receiving is probably true, and getting defensive only serves as a mere distraction from that truth. On my way home from dinner, I gave my friend’s words serious thought. I thought about the masks we wear and how and when we switch them, as if we’re performing some sort of elaborate, delicate dance.

For most of my life I wore the just fine mask. The I’m okay, don’t worry, I can handle it mask. To an outsider, I was a successful, prolific overachiever–I was my finest photograph. Yet as soon as I came home and the door closed behind me, I fell into dark. The world behind me receded, and I felt crushed by the weight of having a double. All I wanted for people to know was that I was the complete opposite of not okay, but the risk of that vulnerability and the perception of weakness was unimaginable. Coupled with the fact that I published a memoir about very personal aspects of my life {some of which I regret writing, in retrospect}, I felt caught between tectonic plates. I was revealing the things that I didn’t want to share, but at the same time hiding the things that I wish would come to light. As a result, I spent the better part of a decade reconciling this, mostly in private, and when I resurfaced, I created rules for this space. Perhaps not realizing I’d created another mask. Oh, the irony.

I read somewhere that your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

For me, this space is about art. I conduct minor experiments with language and merging image and type, and I’m also trying to find the art in talking about food in a different way. The dozens of drafts of posts {the rewriting and rethinking of lines and ideas}, and the hundreds of images I take, are examples of the mess in this art. Yet in the end what you see is the edited version of things. You see a representation of myself that is one aspect of who I am but not the whole of me, if that makes any sense.

For me, this isn’t artifice. Part of me constantly calls to references in art and literature because I’ve been reading and creating since I was a toddler. Words help me make sense of the world, and when I call to an artist it reminds me that I’m less alone. If I think about all of this in terms of geography, this blog is my living room while Twitter is me at the bar–acerbic, wry, passionate, outspoken. Instagram is my playground and bedroom, as I can show you photographs of things closest to my heart without actually talking about them. Pinterest is me dreaming. LinkedIn is me working and not sharing pictures of my cat. In real life I’m a mix of all of these rooms, and perhaps a bathroom thrown in for good measure because I’m not always on, sometimes I tire of the performance, and I just want to laze on my floor and reveal parts of myself that aren’t necessarily pretty or well-kempt. I feel privileged to have friends with whom I can share comfortable silences. These are people who love me even if my jokes fall flat or if I’ve stolen cookies off their plate.

Part of me is starting to wonder how I can bring all of these rooms into one house, because much like I’ve realized that fragmenting my career is ridiculous, fragmenting aspects of my character is exhausting and perhaps misleading. As this space evolves, I want to be conscious of sharing all of these rooms on all of the places I play online. I want people I care about to know that I’m not aloof; I’m tremendously shy, extremely bookish, and when I write these posts I’m in my prefered state: home, alone, settling into quiet. Because that’s when the magic happens. That’s when I’m able to be still enough to create. I want people to know that every post is the moment before the storm.

Obligatory shot of my FELIX. Isn’t he a MOVIE STAR?

it’s always cookie time: chocolate hazelnut cookies

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This weekend, I had a few friends over and said, without hesitation, that my apartment feels like a home. After 38 years of living in New York, only two places felt like they weren’t merely a four-wall cage to which my mail had been forwarded: my dad’s farm in Mill Neck and my current serene Brooklyn abode. As an introvert {would you believe I only discovered I was an introvert THIS YEAR? The insanity} I crave a place of quiet, a refuge from long days spent with people. Mind you, I love everyone in my life, but sometimes I need to retreat and refuel so I can be that amazing friend while still preserving some of my time for me.

That having been said, I cooked two feasts for two different friends, but kept these cookies just for me. These cookies were my stolen treat–perfecting pairing for a movie night spent in central air, curled up with my cat.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour
1 1/2 sticks butter, plus 1 tbsp
2/3 cup cane sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups blanched whole hazelnuts, toasted (peel off the skin and toast nuts in the oven at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp kosher salt
12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

DIRECTIONS
Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars on medium/high speed for approximately 5 minutes (10 minutes if using a hand mixer), or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Pause a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so all of the ingredients are evenly mixed.

Beat in the eggs and vanilla on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl again to make sure the eggs are thoroughly incorporated.

In a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts until ground to a fine powder (stop grinding once they are powdery; if you continue, they will become a paste). Roughly chop the remaining 1 cup hazelnuts.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ground and chopped hazelnuts, the flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate. On low speed, slowly blend the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and then mix just until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed. You can finish this off with a wooden spoon to ensure all the flour bits at the bottom of the mixing bowl are incorporated.

For the best results, scrape the dough into an airtight container and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight (or at least for 3-4 hours) before baking. When you are ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Drop the dough in 1/4-cup balls onto a baking sheet (I use an ice-cream scoop), spacing them approximately 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand.

Bake for 20-22 minutes (I prefer my cookies chewy, slightly undercooked, so start checking at 15 minutes), or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges and pale and slightly soft in the center. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.

Note: Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. The unbaked dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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cherry + blueberry coconut rye bars

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I’ll confess — when you have a cat this charming, it’s hard to keep your lens on the food. However, after an exhausting week that had me racing about the city preparing for next week’s sojourn to India {can we not talk about all the shots in my arms and pills in my carryon and say we did? I’m pretty much vaccinated against any plague known to man}, tying up contracts and hosting a day-long strategy workshop with a client, cranking the oven became an exhausting proposition. Me being the introvert that I am, I spent the day flying solo and now I’m home with my Felix {whom I’ll miss terribly while I’m away, even though my housesitter assures me he will send pics daily} munching on these rye bars.

A note about the bars — I will say that they are best eaten chilled. Since there’s not a ton of gluten in the recipe, the chill allowed for the bars to bind a bit more. If you don’t have cherry or lemon extract on hand, you can use vanilla extract and a tsp of lemon zest. The original recipe called for oat flour, but I’m honestly smitten with dark rye — it’s earthier, heartier and gives a smoky flavor which perfectly complements the cherry preserves.

These bars were the BUSINESS, friends.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Camille Styles
1 cup gluten-free oats
1 cup dark rye flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
2 tsp cherry extract
2/3-3/4 cup cherry + blueberry preserves
1/2 cup raw pecans, finely chopped

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together RYE flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder and sea salt. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together cooled coconut oil, lemon + cherry extracts. Add wet ingredients to the flour/oat mixture. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix together, ensuring that all ingredients are incorporated.

Pack half of the oat mixture into a greased 8×8 baking pan. Top with preserves using a silicon spatula covering the oat mixture evenly. Sprinkle the top with the rest of the oat mixture. Top with chopped pecans. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until topping is browned. Set on a rack to cool and chill before serving. Makes approximately 9-11 bars.

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brunch at lafayette + meeting “new” people {it’s a journey, folks}

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Contrary to popular belief, I am not an extrovert. Casual acquaintances and work colleagues will probably beg to differ, for I can be pretty gregarious around people I’ve come (or have been paid, as in the case of work) to know. When I say that crowds give me anxiety, that the idea of working a room gives me vertigo and I’d rather cower in the corner than be the center of attention, I’m typically greeted with guffaws. You, SHY? I can’t believe it, is a common refrain, to which I respond with a thin smile and a quiet affirmation that I prefer my circle intimate and my evenings quiet. When given the choice, I want my world small. People who know me best know that I bloom in pairs, that I tend to retreat into solitude in order to refuel, and it takes me an awful long time to let someone “new” in.

Lately, however, I’ve been trying to open the door, albeit just an inch. Just enough to let some of the mothballs flutter out and for a few new voices to slip in. Granted, I’ll never be the kind of person who needs constant stimulation, who always craves the company of others, but I’ve learned that while I love my tiny circle of friends it’s often refreshing to meet someone new.

This past weekend I spent a few hours feting my friend Meg for her birthday at Lafayette {best. brunch. ever.}. You can’t even know how much I deliberated not going, not because I don’t adore my friend or want to toast her on her special day, but because the idea of being confronted with four new faces gave me anxiety. What if they thought I was strange? What if, what if, what if???? However, in the end, I put my sweet friend (and her special day) over my fears and I went. AND THANK GOD I DID because I met a host of audacious, smart, well-traveled women who love fitness just as much as I do. I left brunch giddy that I’d made new friends and that my small circle was budging an inch or two…

I’m also noticing that I no longer cover my face with a book while waiting for workout classes to begin. Instead, I’m striking up conversations with strangers. Whether it’s affirming that indeed these seat lifts are killing us or to trade Classtivity stories, a few moments with strangers has oddly {and wonderfully} changed the shape of my workout, tacitly reminding me of the importance of a cultivated community. That I don’t need to live in friends extremes. That I do have the capacity to let a few people in.

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