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
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.
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.
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.
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!
- 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
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.
It’s been a while since I’ve made a cake.
Yesterday, I spoke with my agent about a new book I’ve been working on. It’s the story of a middle-aged woman who becomes obsessed with a suicidal teenager and travels across the country to witness the girl take her own life. But that wasn’t always the story. I gave my agent a collection of stories about women in various states of unraveling–women in cults, women who have been raped, and women who have the arcane ability to speak from the grave. I started the book last year when I first moved to California and I was surprised how quickly I finished a draft. I sent it to my agent and I could practically feel the trepidation in his response. Unbeknownst to me, I was rapidly unraveling and documenting that decent in a new book. I’d soon fall into a depression–a dark country to which I’m frightened to ever return–and my agent told me to take a break, think about the book and come back to him with something other.
It took nearly nine months for me to look at my work and cringe. What I’d been writing was relentlessly dark, I couldn’t bear to read it. I actually had to physically put the manuscript away and breathe. For years, it was easy for me to access that place, to sit in pain and discomfort, to know there would likely be an escape from it. How do you write about light? How do you write happy endings when darkness is the one thing you know. The only thing that’s never abandoned you.
Yesterday my agent wondered aloud about me as a writer before meds and after meds. Am I different, he wondered. Is it harder to write? I said meds gave me perspective, that not being on them made it dangerously easy to access the darker recesses of myself. But reading all of that now, I’m not sure I even want that imbued in my work. I told Matthew that I wanted to write a book that ended with hope. He laughed. Well, that’s a switch.
I’ve got a gut renovation ahead of me, but I’m excited to write my first book with a clearer head.
But back to the cake.
If you’ve been following me along on Instagram, you’ve seen that I moved apartments this week. I left the beach and the apartment that felt like the in-betweens, a place that held some of my most painful memories, and I’m in a home that finally feels like home. I’ve never lived in a space this big. I’ve never had a home office (I’m typing this in my new office!). Counter space was always precarious, something of which I had to artfully negotiate.
I have a new friend coming over tonight and I’m making her a 4-hour bolognese sauce. But this morning I woke and had the urge to bake a cake. I don’t know if it’s the desire for meditation because this week has been painful and stressful beyond measure. I won’t bother talking about the election on this space because I’m too angry to articulate how and what I feel. Baking worked. I pulled together this simple cake and it is INSANELY moist. I will say that since I don’t have a lot of sugar in my diet the frosting was A LOT. I had to scrape it all off to enjoy the cake. But if you love your sugar rush, this piece of heaven will not disappoint.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Molly on the Range
For the cake
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour (I used gluten-free)
1/2 cup cake flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 large egg
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract (I used almond as that’s what I had on hand)
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted but not hot
For the frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1 cup powdered sugar
1 pinch of kosher salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp full-fat coconut milk
4 oz unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
fresh berries, for garnish
This cake is insanely simple. Pre-heat the oven to 350 and grease/line an 8-inch cake pan. Add the first 6 dry ingredients to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. In a medium bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Add the wet to the dry with the mix speed on medium. Add the batter to the pan and bake for 25-28 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn the cake onto a rack and cool completely.
Now on to the frosting. Clean out that stand mixer and beat the butter on medium until creamy (you’re using the paddle attachment, fyi). Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the sugar and beat until combined. Slowly, because you don’t want to get sugar all over your face. Beat in the salt, vanilla, and coconut milk. Frost the cake like a rock star and add that shredded coconut like it’s the last time you’ll ever eat a coconut.
It occurs to me that I never complete the “in case of emergency” line on most forms. Sometimes, a receptionist will tell me it’s mandatory, that they have to have a person with whom they could contact in the event of… In response, I make a joke. I say, my friends will know what’s up if I stopped tweeting for a few days or I fail to respond to their texts. I tell receptionists that I don’t need to write down a name and a phone number because my Twitter account is my proof of life photo. Last week, a man behind the counter pushed a clipboard in front of me. I was another form to process, another insurance card and state ID to photocopy. I was the 3:30 and appointments don’t have a sense of humor much less proof of life photos. So I scroll through my phone and scribble down the name and number of a friend who lives in New York.
I don’t mind this. I prefer not to belong to people. There is a certain kind of freedom being without kin. It also occurs to me that the words kin, kind, and child are related from an etymological standpoint.
A few days ago, I told a friend that I loved the holidays. We were styling and photographing a shoot for a client, and I spent the better part of Wednesday shopping for all things Christmas and Hanukkah. I was uncharacteristically giddy, thinking about snow, morning coffee, and presents under a tree and then I remember that most of my holidays were cleaning up pine needles from trees knocked over and long stretches of silence. It was only until my college best friend welcomed me into her home did I feel what most people take for granted: trees festooned with family ornaments wrapped in tissue awaiting their unveiling, a home teeming with life, leftovers packed in Tupperware.
There was a time when I’d spend my holidays with my pop, but lately, our silences have become palpable. We haven’t spoken since February. I just can’t let it go that internet strangers exhibited more compassion in my darkest hours than the man I’d known for the greater part of 30 years. He was the last vestige of what I considered a family, and while I feel the chasm between us widen with the passing of each day, I can’t let it go.
There existed people whom I considered family who were demonstrably silent during that time, including my pop, and it’ll take me a long time to move past it if I’m able to forgive at all. And those memories of which I spoke, halcyon holiday moments, belong to another family, and I sometimes feel as if I’m a child whose face is pressed up against a glass peering in–the only proof of life is the breath that fogs the window.
The holidays are approaching–another Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday, and while there are so many things for which I’m grateful I feel the uncomfortable comfort of being rootless, without kind kin, still feeling like a child pressing her eyes shut and if she’s good she’ll get all her wants tucked neatly under a tree.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from the Oh She Glows Every Day cookbook
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 2 cups chopped yellow (sweet) onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons red curry paste
- 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, plus more if needed
- ¼ cup raw almond butter or peanut butter
- 3 cups diced peeled carrots
- 3 cups diced peeled sweet potatoes
- ½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Up to ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, if you like spice)
- Minced fresh cilantro
- Fresh lime juice
In a large pot, melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the curry paste. In a small bowl, whisk together some of the broth with the almond butter until smooth. Add the mixture to the pot, along with the carrots, sweet potatoes, salt, and remaining vegetable broth. Stir until combined.
Bring the soup to a low boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are fork-tender. Ladle the soup carefully into a blender. You will likely have to do this in a couple of batches, depending on the size of your blender. With the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape, blend on low and slowly increase the speed until the soup is completely smooth. (Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender and blend the soup directly in the pot.)
Taste, and season with salt and black pepper. If you’d like more spice, add a pinch or full ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, and blend again. Transfer the soup back to the pot and reheat if necessary. If desired, you can thin the soup out with a bit more broth if it’s too thick for your preference. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with minced cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, and optional tamari almonds. This soup will keep in the fridge for up to a week, and freezes well for 1 to 2 months.
It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. —Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark
In March, I wrote about the desire to focus on hope rather than blind positivity. We’re constantly told to swallow our voice. We could practically hear the shouts of Be happy! Be positive! drowning the reality of our waking hours. We’re admonished for feeling blue–sorrow is a demonstrable sign of weakness, of laziness, not to pick ourselves up and shake off our sadness even when it feels as if we’re choking on sunshine. When you’re told to be a binary, it’s not realistic or helpful, rather, it’s a temporary salve that gives others comfort because we live in a culture that is repelled by discomfort. And then you feel even more paralyzed because now you’re not only carrying the burden of your own sorrow, you’re now responsible for what others carry. While everyone scrambles to fulfill a social contract of being fake, no one actually feels better.
We’ll do anything possible not to feel uncomfortable because who wants to sit in sadness when we can snap filtered photos of ourselves living our best lives, right?
Blind optimism and pessimism are binaries that don’t require action, whereas hope gives you the power and possibility to alter an end result. Everything may not be okay, but at least you’re in the proverbial driver’s seat instead of closing your eyes while someone else drives. Hope is realistic. Hope gets you through the day. In March, my psychiatrist asked me how I felt after a month on meds and intensive therapy and I said, hopeful, which is a hell of a lot better than helpless.
In the midst of my depression, I remember someone telling me that I wasn’t being positive enough. Be happy, someone wrote on my Facebook wall, to which I shouted, what the fuck does that even mean? How does “be happy” solve the real problems in my life instead of throwing a convenient blanket over them?
I’m thinking about this today not only because I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s slim, yet extraordinary, book of essays on hope, but I have a lot of uncertain days ahead. I don’t know if I’ll find the right partner, or how my book will be perceived, or how my life in Los Angeles will pan out. But I do have hope and at least that gives me a path to action, possibility.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Maya Sozer’s Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches
For the dry ingredients
2 cups gluten-free flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder
For the wet ingredients
2 bananas, mashed
3/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used coconut nectar)
2 tbsp almond butter (or any nut butter)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. This recipe couldn’t get any simpler. Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl except for the cocoa. Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Pour 2/3 of the batter into a small loaf pan (5×7). Mix the cocoa into the remaining third of the batter and add it to the loaf pan. Using a fork, create a marbling effect by swirling the fork between the two layers. Bake for 45-50 minutes, but start checking after 40 minutes.
Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack. Allow to cool for an hour before diving in. I didn’t obviously, because who can wait an hour?
To say that I’ve been in a food rut would be an understatement. Since I moved to California, my tastes, in general, have changed. I no longer want to resemble a bruise with all the black and blue I used to wear, so I’ve set aside the darkness in favor of the light–pale blues, creams, blush. Labels no longer interest me because I spend most of my days working in a coffee shop or a couch, and I rather pay down debt and book trips that hoard purses. I never thought I’d want anything mustard in my home, but now I’ve got gold and mustard all the joint.
And then there’s food. Before I left New York, I was disciplined. In the morning, I’d have a protein shake and there would always be some salad over the course of the day, and gluten and dairy were verboten. Now that I live in Los Angeles and have lost the ease in which I can move about a city when I eat out it’s planned around location and traffic, but mostly I cook at home or eat locally because it’s cheaper and I don’t have to worry about sitting on the 10 or 405 for an hour just to get across town. I’m lucky in the sense that eating healthier here is ubiquitous There’s no corner deli serving up bacon, egg, and cheese, and finding good bagels are challenging. Eggs, shakes, and acai bowls are the norm, and I’ve often had to roll my eyes at eateries that sport “bone broth” on the menu because they’ve basically gussied up chicken stock with some clever Kinfolk-esque re-branding.
I’m also lucky (and privileged) to live in a city where everything is in walking distance. I have two markets in a five-block radius of my home, and the Santa Monica Farmer’s market is worth a weekly visit.
But my tastes have changed. I can’t explain it. I’ve paged through the cookbooks that gave me joy in New York and I’m uninspired. I’m also tired of overcomplication.
A year and a half ago, I went at life so hard. Workouts weren’t worth it unless I felt like I was going to die. Cooking food wasn’t great unless I was hunting down ingredients. Work wasn’t purposeful unless I juggled a pile of projects. All this velocity became exhausting. Perhaps this is why I haven’t returned to the megaformer (I’m just not interested in pushing myself until I faint, vomit, or both, so now I spin or do pilates), stopped ordering ingredients off the internet, and have focused my energy on juggling 2-3 projects at a time.
So, this pasta. Last week, I was in Barnes & Noble and I found Maya Sozer’s book on the New Releases table and the burger on the cover gave me pause. I thumbed through the book and not only did I find the meals tasty and pretty easy to assemble, they were healthy. I’ve made dishes with squash as a “cheese” sauce, like this penne and chicken & this lasagna, but I’m trying to chill with my gluten and dairy intake (I normally have either once a week and I make sure it’s GOOD–like a baguette with butter, cacio e pepe, or a homemade grilled cheese sandwich). Enter this pasta.
I will say a few things. This sauce is a bit too much for a pound of pasta. I think you can dial this back by 1/2 cup and save it or add more pasta. And while this doesn’t taste like “cheese” (and it shouldn’t because that would be really lame), the nutritional yeast and cashews give a creamy, comforting texture, and the spice mixture gives the dish a pop. I fried up some sweet italian sausage and mixed that in, along with some diced sundried tomatoes and fresh parsley, and I hoovered two bowls and saved the rest for lunch tomorrow.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Maya Sozer’s Easy Vegan Breakfasts & Lunches (I modified based on what I had on hand)
For the mac & cheese:
1/4 cup raw cashews (this is important–you can’t use salted, roasted or any of that other nonsense)
1-3/4 cups cooked butternut squash or 3/4 of a 15oz can of squash puree
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-3/4 cups almond milk (must be unsweetened, unflavored)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons sweet curry powder (I have regular curry powder and it worked fine)
1 to 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (I didn’t use this as I didn’t have ginger on hand and don’t much like it in cream sauces)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne rigate or rigatoni pasta
Fresh parsley (or thyme)
sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
Put all the ingredients, except the salt, black pepper and pasta, into a food processor or high-speed blender and mix until smooth. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Add the butternut squash sauce to the same pot after draining out the pasta water. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the pasta is dressed with the sauce and is piping hot.
Add your garnishes, if you’re feeling it.
I made this dish for a friend who came over for brunch one Saturday. I greeted her, and a guy I’d hired off Task Rabbit to assemble a file cabinet (naturally they arrived at the same time), with a deafening smoke alarm from the tomatoes I’d been roasting in the oven. The three of us held up towels and magazines, trying to air out my apartment from all the smoke that had accumulated, and we ended up laughing because my cat nearly went airborne trying to flee the alarm. Good times.
I just finished Heather Havrilesky’s excellent column collection, How to Be a Person in the World (buy it, read it, effective yesterday), and one of the Ask Polly columns resonated so deeply with me–a woman moved to a new city and struggled to make new friends. While I prefer to spend much of my time alone (I actually take solace in the quiet of my own company), I do miss the ease of my east coast friendships. The feeling that I could hop on a subway and see a friend in the middle of the day. Since I’m a consultant much of my time is spent at home, in seclusion, and while I have a set of good friends, I wouldn’t mind a slow and deliberate expansion of my circle. A loosening of a belt, if you will. And I loved how Heather talked about opening your heart in the sense that you’d be surprised how the people who remain and thrive are those whom you least suspect. It’s okay to connect with people who are not your vision of an ideal friend because we need people, and companionship, in any form, is a comfort.
So I’m joining a few groups, took up membership at a really cool gym where the members actually socialize (who knew?) and talk to one another, and I can’t wait to have new friends over for dinner.
DIRECTIONS: Recipe from Bon Appetit
⅔ cup walnuts
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons plus ⅓ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
6 oil-packed anchovies, coarsely chopped (I nixed this because fish)
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about ½ cup), plus more for serving
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces spaghetti (I used gluten-free fettucini)
½ cup (packed) basil leaves
Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until slightly darkened, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.
Heat broiler. Toss tomatoes with 2 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt. Broil, tossing once, until tomatoes are blistered and have released some of their liquid, 5–7 minutes. Let cool.
Pulse anchovies, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and ½ oz. Parmesan in a food processor until finely ground. Add walnuts and half of tomatoes, then, with motor running, stream in ⅓ cup oil; process just until combined. Season with salt. Transfer pesto to a large bowl and stir in black pepper.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid.
Transfer pasta to bowl with pesto and add a splash of pasta cooking liquid. Toss, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Add basil and remaining tomatoes.
Divide among bowls; top with more Parmesan and black pepper and drizzle with oil. .
I need to stop reading this is forty posts. It’s a saccharine, pensive version of the turning 30 post, as if what we know can be compartmentalized so neatly into the kind of age range boxes we check off on forms. As if our unique journeys can be collapsed on a timeline that reminds us that we’re inching toward flat-line. As if the learnings are so revelatory. From the moment we’re born, we’re inching our way back to that from which we’ve come, and our life serves as an oscillation between and within those two states. There exists no linear trajectory, save for physical time because we’re constantly going back and refining for the now and what’s to come.
At the end of the day, whether you’re 30 or 32 or 43–the number doesn’t matter, what matters is the continuation (and hopefully, evolution) of one’s experience.
I turned 40 at the end of last year and I’ve endured what felt like insurmountable losses–some of which I’ve written about here, some I’ll never write about. When I moved to Los Angeles, all healthy-eating, fresh-faced and hopeful, never would I have anticipated the dark months that followed. Never would I have imagined that the losses would go on. I used to tell friends that I wanted to meet a man who’d been through war, but wasn’t still dressing the wounds, and now when I look at those words, which read so well on paper, I know that there’s no nobility in bloodshed. There’s no romance in taking up residence in the dark places. This was the year that I learned that I struggled with lifelong depression. This was the year when I realized I’m closer to where I want to be in life, but I’m not there just yet. This was the year where I keep telling myself that this time wasn’t wasted simply because my first ten months here weren’t what I expected.
The last time I saw my therapist he asked me if this was how I always lived my life, to which I responded what do you mean by this? He said, fast. He suggested that I’d been living in a kind of accelerated permanent velocity and the one time I was forced to be present without diversions was the moment when I had to confront the avalanche of all that I’d bypassed. Moving here, away from the creature comforts of New York, forced me to be present in a way that I’d never been, and this was the time when I thought about what I was, what I’d been doing and how I’d been living (or not living) my life. Maybe that’s why I wrote a book in two months–I was desperate for emotional diversion. I’d do anything not to remain still.
I tell myself the realization that comes from this stillness isn’t a regression, rather it’s a long-overdue, necessary pause.
Right now I’m in the contract phase of two projects that will help alleviate the cost my depression incurred. And that put me to thinking that I invest so much of my money on organic and locally-sourced food, on removing chemicals from my home–all to prevent future physical illness. I wonder why I hadn’t made the same level of investment in my mental health so I could avoid these “out-of-pocket” costs if you will. Investments in therapy, wellness, a calm home life, travel, quiet, reflection, proper medication.
This is what I learned this year. Not what I learned at 40.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Cookbook, with slight modifications
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of fine sea salt
3 large eggs, room temperature (you can use 3 flax eggs if you’re living that life)
3/4 cup almond milk (or any nut milk, really)
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 to 2 tbsp ghee, butter or coconut oil, for greasing the pan (I found that I had to use a little more. I’m ALWAYS using more oil. What is wrong with me? With them? If you’re trying to get a pile of hotcakes out of one measly tablespoon of oil, HAHAHAHAHAHA with that nonsense. But I digress.)
Maple syrup, for serving
These pancakes are the truth. I’ve made a lot of gluten-free pancakes in my day, and most of them are good but not great, and I’m happy to have eaten them because at least I’m not eating broccoli. You make this kind of concession after you’ve issued a permanent fatwa on gluten and dairy, and you wonder if all the joy has been removed from your life. These mini cakes remind me that there is JOY in life. The cakes are doughy, fluffy, and delicious. Know that I had to shove nearly all these fuckers in a Ziploc bag in the freezer because when I like something I go at like a Dyson vacuum attacking cat hair.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, almond milk, honey and vanilla extract. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix until smooth.
Grease a large saute pan or griddle pan with your fattening agent and place it over medium heat. Using a 1 1/2 tablespoon cookie scoop (or you can just use 1/4 cup measure, but fill it 1/2 way), pour the batter onto the pan, cooking three or four 2-inch pancakes at a time. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until bubbles begin to form in the batter, then flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the pancakes are fluffy and cooked through in the center. Remove from the pan and set aside, then repeat with the remaining batter.
Serve the pancakes topped with maple syrup. I had mine with blueberries! Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to two days or in the freezer for one week and thaw them before reheating in the pan.
This post was a series of starts and stops. It was a stutter that got silenced, a long note that ended up being deleted, and I’m finding it challenging to translate my offline life to my online one. Yesterday, I bumped into a friend and she told me I had this glow. I shrugged it off, made a flippant joke about being on anti-depressants, and she said that what she’s seeing is so much more than a pill at work. It’s more like a life well-lived, and I’m inclined to agree.
I’m really good at settling into dark spaces and sitting uncomfortably in them. The dark is familiar territory to me, a terrain I’ve devoted my life to navigating. Fancy publishers have remarked on my talent and skill as a writer, but her work is so relentlessly dark. For a time, this baffled me because when your life is reduced to night vision you can’t fathom people who complain about not being able to see their hand in front of their face. I can see just fine, you think, and you never consider that the dark has its own capacity to be blinding.
I spent most of my days at work. Working on client projects and working on myself. On paper, my days are seemingly unremarkable but they are because I don’t feel the way I did three months ago. I don’t sleepwalk through my days. There exist a calm and a centeredness I hadn’t felt previously, and I’m finding it hard to write about this in a way that doesn’t seem trite or fatuous. Maybe it’s best to simply live through it and write as plainly and simply as I can. Forget about advancing the plot or language.
When you’re writing a book, it’s a given that the first draft will be garbage. It’s the kind of work you don’t show anyone, and you spend what might seem like forever cleaning up the mess you’ve made. And in that cleaning, in that work, the story will invariably emerge. Just keep at it. Keep doing the work.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Nourish
1/4 cup (50g) raw coconut oil
1/3 cup (80m) honey
1/3 cup (85ml) maple syrup
2 cups (200g) coconut flakes
1 cup (115g) almonds, very roughly chopped (I used cashews, as that was what I had on hand)
3/4 cup (80g) sunflower seeds
1/2 cup (80g) pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon rosewater (I didn’t have this on hand)
1 1/2 cups (200g) dried apricots, roughly chopped (I used mixed dried berries instead)
2 tbsp hemp seeds
2-3 tbsp dried rose petals (who has this?)
Preheat oven to 325F (170°C/gas mark 3) and line 1 deep-sided baking trays with baking parchment. Melt the coconut oil, honey and maple syrup in a small saucepan until it starts to bubble and simmer, then turn off the heat.
Combine the coconut chips, pistachio nuts, dried fruit, hemp seeds, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds in a largish bowl. Add the honey mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. There should be enough of the honey mixture to lightly coat all the dry mix, but if you feel there is not enough just add more honey mix using equal amounts of melted honey and coconut oil.
Spread the mixture onto the lined baking tray, making a layer that isn’t too deep, otherwise, it won’t all crisp up. Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes so that all the mix turns a lovely golden color and doesn’t burn, which it can do easily due to the coconut. I actually cranked up the heat to 350F five minutes before I took it out of the oven. Remove from the oven, allow it to cool for ten minutes then sprinkle over the rosewater if you’re using it. Lastly, stir through the petals if that’s your life.
You might have noticed I’ve done a little sprucing around these parts. Well, that’s actually a lie–my dear friend Lorissa Shepstone (psst. hire her!) did all the heavy lifting while I sent emails asking if we can make the link color blue and could you remove that film in the header photo because it’s driving me bonkers–that kind of nonsense. I’ve known Lorissa since 2002, and she designed and built author sites when I worked in book publishing, and she’s my go-to designer/developer for all my client work not simply because she’s talented, but because she’s kind. She cares about her work and it shows. While this site was down for a couple of days, she panicked, and I shrugged my shoulders and said, it’s not that serious. I love what she’s done with this space and I feel this spring cleaning is a minor prelude to some of the big overhauls on the horizon.
If you’re one of the five people wondering why I made the change, I could share any number of reasons but mainly I wanted a change. I grew tired of the inflexible WP.com platform and wanted all the bells and whistles of WP.org. I craved something simple, warm, and I wanted to make sure you didn’t have to click to read more because that irritates the fuck out of me. I’m not here for page views.
More importantly, I’m thinking ahead and considering the bigger picture. I’ve got plans to build a separate site under my own name, which will focus more on my work (writing books + composing marketing plans–all under a storytelling arc) — a virtual shingle to hang my hat if you will. I’m thinking about how I can merge two seemingly disparate worlds–marketing + business with writing fiction–and it occurs to me that both worlds rely on a certain level of suspension of disbelief. People will always cleave to a good story.
Last night, I invited a friend and her husband and daughter over for dinner, and it occurred to me that I’ve entertained more in Los Angeles in one month than the whole of my last year in New York. I no longer feel the need to recede, to hole up in my home as a form of escape from everything that lies on the other side of my front door. Call it space, clarity, or the right dosage of anti-depressants, but I feel present and focused in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. When a check I direly need to pay my rent arrived two weeks late (thus making me two weeks late in paying my rent), I didn’t freak out like I normally would–I knew the money was coming and what would I achieve about freaking out over that which I can’t control. Nothing. Over the next six months, I plan to work a lot (and consult with a debt counselor) because I really would love to feel what it’s like to not have debt. I want to be at the financial place I was before I moved to Los Angeles with the calm I occupy now. Granted, achieving this balance requires a lot of work and humility, but it’s worth the stretch.
I had planned to make my friends a homemade pizza, but the dough fell on the floor and then the cat decided he needed a new toy, and I subsequently found myself back at the market, covered in flour. Instead of pizza, I took all the ingredients and transformed it into a spicy pasta dish (basil walnut pesto coupled with chorizo and sliced pepperoni). My starter was a kale and baby arugula salad topped with sliced fresh apricots and blueberries dressed in a honey-shallot vinaigrette.
After talk of politics, books and rape culture (good times, good times), I served up this chocolate mousse, which wowed the crowd. My friend’s daughter wiped her ramekin clean and my friend’s husband was pleasantly surprised by the avocado, which he couldn’t detect. Frankly, this was the highlight of the meal. I’ve made vegan chocolate mousse before, but this version is more substantial–more pudding than whipped mousse, more nuanced in flavor (the almond butter helps balance out the avocado taste)–and it was such a hit that I plan on adding this to my dinner party dessert repertoire since everyone is allergic to something these days.
If you LOVE chocolate and want a little protein in your life, make this mousse. It’s THAT GOOD. Hope you enjoy the recipe and my new digs.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy
1 large ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
2 tablespoons almond butter
1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla powder or vanilla extract
1⁄4 cup brown rice syrup 1⁄4 cup maple syrup
1⁄4 cup raw cacao or unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1⁄4 cup almond milk
1⁄4 teaspoon liquid stevia (I didn’t use this because I didn’t have it, and the recipe turned out fine)
2 tablespoons coconut oil (this doesn’t need to be melted)
In a blender or food processor, combine the avocado, almond butter, a large pinch of salt, vanilla powder, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, cacao, almond milk, stevia, and coconut oil and blend for 2 minutes, or until very smooth.
Divide among four ramekins; cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.