coconut apricot bars + some thoughts on transparency as an aesthetic

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Your limitations are important because you must eventually come to the realization that your time on this planet is limited and you should therefore spend it on things that matter most. That means realizing that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. That means realizing that just because you like certain people doesn’t mean you should be with them. That means realizing that there are opportunity costs to everything and that you can’t have it all.Mark Manson

This week I learned that the appearance of integrity has become one of the many masks people wear. Integrity is borrowed finery, it requires you to be humble and honest even when it proves impossible to be anything but. Invariably, the weight of the mask becomes too much to bear and one sheds it, revealing their truest self, which was never honest to begin with. Between the acts, between the outfit changes and the curtain fall, our faces are scrubbed clean and our hair come undone, and when the mask has been discarded just as swiftly as it was worn, we see people for who they really are. I wonder though, if they’re able to see past their duplicity.

I spent much of my adult life swallowing voice. I was amiable, rarely did I break waves or raise my voice in dissent. My rebellions were minor emotional thievery, but in the end I wanted to be part of the hive, to blend in. Even if I knew the people who occupied my world were catty, cruel and conniving. Even during junior year in college when all my homophobic friends said cruel things about my roommates whom everyone suspected as gay. Know that I’m ashamed of this, still. Even when I sat in a meeting and watched my boss lie to people. Never did I raise my voice, and it took me a long time to see that my silence was deafening, my complicity was worse because I knew what was right and I smothered myself. It took a long time for me to find my voice, my place, and it’s heartbreaking that the moment when I’m finally loud becomes a time when so many want to silence me.

Wow, you’re really intimidating, someone tells me. You’re, like, really aggressive on Twitter, someone tells me. You’re very vocal, someone tells me. Why are you so angry? someone tells me. How do I react?

Shall I curtsy? Affix a muzzle over my mouth? Would my silence make you more comfortable?

I live in a world where black men are assassinated in daylight simply because they are black. I live in a world where women are routinely raped, harassed, demeaned, admonished, silenced and disrespected. I live in a world where illiterate bloggers preen for the camera and architect an artificial world for the peanut-crunching lot and they make $5,000 for a fauxto, meanwhile I spend weeks building value, creating meaning, and I make less. I live in a world where feminists tweet lines from The Bachelor and get annoyed when I complain about it. I live in a world where I tell bloggers that it’s unacceptable to act like they’re celebrities because no one person is better than another. I live in a world where I don’t know how to play nice amongst people who make it their life’s work to be on an even keel. I live in a country where most are ignorant about what happens outside of our borders because it doesn’t affect us, doesn’t impact our noon SoulCycle sign-ups. I live in a world where stupid people get book deals and they’re lauded because they have so many followers. I live in a world that values quantity over quality, noise over quiet, the guise of humility over exposing yourself raw. I live in a world where people play the integrity game but only as far as it elevates their personal brand–gets them that deal, that job, that extra zero at the end of a check.

I live in a world where women constantly tell me that I’m too loud, too vocal, too aggressive, too opinionated, and I wonder if they would say all of this if I were a man. If the words I say don’t cause them discomfort, because god forbid people graze a moment of darkness. God forbid people acknowledge their ignorance and privilege. God forbid people examine themselves just as I’ve spent two decades confronting the most unkind aspects of my character. God forbid people do the work.

Now it’s time to make your dent in the world. –Mark Manson

I don’t trust people. I see people I care about getting taken advantage of because they’re kind in a way most people aren’t. I see people try to align with my integrity, all the hard work I’ve had to do, because by association perhaps they’ve made the difficult choices I’ve had to make. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes I’m bristly, I recoil often, and people have said my viewpoints are polarizing, but at least I’m honest. What you see is always you get because I’ve worn masks for the whole of my life and my god have I grown tired of playing the part of so many other people.

I read somewhere that the true test of whether you’re an artist is to ask yourself how you would feel if someone told you that you couldn’t do the thing that you loved for the rest of your life. Straightjacket my arms, cut off my hands, eliminate any trace of paper and pen. What would be the limit of your sacrifice? Is there a limit? Can you go without a lifetime of committing words to paper (or screen, as it were). For me, not writing a waking death. Intellectual suicide. I couldn’t live in this world without writing through, and about, it, and everything in me has come to calm when I finally decided that all I want to do is write.

All I want to do is write more, shout louder, and be with the people who are like Vivian Gornick, people who are unafraid and unapologetic. People who can give a fuck about an even keel or playing nice. People who don’t wrap themselves up in their personal brand or transparency because it’s the fashionable dress they need to wear. The real and the true are few and far between, and I hope to hold on to my tribe here in New York and find my people out west.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well, modified
For the crust
1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 cup gluten-free oats
1/4 tsp aluminium-free baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I prefer Cup4Cup)
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling
1/3 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
1/2 cup unsweetened apricot jam

For the topping
1 cup dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/3 cup raw cashews
1/4 tsp aluminium baking powder
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp of olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of one lemon
1 cup dried, unsweetened, coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line a 13 x 9-inch pan with parchment paper; set aside.

For the filling place the thinly sliced apricots in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to softened for 5 minutes while you make the crust.

To make the crust place the coconut, oats, baking powder, and salt in a food processor; blend until fine, about 45 seconds. Add to a medium bowl and mix with the almond meal and gluten-free flour. In a medium bowl, place the oil, maple syrup and vanilla, whisk until combined. Add the coconut and oat mixture, and mix with a fork until combined. Dough should be moist but not sticky. With your hands press the dough thinly and evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Prick crust with a fork, and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside; keep the oven on.

While waiting for the crust to bake, drain the apricot slices and set aside to drain well.

To make the topping place the maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and lemon zest in the medium bowl. (Use the same bowl used for making the crust – no need to clean). Whisk to combine and set aside. In the food processor place the shredded coconut, cashews, and baking powder, and blend until ground and moist, about 45 seconds; transfer to the bowl with the wet ingredients. Stir to combine. Mix in the flaked coconut.

When the crust is ready, spread the apricot preserve over the crust and sprinkle over the apricots. Crumble the topping over the apricot crust, leaving some filling showing.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes or until golden on top. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool completely before cutting into bars.

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shade in the food blogging game {mini rant}

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Normally I’d reserve such missives for a private, long-winded Facebook post, but quite honestly I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the shady practices of food bloggers, who are desperate to attain celebrity status and the coveted title of cookbook author and “online brand.” Let me put this as plainly as possible: I write about food because it’s at the core of who I am. The alchemy of flavors, textures and tastes delight me, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve either had a pen or a whisk in hand. Food has the propensity to connect people in a way that’s visceral, real. We hatch plans, we weep, we rage, we talk our way through our darkness over a plate of hot pasta or a bowl of comforting soup. I write about food because I believe in its ability to heal and bind.

I don’t write about food because I want to be a “brand” or elevate my ranking in Google search with plug-ins, applications, or smartly-worded titles. I don’t write to sell my soul for a stand mixer or to post the au courant recipes making the rounds (popsicles, anyone?). And while I understand the business of content creation, brand building and word of mouth, there is a way in which one can be authentic, passionate, but still turn a profit. And, quite frankly, I’ve seen very few blogs in the food space that manage to keep their integrity in check. Rather, they’ve fallen into a “me-too” think speak of conferences, business cards, book deals, and a strategy that feels machinist rather than honest.

Untitled Recently, I road-tested two recipes from sites I found on Tastespotting (an elegant and visual Pinterest for foodies, if you will), and both times I found myself reading the recipes several times, shaking my head, and muttering: This can’t be right. I scrolled through the scores of comments that complimented the food photography, styling, and the personal anecdotes that preceded the recipe. Nothing about the efficacy of the baked goods or even a question on the chemistry. So, against my better judgment, I baked the two loaves from two separate blogs and they were both failures. One was a chocolate chip pound cake, whose ratios could have not possibly yielded the picture on display (3 sticks of butter for one scant cup of flour for the crumble? Are you kidding me here?), and the other was a bread loaf with 1:1 white for whole wheat flour swap, which didn’t account for the density of the flour and the needed to alter the wet ingredients for the substitution.

A long-winded way of saying the recipes were wrong. The photos were dubious, and scores of blogs are securing traffic, fans and deals, based on the fact of one beautiful picture and a few personal words. This reminds me of those gag books, when opened, are actually storage boxes. They’re empty, devoid of passion and authenticity, reduced to the output of a Canon 5D Mark or a Nikon.

Suddenly, all of the blogs appear as a variation on a single theme, a one-note plea for the glory that internet fame brings. The dream of being the next Smitten Kitchen (for the record, I’ve sampled some of the recipes from this book, and they were not up to snuff, but that’s a whole other discussion). Perhaps this is the reason why I’ve been so severe in terms of how I manage this space. I refuse to call myself a food blogger. I refuse to accept advertising. I refuse to try to achieve anything less than what I consider extraordinary.

A friend once told me that I’ll never have the traffic the “bigger guys” get because I’m too dark. My writing is too melodic and sometimes disturbing and sometimes meandering, and I don’t project an idealized life. Sure, I’ve got the pretty pictures and tagged posts, but I don’t project a home that the world covets. I’m not the online equivalent of cotton candy. My dinner parties are messy, replete with sullied napkins and discussions about Rosemary’s Baby, formalism, Amy Hempel, and Orange is the New Black. I’m outspoken, make whole new shapes outside of lines, and pretty much live in the color blue.

Listen, I’m not claiming to be perfect. I’ve had my blogging mistakes and pitfalls, and I was once tempted by the lure of free things, but I try to be as honest as I am aware. I’m trying to deliver food I’d cook and eat. What you don’t see are all the failed recipes. What you don’t read about is the fully uncut version of my life, because I firmly believe that my life is mine, and when it’s all revealed it suddenly becomes less mine. It becomes yours.

This is probably why I read so few blogs, why I trust a handful of folks who don’t write to gain traffic and build brands. They write because they love food, love the power of it, love how it consumes them. They live for that symbiosis. They live to marry image and text. They want to show you just how much this meal meant to them.

Not how much it’s padded their bank account.

/rant

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