Archive for Uncategorized

Hippie Dust: How We Fell In Love

Throw some hippie dust on that!

And so, with that direction bellowed over an enormous bowl of popcorn one fateful evening about 12 years ago, began my love affair with nutritional yeast. Actually, the love began as many affairs do, in a state of acrimony and denial with undercurrent of a tug pulling me toward something inexplicable. My first taste resulted in a somewhat crumply face of disgust as compared to a popcorn bowl full of delicious melted butter and salt with fresh ground pepper. But something about the nuttiness of the unexpected yeast pulled me back. And in no time at all, I was all in.

Nutritional yeast has an enormous benefit to many people over its cousins brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast. This yeast, grown mostly on beet sugar is an inactive yeast which means it can be incorporated into a nutritional arsenal of a system that is often challenged by other active yeasts. (Of course, ask your doctor or nutritionist their view on this for your health.) Hippie dust is a dynamo of benefits packed into a magic flourish over foods for a nutty, almost cheesy, flavor. Look here:

1. Vitamin B-12- This is a crucial nutrient for the body involved in the production of red blood cells and for producing and maintaining myelin, the protective insulation around your nerves. Most sources of Vitamin B-12 are animal based, so nutritional yeast is a major player in the nutritional well being of vegans and vegetarians. One tablespoon will provide an adult with a full day’s supply of B-12, if you can keep the tastiness to that!

2. Protein- 2 tablespoons of hippie dust contains 9 grams of protein. That’s more than in 1 cup of whole milk (8g), a large egg (6g), or one oz. of beef (7g). It’s a wonderful source of energy for your workout mornings.

3. Fiber- Fiber is one of my personal favorites in terms of gut health and functional digestion. It also helps our systems regulate blood sugar giving us a more sustainable even store of energy throughout our days and at higher levels. Nutritional yeast provides 3 grams of fiber per tiny serving.

4. Gluten Free- Not only a boon for the Vegans out there, but this treat is also gluten free providing all of this power with an anti-inflammatory ease.

5. Folic acid- Nutritional yeast is also a great source of folic acid. Especially important for women out there trying to get pregnant or carrying future citizens of the planet, folic acid is known to prevent spina bifida and other major birth defects. For those not planning to get pregnant, folic acid is still important for its role in cell maintenance and production.

Here’s one of the easiest recipes in the world and it’ll wow your dinner guests as well.

1 head cauliflower
1T olive oil
1t black sesame seeds
1/4c nutritional yeast
Sea Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350. Take all the ingredients and drop them in a mixing bowl. Toss it with your hands until all is coated. Spread on a cooking sheet with parchment paper or foil and cook for about 20-25 minutes. Cauliflower should be a golden light brown. THAT’S IT!

*Originally, I wrote this article for a wellness site here on the web that I’ve decided not to write for anymore. As it has grown to a pretty impressive size, the site continues to insist on not paying its writers for their work. (COMMON PRACTICE) Not even a dollar. Not with coupons or anything, just “Since we do not compensate contributors for posts, we’re more than happy to include a byline and your brief bio containing links to your website, Facebook, Twitter accounts, which we will promote when your post goes live.” I suppose I got lulled into this belief that I had to continue, after many years as a professional writer, to work for free to promote someone else’s content. In the agreement I found myself also letting my voice be compromised, which is actually my favorite part of writing. When I inquired to the editors about when they planned compensation, fiscal or otherwise, for the writers that wholly drive their content, I got no reply at all.  So I decided to simply write here on my own site and accept that I may stay small, but whatever. At least I’ll stay true. 
This text has been edited from its original form to be reprinted here.

Compare and Despair: Keeping Our Eyes on Our Own Papers

I went to five different high schools. With so much of my energy being shuttled to alleviation of social discomfort and trying to assimilate to puberty, cliques, smoking weed and soccer, I did my best to limit the time I spent studying so I could get away with the best possible grades for the least amount of work. That often meant straining my little eyeballs trying to see what Kevin Phillips came up with on his chemistry paper.

Which is to say, I cheated.

I’m not proud of it, but frankly, I don’t feel too bad about it either. I wish people would have told us all what I suspected, and WE ALL SUSPECTED, to be true: most of what we learn in high school, we will never use again. School is for training our brains, teaching them to stretch and think and bend and open. Unfortunately, some of the schooling I had also trained my mind to close but I suppose that’s a whole other post entirely. Have I ever, really, needed anything I learned in high school chemistry? Not really. And even though I was good at it, did memorizing all those state capitols help my life? No. No it did not. But the ACT of memorizing has helped me. The ideas behind chemistry, the cause and effect of things has really shaped me. The ways in which seeing that putting two things together in one way can be an act of genius and one small difference can blow shit up. Chemistry is ripe with metaphor and THAT has been a deep benefit for me. Chemistry has been the undercurrent of the alchemy that happens in the kitchen. What has happened over time with love, with age, with atrophy and stretching.

What about the cheating, though?
Well. I liked getting away with things. I liked the velocity of getting over, the feeling of rebelling and subverting authority. I liked the thrill of wondering what the outcome might be with what I could manage to get by on with my wits and what I’d have to explain away to my parents who were Very Busy doing everything they could to make my future solid while I listened to The Cure and tried to figure out how to keep my head above water in the many predominantly white suburban John Hughes high schools of my life. I picked up some cigarettes, Marlboro reds, and learned to pack them into 4 inch bullets. I picked up little metal pipes full of shitty weed and snuck out of school dances. I picked up the tool of a Malleable Truth and carried it in my backpack from school to school, sanding down my edges to fit in anyplace I could. And while all this happened, I missed out on the offer of learning in school. My brain could have been doing all kinds of gymnastics and honing itself to be a ninja in the universe of interesting information but instead,  I treated it like a stoner on a stinky couch outside a frat party in Santa Barbara.

The kicker is, I find myself doing it today in still more insidious ways that are much more costly. An old friend was talking about how she was going to stop looking at fashion magazines because it was making her feel so bad. The way advertising somehow manipulates us in comparing ourselves with images on a page. There’s a few ways to wrap our minds around how this NEVER serves anyone too well.

This photo was taken in 2011. I don’t really look like this. I didn’t look like this then, really, and I sure as hell don’t look like this now. Since this was taken life took a lot of difficult turns and I added some pounds, hacked off a foot of my hair and grew all the gray out, plus I shot it of myself from the most “flattering” angle above. And it has at least two different romantic filters on it. But I like this photograph so I use it in press and print. I’ll use a new one with the gray hair soon or I’ll mix it up.

1. The “I’ll Never Look Like That” Edition: Thankfully, this one can be pulled apart in all manner of directions. First of all, she/they/he doesn’t look like that either. We all look so many different ways at different times of day, in light, with digital manipulation, angles of a shot. We are people of full dimension, not just two, so the reality is, we don’t even look the way the image says. I know this because I am a photographer. So there’s that fiction. The second thing is, let’s say for argument’s sake that the model really DOES look like that all the time from every angle, no matter how much sleep they got or who recently broke their heart or whether or not they actually have the flu. If that person ALREADY looks like that, then you’re off the hook. Somebody already has the job of looking like that and you can get busy doing the job of looking how you already look. No one else is doing that important job. So we need you. Not even your identical twin looks like you exactly so get to the business of living in your face and your thighs and your ass just the way they are. This is the body you have. It’s fucking great no matter how it looks because it is the vessel of your life. Without it, you join the ether. Without it you do not get to write, to do a tarot reading for your best friend. You don’t get to roller skate or swim or watch your kids learn to read. No singing. No listening. No plump cherries to bite into and no getting laid. So this Edition of Compare and Despair isn’t going to work in your favor.

This is what I looked like yesterday. Size 8 billion overalls, hat on bad hair, no make-up, and I still kinda like it.

2. The “They Think I’m Fat/Crazy/Nerdy/A Loser/Fill in Your Nightmare” Edition: One time I went to a beginner’s hip-hop class in Brooklyn. I had just been through back to back breakups with not one, but TWO women who felt ambivalent about their feelings for me. What the fuck, right? (Side note, Don’t date people who don’t think you’re fantastic. Getting your self-worth from trying to convince an ambivalent lover that you’re the one is a sure way to misery. You are already the one for someone or several people who are wholeheartedly stoked to hang out with you.) So I’m already feeling less-than and I head to this class to have fun! To exercise! (Which at the time I did not do so trying something fun was key). To be with great women! I get there and it’s in this gorgeous old studio, vaulted ceilings and original red looking wood with swirly accents way up high and the front of the room entirely covered in mirrors. Before the music even started I could feel my throat tighten down looking at the room reflected back to me. Scads of easily stylish beauties greeting each other and limbering up like a Fame outtake. Me? Jesus. I’m the pudgy girl at the back, sweats and an ill-fitting t-shirt to go with my bruised ego. The music starts and I can’t get my body to do anything the other bodies in the mirror are doing. This is the warm up. I start to feel humiliated by what people must think of me, oozing my incompetence into their fun place. It barely takes any time at all. So little, in fact, it’s like a sad miracle of a thing how quickly the imagined judgment moves me to sobbing. I bolt from the class, a bad after school special moment in real life. God, it’s so horrible just to type this out. More judgement so many years later like, “Poor you and your luxury dance class problem. Inept Pudgy Lesbian is so sad and alone.”

BUT THAT’S HOW COMPARE AND DESPAIR WORKS! It’s actually none of my business what anyone thinks of me. Whether they think I’m pretty or ugly or loud or selfish or fake or funny or devious or dim. My business is to keep my eyes on my own paper and either learn the dance or don’t. This was about giving my body movement and treating my battered little heart to some levity. I cheated myself out of that and left with quite a little internal gash.

I am not a minimalist.

3. The “Why Don’t I have That Couch” Edition: There is nothing like an issue of Dwell Magazine to help this one hit home. In some ways this one is harder for me than the fashion magazine one. This one is all about What I Don’t Have. And there are a million versions of the ways I don’t have the things I don’t have. There are the modern boho versions of it featuring interesting globetrotters who select the perfect items to bring home and place Just So in their incredibly homey and chic living rooms with giant dangly light fixtures and bold patterns and colors you can sink into on oversized cushions and guzzle micro aged bourbon and talk about film together after the retractable screen disappears. There’s the sleek, minimal modern version of Things I Don’t Have because I have no fucking restraint and don’t know how to make minimal work no matter how many times I study it. I don’t understand negative space in writing, in paintings, in design or in conversation, really. But I love it and it defines what I am not. And in this case, what I cannot afford.

And isn’t it always the couch?
It is.

I have always wanted to buy a new couch for myself, somehow exclaiming my independence as a woman. A real, live, adult woman. All these people in the magazines with all their beautiful houses and their stuff and their COUCHES, they count, and so therefor I do not. Because I have never gotten myself a new couch. And that is how Compare and Despair works. I look at a photograph of a couch in an image and I let it define my life, if only for a moment, into nothing at all. Which really pisses the old dog off, who would like me to give him dinner now, thank you very much.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I can’t go back. I don’t believe in regret. I made the choices I made and so did you and here we are. But I think when I go to my new ceramics class next Monday, which I have always wanted to do, I will bring curiosity with me, wondering what it is I’ll learn to do. I’ll keep my eyes on my own paper and only look to the other clay in the room to admire it, wonder at all the possibilities, and watch myself be a beginner in a world that would only value a master. Maybe I should write Kevin Phillips and say something. But I don’t know what.

Anyhow, I hope I get super dirty in messy clay.

Goodbye San Francisco, Notes on Ex-Lovers, and Welcome Home with Chana Masala.

It’s been nearly three weeks since I got here to my new home across the country from my beloved San Francisco. It’s not that all its digital money boom entirely obscured its charms from me with the Google busses and the wall to wall boutique donuts. It would take more than that. I love that town. I will always love that town. The way in which I remember some of the women who have come and gone. I can always recall how that one smelled so good right behind the neck like pomade and a campfire, or the other one, how she read me Raymond Chandler while I soaked in the bath. There was the first real true love who I somehow convinced, in true lesbian fashion, to stay on as my favorite abiding and loyal friend and that one who I don’t remember much about except how good she looked in those work-worn Levi’s every time she left. I always remember her leaving, which, as it turns out, is probably how the memory should go. I Hate to See You Leaving, But I Love to Watch You Go. All of those connections, like the city, are still easy in these ways to love. And with San Francisco, my favorite metropolis so far in which to live, I look forward to seeing her again, I know the exact angle of the sun going down on the bay in the Spring when I walk myself to a day game on a Wednesday clad in black and orange. I know the way the light starts to shimmy like a gown at the Oscars and the remainders of the old wood docks jut up out of the water right through the sequins. I know the way North Beach smells and which blocks off of Market used the sparkly concrete on the sidewalks so when you run over it, it hurts a little bit less at 8 miles. I love that city. But I am no longer right for city life itself and it really wore me the fuck down.

We moved to a town with a population of 711. There is no post office. No traffic light. Not one state route passes through the whole dang thing. No store and, well, no baseball stadium. But in this town, you can watch the bats come out when the sun trades places with the moon at dusk, the sky turns pink, then violet, then lazes its way to navy and finally black. It’s so dark, you look up and it’s like somebody powdered the canopy of night with sugar. A car rolls by maybe every 45 minutes. Maybe. We take the trash to the dump because no one comes to get it and the old dog can lumber around the back with me and no leash. He seems mad we waited until he was 15 to tote him out to paradise, but when the Spring comes, he won’t be mad about anything at all.

Plus, Elizabeth Warren is my Senator.
FUCK, YES to that.

I unpacked like a marine. Up before five and I just kept going until it was done. I always feel weird if the boxes are around. Since I left my home at 17 for college, I have changed domiciles 19 times. I have some ideas about what works for me. And the thing I have always known, is the kitchen comes first. Even before I really gave a shit about how I ate, something about the kitchen had to settle first. It’s where I always feel closest to some kind of connection to my foremothers. I’m not exactly sure why because Gramma Eva I don’t remember cooking very much and Nanny Bert cooked, but never seemed to love it. She loved to smoke these Parliament lights at the breakfast table with the glass top over a bagel and coffee. By the time I was six and old enough to get shipped to Jewish Grandparent Utopia on the gulf coast of Florida, she mostly seemed like she was waiting for the sun to drop from the hot sky so she could pour the Sapphire gin into a rough tumbler, squeeze in a lime, splash out some tonic and listen to the ice clink around as if Bach was conducting.

I remember my mother as a wonderful cook, but she always says I’m wrong. Meh, she says. But no matter what, we all ate together. All five of us. Every night there was a feast on the table for 5 effing people. That seems like such a feat to me when I think about it today. Keeping a house for a family, stitching them all together with brisket and clean laundry and floors so spotless, you might as well eat off of them. I remember this insane shiny wallpaper we had in the kitchen in Pittsburgh with massive cartoony flowers all on it and my mom tan from tennis, pushing her hair back from her forehead with the back of her wrist while she diced things. Something about my mom in the kitchen is the crux of what makes me feel, well, powerful.

I know. I’m as surprised about it as you are.

But that’s how it turned out. Nothing makes me feel more kick ass than inviting over a handful of favorite people and fanning out a spread of divine tastes for everyone. The more food restrictions, the better. I love a puzzle. I’ll try anything new. I like to listen to Sam Cooke, Aretha, Ray Charles and Leonard Cohen. I like cello when I cook or the sounds of a Giants game with Jon Miller calling it. I like them better when we win, but, fuck it, I’ll take any of it. And I will cook my ass off.

Anyhow, all of that to tell you, we had our first handful of incredible people over last week. In honor of our vegetarian, there was a salad, a mujadara, and a chana masala based on the Gingered Chickpeas recipe from the wonderful book 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. I wanted something warming and cozy and this recipe was perfect. It also happens to be good for vegetarians, vegans, plus the wheat and gluten challenged. I served it over brown basmati rice. I’m sharing my variation with you here.

 

Welcome Home Chana Masala

1 Large tomato. (if you don’t have one, use a small can of diced)
1 small red onion, chopped
8 lengthwise slices of peeled ginger (each 2 in. long, 1 in. wide and
1/8 in. thick) Chop 4 of the pieces coarsely, and chop 4 into matchsticks.
1 dried serrano pepper, soaked in 3/4c water, liquid reserved
8 cloves of chopped garlic
1T coriander seeds
1T cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2T sunflower oil
2t hot paprika
1t turmeric
1/2c chopped fresh cilantro
3 cups cooked chickpeas (I cooked mine the day before with an onion)
1t garam masala
1t sea salt
1c vegetable broth
Juice of one lime. I like a big fat lime, myself.
First get your dried pepper in warm water to soak and get all puffy. While that happens, you can put your basmati rice on to cook. When the pepper is all puffy again, put it in a blender with its attending water, the tomato, onion, chopped ginger (not the matchsticks), half the garlic, coriander, cumin, salt and the cinnamon stick, busted up. Puree it all together and you should get a speckled dark red sauce.

After that, heat the sunflower oil in a pan and put in the ginger sticks. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds and then add the rest of the garlic. Cook for another minute. Everything should turn light brown. When that happens, pour in the sauce from the blender. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the paprika, turmeric and 1/4c of the cilantro. Let the sauce come to a simmer again and sit for 5-10 minutes.

Now you get to add your chickpeas and a cup of vegetable broth (or water). Bring the whole shebang to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, covered, and go stir it once in a while. Cook for about a half hour. The sauce should thicken and the chickpeas will get good and soft.

Now stir in the garam masala and the lime juice. Serve over rice with the remaining fresh cilantro used to garnish each bowl.

Welcome home.

 

Why A Poem is Not Just a Poem.

Those line breaks aren’t just higgelty piggelty crap, yunno?

Poets are the sculptors of our verbal life. They make the mundane hunks of language we throw around shimmer and dance and halt and sit and stay. They arrange and they carve and revise and then start all over.

Poets stew.
They writhe and wrangle.
Poets mete it out and
They can sit in a
Slow, rolling boil
For a month at a time
And then a year.

The way poets paint a life, we can’t just bash through a paragraph or a page like it ain’t nothin’. It is. And so, at this time when the season brings us holiday mayhem, I’m honored to mull a cider, stud an orange with cloves and watch it bob around a cinnamon stick until the bubbles come. Then I leave the pot on the stove on a low-down blue flame whispering at a copper bottom. A hand carved wood ladle dips in and retrieves a glass of the cider for me. In my right hand I carry the mug and in the left fist I gather a throw blanket, an old one. I get situated and pluck a thin volume from the shelf. I turn off my phone.

I stop at all the line breaks.
I let my eyes spill down the page.
I remember to breathe.
Sometimes I read it all to the dog.

And on a good day,
It goes a little like this

On Being Asked ‘What Is Poetry?’
by Jill McDonough

I ask that a lot, ask a lot of students that. Whitman,
Dickinson, Dietz. There are hundreds of ways
to say you don’t know, most of them
pretty good. Anne Bradstreet, Anne Carson, Anne
Sexton, Annie Finch. Right now I teach Understanding
Literature
. They didn’t Understand
that people still write Literature, that it’s alive. Bishop,
Pinsky, Lowell. It took me three weeks to make them
stop saying they don’t like poetry. No to Baudelaire.
Ditto John Clare, Gwendolyn Brooks. What the hell
are you talking about?
 Don’t like poetry. Don’t like food.
Vessels, buildings, days. Don’t like lumber, time.
Poetry: whatever we say it is. We’re
in charge. Homer, Akhmatova, Frost. I don’t know
art, but I know what I like
. Here’s
what I like. Fresh chalk on my hands, marking stresses
on the board. a PLUM. a PURple FINCH: three
iambs. Hopkins, Herbert, Fred Marchant. Then reading
aloud from Alan Dugan who, I admit it, is dead. But not
much: the purple prick of that skunk cabbage is still
erect in its frost-thawing fart gas. Basho, Bronte, Keats.
Berryman, Ashbery, Yeats. Poetry means you get to say
whatever whatever you want. Your professor might close the class
with Dugan’s prick in her mouth. It’s poetry, so it’s
allowed. Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? Sure.
Also, They Fuck You Up, Your Mum and Dad. What is poetry?
What is poetry? I don’t know.

What if it wasn’t a problem?

That’s what I’ve been asking myself a whole bunch this past month. It’s a simple question I’ve been toting along in the spiritual back pocket of my Jordache jeans like we used to have those combs in the 80s. I can’t believe what a difference it has made for me.

Here, I’ll show you what I mean.

Me passing a reflection of myself on my way to the gym: “I can’t believe I work out this often and I still have days when I cringe at my own reflection.”
Pocket: “What if it wasn’t a problem?”
Me: “Oh. I can just be grateful that my body works. That I am loved. That I just got to move my body and feel exhilarated. Maybe how I look isn’t today’s big PROBLEM.”

Or how about this:

Me at the end of a long day of not feeling productive: “I sat at this desk for 8 hours, didn’t finish my article, left emails on my desktop, didn’t make soup, and now it’s far too blustery to go running.”
Pocket: “What if it wasn’t a problem?”
Me: “Holy crap. What if productivity wasn’t the yardstick I chose to judge myself with today. What if I coached five clients really well, I took some time to pet the dog, and I read a ton of articles that inform my life? What if I let that be enough today?”
Pocket: “What if you are enough?”
Me: “Now you’re testing me, Pocket.”
Pocket: “Let’s talk again tomorrow.”

It’s just a tiny question that can get us out of a malaise or a self-imposed despair that we are not required to carry. You can turn around in your own prison cell and just walk right the hell out. Try it. You got nothing to lose but some sorrow.

 

Easy and Divine Asian Slaw

I leave in the morning for a working vacation in the beautiful Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, and as is usual for me, I’m still rushing around getting ready to go. I like to just pack it all in leading up to a departure so when I get on the plane, I sleep right the hell through it all. I’ve got my client folders ready, my business book downloaded, and my friend Lucy Corin‘s new collection ready to revel in. Have you had a chance to read any of her incredibly beautiful, funny, whipsmart, complicated, and devastating work? Well, she’s one of my favorites. So I am wholly thrilled to have her new book along with me. Plus… I made this to eat on my journey. I though you might like it,  too.

I am a lover of salad, but I tend to follow a few tried and true versions all the time. For this venture, I got out of my regular zone and plucked a bunch of greens from the shelf I don’t normally go to at first and I gotta say, I’m loving this concoction.

 

For the Salad
1 cucumber
1 fennel bulb
1/2 head napa cabbage, cored
1/2 bunch bok choy
1 carrot
1 mango
2 plums or pluots to your liking
1T black sesame seeds
1T  white sesame seeds

For the Dressing
1T toasted sesame oil
1T olive oil
1T ume plum vinegar
1T rice vinegar
1t tamari or coconut aminos
1T fresh grated ginger

Dice your greens in long thin strips. Grate your carrot. Chop your cucumber, plums, and mango into small cubes. In a separate bowl, whisk all your dressing ingredients together. Pour the dressing into the salad and toss thoroughly. Add in your sesame seeds and toss again. Chill the salad for 20 minutes to let the flavor set.

Get your grub on.

Aging, Anti-aging, the spectre of finality and CHER, honey.

I keep reading things about “anti-aging” serums and “cures” for aging. I look at scrubs and potions and fillers and peels. All the ways I could change my face to look a little bit how it did about ten years ago. But probably also a little different too. I mean, even Cher couldn’t really Turn Back Time, although, Goddess knows, she tried. I love Cher.

Eternal Beloveds

And Cher is not timeless because of serums or surgery or acid peels or anything physical, but because she is CHER, HONEY. And no one else will ever come close to a thing like that, no matter what their cheekbones say. There is no actual cure for aging. I mean it’s the deal we get when we arrive here. It is the nature of time. We get to have a bit of it. Some more than others. And yeah, taking care of our bodies may supply us with more of it, and a more comfortable quality of it while we are here. But time, it passes. It does it’s relentless ticking away. Not because it is cruel or because its nature is to ravage. It does what it does because the great world spins. The forests grow and tangle, rock erodes, oceans lap up shorelines. Our skin may begin to parade around in its ravines of smiling, our knees might creak a bit and we might just get light brown spots right on our jawbone. I did. Two.

This is my graying hair, the lines making a home around my mouth like parentheses, and a scarf I’m in love with because it is soft and holds the scent of my favorite perfume. Not because it’s edgy or cool or Nina Garcia would approve.

Some days I look in the mirror and I think about this and how each of these conditions has a remedy these days. I can get rid of the spots and fill up the ravines. And because I am a feminist and woman that deeply believes we each have the right to do as we see fit with our bodies, I am certainly all for women making whatever choice they want to be physically comfortable in a world that does everything it can to fuck us on that count. I say fuck that world right back, and if easing the crease of your brow provides you with a true jolt of unbridled joy, HAVE IT, GIRL. Have all the true joy you can.

But I remember a beautiful day in 2009 here in San Francisco. Ginger and I headed down to the SFMOMA to see the Richard Avedon(RIP) retrospective, a massive collection merging beauty, fashion, death, class, and TIME sprawling in black and white across several galleries. I moved along the walls of politicians, drifters, actresses and models wanting to live with those photographs. I wanted to set up a cot and a cool pitcher of water, kiss Ginger in the crook of her neck and then lock everything our for a week. Just me and Richard and his muses all up in there. His father dying. The dustblown strangers he’d never see again. Marilyn. Janis. Twiggy. Something about this show was the last. This man’s work was so iconic, just before and into the age of Photoshop. But here were enormous photographs of people who would not be airbrushed, their pores splayed out on walls like butterflies pinned into shadow boxes.

Gloria Swanson, 1980

I had almost forgotten what an aging beautiful face looked like. The face of a FAMOUS person who was allowed to age. I just realized there would never be a show like this again. Real film, no pixels. Faces with their particular divots and stray eyebrows. Humanity lined and gorgeous with faces doing the things that faces had done for eons. I thought then I would do my best to just get old. I went into crone training and a few years later gave up with the hair dye. Gave up potions and serums and what not. I’m not saying I won’t freak out one day and show up here with raven hair and a facelift BECAUSE I MIGHT. That could be a physical adventure I choose for myself. But even then, the truth is, there is no “cure” for aging. I hope all of us stay in the place of knowing there is no fight against time, there is really only being with it until we make our way along to the next thing. And then my friends, in dust and in dust, we are finished here.

Just for fun, here are a few other ladies further along on their path than I am. I’ve been following them for some time and I adore them all.

Angela Davis

Helen Mirren

Maxine Hong Kingston

Arundhati Roy

 

My Favorite Cookbooks, Part 1

Some people might call it a problem. I call it a library. I know that there are so many cooking sites to visit online. The recipes are solid, they’re free, and you don’t have to pack them into boxes and lug them across the country when you move. (We’re MOVING in February!) But I’ll never get over books. I like the way the matte pages feel, I like the feel of flipping a page over, and with cookbooks, I love the photographs. I really feel wild about a good cookbook. People ask me all the time what my favorites are. I’m making a list my my ten more consulted here. I love many others, but this is part 1 of core group that I return to over and over. One of them is new and is an instant classic that I am currently in a deep love affair with. Since these are in no particular order, let’s start there:

1. Vegetable Literacy by Deborah MadisonThis book is the kind of book I always found myself looking for and could never find. But now here it is. Part encyclopedia, part cookbook, this volume tells you everything you might want to know about things that grow and then we eat them. She tells you how things grow and where, what kinds of nutrients they have to offer, how they like to be cooked and what they go well with. She tells you how to store things, what to look for when you shop. I read this thing like a novel, from cover to cover. The recipes range from incredibly simple to simple, but with some labor. Nothing is difficult and all her combinations that I’ve tried tend to sing. Her Red Lentil and Coconut Soup with Black Rice, Turmeric and Greens is one of the best soups ever. I could eat that jazz every day.

2. Clean Food by Terry Walters This book is the perfect introduction to clean cooking and eating. Ms. Walters has organized it by seasons. For people who are new in the kitchen, this is so helpful because the recipes match up with what looks good in the market. As you get accustomed to shopping and cooking, eventually your body will acclimate to its natural yens rather than feel confused by the general processed food that we often eat in the Standard American Diet. In addition to supporting beginning cooks and cooks new to this kind of cooking, Ms. Walters gives a great variety of choices for each season including desserts. Her sweet choices are always made with alternative flours and sweeteners making her recipes much easier on the system without skimping on flavor. She tends toward very simple preparations with pops of satisfying flavor.

3. A Year in my Kitchen by Skye Gyngell I would like to spend a year in her kitchen, too. This is one of my very favorite books for flavor. Ms Gyngell is from London so sometimes there are ingredients I can’t find in San Francisco, but WHO CARES?!? This is a woman who cooks like a painter. The flavors in each recipe hit all parts of the tongue and her preferences tend toward explosive color. She begins this book with her version of a toolbox, or what she believes are the staples a cook should have in their kitchens at all times. She talks about how flavors work together, what different components come together to work in shaping a taste experience, plus the book is gorgeous. It’s a small little thing with soft matte pages and dreamy photographs that make you want to follow all her directions to a tee. Her roasted tomatoes changed my life, even without the sugar, not to mention her pickled pear relish and her chilled almond soup.

4. Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi This might be one of the most elegant vegetarian (not vegan) cookbooks in existence. The work in this book is so varied and covers so many different styles of cooking that it feels as much like a travel log as it feels like a cookbook. It’s downright romantic the thing is so gorgeous. The recipes range from simple to all day prep affairs. Some of these recipes will make their way into your No Big Deal catagory without even batting an eye, whereas others may stay on your When Company Comes list for a year or more. But even when the meals look over the top, they are so much fun to read and look at, that the very act of perusing them will ignite your creative kitchen fire. The Cardamom Rice with Poached Eggs and Yogurt just slays me and I’m not mad about the Cucumber Salad with Smashed Garlic and Ginger either.

5. The Inspired Vegan by Bryant Terry Bryant Terry designs the meal for you. Each recipe comes with a drink and damn soundtrack. Mr. Terry made this book so that each turn of a meal is designed around an entire experience, born from the inspiration of jazz and hip hop. I love this book for its intimate invitation to hang out with your chef. You get stories, you get a radical kind of politic, you’ll find yourself jamming out to his ideas about sustainable food cultures and social movements. This book is so much more than a standard cookbook experience and his success with it is deeply moving. Not many chefs offer you justice and compassion with their entrees but for Mr. Terry, his ethic about life is not separate from his cooking. He understands that food is a right and healthy food is a gorgeous experience that supports artistic, beautiful and creative living for all people. Cooking from this book, for me, has been not only a creative and fun experience, but each time, it feels like an honor to connect with Mr. Terry’s world. Plus the sweet potato curry is fabulous.

 

How to Succeed at Failure.

I am a reluctant and deeply untalented runner. This beautiful fact is the main way I have found to practice being bad at something and just doing it anyhow. For five years I have remained stunned at the gifts I have limped away with, no matter how graceless my path becomes. I stumble, I quit, I trudge, I walk and I lapse altogether in this endeavor, but there is some kind of gem that brings me back again and again. And that gem is failure.

The wonderful thing about failing is that life offers us an endless supply of practice opportunities. Each day we can burn the toast, snap at our handsome partner when they didn’t deserve it, piss our co-worker off, miss a deadline, get a ticket, or just put together a terrible outfit. It happens. I mean it happens all the time. And maybe we don’t catalog these little events because they are so common, they become unnotable. Or maybe they feel humiliating or squishy so our defenses kick in and erase the painful emotional tendrils as fast as possible. It’s actually what we are built for. Pain Amnesia. I mean if we could really connect with the brutal feelings of agony in each daily moment, why would we keep having kids? How could athletes rehab their knees over and over just to have them blow out again? How could we keep submitting our poems to journals only to have them brushed off by busy, underpaid, distant editors with little time to cushion our fragile egos? Our minds do us the favor of forgetting so we can stay safe, but also, and more importantly, so we can try again.

For me, running has been my true vessel of fantastic failures. I mean I am TERRIBLE at it. People don’t really believe me when I tell them that because I’ve been doing it for half a decade now, which is hard to believe as I type this. But I am not being self-effacing or asking for support or anything. I know I suck at it and somehow through some kind of divine endowment, I am able to engage with it anyhow. I’m the kind of lady that likes to do things I’m good at. There is nothing that feels more searing to me than a bout of humiliation or letting the world get a glimpse of my emotional slip as I run from a zombie invasion or some other catastrophe that is clearly not interested in the showcasing of my undergarments. I hate shaving but then get mad when it’s time to look fancy and my stubble comes to the party. In my life as a writer, I have nights when I feel so much more invested in how an audience reacts than having done the writing. It’s hellish on a Leo ego when the crowd flatlines. Stab me instead. So when I tell you I’m bad at running, I MEAN it. I’m slow and graceless, no rhythm or gait for it. I don’t pick it up like people do with languages or musical instruments. It’s a struggle and I don’t even really improve much. When I put the practice in, I can go for long periods, but then I’m a bad student as well and never try to do exercises to fix my stride or get quicker. I’m afraid of trail running and have a recurrent daymare featuring the sound of an ankle snapping. I use the word snap because it types itself out across my mind, like a predictable and boring scriptwriter.  There are tons of things I don’t do to become a “better runner” because as it turns out, I am not running so I can improve.

THIS IS ASTONISHING

I hate being bad at anything. Or I used to. But then I started running. At 38 I decided I had a good life, I wanted to feel happy in my later years which meant getting off the couch in the present and investing in my body. I did, after all, live here, and years of shitty landlords taught me a good deal about what happens to a neglected house. I was done being a shitty landlord to a perfectly good life. The truth is, I am in love with Ginger and I thought about how someday we’d be retired and together and it’d be nice to be able to travel and hike and DO SHIT. I knew that living life in front of Ellen shows and bags of chips wasn’t the key to the future I wanted. I started slow. Then some kind of intervention happened where my favorite non-profit arts organization, RADAR Productions, lost a bunch of funding for a residency they do that really changed my life. I wanted to help so I did something pretty much insane. I called my friend Sarah and asked her if it was possible to get off a couch in December and finish a whole marathon by the end of July. And in particular, the SF Marathon with it’s cruel terrain and gorgeous vistas. She sounded doubtful, but said she’d help me. And so by using the love for this organization and my fear of humiliation, I decided to go public with my task assuming that failing to either raise the money or finish the race in public would be too much for me to handle. The combination would help me to do it. I had no choice but to do it. And I did. (You can read about it here.) Now maybe it’s codependent that I could not make this commitment to myself and my health and instead I needed to do it for some other reason, but that’s the best I could do then, so Thank the Goddess for Co-dependency, I say.

But the first thing I did was try to do a 5k. I signed up for the Pride Run with my friend Beth. I finished the thing upon my first try but I had to walk for about a full minute of it. Instead of crossing the finish line in triumph, I fell into Ginger’s arms in a heap of true despair living in the entire darkness of those walking steps. I didn’t finish it the way I imagined so I named the whole thing a failure and just sobbed like a baby. Snot and everything. A real scene.

This past weekend, many 5ks, a few 10s, a coupla half-marathons, and a marathon later, I had the opportunity to visit this race again for the 5th year in a row. To be clear, I made several bad choices leading up to the race. One is that I didn’t train for it. At all. I’ve been spending most of my time on the elliptical machine at the gym watching ESPN and doing almost no road work. I knew I wasn’t totally ready. On top of that, I saw a new trainer the day before and worked muscle groups that hadn’t seen any action since The Breakfast Club opened in theaters. And not to be totally outdone by my own questionable choices, Mother Nature chimed in with her Red Wave that very morning, making it clear I’d be lugging my barren, sloughing uterus around Golden Gate park with me and all the other gays. My old co-workers would be there, my new clients, old friends. Plenty of people to embarrass myself in front of. And on the fifth anniversary of this whole thing, my left hip locked up early and I had to do some walking. I finished the race with my absolute WORST 5k time of all the timed 5ks in my life.

And it felt fine. I ended up running alongside people I hadn’t seen in years, chatting with them and catching up. I got to cross the finish line with an ex-coworker who was finishing her very first 5k ever. I actually got to enjoy the park, thank the volunteers as I passed them. It felt just fine to be bad at it. To have made bad choices and let that be ok. I mean for me, that’s the biggest victory I could have. That’s how I got better in the last 5 years.

Being bad at running has given me a ton of incredible gifts so I thought I’d list a few of them. My Treasure Chest of Failure’s Spoils.

1. I run without music or a phone. Which means for as long as I’m out there, no one can find me. Time is mine and mine alone. I could be anyplace. So life becomes solely about the moments I have on the run. There is no email. No FaceBook. There are no errands or phone calls. I am entirely unplugged and just with it, the breath, the footfalls, my slow pace in my body. There is no way around the fact that I am choosing this solely for my well-being and that must mean I have grown some value for myself.

2. I have loved getting to know my city this way. I feel like such a citizen as I cruise through these neighborhoods and smiling at the people I may never see again. Sometimes people encourage me, tell me to keep it up. Other times they nod back in their run as well, we runners all in it together, no matter how slow. And then I become a citizen of my body this way, counting my breaths, a moving meditation covering more ground than I ever thought.

3. I found that if I can do this, I can really attempt anything. It made me realize how much joy I rob myself of in this fear of humiliation or looking foolish. If I let myself be bad at something and like it, imagine how much fun shit I’ve been avoiding because I fear that awkward beginner place. Running has given me broader possibilities in life, and a friendlier relationship to being less than great, which is a much more common experience than being exceptional.

4. My body is healthier. Period. And my willingness to be slow and awkward lets me go to the gym and work out, hit the street and jog, and really practice the idea that what other people think of me is none of my fucking business. Of course people will judge me. Notice I’m pudgy and slow. But they notice that anyhow and I still have the responsibility to take care of my body. I live here. They don’t.

5. It’s a great way to see a city. I’ve gone running in Palm Springs, Chattanooga, Sudbury, Albany, Los Angeles, New York, Brooklyn, Boston, Akumal, Isla Mujeres, Greenfield, Portland, and who knows where else. I remember waking up Christmas morning in a hotel in Chattanooga TN and running over that river saying Merry Christmas to all these strangers until I found myself weeping a little with the endorphines and the strange open heart they bring.

6. Runner’s high? It’s real. I experience it as an alchemy of wholeheartedness that re-shifts my focus each time, and always ending each run with meaning on top.

7. Being a terrible runner helped me find my new profession of being a health coach. That’s a whole other story, but just take my word for it.

And 8. My lucky number: Being bad at running, truly failing at it, taught me that sometimes the attempt and the practice are the destination. I don’t run to become a better runner. I run to practice failing in life because each failure gives us a million gateways to possibility. And in every way, those great failures have brought me here. And it’s a good day.

 

Donuts: Meh. Plus it’s kind of ranty.

I’m not big on rules. I like guidelines and their inherent flexibility. Guidelines are about making the best choices I can and then letting life happen as it does. And about some days, just having a bit of a meltdown. And since here we are in our post-privacy era, I thought this would be a nice friendly place to let loose about my first donut in about 4 years. Turns out it’s less about the donut and more about nostalgia and a fight to try and force a thing that’s much bigger than me to be the way I want it to be. But let me start at the beginning.

I drove over to see my friend Sam this morning, bobbing and weaving through a battalion bikers on sleek fixies  and Google buses. When I got to her house, the power was out so we couldn’t grind any of her decaf. I walked a few blocks to a place down the street from her. I keep trying to write this part in a way that feels less irritated than I actually felt so I can retain some modicum of professional dignity, but fuck it. This town, my beloved San Francisco, has turned into a bit of a boutique. A precious and intentionally curated upscale expensive boutique. While this provides some opportunity to look at beautiful things, it’s also true that this town has ALWAYS been rife with beauty. Dragging sticks and twigs into window displays and artfully tying them together with raw leather, hanging them in a curtain and weaving a clean typeset into the visual offering doesn’t necessarily ease the sting of a cup of drip coffee clocking in a $2.50 and a doughnut at $3. But WHATEVER. I’ll try to stay focused here. I’ll keep the dude’s stylish cool attitude and sardonic service out of the tale along with his ROLLING HIS EYES at my request for decaf.

“We don’t serve decaf. I can have an Americano made with it but that’s it.”
Great, Mister. Then I’ll have that. Add another dollar on to my tab please.

Was it my annoyance that made me try the doughnut? Was I searching for a reward of just enduring the change to my city that I am too small to face? Did I feel squashed like I did in high school by all the Heathers of the world, shamed and pummeled by my own obvious Veronica lack of hip and try to make up for it with some kind of fried penance/reward? Paging Dr. Freud… I mean, people LOVE this place. They have these doughnuts in their damn wedding photos. Anyhow, I don’t have a rule about sugar. I have a guideline. Which is to say that while I think refined sugar is Beelzebub, The Devil, Satan, Lucifer and Scratch, I do not disallow it as a rule for myself. I just choose not to have it because it generally makes me feel like shit and turns me into a banshee of craving for at least a day and sometimes longer. I know this to be true. And yet sometimes, I have a perfectly easy time with it. Almost never, but it can happen. And yesterday I decided to just have a doughnut.

The list of flavors matched the decor, each one seemingly patting itself on the back with its own flavorful cleverness. I usually like a good flavor undertaking but let’s be honest, I maybe felt determined to hate this place already. I AM NOT CLAIMING TO BE FAIR. Geez. I picked the plainest one possible and avoided the lauded Bacon Maple Apple situation. First of all, bacon on everything is very 2010 in a “put a bird on it” kind of way and second of all, it seemed like too much. Of course there is a salty caramel version because you can’t spit without hitting a salted caramel ANYTHING right now. I have a salt tattoo. I love salt. I love caramel. But I don’t know, I just chose the vanilla bean and ate it very slowly while I waited for my (watery and dull) decaf Americano that took for fucking ever.

It was a good doughnut. Heavy. Fried. But you know what? It turns out, I don’t like doughnuts anymore. This thing was all sugar without any depth of flavor. The vanilla was lost in the spike of the sugar and the taste of the oil overpowered that texture of the dough. My palette isn’t what it used to be. I used to just want anything sugar filled. Cotton candy, Slurpeez and Pez. Blue, if possible.

And now I have another good reason to be mad at the cute little sidewalk window: I spent the whole day today craving sugar. RED VINES of all things. I mean, that’s kind of like craving a cup of gasoline. Which brings me back to the original guideline. I try to choose food that will actually support my desire to live a life in which I feel strong and healthy. And having a doughball that encourages longing for food from my movie theater job in high school where I watched Dirty Dancing 436 times does not qualify. No matter how much I wish Patrick Swayze was still with us.

Nobody puts baby in a doughnut.