It’s Earth Hour and I’m writing this by Candle Light. How appropriately romantic for a post titled “Inspiration.”
When I tell people I’m writing a novel, the conversation can go one of three ways. Some people just kind of go “oh wow” and then walk away, others tell me about their own projects. The third -- and my favorite possibility by far -- is when a really interesting conversation naturally grows out of my admission and the fact that I have, in reality, been wrestling with the damn thing for a good long while.
The most common question by far is about inspiration. People are always interested in where I get mine -- like my gogi berries or my raw cacao powder. The truth is that, unlike my food, which I am very careful about sourcing, I have no idea where ideas come from... Sometimes they find me, and others, I have to hunt them down.
D says the difference between writing a novel and writing a screenplay is like easing yourself into a hot bath versus taking a shower. I’ve been in this bath tub for so long now that my fingers and toes have become wrinkled like raisins, but I can’t say I don’t love every second.
And as for inspiration…
For days, I had been looking for New York moments. Not that I don't have many of them banked already, but memories get old they get stale after being retold hundreds of times. The context of this particular quest is that one of my characters, in order to avoid her own set of issues, makes up stories about the people she sees around her. Rather than dredge up things I saw five years ago, I decided I wanted to go looking for new tidbits, see what came my way. I had been wandering around in search of “them”, but hadn’t really found anything beyond the usual array of kooks, drunks and fashionistas that are no longer interesting to me. Then, the other night, walking towards the subway in Greenwich Village after a very special evening with a classmate and new friend, they all came to find me, to let me know that they weren’t going to let me down – the colorful persons that dot and decorate the City, the moments that make this place what it is.
Thankfully, my Blackberry was working that night, and I typed up what was going on around me in real time, as it unfolded with the kind of perfection that can only come when one is looking for it:
(Note: I have minimally edited the text, corrected typos, etc. but, for the rest, this is what happened, as it took place around me and in my head on the night between Friday March 20th and Saturday, March 21st)
NYC 1 a.m. I make my way from University Place to the subway. It's the middle of the night by all accounts. The transsexual asks me what time it is and whether she'll make it to Brooklyn in time. "I hope so" I tell her honestly. It's 1 a.m. And if you’re on the subway, you're either sadly ending your evening like me, or just beginning, like her, in her bright yellow tank top, slugging her Redbull as she hums to herself.
I’d walked the three blocks to the train in a trance. It had been a lovely evening the way only NY nights can be. My new friend was charming, great company, and our "night cap" had turned into revelations so personal that had she not been as wonderful as she is, I would have been embarrassed. But this is not the UK, and definitely not LA, and she had been as open as I could have asked for, as kind and giving as one would hope for from a new friend. (And I don't use that term lightly)
We called the elevator from the hallway of the flat - it was that kind of place, the kind of place where the ceilings are exposed brick and the lift opens up into the living room - and as we waited, she showed me where she does her morning exercises: looking uptown at the Manhattan skyline. I had to laugh. Only in NYC. This is the NYC of my dreams, the one I aspire to, the easy nonchalance afforded by artistic endeavors gone right. D talks about LA that way, about the horizon that stretches on ad infinitum from the bird's eye view of his convertible B-mer that I'd affectionately dubbed "Henry" in tribute to my husband's background. For me it's about the landscaped pent-terrace on the 27th floor of a 10th street apartment, it's about the Wednesday Farmer's Market at Union Square, the religiously raw, vegan beauty of a menu that nonetheless offers the best Mojitos in town.
As I walked towards the subway, the sleeve of my raincoat slid against parallel worlds.
"Walk the fuck in there" a seventeen-year-old tells his terrified girlfriend, "act as if you've been there before, like you know everyone." "But they kicked me out already" she pleads, her mascara forming a clumpy scar along the bridge of her nose.
A few doors down, a skinny-looking bitch cuts a rich-looking birthday cake as other cadavers look on, including one happy shmuck who is clearly going to be the only one actually getting some.
Two teenagers sneak out for a fag, "dude, I copped this shit for like five Euros. I'd like kill your family for this thing." The sweatshirt he’s referring to is black, hooded and that’s all there is to it.
I wonder which doorman will be working when I get back to the flat, the Jamaican man who loves to tease D about his terrible taste in British football teams, or the shorter, quieter man who takes his job so seriously that he once knocked on my door at ten minutes to midnight to make sure he delivered a package.
The transsexual keeps staring back at me as if I know when she'll get there. I want to tell her I don't know, so I half smile and shrug. "This is the way to Brooklyn?" She asks, twiddling her hair like I often do. I nod. Brooklyn, that bastard that I swore off so many years ago, that I have nevertheless been unable to forget. Though the changes have been inevitable, Brooklyn is still recognizable, just a more mature version of what it used to be. Like me, setting up shop in London, Brooklyn is different and the same, a four-bedroom house, still near enough as filled as a two-bedroom apartment, the student turned adjunct, the adjunct turned professor. We recognize each other, respect that certain something that will remain in the past.
Down between the tracks, large rats are taking advantage of the lull in subway traffic to scurry from one side to the other. One is fine - normal - but by the time I count five, and then six, it's become a little worrisome. What if they decided to make their way up to the platform? These rodents are enormous, like ardvarks or bears. Would us humans even stand a chance? Another one scurries boldly along the damn electrified bit. It seems in a hurry - I wish the trains were a little more so: in that way we can all learns from each other.
The other day I ran into an ex-boyfriend - a typical specimen of those strange old days: very cute, attractive, with an interesting job. But what a creature. Back then, he said that because we were together it was OK for him to read my mail. Even before anything had happened between us, he didn't close the door when he peed (forget putting the seat down). I'd told him it wasn't going to work. He'd called me a whore. Sore fucking loser. And then he did it again just the other day, after I told him I was married. Ha!
The past has a funny, tearjerking way of pulling you through that eye of the fucking needle. But only if you want it to. "That was ---" I pointed out an old restaurant to D last time he was here. Now it's a store.
A woman sitting a few people down gets up to cross the platform. She's wearing beaten-up Adidas sneakers, simple jeans and a red sweatshirt. Her hair is pulled back into a messy ponytail as if she just woke up. She hauls a seemingly heavy purse over her shoulder. It's as shiny as the rest of her is plain: silvery flecks machine-woven in with black shimmer. Though she's going nowhere, apparently her bag has plans.
1:17 a.m. My friend, the transsexual won't make her plans. I hopped into a different carriage just in case.
My coconut water is getting warm in my eco-friendly bag that I carry around with me everywhere. By this point it's easier to daydream about tomorrow already, but first tonight has to come to an end. The train conductor gets on the loudspeaker to announce that "makshduevd-pleez-buduevfknxtehjlk-thank you". None of us -and the carriage is full - get a word, but it was so garbled that we don't bother to ask one another.
A second conductor, one who apparently speaks English, hurls "Hey! Listen up!| He demands that we switch trains. It's now half past, but for all the people getting on, grumbling and swearing, it may as well be rush hour. This is New York after all, and everyone has somewhere they need to be NOW, well past midnight, including my fresh Thai Coconut water that’s supposed to last me well into next week.
There's no train to switch to and nobody seems to give a damn, except for the guy with the remarkably long goatee who's looking around for a female consort to share in the community grief.
New York, where you recognize the tourists because they are the only people looking up. Even at 1:30 a.m. I love it. Even when the bitch in the Manolos clips in front of me as if she's late for fashion week (in Brooklyn?!?!), even when I freeze my ass off because nobody said it would snow on the first day of Spring, even when the train conductor tells us all to get onto the next train that is going in a whole other direction, even with bad wine at $18 a glass, it's New York, and like a younger sibling who can get away with murder, I forgive, forget, move on, masochistically loving, lovingly adoring, accepting, because that's just how it is in NYC.
The wrong train arrives and I ask the conductor whether it will be stopping at my stop. My words are slurred, not because I'm drunk but I'm so tired and my contacts seem to want to abort their visionary mission all of a sudden. Behind me, a British man who looks like everyone I've ever met in London - good-guy, brown hair, glasses - asks the same question as I just did and gets the same answer: "hrghuh". I step in just as the doors are closing. No need to sit down. It's just one - oh, two stops (really? Where the fuck am I?). And then, finally, Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn’s Arc de Triomphe (if only because we're both celebrating the triumph of my arrival) is lit blue. The two blocks from the subway stop to the apartment seem exceptionally long. It’s 2 a.m. There are about thirty of us walking in roughly the same direction – more people than I saw in the street when I left the neighborhood twelve hours ago. A woman is talking to her dog, explaining why it should hurry up and go. The dog is looking at the blue mailbox with much more interest than should be legal. There is no doorman waiting for me, they’ve all gone home.
Some part of this will end up in my novel in one form or another. This is the rough material, which I will then mold into new bits and pieces, stories, characters, events that take place for my protagonist, a wide-eyed young woman living in -- duh! -- New York City. It will remain fiction, or rather, reality will percolate through the filter that takes fact and turns it into fiction.
One day I will be asked whether the story is based on my life, whether any of the characters are me, whether anyone in the novel is based on a person I have known. The answers to all of the above will be yes and no, definitely and not at all, completely and no way.
In the mean time, I slug away, hitting twenty thousand words, and then fifty, only to go back down to thirty, and so on. I believe it was Stephen King who said that the reason he sits at his desk at the exact same time every morning is so that if the muse decides to pay him a visit she’ll know where to find him.
I wish I had his discipline, but lacking that, I’m just grateful that when those golden moments present themselves, I’m hopefully awake enough, able to recognize them and get them down as fast as they happen.
The same goes for food. When an idea hits, it just does. It can come as a result of a conversation, from seeing a photograph or a painting, or in a dream. I no longer ask why some part of me needs to go buy fresh cranberries and mint; I just do it.
Inspiration is a the ornamental, beautiful part of intuition.
Below is a photograph of last week’s brainstorm: bean patties with blood orange salsa.
The recipe will follow as soon as it is share-worthy – because like with writing, it can sometimes take a few drafts...
Dear Friends, Family and other beautiful souls I’ve encountered along the way –
As many of you know, earlier this year, I embarked on a career change. The study of Holistic Health Counselling is a lifelong pursuit, much like any other joys and passions in life. However, I am now ready to start seeing clients and so have decided to reach out to you all in the hopes of finding people who are interested in engaging my services.
What does a holistic health counsellor do? Nourishment and health aren’t just about what you eat. A healthy person is a happy person, living a fulfilled life in their career, their relationships, their spiritual and physical practice. So while nutrition might be a starting point, it is by no means the only avenue tackled in the field of holistic nutrition. You can eat perfectly, but if you hate your job, chances are, you’re probably not the healthiest person around.
How is Holistic nutrition different from working with a dietician or a nutritionist? Completely. Many people leave their dietician or nutritionist’s office more confused than they arrived. Though they get tons of advice, more often than not, people are unaware of what to do, and how to go about making the changes recommended. That is where I come in: by translating theory into practice with simple, easily implemented tips, I help make the transition to healthier choices empowering instead of terrifying.
Who do I work with? I am focusing on individuals who, due to dietary, medical or personal reasons have had to remove certain foods from their diet and need help and support in figuring out how to successfully implement these changes. Life doesn’t have to end because you can no longer eat bread! As you know, I have been through this myself and am excited to share what I have learned -- we are so lucky in that these days, there are so many options available to us!
How does it work? We start off with a free hour-long evaluation, after which I offer a six-month program for those interested in pursuing a deeper exploration into health, empowerment and wellbeing. Neither the initial consultation nor the program itself have to be done in person: I will be available over the phone as well as on Skype, so we don’t even need to be in the same country to conduct our sessions.
If you or anyone you know is interested in finding out more, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To celebrate the start of this wonderful endeavour, I will be offering a 10% discount to anyone who signs up for my six-month program before April 1st – just put “get the ball rolling” in the subject of your email.
Thank you for your friendship and love during this time and throughout this process.
In gratitude, Gabriela
PS I am also in the process of creating a website – coming soon to a virtual world near you! I’ll keep you posted. In the mean time, however, if you’re interested in finding out how I’m doing, keep checking www.thepointofthisbeing.blogspot.com I’d love to hear from you!
Three days earlier.... The apartment looked like I’d turned my brain inside out and had emptied its full contents into an adorable one-bedroom in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. There were magazines and articles on food, health, healing and ethical business practices strewn everywhere. D was scheduled to arrive in an hour and I had no idea where to start.
His voice kept echoing in my head, something he’d said long ago, at the beginning of our relationship: “You don’t know what it’s like to be messy.” Part of me wanted to leave the place exactly as it was, just to prove him wrong. But I couldn’t, I was physically unable to welcome him into such a mess.
I am working on my company launch, the novel – that old tortoise of a thing -- my counselling practice, and a sweet mystery product. Life is going fast, whizzing by quicker than a month did in my darkest depths of depression. Exciting opportunities keep tickling my feet; and the best ones smack me in the face around just about every corner (in a good way – I am constantly scribbling ideas and epiphanies down on random torn bits of paper, my hand, or fervently typing them into my blackberry).
And as I move forward, I find myself sated in a way that I haven’t been – possibly ever before. Whereas for years, I’ve been roaming around the kitchen aimlessly searching for something to satisfy my vague, indeterminate cravings, these days, a rich bowl of salad, topped with all kinds of goodies – nuts, beans, sprouts, herbs – will keep me going.
Of course some things are deeply ingrained – chocolate, for example, is neither about hunger, nor is it in any way removable from my daily routine. I crave chocolate at any time of the day -- it will pop into my head like a cartoon bubble…. fluffy dots leading to fluffy cloud, pop up picture of chocolate… But so what? These days, instead of admonishing myself for being weak, I allow myself the abandon of indulging in a square or two. Homemade, dark, raw, delicious, if I eat it after five or so, I’m up half the night. The power of goodness.
Remember those ads in the US in the late eighties / early nineties – the ones with the hot pan and the egg: this is your brain (cut to whole egg), this is your brain on drugs (splat, and the egg becomes somebody’s soft-boiled breakfast, glistening with fat and spattering on the high heat of the knob/heroin)? That’s kind of how I feel, sans drugs. I feel whole and healthy and the forward momentum is filling, gratifying, exciting.
And now D’s here. The morning he arrived, I was so nervous, I must have tried on every piece of clothing I brought with me to New York. He’s come for four days. And suddenly I’m not writing 1000 words on the novel, nor have I studied. As if D’s presence should be enough for me while the rest of my life is mere filler. I’m ecstatic and repressed, enjoying his presence and missing my headspace, fulfilled and frustrated at the same time. Walking around Brooklyn with him is exciting and inspiring and yet I’m also very aware that the next draft of my article is due in class Wednesday night, that I have another school weekend coming up and homework due, that four days away from the novel equals five thousand words at least…
Last year, I had these same thoughts when, after 10 weeks apart, D came to Bangkok. Suddenly, it wasn’t just me and a far-off, disconnected voice on the other end of the line. There was someone else to take into account. Granted, D is probably the most easy-going person in the world: as long as I let him voice his old-lady-like worries, he’s up for almost anything – still…
I remember that I wasn’t as excited at our reunion as he seemed to be. For the first few hours, he stared at me in what can only be described as adoring disbelief while I wanted to run away.
D arrived Thursday night to a moderately tidy flat. Still, there ain’t a spy-thriller to be found. This is Brooklyn. It’s my turf, my interests, the Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market on Saturday morning instead of hungover baked beans and rashers, the socialist food coop, not the socialites’ Fromagerie. And it’s the subway, not the tube that we take into The City, not Town.
I was pretty nervous. He’s loving it.
I pulled back. He pulled me close.
I made dinner. He devoured it.
And then it all fell back into place.
He decided to come to Brooklyn for four days, after we’d had the same fight for five days in a row. Not one long, ongoing argument. No, we had the same exact argument five days running. So D thought it might be a good idea to reconnect face to face.
There is something different about the person I decided to marry. It’s almost impossible to put into words. I mean, seriously, it’s not like he’s the only man I’ve ever dated, but with D, there is something that none of the others had. When I peel off our layers of baggage, family, career, fears, hurts, pain, issues, childhoods, etc, when it’s purely him in his rawest state and me in mine – naked as the day our souls came to be – we fit. Part of me wishes I could put it in more flowery terms, describe, embellish, but I don’t know how else to put it. It really is that simple.
So here he is, reading my Body + Soul magazine in the loo, drinking my dandelion shake in the morning and enjoying rice milk and agave in his rooibos tea. Tasting delicious life in Brooklyn together makes me think about when we met – going on five years ago now. I had left Brooklyn by then, and was living in a grotty studio in Midtown East, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. Once I’d moved away from Brooklyn, I had fallen out of love with The City, but at the time, I couldn’t afford the rents, so instead I was looking for an out. When I met D, the timing couldn’t have been better and since neither of us was in the market for a long-distance relationship, it made sense for me to stay on the West Coast with him. Anything seemed better than Midtown East.
Thinking about the last five years, as D and I wander past Fifth and Carroll in Park Slope, how every decision I made got me right here, right now. In five years, I wonder where I’ll be standing as I reflect on this same exact thought, and how logical it will all seem then. Fifth Avenue and Carroll Street was where my first apartment was when I arrived in New York City in 1999. Last week, with D a million miles away, I kept having to remind myself that I did leave Prospect Heights, that I wrote a novel in France, that I moved to Los Angeles, that we bought a house in West Hampstead, that D actually exists as a real person, not just an imaginary creation. I shop at the same places I did when I lived here almost a decade ago. La Taqueria, with its submarine torpedoes for Burritos, is still there as are a bunch of the coffee shops like the insufferable Ozzie’s and the overpriced bean-grinding place on 7th Avenue. The level of unhelpful attitude at the Coop is unchanged, and the Saturday flea market at PS321 still doesn’t have anything I could ever imagine wanting. But I am different. My life has little in common with the one I lived back then. I give D’s hand a little squeeze as we make our way to Bergen Bagels for the greatest hangover cure in history – that’s one thing that’s as relevant in 2009 as it was in 1999.
(though yes, it’s true, I can no longer take advantage of it)
Some people might think of today as Valentine’s Day, but seeing as I believe in celebrating my partner every day, I consider today a day to celebrate the monsters in my closet – one of which I set out to vanquish today.
So Happy Monster Vanquishing Day!
The monsters we create are everywhere – in the things we somehow convince ourselves we can’t do, in the phone calls we’re afraid to make, in the ways we stop ourselves from moving forward.
How many of those monsters are rooted in childhood, back when we were powerless to change our situation? How many of those monsters could be banished by simply facing them as adults?
When I decided to sublet the apartment I’m staying in, the lovely owner even took photographs of the laundry room for me. Then I saw where it was located… the basement is an industrial-looking utilitarian space with long, echoing hallways and identical-looking doors on all sides. There was no way I was going anywhere near the place. But I loved the apartment and there was a laundry drop-off just up the road.
I have a mild phobia of basements. It’s mild because I can actually go down there in a pinch without hyperventilating or passing out. In fact, most people probably wouldn’t be able to tell that my heart is pounding and that I am – for lack of a more elegant term – very very very afraid. I fear being stuck down there, that I won’t find my way out, that a monster will jump out from behind a corner with a machete.
Basements have all kinds of nooks and shady corners to them – they are where we hide our mess, where we put things we don’t often use, where the administrative bits of the house, meters and such, are usually located. The pipes are hidden down there, with spiders skating across their webs from room to room, and rats nesting, sovereigns of their subterranean kingdoms. The sounds are all clanky and creaky and eerie; in my opinion, every basement is haunted.
Having now spent a couple of weeks in this leech of a Big Apple, and seeing as how I am at least $20 poorer every time I leave the house -- How?! It’s one of those eternally unsolved mysteries -- making use of the laundry room has become a necessity rather than a question of appeal.
A few days ago, I woke up to the realization that I was out of clean knickers. I had procrastinated descending into the dark depths of the building for so long that I no longer had a choice… So down I trudged, commando.
Like that thank you note you know you have to write and yet it sits on the corner of your desk for a few days and then a week, month, before it’s simply way too late to send the damn thing – it’s become an insult rather than the grateful acknowledgement you intended it to be. Until you get the courage to hide the happy “Thank You!” under some books, or full-on throw it out (in the recycling bin, of course – it’s the least you can do!), it stares at you, wagging its finger in pregnant recrimination. You should have, you could have… And then one morning you’re clear out of underwear and socks and you have a meeting with a potential client or an old high school friend.
No, I don’t like basements.
But the real reason lies somewhere between imagination and perception.
Were there monsters? Of course not.
Was there anything to be afraid of? No, not really.
Not in my privileged middle-class life.
I’ll be the first to admit that there is no logic involved, though there is definitely rhyme as well as reason behind my childish fear: when I was little, and I mean tiny, we lived in a suburb of Chicago Illinois. I was probably around four years old. My father was not only in the closet at the time, he also spent most of his time at home locked away in the basement (and you wonder about my initial anxiety re: marriage…).
Down there, with the rats, he would indulge his love of DIY for days on end -- hammering, sawing and drilling away at God knows what. Every so often, he would call me down to his lair. I would hear his powerful voice wafting up through the floorboards in the dreaded summons. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be with my father – on the contrary, I adored every single rare minute I got to spend with him – but descending those steps into the darkness of the basement was a waking nightmare in my little world.
Of course all these images might be the distorted memories of a child barely past toddler age, but as I remember it, the basement was a long, dark corridor that started at the top of the stairs and continued with garbage bags that made funny noises and shone as random rays of light hit them at odd angles, old suitcases filled with God knows what, and monsters on all sides. The walk from the entrance of the basement to the light at the end of the tunnel – literally – where my father was, seemed endless. Once I’d made it, a heart-thumping little bag of nerves, my father, standing by his workstation, screwdriver in hand, would have a go at me: “You do take your time! Next time, hurry up! I don’t have all day!”
The situation worsened when he took to hiding behind things and jumping out at me, grabbing me so hard that the few shallow breaths I had left would be forced out of my lungs like when a cat jumps on a balloon – “Boo!” He’d yell. Bam! I’d feel his hands clamp around my waist, encircling me so I had no way to escape. I remember wanting to scream but not being able to. It used to amuse my father no end, to hide in the darkness and see how many times in a row he could scare me. “Aw,” he’d chide when I’d start crying. Then he’d get mad; “she can’t take a joke,” he’d tell my mother, casting me off like a shirt he no longer had any use for.
The anticipation was the worst part. I walked towards the elevator in slo-mo, pressed the capital B button, with my elbow as my arms were full of almost every piece of clothing I own in this country. It took a few minutes to arrive but in my mind, I was already getting stuck down there, alone, lost, with no recourse and no one to save me from the monster/rapist who was waiting for his next innocent prey. I saw his eyes – crazy and piercing, animal-like, having long ago lost the capacity to see women like me as human.
When the elevator door opened, as I took those first few steps towards the laundry room, I felt my father hovering nearby, ready to jump out at me. I was transformed back into the terrified, shaking four-year old as I waited for a pipe to start making some kind of strange, scary noise, for something to loudly and suddenly clatter to the floor, for someone to grab me from behind. When nothing happened, I ventured further down the hallway with my heart on standby.
Between a lack of sufficient quarters which necessitated an extra trip, and the complicated transfer from washer to dryer, by the time I’d finished folding my last pair of clean socks and had stuffed them into the top drawer of the bedroom dresser, I had returned to my thirty-something self. The basement, a symbol of my four-year-old’s terror only hours before, had become … a basement.
There is little that compares to the joy I get from eating something prepared especially for me by someone I love. The few times D has cooked for me have – without exception – been some of my favourite meals ever. It is also a little known ancient remedy for combating monsters: nothing is stronger than feeling loved.
Whenever we go to my uncle and aunt’s house in Haifa, they make an incredible effort to prepare not only amazing mains that I can enjoy, but also sweet treats.
When my uncle made these brownies for the first time, I calmly ate one piece with everyone else and then later polished off the entire Tupperware he’d sent me home with in one sitting. Lola, my mother’s cat, sat next to me, watching, her blue-green eyes wide and accusing like a Weight Watchers' spy (hmmm....), as I calmly chewed each bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite after bite.
And lest anyone think these incredible brownies are only for those who eat like me; my happily omnivorous cousin (he doesn’t like raisins, but that’s about it) special-requested them for his birthday. What can I say? People can’t believe these brownies aren’t “real” – whatever that means.
Thank you Eric!
For so many things.
Including these brownies.
And for helping me battle those damn monsters!
(and thank you for letting me post your recipe!)
Uncle Eric’s Brownies a la GG
Ingredients: 1/2 cup pure cocoa powder 1 1/2 cups rice flakes* 1 cup agave 1 bag baking powder 1/2 tsp salt 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional) 1 cup canola oil 4 eggs
mix the dry ingredients well. beat the eggs and oil well. add the dry ingredients gradually until an even batter is achieved.
oil a medium-sized baking pan and spread the batter evenly
bake at 170 degrees for not more than 30 minutes (25 for a more fudgy result)
*I soak them for about half an hour in some water to soften them up
It keeps going round in my head, like unwanted advice from a tribal elder. But in typical twenty-first century fashion, this is not coming from my grandmother or my mother, or even a magazine. This one’s all in my head.
For the past five years, I’ve wanted nothing more than to spend some serious time in New York City again. Ever since I left I’ve been talking about going back. In fact, before I met D, I had already attempted the move once: in late 2003, I piled most of my belongings onto the stoop in front of the brownstone I’d been living in since 2000, and sold almost everything -- including silverware and even used art supplies. Two weeks later, I boarded a flight to London where I was finally going to get down to writing. However, within two months, I was back in New York, with a bad novel under my belt and a hunger for downtown growling in my stomach. “It wasn’t for me,” I told people at the time, “I’ve never liked London”.
Neither of these statements turned out to be true, ultimately, but then again, every place pleasantly morphs when you’re living there with a lovely, kind, caring husband, rather than at your psychotic father’s house being bossed around twenty-four-seven.
But I digress…
Cut to January 2009. I’m writing this on the plane from Heathrow to JFK. I believe we are currently over Iceland, or somewhere like that. My three bags are crammed so full of clothing and books (including my own novel) that my closet in London is virtually empty. I am on my way to spend six months in New York – not just New York, Prospect Heights, my old neighbourhood where I spent the better part of my five years in The City.
I’m going to be two blocks from Prospect Park, I know the stores, the coffee shops, the subway lines, the yoga studios (I took my very first class there, actually. I hated it – the women were all super slim, fit and everyone seemed to know one another. This was before the term “yummy mummy” was coined but let me state for the record that Park Slope could give Primrose Hill quite a run for its money!). My friends – the people I knew before D and I got together – are sprinkled throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, like sweet sweet toppings on an already delicious dessert.
I couldn’t wish for more…
Yes, I could: D won’t be there with me.
I’m going all this way, starting down a path I’ve desired for so long, living in the place I’ve coveted since I left … I wished for New York … but this isn’t the way I would have chosen to go back.
When we originally conceived the idea, he was going to come spend good chunks of time with me: a week here, two weeks there, maybe even a month at some point.
Everything changed when another one of my wishes was granted – one that D very much shares with me.
As a Wandering Jew, as a woman who claims to have moved more times than years I’ve been alive (this is true, by the way), the one thing I have always wanted has been to set down roots, find a little house with a garden, make it mine to work in, to plant herbs and vegetables in the back, to throw dinner parties on a long table … a home in which to raise children.
And now, as I plan my departure, there’s some kind of weird, manic genie granting me wishes with a grand old sense of humour -- I have my wish.
Ten days ago, the house became ours.
It wasn’t meant to happen like that.
D engages in what I refer to as real-estate porn. He’s constantly looking at houses – sometimes in London, sometimes in the Maldives; always with a view to settle down. After all, he too has wandered, and he too would like nothing more than to find that one place he can call home, start a family, have an office where he can hide out when deadlines come crashing down, or we’re having an argument.
In an attempt to curb the more unrealistic side of my husband’s house fetish, I requested that he only show me truly feasible houses. No castles in the Cotswolds or villas in Spain. London, New York, Ojai (on my more forgiving days), affordable, accessible – nothing else.
We’d been looking here and there, but hadn’t pursued anything actively; so when he showed me the specs for the four-bedroom house in our area, I said what I always say when I’m trying to gage his level of seriousness: “should we go see it?”
My challenge with these things is not to get excited – real estate is supposed to be an unemotional affair, after all. By the time we got to the first sand-blasted radiator, I was a goner.
It was perfect.
Except that it was the third of December and on January 15th, I was leaving for six months in New York.
But how could I put the rest of my life on hold while I went to reinvent myself a million miles away? And was I really going to come back from six months on my own to our shared two-by-four-sized office?
We decided to go for it.
As a result, last week I moved twice: once up the road in London and once halfway around the world to New York.
This morning, when I made breakfast in our gorgeous new kitchen, D and I sat at the table instead of at our desks. We each have our own offices now, and the television is in a whole other room, separate from the dining area. For his fortieth, D’s getting a piano, because he can – we have the space. We’re going to have a proper cabinet built for our clothing, so we can actually fit it all into one place and, best of all, my grandmother’s bed – the largest in the world – will be reassembled. No more mattress on the floor, it’s going to be a “proper timber” (as the carpenter said yesterday) place to lay our heads.
At some point, we’ll get rid of the trois-couleurs-lilac in the bedroom, the headache-orange accent-wall in the kitchen, the pastel blue hallways, the fire-engine red corner of the living room. The house felt ours within a matter of minutes, now we just need to paint it to match.
I never thought…
I didn’t know…
There are so many things to be grateful for, so many wonderful changes in our lives, and it’s all happening now, simultaneously. It’s been stressful, tiring, I even found myself grumbling about it all. Then I caught myself: how can I complain about getting what I wished for?
The reason for my trip to New York is that I am studying to be a Holistic Health Counsellor. The studies themselves are fascinating and I can’t wait to get started down this new road. What has me in (private, silent) peals of laughter, surprisingly, is kale. Kale, that leafy green vegetable people either love to hate or loudly, resolutely, passionately embrace.
It turns out that Kale is to nutrition what the hammer and sickle are to communism. Every speaker so far has mentioned kale – either as proof of health or proof that they have not lost touch with the masses. Kale is the ultimate symbol of health or the rejection thereof. Kale says “I’m healthy, because I want to be” and it says, “fuck this, I want to enjoy life before I die.” Kale is a kind of (green) red flag -- as if once it’s been consumed for pleasure, you can never go back.
“I don’t just eat kale” a woman speaker said this weekend, “but I do make a point of including it as often as I possibly can.”
“Of course I love kale, but I also love pizza,” was a motivational speaker’s admission that though he doesn’t look it, he is, in fact, imperfect.
“Don’t go out there and try to get everyone to eat kale overnight,” was the marketing lecturer’s advice.
I was at the Santa Monica farmer’s market once, grabbing, as fate may have it, a bunch of kale. A woman leaned towards me: “I know I should eat kale,” she said, “but I have no idea what to do with it.” When I looked up to answer her, I realized it was one of the doctors from ER – the one who limps and walks with a cane. Though she obviously only plays one on TV, it was still a great rush – LA is fabulous for those kinds of moments.
In reality it’s not all that bad. It’s just green and leafy but these days kale is almost a political statement.
The irony is that kale is so simple, so easy to prepare, it’s less of a hassle than most any other food.
Pizza, for example, the poster child for junk food, takes layers of work – from the crust to the toppings, there’s so much prep involved that most everyone gets it delivered rather than futsing around for hours in the kitchen.
It’s miles away from kale. Good old, simple, kale, where less is more and ruffles are always in.
My current favourite way to make kale is to simply chop it roughly, add some crushed garlic, a pinch of salt and then boil it for a few moments in an inch or so of water using a wide, shallow pan, until the leaves start to wilt. To serve, I merely drain the excess water (which I sometimes drink as it is chock-full of nutrients – though that is by no means a must). Kale is a wonderful accompaniment to roast chicken, grilled fish, or our winter favourite: roasted sweet potato wedges and hummus.
We’re back from a thirty-five-man strong New Year’s celebration in freezing, boozy Devon.
I have the flu.
In Israel, they’re playing yet another round of mine’s bigger than yours. Though I don’t hear the missiles or physically feel the attacks, they resonate within me. I can not believe the level barbarism. Why can’t these two warm, kind, giving peoples who share such a tiny piece of land learn from previous mistakes? Israel strives to be perceived as a first world country, and yet its tactics towards the Palestinians are primitive and tribal. My heart goes out to those in Sderot and Ashkelon, those whose homes have been destroyed, those who have been injured, those who have lost loved ones. But how can anybody believe that the aggression currently going on will achieve anything over the long-term other than a deepening of existing wounds?
In America, they are preparing to oust the clown of all clowns and hail a new era, a new chief, a new hope. Finally. I can’t believe I’ll be there on inauguration day or that I won’t live there to experience the changes first-hand. Still, I’m amazed at how much hope I garner from afar. I guess us mutts have more faith in one another than in those spawned from the clear-cut, vanilla majority that makes up the western world.
Back in London, on day-to-day earth, we’re in the process of buying a house and selling a flat. My flight to New York departs in (according to Virgin Atlantic) 6 days, 17 hours and 26 minutes. In that time, I need to pack up all our stuff – all of it – except what D will need for the five days until I return to London next week to move us in to the new house after which I do another 180 and head back to New York until April.
A year ends, a new one begins, and we find ourselves falling into the same pattern as we have so many times before: first there’s the round-up of best ofs, biggest, most, followed by another blitz of will-bes and look-out-fors. There’s the slew of articles about making resolutions; and then another round about how soon we will break them -- and by the very same people. The papers need to write about it, the news need to report about it, and we, addicted, need to keep watching -- because honey, let’s face it, you’ll never have those damn abs.
We live our lives in defiance of its natural cycles -- winter to summer, day to night, childhood to old-age – and we wonder why we can’t seem to weigh what we should, sleep as much as we need to, fit in everything on our to-do list before…
It’s mass hysteria. Now that the Christmas decorations are coming down, it’s time to ring in the Easter Bunny!
For my part, after the madness, I’m trying to focus on the little things, pair down, simplify.
What a year it was -- definitely.
And what a year it will surely be.
I won’t forget the huge times – the travels, the wedding. Those are easy to remember. But what about the tiny changes, the little things learned, found, discovered?
My first taste of fresh coconut water.
The Diva Moon Cup.
Learning how to chop an onion into smaller pieces than I ever thought possible.
Watching a thunderstorm above Bangkok from our hotel room, D’s arms around me after ten weeks spent apart.
Handing SB a tub of the best hummus in the world in the old city of Jerusalem; walking up the snake path to Massada at sunrise with AN.
Watching my friend’s seven-year-old stumble out of their tent in the morning and thinking of the first time I held her when she was two days old.
Sitting at my mother’s, drinking a cup of tea at seven in the morning or two in the afternoon, or whenever we felt like it.
My first bite of bread in four years.
Looking around the table on a Friday night in Haifa, and enjoying the laughter.
My grandmother’s face when she saw me in my wedding dress.
Driving around Koh Pan Ngan on my little pink scooter, the stars bright above me, wanting to scream with delight.
Taking a yoga class with a view of the jungle.
My mother opening her "big sock" on Christmas Day
Roasting my first chicken.
Watching a wonderful, special, great friend I thought I had lost forever stride towards me in her black and silver trucker cap and enjoying the feeling of reconnecting again -- totally, completely, immediately.
Finding a wine I’d been looking for since I first tasted it six years ago at a bar in New York that was so small the address was only half a number.
It’s easy to concentrate on the life-changing events, the **TA-DA!** moments. The trick, for me, is to remember not to brush past the little things. At the wedding, my mother spoke about the rocks we will find on our way. And that is exactly it: it is only by going from pebble to pebble that I can make my way from one big rock to the next. And my challenge is to engage, to appreciate each pebble instead of focusing solely on the boulders.
2009 has technically started. Every day, another day in January passes, but still, I find myself in a holding pattern. For the house. For the flat. For the New York portion of this year. For the warmer weather. For my brother’s wedding. For the insanity to stop in the Middle East. For D’s fortieth birthday.
It would be so easy to keep waiting for the big changes, the things I won’t forget, no matter what. As I prepare to leave again, I am more aware than ever, of sharing dinner with D, clinking our plates together as others do their wine glasses, of the few rays of sun shining today through the dark, heavy sky, of the never-ending stream of newborns at our local coffee shop, of the pictures of our wedding that we’ve stuck in every corner imaginable, of how much I enjoy our kitchen in this little flat, with the one blue wall, that will soon be someone else’s.
Happy New Year, Loved Ones. May the coming months bring joy and health, and inspiration and so much fun!
I leave for New York in 6 days, 14 hours and 54 minutes….
Like with everything else, in my cooking, I am trying to simplify. I’ve put on just over a stone, sixteen pounds, almost seven-and-a-half kilos. The time has come to stop drinking and start assessing. This time, however, with my upcoming holistic nutrition course in mind, and without the luxury of California living, I plan to manage my weight the healthy way.
Snacks, always a challenge, are first on that list. When you’re me, you can’t just waft into the nearest kiosk and pick up a candy or granola bar when the fancy strikes. I have to make my own and am forever searching for tasty, handy little tide-me-overs.
I’ll start with the sweet:
After baking truckloads of pumpkin breads, brownies and chocolate cakes over the holiday season, I need to wean myself off sugar again as candida has, once again, reared its nasty little ball-of-wax-head. However, I don’t yet want to say goodbye altogether and so I’ve put together an easy recipe for healthier but still sweet energy bars. (note: they earned a full-mouthed “OHMYGAWD” from D. We ate three each while they were still-warm – I have no idea how I’ve gained all these extra pounds…)
Gluten-Free Energy Bars
Ingredients: 1C brown rice flakes 1 ½ C water ½ C coconut flour 1/3 C whole flax seeds (ground) 7 prunes soaked and pureed ½ C each: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pecans, raisins ½ t cinnamon ¼ C molasses coconut butter for oiling the pan
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Centigrade (about 350 Fahrenheit)
Add the water to the brown rice flakes and let sit for about half an hour, until most of the water has been soaked up. Then add the coconut flour. Mix well. Pour the molasses in bit by bit, making sure it is dispersed throughout the mixture. Then add the prunes, cinnamon and the flax seeds, mixing well. Once the “dough” is even, add the seeds, nuts and raisins. Once again, make sure they are uniformly distributed within the mass.
Spread evenly in a pre-oiled pan
Bake for about thirty-five minutes.
Once they’d cooled down, I cut the bars into squares and packed them individually so D and I can slip one into our bags on our way out the door in the mornings.
-- And now the savoury. This is the tricky one. As snacks, savoury things are usually greasy, heavy, overly salted, dehydrated, dehydrating or all of the above. My sweet tooth being the size that it is, it’s usually with the in-betweens that I find the most satisfaction – a piece of fruit, an energy bar, etc. But things being what they are right now, and what with aspiring to fit into my trousers at some point in the near future, I’ve been hard-pressed to come up with something… Here’s my first shot. It’s decent but not superb:
Yellow Split-Pea Nori Rolls
For the split-pea dahl --
Ingredients: 2 cups dried yellow split-peas 1 onion, finely chopped 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1 T coconut butter 1 T garam masala a pinch of cayenne (to taste) ¼ - ½ t turmeric (to taste) salt tons of water
In a pot, melt the coconut butter. Add the garam masala and allow the spices to rise in the oil. Then, add the onion and sauté for a few moments. The garlic should go into the pot once the onions are starting to become translucent (the spices might make this more of a guessing exercise than scientifically precise). Allow the mixture to cook for a few minutes. Add the split-peas and mix with the onions and the garlic until they are well-coated with the spices. Cover with four cups of water. Raise the flame and bring to a boil. Once the water is properly bubbling, lower the flame. Allow to simmer until all the water is soaked up. Then add more water, enough to cover and go through the process again. Do this until the split-peas are broken down and soft. This can take a couple of hours. Check often, stir, add as much water as necessary.
Note: Do not add salt until the very end. At this point, also add the cayenne and turmeric to taste.
This mixture is wonderful to add to rice, eat with green vegetables or avocado. I divided the portion into two: one we had for dinner with salmon, the I used to make the nori rolls.
Once the dahl has cooled, in order to reheat, water will need to be added.
To make the Nori Rolls -- Ingredients: 5 sheets of nori seaweed. Both toasted and non-toasted are available. I prefer the non-toasted kind, purely because of my appreciation of raw food, but this is not necessary. I look for the kind with no salt added as there is enough in the nori as is. A portion of yellow split-pea dahl A small container of drinkable water
Cut the nori sheets into portion sizes. In my case, each sheet was divided into four more or less equal parts.
Spoon a Tablespoon or so onto each nori square.
Fashion in a log-like shape. Roll the nori loosely around the dahl. To close the roll, dip a finger into the water and run along the edge of the nori. Press together.
I dehydrated the nori rolls for about a hour to dry out the wet parts, but this can also be done in the oven on a very low heat. (this is comparable to blow-drying a wet patch on a shirt)
When I take it with me, because the seaweed can become sort of chewy when wet, and the dahl can dry up a little, I like to bring a carrot with me as a water-filled accompaniment, or add a side-salad if I’m in a place where that is an option.
I am, however, still on the look out for any other snack ideas….