If It’s the Super Bowl, It Must Be… (Avocado) Guacamole!

This is guacamole, plain and simple.

Last year there was a lot of talk and controversy about green pea guacamole, and, well, let’s just go ahead and leave it there, if you don’t mind, in the last year. If you want to mash green peas with ingredients you perceive as enhancing them, be my guest. But guacamole, which literally translates from the Nahuatl, “avocado sauce,” is mashed avocado, plain and simple. In fact, the plainer, the simpler, the better.

I learned to make guacamole, I mean really learned to make real guacamole, about 15 years ago, when I spent a month in the kitchen of my step-grandmother, my grandfather’s widow, a lovely woman and wonderful home cook who goes by the Garcia Marquez-ian name, Josefina Figueras Viuda de Carreño. Over the course of that month (which I wrote about here for Saveur), Josefina taught me everything from complicated dishes of my ancestors, such as Pork in Guajillo Chile Sauce to favorites from Josefina’s native Oaxaca and, at my request: guacamole. When I asked Josefina to teach me how to make that last item, she chuckled. The whole process took her less than five minutes, including explaining time, and it was the best dang guac I ever had.

Until Josefina taught me how it’s done, I, like every other gringa (or media gringa as it is), made making guacamole into a chopping project: chop the onion, chop the garlic, chop the tomatoes, chop and then mash the avocados. But in fact, making guacamole the right way, is also, you’ll be glad to know, the easier way. If you have a molcajete, it’s a mashing project, and seriously: who can’t mash? (Everything you need to know about a molcajete is here.) If you are more partial to a mini food processor, it’s a pureeing project. In either case, the first thing you do when making your perfect avocado sauce is forget about putting tomatoes or garlic in it. Just. For. Get. It. Meditate on it. Tie your hands. Do whatever it takes. Just don’t put them in. Next, make sure to plan ahead so you have ripe avocados to work with. You’ll never make flavorful avocado sauce out of a flavorless (unripe) avocado. Now follow the road to guacamole victory. And go Chargers! Oh, wait…


Guacamole, Plain and Simple

2 to 4 serrano chiles (depending on how dangerously you care to live), halved and seeds removed (jalapeños work in a pinch, but given the choice, reach for the smaller, slimmer, and infinitely tastier serrano).

About 1/8 of a white (by which I do not mean yellow) onion, roughly chopped

4 ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted, and scooped out of the peel

1 or 2 limes (preferably Mexican, aka key limes)

Salt (I like kosher salt or sea salt; use what you have)

To make the guac using a mini food processor, throw the onion and serranos into the bowl of your mini food processor. Sprinkle with salt. Pulse the machine until you have a fairly smooth paste but nothing even resembling juice. You may want to stop and scrape down the sides of your food processor from time to time so that you don’t juice some ingredients while the others wait on the side of the bowl for their turn at the blade.

Dump half of the paste out into a bowl large enough to hold your avocados. Add the avocados, lime juice, and a generous amount of salt and smash the avos with a fork, potato masher, or whisk until the avocados are 1) smashed, and 2) integrated with the paste and salt. Add more of the serrano paste, more lime juice, and more salt until the guac tastes exactly as you want it to. Just when you think that your guacamole is perfect, add some more salt, and serve with tortilla chips.

To make the guac using a molcajete, start by grinding the onion and salt together until you have an acid green paste. Then add the serranos and keep grinding until they’re one with the onion paste. Add the avocado to the molcajete, season with a generous amount of salt and the lime juice, and use the pestle to gently mash the avo and paste together until they are integrated. (If you want to live on the safe side, take some of the paste out of the molcajete, then add the avos, and add more of the paste back if you find you want it.) Add more salt. I’m sure it needs it. Really. Trust me. It does.

Shine on, Crazy Diamonds

sellingfruitIn the early nineties, I used to work Wednesdays and Saturdays selling fruit behind the Locust Grove Fruit Farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. Almost without fail on both of those days each week, the pastry chef Gina DePalma, would come in to buy fruit for the rustic, seasonally-inspired desserts she made first at The Cub Room, a SoHo hotspot at at the time and then at Mario Batali’s legendary pillar of Italian cuisine, Babbo Ristorante. Gina died earlier this month of ovarian cancer. Sadly, Gina and I never became real actual friends, but we made the occasional contact via social media and saw each other at events, and I think it’s fair to say that we liked each other and regarded our long ago farmers market connection as a sort of bond from the trenches.

Gina kept a blog until the end and I loved reading it. First, because she was knowledgable and a professional and whether she was writing about the iconic pasta dish, cacio e pepe or giving her readers a recipe for bran muffins, I knew I could trust what she had to say. And second, because in addition to being a game-changing pastry chef, she was also a talented writer. The last reason I liked her blog is that although it was about food, it was really about life. She had something to say about everything, and that’s just how I remember her bounding up to the farm stand every week positively bursting with something to say. All three are just the sort of qualifications that should be required to have a blog.

When Gina wrote what would be her last post, she was going in to a second cancer surgery, but despite that statement of the grim facts, there is so much joy and poetry and appreciation for life in her words: “So wish me good luck, send me some good vibes, and do some good stuff while I’m out of commission. Hug your friends and family, kiss your pets, water your plants and send some thanks up to the universe… make or eat some lasagna because as my former chef Mario says, lasagna is love, baby!” 

As we are now well on the road into 2016, whether you’re a person who didn’t make resolutions because you think they’re pointless, or whether, like me, you make a long list of resolutions and goals in the never-ending hope that this might help you become a better, happier person, I think that most important goal, or lesson, of 2016 might be summed up in Gina’s ability to savor with such sincerity and such a slowing of time just how delicious it is to take a walk in the crisp autumn air, to make lasagna, or to hug a friend.

So let’s enjoy 2016. Aren’t we just so very lucky to have that chance? And as Gina said (para-quoting Pink Floyd lyrics) in that last post, Shine on, you crazy diamonds!


Resolution Number 9: or Lima Beans for the Open Minded

Any seasoned New Years resolution maker knows that the secret to feeling good about yourself in the days and weeks to come is to make at least one resolution that you know you can keep. This year, among the more challenging against-my-nature changes I set out to make in the ongoing crusade toward self perfection, I resolved to cook more for my family and friends. Since I live in a back house behind my sister and her boyfriend, both of whom are, from what I can tell, always hungry, and since my love of cooking far exceeds the amount I can eat, this isn’t going to be a difficult resolution to keep.

This week, for instance, I made roasted acorn squash, two types of cabbage, shallots, carrots, potatoes, and kale. (No, not together.) I slowly simmered a tiny pot of garlic cloves in olive oil until they were golden, sweet, and spreadable. (Here’s how.) I made a big pot of chicken stock; I roasted a whole chicken, and, let me just tell you, that was good. But nothing was more popular among the hungry throngs than the pot of good ol’ lima beans I stewed in the “flame” Le Creuset Dutch Oven that I inherited from my step-dad last year.

A lot of people say they hate lima beans, but I think I could convert any hater with this recipe, which has a savory broth from the olive oil, chicken stock, sweet onions, and garden trimmings (aka herbs) that I throw into the mix as the beans are simmering. If you are already a lima lover, rock on. And if you don’t then, let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that, like me, you made a New Year’s resolution to be open minded.


Lima Beans for the Open Minded



Feeds 6 to 8 hungry, grateful individuals


20 ounces (1 1/4 pounds) lima beans (I used Zersun Christmas lima beans), soaked overnight (or for as long as you’re willing to wait. I was only willing to wait 2 hours. Patience is another of my resolutions, but one I am less likely to keep.)

Olive oil

2 big yellow onions, diced

5 or 10 peeled garlic cloves, minced or grated on a Microplane

Kosher salt

Smoked ham shank or ham hock (optional; I mean, I guess)

3 quarts chicken stock (or water), plus more as needed

Optional things to float in your limas while they cook (These are things to throw in the pot if you have them, but don’t run out and buy them if you don’t.)

  • Arbol chile pod (I keep a jar in my pantry to throw into soups and braises; you should to)
  • Fresh rosemary sprig or a handful of fresh thyme sprigs (what can I say: I have an outdoor patio garden at my SoCal cottage)
  • Fresh bay leaf (see garden, above)

Garlic Confit (optional for floating on the finished beans)


Pour enough olive oil in a big Dutch oven or another pot suitable for cooking beans or soup. Add the onion, sprinkle with  2 teaspoons of salt, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring so they don’t brown. Add the garlic and another pinch of salt and cook for a minute or two until it smells like garlic. Don’t let it brown. (Brown garlic is bitter garlic. Don’t. Brown. The. Garlic.) Add the beans, lamb shank, 2 quarts of stock, and the chile pod, rosemary, thyme, and/or bay leaf. Bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer the beans, adding more stock as they beans absorb it, until they’re tender and not remotely chalky in the middle. (Al dente is great for pasta, not great for beans.) This will take between 1 and 3 hours depending on how fresh the beans and how long you soaked them.

Serve the beans just as they are, or, if you’re like me and insist on adding one more thing in the constant pursuit of ultimate deliciousness, drizzle some good The beans will continue to absorb liquid as they sit so add more stock or water when you reheat them to make them as brothy as you want them.


Eat Lentils, Get Rich

A lot changed in 2015. I sold and wrote my first cookbook, Bowls of Plenty, a book on healthy, delicious grain bowls (not to be confused with health food) that will be published in in 2017. I paid off my debts. My step-dad, who raised me, left the world after a long and rich life, two friends died young of alcoholism, and a few more acquaintances’ lives got cut short, which is at once sad and also a reminder of how seriously we have to take this business of enjoying life.

And then, of course, there are the things that remain the same: I wrote a cookbook for a celebrity I’d never heard of. I wrote a third cookbook for Nancy Silverton, out this fall, it’s called Mozza at Home. And I woke up at the crack of dawn this morning to make my annual New Year’s lentils, which, according to the Italian tradition, if eaten on New Years, will, because of the coin-like shape of the lentils, bring said eater prosperity in the year ahead. I’ve written about this before, as you can read here, but lentils, like life, change over time. The most significant change in this recipe is that I doubled it, so I can share the hope of good fortune with those around me.

Here’s to your wealth! Until next year.



Prosperity Lentils

Makes 6 quarts, or enough for at least 12 lucky, prosperous family and friends.


Extra-virgin olive oil

2 or 3 Spanish onions, diced

Kosher salt

4 or 5 celery stalks, diced small

6 or more carrots, diced small

1 small can tomato paste

1/4 pound prosciutto, pancetta, or bacon (or more, I use whatever bacon I had in the bacon drawer; I’ve never heard anyone say, “There’s too much bacon in the lentils.”)

A handful of peeled garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 pounds lentils (preferably Umbrian)

4 quarts chicken stock, plus more stock or water as needed

Pour enough olive oil into a soup pot to cover the bottom generously and begin to heat it over medium heat. Add the onions (I add as I chop) and sprinkle them with salt. Cook the onions, stirring often so they don’t brown, for about 10 minutes. Add the celery and carrots (again, I add as I chop here) and sprinkle them with salt. At this point, if you happen to have an arbol chile pod, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, or a bay leaf hanging around (which I do in my tiny patio garden), throw those in. These things will add what chefs call “layers of flavor” to the lentils. But they won’t make or break the dish so I don’t want you to go out and buy them just for this. Saute the veggies for about 10 minutes for about 10 minutes, stirring often: the point is to soften but not brown them. While the veggies are cooking, combine the bacon, garlic, and a big glug of olive oil in a food processor and pulse until what you’re looking at is a lumpy, uneven paste. (If you use a mini, you may want to do it in two batches.) Dump the contents of the food processor into the pot with the veggies and saute for about 5 minutes, until the fat has been rendered (that’s melted) from the bacon and you begin to get a whiff of sauteed garlic. Move all the stff in the pan to one side and add scoop the tomato paste out of the can and into the space you just made in the pan. Cook the tomato paste for a few minutes to cook off the raw tomato flavor. (I’m not sure if this makes any difference, really, but no harm in trying.) Add the lentils and stock, bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the lentils until they are tender. This takes about an hour.

Serve the lentils with good olive oil drizzled on top. According to Italian tradition, you’re supposed to eat them with cotecchino, an Italian meat product that comes in a box, lasts, unrefrigerated, for generations, and that Italians seem to love almost as much as they love their mothers. To me, it tastes like Spam, so I skip it. My sister-in-law, who is Sicilian, likes to add pasta to her lentils. Since this year was all about grains, I added wild rice. Add what you want. The important thing is that you eat the lentils.

Here’s to your wealth.

Umbrian Cucumbers with Sweet Onions and Fennel Pollen

Just when you think a dish is so simple that who needs a recipe, some bright person (or two) comes along and starts asking for details. Yesterday I posted on Instagram a picture of a simple cucumber salad.”Cucumber salad with sweet onions and fennel pollen. Unexpected and delicious. Dress with lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. There’s your recipe. You’re welcome,” I wrote, smugly.

The raw ingredients.
The raw ingredients.

I’m in Italy, staying at my friend the chef Nancy Silverton’s house. She and I had come home from a trip to Brunello Cucinelli, located about three hills over from the medieval hill town where Nancy has a house. The trip had been a bust, and now we’d changed our goal from finding 20-ply cashmere at an affordable price to the more attainable: putting together a simple lunch with what we had in the fridge. What we had, as it happens, is about 15 pounds of various leftover meats, all from the famous Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini who’d brought them to a party earlier in the week, but the only vegetable in our possession were cucumbers that a neighbor had brought earlier in the week. (And in case you’re wondering why we didn’t just go to the store, it’s because stores in the countryside close during lunchtime.) At the same party for which Dario had brought the meat, Faith Willinger, the American-living-in-Florence-Italian-food-authority, had joined me in the kitchen where I was cooking and asked if we had fennel pollen in the house. We didn’t. She was crestfallen. “What did you want it for?” I asked. “To sprinkle on these cucumbers,” she said, pointing to a bowlful of sticks she’d sliced up for guests to snack on. As we drove home, taking mental inventory of what was in the fridge, I reported the fennel pollen request back to Nancy and we decided to give it a go with our one vegetable. Since we didn’t have a can of the pollen, I used some I’d picked on the side of the road on our morning walk. We came home. We made the salad. “Whoa!  never would have thought of that!” Nancy said. The combo was simple and delicious–just the way summer “cooking,” should be: throw together a few great things and say: Wow.

Since this is an all-about-the-ingredients kind of recipe, I’m now going to say a few words about the ingredients.

1. The cucumbers. Since this recipe is pretty much nothing but cucumbers, I hope you’ll buy yours at a farmstand or farmers market. Buy Persian or Japanese cucumbers if you see them. Don’t buy the long things wrapped in plastic sold as “hothouse” cucumbers. These and other crappy grocery store cucumbers have thick, bitter skin. You’ll have to peel them, and then you just won’t have the same salad.

2. The onion. First of all, I used a fresh onion, the kind sold with the green part still attached. You too can use this, but again, you’ll probably need to buy them from a farmer. In any case, use a sweet onion. Both questions I had pertaining to this recipe had to do with how the onion was treated, so listen up. First, my friend The Foodinista took one look at the salad and knew I’d done something to the onions that I hadn’t told her about. In fact, I’d used some I’d found in a little Zip-lock that had been marinating in vinaigrette ever since that aforementioned dinner party. I’ve given you instructions for recreating this, below. Thank The Foodinista for that. The second question, from the wonderful writer and intrepid home cook Laurie Sandell, had to do with how the onions were sliced. For that: Read on.

3. The fennel pollen. Although my salad looks cute with the little blossoms of fennel pollen I threw into the salad, the good news is that the salad you will make, with store-bought fennel pollen, will be even better. The fennel in these blossoms just doesn’t have the flavor or aroma as the dried stuff. In a perfect world, you might season with the canned pollen and if you happen to see some fennel pollen growing on the side of the freeway (all you Southern Californians!) throw a few of these little flowers in just to be cute.

4. Olive oil. By this time in your life you’ve heard all you want to hear about using good olive oil. But this salad is dressed with nothing but. If you don’t use good olive oil, I’m telling you: your salad will suffer. Buy good olive oil at a fancy food store (and no Trader Joe’s doesn’t apply). If you happen to live somewhere that good olive oil is simply not available, jump on the Information Superhighway and stock up for summer recipes just like this. Capezzana is one I like a lot. And from the Dept of One Stone, the same source that carries this also carries fennel pollen. Since this recipe is really just the story of an afternoon in Umbria, look for an Italian olive oil–Tuscan or Umbrian, even better.

5. Here’s how you put it together.

First, cut off the top and bottom of one small sweet onion, cutting off as little of the root end as necessary so the layers stay intact. (You’ll see why in a minute.) Now cut the onion in half root to tip. Peel off any papery layers and discard anything that you don’t want in your salad. Now put the onion on the cutting board, flat side down with the layered part facing outward. Now slice as thinly as you can. The root end will hold the layers together so they’ll look like what another chef friend calls “eyelashes.” Once you’ve sliced the onion, put the onion eyelashes in a small bowl. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over them and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of kosher or fine sea salt. Toss the eyelashes so they all have lemon juice and salt on them and walk away. Go fold your laundry or make a phone call or set the table or get out your leftover steak. Let the onions hang out in the lemon juice and salt for at least 15 minutes, or all day if you want. This will make them soft and sweet.

The onion, lying on its side for slicing.
The onion, lying on its side for slicing.

Cut 1 pound of cucumber slices into 1/4-inch thick rounds. (If you listened to me and bought them from a farmer, that’s all you’ll have to do. If you think Whole Foods or Piggly Wiggly is the same thing as a farmers market, then you’ll want to taste your cukes first. If they’re bitter, peel them, halve them, and scrape out the seeds; it’s the seeds and peel that are bitter.) Now cut the cukes into 1/4-inch rounds (or halfmoons if that applies).

Put the cucumbers in a large bowl. Dump the onions on top of them, including all the juices in the onion bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon more salt and 1/2 teaspoon of fennel pollen. Drizzle with 1/4 cup of good green flavorful olive oil. Toss, taste, and add more lemon juice, salt, or fennel pollen if you think that will make you like your cucumbers more. Serve the cucumbers right away for maximum crunch.

The finished salad: God = In Details.


Finding My iPhone: A Story of Crime, Intrigue, and Bone Marrow

Today I took a walk to the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax to buy dog food from Huntington Meats, when my iPhone was stolen. There are a lot of good reasons to shop at independently owned stores, but the fact that you can count on the nice guys who work there when you’re in a total panic over a small, stolen, six hundred dollar device, is one not to be overlooked. I’d left the butcher a few minutes before, phone in hand, and walked a few hundred steps to the nut store to buy some salty toasted mixed nuts since I am still not eating sugar, and when I noticed the nuts where in my hand and my iPhone wasn’t, I ran back to the butcher (had I left it there?), then back to the nut place (had she seen a phone?), and then back to the butcher—this time not to look for my phone, but just plain desperate for help. Jim the Butcher entrusted one of his younger employees (i.e. knows how to use an iPhone) to use his “find my iPhone” app to find my iPhone. The guy’s name was Charlie, and, to make a two hour story shorter than two hours, suffice to say that we walked around the grounds of the Farmers Market, following my iPhone, setting off the loud, alarm-like cry it makes for lost iPhones and refreshing its location constantly. At one point, back at the nut store where the phone seemed to linger, Charlie and I thought we even heard it. We asked the nut lady to turn off the the peanut-butter making machine (they make the best peanut butter) so we could hear better, and be sure it wasn’t the rotating belt making the noise. No. I was sure I heard it. But where? We circled the nut store. The noise seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The lady still insisted she hadn’t seen the phone. We sat down and checked my purse for the 500th time. Maybe we were following me around? And when we came back to the nut store, we no longer heard the phone. Had it been our imaginations? Maybe not. Because the phone was now somewhere in the vicinity of a shuttered Johnny Rockets. After two hours of this bewildering sleuthing, we could see from Charlie’s phone that my phone was about to die. Once it did, I’d no longer to be able to track it. By this time, we’d followed my phone around from the nut store to the Coffee Bean to the bathroom to the bar to another bar… and now, we could see, it was in a car. Yes, we could see that my iPhone was in a car.

I was already a huge fan of Apple. What their devices do, well, I’d say it never ceases to amaze me, but I’m  hardly even amazed anymore because I just expect the devices to do amazing things. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the fact that “find my iPhone” was at this very moment able to tell me that my phone was not just in a car in the parking lot at the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax where it was last seen buying nuts two hours ago, but this thing could tell me that it was in a small black car, sandwiched by a couple of silver cars exactly five cars from the end of the second row. It even showed me a picture the parking lot in real time! By now, Jim the Butcher had joined the chase, mostly to comfort me because I was nearly hysterical both for the lost iPhone and the frustration, knowing it was so close and yet so impossible to find. Jim and Charlie and I stood there by the car that held my phone. But now my phone was really about to be dead. Five percent battery power is what Charlie’s phone said my phone had. All hope was lost. Except that all hope is only lost if all parties know that all hope is lost, and the one party who didn’t know this was the guy who had put my phone in his car.

Let’s take a moment to think about the last two hours from his point of view. He sees a phone. So close. So tempting. So shiny, and so… within reach. He grabs it. Finally, I have an iPhone! he thinks. He puts it in his pocket. Thirty seconds later, the rightful owner of the phone comes back for her phone. The woman behind the counter who sold this nut her nuts says, “I haven’t seen your phone.” And the lady walks away. The guy thinks, This is great. She’s gone! Now this really is MY phone! Until this phone in his pocket starts making a noise. He can’t turn it off—not the noise, not the phone. And now two people and a scruffy little dog are walking around, following him. Wherever he goes, there they are. They don’t know who he is, but he knows who they are, and this effing phone won’t stop making noise. But he’s a clever guy. He can’t get the phone off (an iPhone tagged as lost or stolen, which Charlie had done to mine, can’t be turned off—how amazing is that!?), but he figured out that if he put the case on backwards, the speaker emitting the noise would now be covered by plastic. The noise was muted. But still, Everywhere I go there’s these people and that dog. I’d suspected that whoever had my phone worked in the Farmers Market because anyone who had the chance to leave would have done so. Without that chance, what he’d done was throw the phone in his car. And now what he evidently saw was the three of us, me and Charlie and Jim, standing around his car, looking through the windows. The truth is, we were feeling pretty much hopeless because of the near-dead battery and all. But this guy didn’t know that. All he knew is that we had the ability to follow him around like a tracking device and cause something in his hand to make noises that he couldn’t stop. I’m going to guess he thought that the cops were on the way. In any case, he came running, wearing a baseball hat bearing the name of the nut store, and without any prompting, said to Charlie: “The phone in my car.” And then in Spanish that the guys didn’t understand. “I found it in a basurera.” Jim handed the guy ten dollars for my phone. He was rewarded for his lie. Someone asked if I was going to go to the nut store or to security to tell. I didn’t have the slightest inclination. I’d spent enough of my life on this phone. Instead, I walked back to the butcher and picked up the femur bones they were cutting into Rufus-friendly rings for me at the moment that I’d realized my phone was missing. As Rufus said, “All’s well that ends in marrow.”


Drink Your Way to Happiness.

I’ve never been much of a beverage person. I haven’t drunk Gatorade since I was a 12 year-old girl with wiry, braided red pigtails. I have never drunk a Coca-Cola in my life (a fact that Southerners find fascinating-to-impossible). And I don’t go in for iced tea or Arnold Palmers. When I’m thirsty, I drink water. Plain and simple. No ice, no fruit, no flavoring (please). But then, like love, when I least expected it, this coconut water came into my life. Taste Nirvana. (Sorry about the name. #notmyfault.)  

I picked it out of a crowded refrigerated case one hot day last summer in New York City because I liked the tall glass bottle that it came in. It’s the only coconut water I’ve tried that tastes like the actual water of a coconut and not watered down dirty water. I’ve since moved over to cans, which look reassuringly like tennis ball cans. Today, at a rate of consumption between one and three cans per day, it’s fair to say I’m addicted, but worse things could happen. People say coconut water has loads of potassium and is particularly good for hydrating. I drink it because I like the way it tastes. I wouldn’t even know what to do with loads of potassium. Plus how much water can you really drink before you get bored? I only buy the one with pulp, which infuses the water with more coconut flavor and makes it noticeably more coconut-like than the one without pulp. As you can see from the label, the water promises “happiness inside.” Who knew you could drink your way to bliss?

promisses, promisses
promisses, promisses

This dreamy anti-dehydrant is currently on sale at that great 21st Century Robber Baron, Whole Foods. You’re welcome.

What I Learned (So Far) from Going Sugar-Free (For Now)

Having been sugar-free for 10 days now, I consider myself somewhat of an expert. At the very least I am an expert at getting through the first 10 days. So for that, here are 10 things I’ve learned about the first 10 days.

1. Don’t quit eating sugar without pain reliever in the house. The pain in your brain will be too great to leave the house for pain reliever.

2. Your mind will tell you all kinds of crazy things including: Why are you such an extremist control freak? Sugar is a part of life!  It’s Friday for God’s sake and I don’t care if you don’t believe in God. What’s a little agave gonna hurt anyone… Live a little!

3. A few dietary notes:

  • Mayonnaise (that’s Best Foods, or Hellman’s, whose key ingredient is corn syrup) will beckon.
  • A chinese chicken salad is just lettuce’s way of enabling you.
  • Cashews are fattening. This may sound like a non-sequiter until you try giving up sugar.
  • Something crunchy is the next best thing to something sweet. Pass the cheese puffs

4. Friends will tell you about the Lärabar. They aren’t that great (the Lärabars; I”m sure the friends are fine). I mean, let’s face it, there’s only so much you can expect from dried fruits and nuts pressed into a flat rectangle. But file under: Good to Know.

5. So-called “friends” will tell you that you’re missing out. That you’re no fun. They’ll show you a picture of some sugar-laden crap they ate at a chain restaurant. They are addicted to sugar and to sabotage. Unfriend them.

6. It gets easier. And then harder. And then easier still. By week’s end, you may even be able to go hours at a time without a single raisin.

7. Not to sound too Marianne Williamson, but you will soon notice that doing something good for you is also addicting. You will start to contemplate giving up coffee. But then you’ll remember the Mark Twain quote about a ship without ballasts…

8. By week’s end, you will be able to taste the sweetness in a grapefruit. “Oh, yum! This grapefruit has such natural sweetness!” you will say smugly to anyone still talking to you after your first 10 sugar-free days.

9. You will begin to feel a little bit superior: to those who tell you they have given up sugar but still partake in agave, maple syrup, honey, etc… (You see this as just proof of how hard it is to give up sugar.) To those people you saw at Indian Wells tennis tournament yesterday eating ice cream cones big enough to feed an entire family–or just one American. To those who say, “I want to…,” “I’m going to,” “I should.”  But then don’t…

10. If you go public, as I did, with your sugar fast, it will seem that almost everyone you know is telling you that they have tried to quit eating sugar, have quit eating sugar before for a period of time, or want to quit eating sugar. You will also find that a surprising number of your friends do not eat sugar and you just didn’t know this because for reasons having to do with an inner wholeness and lack of a need for validation that you do not possess, they do not feel the need to broadcast this uninteresting fact of their existence to the world. You will wilt in the shadow of their superiority. But in relation to the rest of sugar-fueled humanity, you will feel like a real expert. And like you have infinite wisdom, or at least 10 naturally-sweet nuggets of advice to give them should they decide to quit their nasty habit. They probably won’t want to hear your advice otherwise they would have asked you for it. So you will write it down instead and put it out there in the e-universe like a sweet little dandelion, blowing, positively screaming into the wind…

My Sugar-Free Life. For Now.

I recently decided to quit eating sugar. That’s as much thought as I put into the decision. I didn’t give an end date or a goal or parameters or even a “definition of sugar.” But I did regularly post daily How Shitty I Feel updates on Facebook and my Facebook friends, being the sort of clever people that they are, wanted me to be more specific. They asked me what was my plan. (I didn’t have a plan.) They asked me, “What’s the point?” “When does it end?” And “Why are you doing this again?” So here, below, are my answers to those questions.

Let’s start with…

One. WHY: I gave up sugar for an as yet undefined period of time:

  1. I don’t know. I only know that I somehow slid down the slippery slope from, “I’m at a nice dinner and the chef sent out this dessert so let me have a bite,” to, “What’s the difference between an oatmeal cookie for breakfast and oatmeal?” Even in my sugar-induced stupor and with an addict’s skill at rationalizing, I knew something wasn’t right.
  2. I heard that sugar is bad for you, that it feeds viruses and can cause cancer and that it has aging affects and that it makes you tired. Whether or not it’s true, it seems obvious enough to me that sugar isn’t exactly what was intended to nourish the holy temple that is my body that I don’t even want to waste my time reading a book about it.
  3. Call me a Puritan but, it must be a good thing to give up anything that is as hard to give up as sugar is
  4. Any substance that makes me feel (in addition to foggy headed and tired and achy and sick),  so agitated that I get angry at Rufus for having to smell yet one more effin’ shrub cannot be a good thing.


  1. Giving up sugar, for me, means not eating things with sugar in them. And by sugar, what I mean is sugar and date sugar and palm sugar and maple syrup and honey and agave and any of the things that you (that means me) will try to convince yourself aren’t really sugar because you are so addicted to sugar you are willing to forego all logic just to get your grubby little sugar addicted paws on the stuff.
  2. I will eat sugar as it occurs in nature: dates, raisins, those little heirloom seedless tangerine things that go by 47 different names but I can’t tell the difference. And to anyone who says, “Well, it’s the same thing; it’s still sugar,” A) you are wrong. No amount of dates has ever left me wanting to kick my dog. And B) Argofuckyourself.


The day I decided to call it quits (for an undefined period of time and with no specific motive other than I didn’t want to feel crappy all the time or even ever, and without actually defining sugar other than to say, If you think it’s sugar, then it is), I had two bags of Trader Joe’s cookies in my cupboard. I’d bought them the day before and they were gluten-free, not because I am gluten-free but because, for reasons having to do with rice flour, I thought they’d be crispier. I contemplated waiting until I’d eaten all the cookies to start not eating any more cookies, but I’ve lived long enough, I’ve woken up enough times with achey shoulders and a foggy head (Thanks, Sugar! You’re welcome, Sweetheart!) to know that this was, for lack of a better word, a retarded idea. I didn’t tell myself, Self, you can go back to chocolate chip cookies for breakfast if you only abstain long enough to suffer, to prove you can, say you did, and then do it again. I just gave it up. For now.

One thing I know for sure: I will eat sugar again. But in the future, I would like to keep it to, “It’s my birthday, I can have a bite of this homemade cake if I want to!” And not, “Chocolate chip cookies are a completely sensible breakfast because the French eat chocolate croissants and Italians start their day with cookies which they refer to as ‘biscuits.'”

So there, in a three-step nutshell, is my plan. My rules. My goal. My initiative.

Join me in the pursuit of nothingness if you want, but whatever you do, pass the dates.

Another Year, Another Pot of Lentils

And in honor of great new beginnings, the best darned holiday food I know: Lentils, redux.

I’m not superstitious, but I do appreciate when certain superstitions give me an excuse to do something I want to do anyway. In Italy, lentils, called lenticchie (pronounced “len-TEA-ki-yay”) are traditionally eaten for New Year because they are supposed to bring prosperity to the eater. The reasoning being that the little legumes are vaguely reminiscent of teeny tiny coins so by eating them, you will be showered with money. Which is why every year when the new year comes around, thinking my friends and I could use a little prosperity ourselves, I invite, I make as big a pot of them as I can.

I start with Umbrian Lentils, which grow in and around a town called Castelluccio, in Umbria. Smaller than traditional brown lentils, Umbrian lentils come in various shades of brown and are known for their tender skin and rich, slightly sweet flavor. You’ll have to get them at a specialty food store and be warned, they’re never less than $10 a pound, but don’t worry as you ‘ll be showered with money you won’t bat an eye at the thought of $10 lentils . I spent $40 on three pounds of rogue Umbrian lentils, or roughly eight times what I would have spent had I started with regular brown lentils from the grocery store. The lentil-prosperity project, like so many good things in life, was going to be a story in patience and faith.

This is the “town,” where lentils are grown. It’s full of tourists, mostly Italian, many of them on motorcycles, who come for the beautiful drive and a bowl of rich, sausagey lentils while they’re there. I visited this little crater of the world two summers ago. It’s a long winding drive to the top of the Apennine Mountains, nestled at the crest of the mountains that separate Umbria from a region I’d never even heard of until I got within a stone’s throw of it: The Marche.

Having done this year after year, I’m convinced that a big part of the reason for the prosperity brought by the lentils is that if you make a big enough pot, you end up eating lentils for the next hundred days. I drizzle the lentils with olive oil so good that it could interfere with my prosperity—but certainly not my quality of life. And that, my friends, is like money in the bank. Happy New Year, and all that.

Prosperity Lentils, Umbrian Style

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 Spanish onions, diced

Kosher salt

1/4 pound prosciutto (if you are not a vegetarian), pancetta, or bacon; ground in a mini food processor until it’s a paste

2-3 celery stalks, sliced about 1/4-inch thick

4-10 carrots (knock your socks off if you like carrots!), sliced about 1/4-inch thick

1-2 tablespoons tomato paste (preferably double concentrated)

4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 pound lentils (preferably Umbrian)

2 to 3 quarts chicken stock

Pour enough olive oil into a soup pot to cover the bottom pretty generously. Add the onions and season them with salt. Cook them for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring often so they don’t get color on them. Add whatever ground pork you are using, if you are using it, and cook it for 3 to 4 minutes to render the fat. Add the celery and carrots. (You could also add some leeks if you happen to have them, which I did today.) Season the vegetables with salt and cook them for about 10 minutes to soften them, adding more olive oil if the pan seems dry.  (The more olive oil you add, the better your lentils will taste. Period.)  Add the tomato paste (preferably the Italian stuff, which comes in a tube, not the canned stuff, which tastes cloying and weird), making sure the paste lands on the pan, not in the vegetables, and cook for 1 or 2 minutes to get rid of the raw tomato flavor. Add the garlic and saute for 1 or 2 minutes. Add the lentils and enough chicken stock or water to cover them by an inch. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the lentils, adding more stock or water (or a combination) as needed, until they are tender. This takes about an hour, and you will probably use 2 to 3 quarts of total liquid.

Serve the lentils with good olive oil drizzled on top. If you want, you can also add crumbled Italian sausage. According to Italian tradition, you’re supposed to eat them with cotecchino, a weird meat product that comes in a box, unrefrigerated, lasts for generations, and that Italians love almost as much as they love their mothers. I never found one that doesn’t taste like Spam to me, so were I to want a super meaty, one pot lentil meal, I’d go the Italian sausage route. Here’s to your wealth.