Fresh Shell Beans

Fresh Shell Beans

Late night kitchen. I stand at my countertop, shelling fresh beans. It’s one of my favorite kitchen activities. Meditative. I also like cutting the tops off of string beans with scissors, squeezing limes, folding dumplings, and any other task that allows you to dip into that drowsy state as your hands and muscle memory take over the work.

Tonight, I listen to a podcast – Balanced Bites – Diane and Liz in an older episode, talking about how imposing order on yourself, be it strictness of diet a few days a week, a minimal wardrobe, or other arbitrary rules every so often can help reduce stress and anxiety, and help you do more, successfully. I know that I feel this way – imposing limiting structure every so often actually helps me be more productive – the key term being “every so often”. Abiding by food rules during specific times of year to reset my habits can help me recalibrate more quickly – it’s why I’m so fond of programs like Whole30 – they focus on crowding out your diet with real, whole foods, and encourage you to build good habits, such as cooking at home, which occasionally fall to the wayside of our busy lives, even those of us who love to cook! It’s not about restricting yourself from all the foods you love, it’s about committing to nutritious food, and letting your focus shift to other things. This also fits with the Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin’s theories of Abstainer and Moderators. Some people function better when abstaining totally, others are naturally capable of moderating themselves. I find that I alternate between both, usually preferring abstention when my life feels a little out of control due to external factors, moderation for all other times.

Tonight I’m savoring the last of the warm evening air with a mini pumpkin whoopie from Volante Farms. Maybe it’s just shy of 60, and the window is still open. The World Series is on. Funny how this Giants team feels so dear to me even though I’m so far from my temporarily adopted city. Soon though, to bed. Tomorrow is my last half marathon in Newburyport, before the big one: 26.2 in Savannah.

This place needs a facelift.

Sit down with me a second over this steaming mug of coffee. We have important things to discuss.

When I started this site, way back when, it seemed like such a big upgrade over my years of LiveJournal. I was going to write about food. Finally, I had a purpose!

LiveJournal was emotional and snarky, and one large inside joke. It ranged from inane “I keep forgetting to get my vaccination”, to angry rants, to moody song lyrics – apparently I felt the need to post Panic at the Disco lyrics. (It was a moment.) There were lists of classes I was taking, scribbled notes from trips to New York. There was food, too. Beets with butter and pistachios at Lupa! Quick recipes from my dorm kitchen, meals out with friends.

There were stories – weird, rambling ones.

“And, the guy who came in at 11:30 pm with a hat on and sunglasses, asked for a shot of rum, and then asked to pay with a cashiers check, then after he couldn’t pulled out a thick wad of cash. Mind you, after it was pouring and we couldn’t get a cab and we had one umbrella and there was a party on the subway (with tequila shots, a drunk dressed up Irish woman, a PDA drunk couple, etc….)I think that [memory] might actually be a combination of a few of the T rides that weekend, oh including the serenading poet man.”

I stumble across weirdos. Often.

Posts were most often uploaded at 1:36 a.m.

And there were hundreds of posts – 400? Maybe more?

Here I was with this quirky public offering that people could read – strangers even. My friends read my LiveJournal, my mother did not. It wasn’t good, but it was free flowing. It wasn’t edited. Nobody cared, so neither did I – sometimes it was messy, but often I’m surprised at my own observations. Sometimes I captured things perfectly – and that’s awfully special.

So, back to this space. It always feels a little ridiculous writing about the blog. After transitioning from free form to “blogging with a purpose”, I started to stagnate. I got boring. I got bored. It took me years to figure out that food blogging didn’t have to be a “quick few paragraphs + recipe”. I could write about food, I could write about a run, or a friend’s new business, or the novel I was reading. I could write about whatever I wanted.

Now forgive me for the following analogy. No seriously, please, please forgive me. If you’ve ever watched The Biggest Loser, there’s a week midway through the season that every contestant looks forward to – makeover week. They’ve lost the weight, and now they get the look to match. That’s kind of how I feel about this blog. I’ve finally made it a place I love to be, but the look, well, it’s a little shabby. It could use a bit of a facelift. So I’m going to start thinking about it. A header. Cleaner. Streamlined. And soon, I’m going to grab hold of this newness, and have it match the way I feel inside. And I think it’s going to be a lot better for all of us. Stay tuned.

Summer Mornings and Supporting Creative Pursuits

I spend a good deal of time wishing I were a morning person. Ideally, I need to wake up, make myself coffee, sit, think, walk, dream, and write before I’m a fully functional human being ready to start my work day. This would be a lot easier if I actually woke up at 6 a.m., but as it usually goes, I’m all too tempted to stay curled under the covers for another thirty minutes, and then my morning ends up being a tad rushed. Rushed or not, the days of breakfast-less living are over, and by day break, I’m hungry. Sometimes I start with some eggs, or leftovers from dinner topped with an egg, or a lately a green juice with chia depending on my mood. More and more, I’ve been grabbing something at the coffee shop because I’ve not planned well. On the weekend I try to make something special, but truthfully I’ve been in a rut with my mornings, so I’m not always so good at putting anything fancy together.

Today I woke up earlier than normal, and prepared a little bowl of Marge granola with blueberries and cream top whole milk. And then I sat for ten whole minutes just staring out the window at the cars and the lush green foliage from a few days worth of rain. It was what a morning should be like.

I mentioned that I was taking the Chookooloonks Pathfinder course on journaling – one of the best parts of the course is that we start the day with morning pages – twenty minutes or so to write freely, about anything that comes to mind, anything we want, without editing or censoring ourselves. Each morning, I pull out my pocket size moleskin, and write. It’s hard. I have to put my phone out of my line of site, because these days my attention wanders and searching on IMDB or Wikipedia in the middle of a sentence is habit. “Can’t… let…thought…escape.” But during my morning pages, I just break whatever sentence I’m writing, and make a note of the thing I’d like to look up, and keep on writing. I can address it later, I won’t forget, I won’t miss out. Having my journal with me throughout the day, I’ve been trying to extend this practice, and have noticed that I’m significantly less stressed that I’ll forget something.

Speaking about that, have you heard of ‘FOMO’? Without heading to Google? Neither had I. Well, every friend who has attended business school in the past decade knows this term, and maybe you do too, but for the rest of us: ‘FOMO’ stands for ‘Fear of missing out’ – and I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. For me, this anxiety leads to two distinct and opposite responses – either I overextend myself, say yes too often, and exhaust myself, or I go the opposite route and say no to everything, purposefully avoiding life experiences so that I don’t get too used to adventure. It’s a bad habit, and one that I’ve been actively trying to change. I think, the key for me, is finding balance, choosing to say yes to the things that are more meaningful, making more time for the things that matter, and actually doing the things that I dream of doing.

Megan’s granola company, Marge, is wonderful. Find it here:

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately, while I try to find my own path. It’s crucial in this life to identify others with those dreams of doing, and support them in their pursuits. If you have friends who are creative, who make something with their hands, who write cookbooks, or sell baked goods at farmers markets, support them. Buy their book. Visit their store. Eat their granola. Help them build their project. These friends have succeeded in taking a dream and acting on it. Even if that company is small, or maybe if they’ve found success and are pushing to take things to the next level – this behavior is worth rewarding.

For me, it’s also a little bit selfish, and I’m okay with that – every time I’m reminded how talented the folks in my community are, I’m inspired to head one step closer to where I want to be when I grow up.

Do you make something? Have a book you’d like to share? A friend who you’d like to support? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

10 11 12

For years I’ve wanted to make, and share, a daily practice of writing, but I was too anxious to start. The act of writing really wasn’t the problem; I was afraid of not being good enough, profound enough, or not being the best. So I just didn’t write. While I’m certainly not shy or quiet, there have been many occasions in life where I’ve missed out because of this fear.

A funny thing happens when you commit to something and stick with it. Your life starts changing, fast. Seemingly impossible things completely unrelated to your original goal start becoming possible. When I started writing here regularly again, I had to consciously put aside my anxiety about being the best, and remind myself why I was here: to cultivate a daily practice of writing and photography, to support myself during the challenge, and to be part of a community who shares my values and inspires me daily. I still have to remind myself, I think we all do sometimes – you are worth it, don’t let fear hold you back.

My day started out uncharacteristically. I was supposed to have a meeting mid-morning over coffee, but it was re-scheduled, so I worked most of the morning before I realized that I had neither eaten anything nor had my caffeine. Around noon, I grabbed this Spencer apple and headed out the door to pick up some George Howell coffee at Formaggio.

It was brisk, but sunny, so I took the opportunity to take a half hour walk around Cambridge before heading back home. I had planned on running in the evening, but was feeling a little bit under the weather, so the walk seemed like a good compromise.

In the late afternoon, I put together a salmon dish that I was working on for a secret project. Not being able to keep a secret, I went ahead and shared a photo of it on Instagram, so there’s no hiding it here. (I’ll post the recipe next week.)

Lately, I’ve been working on practicing better self-care. As a coach, I was trained on the value of self-care for optimal health and wellness, but practicing what I preach in this area has always been difficult. When I was living in San Francisco, practicing mindfulness/meditation based stress reduction, getting regular massages and chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, and practicing regular yoga were all part of my routine and provided tangible benefits, but in the past year I’ve regressed.

So I took my own advice, and went for a manicure and shoulder/neck massage at MiniLuxe. The color is OPI, I think either Sweet Heart or Hopelessly in Love, but honestly I didn’t check. For hands that have suffered mercilessly in the kitchen and the gym, I thought they turned out remarkably nice.

For dinner, I cooked flounder filets in olive oil, seasoned with Turkish fish seasoning. For light flaky fish like flounder, I usually cook them on one side for a few minutes, and baste the top with hot olive oil, which cooks it through without needing to flip it.

I baked a sheet tray of parnsip fries with rosemary, and served myself up this not quite as indulgent version of fish and chips.

For dessert, I baked a few pumpkin walnut cakes from this recipe. They didn’t quite turn out as successfully as I’d like, but when I tweak the recipe to perfection, I’ll post it.

Finding My Words Again

I think my words are coming back.

They’ve been gone for a while, but I feel them trickling in.

I’ve been stuck, tired, overwhelmed – we all feel this way, at some point. Moving last summer was hard. I miss San Francisco and the wonderful people I got the chance to engage with, eat with, and play with. I didn’t feel quite ready to move on. I became stagnant. I didn’t spend nearly enough time reading or cooking. But it’s spring time, and I feel something stirring.

I’m ready to start creating again.

Here are some of the things that have helped me:

{The Well-Fed Woman Mini-Retreatshop Tour} With the beautiful, insightful, shimmery Rachel Cole: Last month I spent three powerful hours with a group of women in Providence, Rhode Island. It re-affirmed what Wellesley taught me best: Sisterhood is such an important thing. I was expecting it to be a positive, light-hearted experience. I had no idea that I would cry, feel deeply moved, and leave feeling super-charged.

{SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions} It’s a book about life by Rainn Wilson, yes, that Rainn Wilson (of The Office fame). I picked up a copy at SXSW when I had no business buying a book given I had only taken a very small carry on to Texas. Some books demand to be taken home – books that scream at me and make me slightly nervous that I’m losing it. This was one of those. There is abundant wisdom in this book – sometimes you need to start by asking the right questions, and these are them.

{My Foodzie Tasting Box Subscription} Once a month, I get to be a little kid and open the best present to myself ever. I love trying new treats, and Foodzie picks the best of the best. Some of my recent favorites have been Droga’s Put Your Money on Honey Caramels, Zingerman’s Zzang Bars, and p.o.p Buttercrunch.

{Formaggio Kitchen} Trips for perfectly brewed George Howell coffee, small sandwiches, honey, tea. This place is the larder of happiness. On Saturdays mornings, they have barbecue outside. We’ve been twice this month. Also, they have Rancho Gordo BeansAnson Mills Grits, and Jeni’s Ice Cream in the freezer.

{Psych} We’ve been re-watching the Psych from the beginning. It’s just such good writing. On that note, because of my time-consuming start up job, I’ve stopped watching the majority of the crap I was watching on television. My next step will to be delete shows from the DVR. It’ll take some more courage to sever the cord completely.

{Spring Manifestos} Over at The Art of Seeing Things.

{An Everlasting Meal} by Tamar Adler. It’s been quite some time since I could curl up with a book and enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed this one. I picked it up at Brookline Booksmith, along with Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and (finally!) my own copy of Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste (M.F.K. Fisher translation). I forgot how nice it was to spend lots and lots of money at an independent bookstore.

{Instagram for Android} It’s here! You can find me @alphaprep. I’m also re-purposing my tumblr into a space for my Instagram photos.


From the Publisher’s Desk: So You Want to Write a Cookbook? (The Cliff’s Notes)

Last month I got to visit the gorgeous offices of Harvard Common Press not once, but twice, and let me tell you – I’m about ready to move in there.

The second trip was with Boston Brunchers, founded by the multi-talented Renee Hirschberg. Renee works full time, is getting her masters, blogs several times a week, and runs a real life community whisking lucky bloggers to brunch several times a month in the Boston area.

This time she managed to swing a doozy – brunch for 40 at Harvard Common Press, complete with a question and answer session about publishing a cookbook with HCP’s associate publisher and digital media director Adam Salomone, owner Bruce Shaw, and marketing director Nancy Grant Mahoney (who’s name was too long for her Twitter handle, and got cut off – perhaps fortuitously? – to “Mahon”, a delightful cheese).

Writing a cookbook can be a two year process (or more). Here were some of the details in a snapshot:

Finding your Publisher:

  • Use Social Media to make friends with publishers: HCP has published authors they have gotten to know through Twitter!
  • In thinking about your blog and brand, remember what you are passionate about.
  • Engagement level: HCP will address many different aspects when evaluating a potential author. For bloggers, this includes writing, photography, voice, knowledge and interest, traffic, blog comments, twitter and facebook usage.

Process: so you’ve made it! You’ve waded through and have a publisher. What can you expect next?

  • Material Sources: It used to be that you could use 25% of previous blog recipes, now most publishers expect your cookbook to be 100% new material. (More work for you!)
  • Editorial Process: At HCP, editorial director Dan Rosenberg helps authors come up with a work plan, the developmental stage that helps you assess what needs to be in your cookbook.
  • Writing the manuscript: This can take 9-12 months, and realistically if you are a blogger, this means a lot less time eating out, cooking for the blog, and blogging in general.
  • Editors: You’ll likely have a robust back and forth with your editors. You’ll bang your head, panic, go a little crazy. This is good.

Ultimately, you, the editor and the publishers have the same goal in mind – to make your cookbook the best book it can be.

Once published (or almost published): Publishing houses used to have in-house marketing and do everything to pub and market a book. Now, authors can work closely with the publisher to promote the book. Bloggers have a built in market, and HCP works with the author with a wide variety of social media tools including tweet tours, blog tours (where the author may guest post on 10 or more different blogs), and in person tours.

(If you write a book, you can give a talk at Omnivore! Just make sure you ask Celia to provide some wine!)

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One more note, from me. If you want to write a cookbook, but aren’t ready to take the plunge, consider working for a published cookbook author on their next book. You will wash a lot of dishes, learn an enormous amount about the process, and be well–prepared when you eventually decide to write your own.

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Bruce Shaw, owner of Harvard Common Press, on Bloggers: “You are technically our competitors, but you are also our life blood here!”

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And some photos of the office:

A big thank you to the kind folks at Harvard Common Press for letting me snoop around!

Harvard Common Press
HCP Dishes Blog:
HCP Blog Eats (new in the blog world):

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