I was sitting on the curb, eating a donut — because it was National Donut Day, and I am a patriot — when a dog on a leash wandered over and sat down next to me. He didn’t seem aggressive or even particularly hungry, but I’m not really a dog person, and honestly good luck even to humans who try to approach me while I’m eating.
His owner was standing a few feet behind us, so I craned my neck and said, “Sir, I don’t mean to be rude, but I think your dog is closing in on my donut.”
He replied, “Oh, I’m very sorry. Here, boy.”
And that’s when I turned around. And said, “Oh! No, I’m sorry!” Because I could see that the man was blind, and this was his remarkably well-behaved guide dog.
It turned out the pair had visited three countries in the last month and were on their way to hike in the woods at the edge of town. I actually found the second point more surprising, because I kind of…hate hiking. I mean, I do it, because I live in an outrageously beautiful state and I’d be crazy not to take advantage. I like the idea of hiking. I definitely appreciate the views.
But I’m a city gal. An indoor kid. My current fitness program of heavy lifting and sprints doesn’t quite translate to hauling my voluptuous ass up a mountain. And when I’m huffing and puffing and sheepishly asking my trail buddies if we can take yet another water break, I cope by powering down my senses in an attempt to leave behind my body and the necessary evil that is the hike itself.
I wondered, then, how much more this blind man saw than I did. How much more he heard and smelled and felt beneath his feet. How vulnerably he moved through the world, simply because he had no other option. How many memories he didn’t stop himself from making because his face looked puffy or his cellulite might show.
OK, we’re talking about me now.
What I find more embarrassing than my eating disorder itself is everything I haven’t done because of it. The plans I’ve canceled because I felt bloated or broken out. The conversations I’ve cut short because an innocent facial expression made me feel rejected. The days I’ve allowed to be ruined by a less-than-flattering photo. The relationships I’ve let slip away because I couldn’t bear to let another person see me clearly. The number of times I’ve collapsed and cried and thought, God, it is exhausting to hate myself this much.
It’s a shitty truth of late-stage recovery: a better body image comes long after we’ve committed to the mundane day-to-day work of physical health. It’s much easier to eat a donut than it is not to feel shame afterward. The dissonance is enough to drive many to relapse, or at least to new forms of the old habits — less dangerous ones, perhaps, but just as damaging to a mind and to a life well lived. I’ve been down that road, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not, and it’s not a place I’m interested in spending more time if I can help it.
But ugh, it is so hard. It has felt so hard, lately, to be kind to myself, and to stop holding back despite what my irrational thoughts might tell me. I keep trying to fake it ‘til I make it, wearing confidence like a pair of too-tight jeans that I can’t wait to take off once I get home. At best, the performance does nothing to foster long-term identity or connection. At worst, its failure to do so confirms my belief that I’m repulsive after all.
I have to remember that the way I see myself is so, so skewed. But more importantly, I have to remember that even if it weren’t — even if those irrational thoughts were true — it wouldn’t change a damn thing. My worth needs to come from something other than my appearance. My body is not a barrier to entry or a souvenir to show off with a soft Sierra filter. At the end of the day, I am the sum of my experiences, and I alone have to live with what I did or didn’t do.
It is exhausting to hate myself. It is exhausting to constantly be molding myself to fit. It is the most exhausting to live a life that doesn’t change because I won’t let it. I don’t quite know how to be done with the shame, but I am. I am so, so done.
I will always be both repulsive and radiant. Hard and soft. Sweet and salty. Bitter and bright. Not for everyone, nor should I be. What if I stopped asking people to admire me from a distance, and instead let them taste me for themselves? Let them say no thank you or yes, this, more of this?
What if, either way, I stood up straight and owned it?
Watermelon Prosciutto Caprese Skewers
This isn’t a recipe so much as a flavor combination I heartily endorse. I think this would be a great summer potluck dish, but do be aware that the basil leaves will start to discolor once you stab them, so they’re best assembled shortly before you plan to eat. No quantities given, because you can make as few or as many as you’d like.
Cherry or grape tomatoes
Mini marinated mozzarella balls
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1. In a small saucepan, bring vinegar to a boil. Reduce heat, and let simmer until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
2. Meanwhile, thread the skewers: fruit, cheese, fruit, meat, repeat, with a basil leaf in every bite.
3. Drizzle balsamic, stand up straight, and own it.
1. Spot a hot guy at the gym. Oh wow, he’s…really hot. You’ll see him only on weekends for a while, when you’re usually vaguely bloated from whatever you’ve imbibed the night before and not feelin’ too flirty. But that’s okay. He’s nice to look at. Mmm. Really nice to look at. Might have to give up drinking. (Nah.)
2. Skip your usual morning workout one Wednesday and roll in late afternoon. Oh hey, look who’s here! Start hitting the after-work rush hour daily, despite the fact that you work from home and can literally go whenever. You’re not creepy, just proactive.
3. It’s on. You have a gym crush. And now that you’re seeing him on the reg, you’re pretty sure you’re his gym crush, too. You catch him watching you in the mirror as you pretend not to be watching him in the mirror. You notice he always seems to be behind you. No, seriously, there’s no way he ALWAYS needs that machine right when you squat. It’s the kind of thing that would usually piss you off, except you’re into it. Unfortunately, he’s being annoyingly respectful (minus the whole watching-you-squat thing) and refusing to blatantly hit on you. You know your always-blaring Beats and bored phone scroll between sets don’t exactly scream “TALK TO ME” but…he’s so hot! You’re intimidated. You’re sweaty. You have a zit. You’ll talk to him soon. Swear.
4. Decide that since you’re too pathetic to start a conversation IRL, you’ll find him on Tinder, where you can throw down a sassy opener like “guess this means I have to stop watching your biceps in the mirror and say hi now *smirk emoji*.” (These things are so easy in writing.) Take a rest day, and spend it furiously swiping left on perfectly eligible men just because they aren’t him. Do this until you arrive at THE END OF TINDER, which is a dark place where the world’s premiere thirst app will deem you too thirsty and cut you off. YES, REALLY. (Don’t worry, it resets in the morning.)
5. Curse yourself for being so millennial as to try and use an app to meet a person you see all the time in real life. Decide this ends now, and step into the gym with renewed vigor. You can do this! Only today he isn’t following you around. He’s…wait, what? HE’S TALKING TO ANOTHER GIRL. SHE’S GIGGLING. AND WEARING CONTOUR. AT THE GYM. HOW UNHYGIENIC. HE’S SHOWING HER HOW TO BENCH PRESS. YOU COULD HAVE ASKED HIM THAT EXCEPT YOU ALREADY FUCKING KNOW HOW TO BENCH PRESS. IS THIS WHAT IT TAKES TO FIND LOVE THESE DAYS? TO PLAY DUMB AND DROWN IN YOUR OWN SWEAT UNDER A FULL FACE OF MAKEUP? Become depressed and convinced you will die alone.
6. But obviously you’re still on Tinder, because gotta live. And that’s when YOU FIND HIM! Oh my god, it’s unmistakably him. And he has a job and friends and clothes that aren’t athletic shorts. THIS IS SO GREAT. You know his name and his age and, after a quick search, where he grew up and went to college. You take a few minutes to do a thorough Google stalk – you know, just to make sure there are no glaring red flags before you seduce him – and flip back over to Tinder. And that’s when you drop your phone. And your thumb slips. And you accidentally swipe left. Oh my god. OH MY GOD. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. Very (very) briefly consider paying for Tinder Premium so you can backtrack, before realizing that’s insane and the universe clearly doesn’t want you to take the easy way out.
7. Very (very) briefly consider sliding into his DMs to explain the situation, before realizing THAT’S insane and likely will not end well. Come on! You can do this!!!!!!!!!!!!
8. Spend your next few workouts avoiding eye contact and trying to forget everything you just learned. You would talk to him, but you’re afraid you’ll accidentally say too much, like the fact that your mom asks about him by the code name you made up when you were home for Christmas.
9. Um. Yeah. You heard me.
10. FUCKING SAY HI.
And make yourself a nice macro-friendly breakfast for the week. You deserve it.
Spicy Citrus-Cured Salmon
Home-cured salmon is like home-smoked salmon, minus the smoke. You’re using sugar and salt to dehydrate it, like jerky, or a bodybuilder on show day (#segue). I always hate it when recipes say “good quality X” because duh, but since you’re essentially eating raw fish, using well-sourced fresh stuff is key. Like a good crush, this needs time to marinate — 24 hours, to be exact — so plan accordingly. Slightly simplified from Bon Appetit.
1 lb skin-on, boneless salmon fillet (thawed frozen salmon will work)
1 cup coarse sea salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1. In a small bowl, combine salt, sugars, and red pepper flakes. Spread half of the mixture into a lined pan roughly the size of the filet (a loaf pan works great). Place the salmon on top, skin side down.
2. Zest the citrus over the fish, which helps catch the flavorful essential oils as they release. Bon App recommends 1/2 tsp of zest from each fruit; I just eyeballed and zested about half of the orange and most of the lime and lemon. Spread the rest of the sugar-salt mixture over top.
3. Fold the sides of the lining in to enclose. Place something heavy on top — I used another loaf pan filled with cans. Place in fridge for 24 hours, flipping once, about halfway through.
4. Rinse salmon and pat dry. Slice thin on a diagonal. Eat with rye bread and whipped cream cheese if ya know what’s good for ya.
Every morning — after I have coffee but before I put anything in my stomach that might be inclined to come back up — I take a deep breath, and I pay a visit to @realDonaldTrump’s Twitter account. I laugh at whatever fresh hell has appeared, and then I cry because this is real life.
And then I have breakfast, because one cannot #resist on an empty stomach.
The new administration has had the unforeseen side effect of making me highly aware of my own mortality. I don’t mean a carefree sense of YOLO (if people still said YOLO) — I mean I’ll be lying around, watching glute workouts on YouTube and ignoring new matches on Tinder and refusing to close 75 open browser tabs of sale shoes — when it hits me. Panic, absolute panic, that I’ve spent yet another day on the couch (I work from home! I email real humans, okay!) and in the gym. And why am I spending my money on shoes when I could be spending it on travel? And what, exactly, am I waiting to see that will convince me to go on some damn dates? And also, we could all die in a nuclear holocaust at any moment, and my last meal will have been a waffle made of protein powder.
I race to the window, see no mushroom cloud, and talk myself down because what the hell do I think most people are doing at 3pm on a Thursday? They’re at work. Doing their jobs. And I happen to be able to do mine from my couch. No shame in that game. No shame in staying active, either, especially given the whole couch-as-office situation. I’m not stuck — I can say yes to anything at any time. These thoughts are FAKE NEWS and BIG LOSERS and ought to be impeached (ahem).
But also, I could do more to make myself feel like I’m doing more.
So I’ve been going on nature walks and signing up for adult kickball leagues and flirting with the bros at my gym, so at least I don’t forget how. I’ve been gently reminding myself that while being able to work in PJs is a blessing sometimes, I feel best if I put on real clothes most days of the week. I’ve accepted that there’s only so much news (or Facebook) I can handle, and that I can be an ally without letting it overtake my whole life.
And while we’re at it, let’s lay off the protein powder, okay? Or at least have some pizza on the side.
Mini Deep Dish Polenta Pizzas
Now this is my kind of mushroom cloud. If you’ve ever had Chicago-style deep dish pizza, with its cornmeal crust…this isn’t really the same thing, but it’s a fun and easy and slightly less gut-busting alternative. I opted not to make sauce from scratch, because these only need a little bit and I don’t think it’s worth the effort. If you’re pressed for time, you can even slice pre-cooked polenta into rounds, but I do recommend adding a sprinkle of basil and oregano after the sauce. Makes 8 mini pizzas.
1 cup dry polenta
4 cups water
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp dried basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup prepared tomato sauce
Toppings of choice (cheese, pepperoni, veggies, red pepper flakes, etc.)
1. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Whisk in polenta 1/4 cup at a time. Reduce heat to low and add cheese and spices. Let thicken, stirring periodically, for 5-10 minutes, or until it just pulls away from the sides. Pour into muffin tins or ramekins, and place in fridge to set up for at least an hour.
2. Preheat oven to 425. Assemble your pizzas: sauce, cheese, toppings of choice. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cheese is melted and polenta is warmed through. You are WINNING BIGLY!
High school was decidedly not the best time of my life. It was also not the worst. I wasn’t “cool,” but I had a great group of friends and what one might call a blessed lack of self-awareness.
I was smart and not at all shy about it. I was also kind of a smartass, which made me not totally unlikable despite my need to turn every group presentation into a musical. In a sea of Lacoste polos and Uggs, I wore vintage dresses and cowboy boots and genuinely considered myself the best-dressed girl in school. (I was voted best-dressed in the drama department once.)
Of course I did drama. Excuse me, theatre. I was always cast in matronly comic relief roles, because I was chubby and had a high-pitched voice and stellar comedic timing, if I do say so myself. Despite not being able to scrape the lead in a high school play, I was convinced I belonged on Broadway and studied theatre in college, until I was traumatized by a circus requirement sophomore year. But that’s another blog post.
My best friend and I were inseparable. If we weren’t in rehearsals, we would spend our afternoons taking hundreds of intentionally unattractive selfies: Us with tinfoil grillz! Us with carrots hanging out of our mouths like walrus tusks! Us pulling our heads so far back into our necks that we had 16 chins! We called this pose the “hot or not?” because we thought it would be hilarious to post it on one of those rate-my-appearance sites. It became a signature pose in our friend group. We have a photo from every dance: 20 teens in tuxes and gowns, all doing the “hot or not?”
Let’s see, what else? I was way into Jesus and once tried to witness to my AP history class, but that was kind of a thing at my high school (Mormons were hip, IDK). Accordingly, I didn’t drink and had never been kissed, though I did have a sexual awakening of sorts while grinding to Sean Paul’s “Temperature” at Homecoming. My friends and I once tried to throw a sexy costume party, but we didn’t really get it, so the theme was just “sexy.” Everyone came as a different sexy thing: sexy teacher, sexy wizard, sexy baby. It was a very sexy event.
I was on the step team for one year — yes, that kind of step team. I got my ginger hair cornrowed and wore baggy camo pants and a shirt with “EMINEMMA” on the back. I don’t want to talk about it.
There was a rock in the school parking lot that was basically a designated vandalism zone. Sports teams and other student groups were encouraged to paint it under the cover of darkness to drum up school spirit and such. It was a nice idea, so naturally, my gang trolled everyone by repeatedly painting the word “BALLS.” Just “BALLS.” Seriously, we did this like three times. It never got old. It still isn’t old. BALLS.
I could deservedly mock my 15-year-old self for hours — but the beauty is that despite all the awkwardness, I thought I was the shit. Of course I had my share of teen angst, but I never let it keep me from doing my thing. I was so aggressively myself. Popularity, conformity, sexiness — these simply were not my values. I’m in awe of that confidence now.
This year will bring my 10-year high school reunion. I’m kind of excited, actually. I’ve changed a lot personally and accomplished a lot professionally, and I’m curious to see who else has done the same. Of course, with social media, it won’t be the dramatic reveal that it once might have been — I know who’s gotten married and who’s passed the bar exam. But just as we all revert to our childhood selves while home for the holidays, I wonder if we’ll move amongst each other as grown-ups…or just be big kids writing “BALLS” in lipstick on the mirror.
Sexy Chicken Sesame Carrot Noodles
My favorite meal in high school was chicken sesame noodles. I requested it on every special occasion. This version, hipstered up with half carrot noodles and v aesthetic black sesame seeds, is just a little bit sexier — but still unapologetically me. Serves 4.
1 package soba noodles
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
2-inch piece raw ginger, peeled and minced
4 large carrots (or as many as you want, really)
1 lb chicken breast, cooked and shredded
Black sesame seeds, to serve
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain, rinse, and set aside, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
2. Combine tahini, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and pasta water in a blender. You might need more water to get it going — add slowly, though, or you’ll wind up with a runny sauce that doesn’t stick to your noodles.
3. Chop scallions. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the carrots lengthwise to form “noodles.” You could also use a spiralizer, if you’re about that life.
4. In a large mixing bowl, combine noodles, vegetables, and chicken. Pour dressing over top and toss to coat. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds. Try not to burst into song.
I have a playlist called “Feeling Sorry for Myself,” but it might as well be called “Songs About You.” It’s years old — you and I so amicably, unambiguously over that there’s no reason to exorcise you now — except I listened to it today, and I fell harder than I expected. Felt it all over again.
It’s not all sad songs, this playlist. It’s like a story. There are songs of beginnings, of banter at parties, of preteen-style marathon make-outs, of texts that left me levitating. It’s a nice place to stay, for a while.
There’s the song I played on repeat the first time you failed me. We’d made loose plans; I’d starved for days to look good naked. I felt bold texting you in just my bra, the navy satin one that gave the almost-illusion of almost-cleavage. I waited. And waited. Finally: “Going out not sure keep you posted” (no punctuation, pre-emoji). Alone in my room, I felt naked. I stared at my reflection. I put on my shirt. I made brownies and I ate them all.
There’s the song I sulked to after the first night I spent at your place. I had set an alarm for six. Slipped out so you wouldn’t see how puffy my face gets in the morning. Didn’t trust you to care for Me, Person and not just Me, Persona. (Spoiler: This is a self-fulfilling prophecy.)
I belly-flopped onto my bed and stared out the window at the snow. I had thought the whole thing would be raunchy and rough, like the way we spoke to each other. Instead, it was disarmingly tender. I couldn’t stop thinking about how your fingers had traced my spine when you thought I was asleep. Such an affectionate gesture. I had faced away from you, tears in my eyes.
Why couldn’t I roll over and live in that moment with you? I didn’t know. I made cinnamon rolls and I ate them all.
There are more songs, more theses on our magnetic mutual cruelty. On booty calls, on failures to communicate or commit. On never really knowing if we were wrong or the timing was.
Until I did know. That one night, the last night — there’s a song for that night, too. I had never seen so clearly what I wanted, what I deserved…and what I could keep expecting from you. Knowing what I do now, I think you were just like me that night, turning away from my tenderness with tears in your eyes. It’s okay. I believe you’re different now. I know I am.
I walked four miles home at dawn, feeling free. I didn’t think about food for hours. I had better things to do.
Cinnamon Rolls for Two
Cinnamon rolls are kind of an ordeal to make from scratch, because they require multiple mini-recipes (dough! filling! glaze!) and multiple rising times. On top of that, some of the most revered recipes make an absurd amount of not-exactly-everyday food. But! This baby batch makes just enough for a weekend breakfast (or two, if you’re single). No one step is difficult, and the first rise can happen overnight — meaning all you have to do before coffee is shape them and let them sit while you preheat the oven. You’ll get four small rolls, perfect for sharing … or polishing off (with a full French press) over the better part of a Saturday. Inspired by Oh, Ladycakes.
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (think bath water, not tea water)
1 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp milk (any kind will do)
4 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1. Dissolve the yeast in the water. If you want, you can add a pinch of sugar, which will help activate it faster. If it doesn’t look like this after about 10 minutes, throw it out and start over.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the butter and sugar. Add the milk, the yeast mixture, and the salt. With a spoon, stir in the flour 1/4 cup at a time; once it comes together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. (Or, if you’re me, push it around in the bottom of the bowl until satisfied. We are decidedly not legit around here.) Cover and let rise about an hour, or in the fridge overnight.
3. Meanwhile, make the filling.
4 tsp butter, room temperature
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
4. Roll or pat the dough into a 5” x 10” rectangle. Spread the butter evenly, and sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon over top. Starting at the short and, tightly roll into a log and cut into four even pieces. Arrange them, swirly-side-up, in a (greased) 6” cake pan or muffin tin. Let rise for at least 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 12-14 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, make the glaze.
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tbsp milk (you want it pourable, but not too runny)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Whisk and drizzle over the warm rolls. Promise me no more tears.