It’s wild, working for Martha Stewart. As a junior editor, I rarely dealt with her directly, but I rode with her in elevators and watched my bosses wring their hands. I have my crowd-pleasing stories: the time she threatened to throw her iPad out the window in a meeting; the time she laughed at me when I offered her cake-cutting tips at the holiday party. (In my defense, I was 23 and tipsy. Martha’s eggnog is no joke.) She’s demanding and stubborn and irreverent and surprisingly tall with flawless skin, and as a 75-year-old living legend, she does not have time for your crap.
Eighteen months out of the glitter factory (an accurate nickname for the office), my real answer is this: Martha Stewart is life-changing. Because watching her work, even from afar, makes it clear why she’s achieved what she has.
She grinds. Still. She’s really there, all the time, putting her fingerprint on everything. She’s diligent and passionate and shrewd and specific and all of the things that matter in creating a bulletproof brand. In a world where every lifestyle blogger wants to be the next Martha, she remains the GOAT. She can make a mean pie crust and fold a fitted sheet while in handcuffs.
Sorry, Marth, I had to.
But Martha Stewart, Brand is not Martha Stewart, Person. Martha Stewart, Person is only anecdotally concerned with domestic bliss. She might have made her name as a homemaking guru, but she’s more interested in expanding her world than perfecting a tiny one. She gets up early and stays out late and travels the globe and learns new skills and lights up with Snoop and roasts Justin Bieber on national television. That woman freaking lives.
You have to actually do things. My all-time favorite Martha quote — a comment she made on millennials and technology, on our contentedness to experience life secondhand through our phones. But that sums up the Martha ethos, really: how not to be one of those scrubs who’s always talking ‘bout what he wants and just sits on his broke ass. You have to actually do things. New things. Hard things. Find your things and make them work for you.
I consider myself roughly the opposite of a guru. I set an empty pot on fire last month. But I do have a pretty cool system for making resolutions: I choose three words to live by in the new year, and then I write out how they apply to various parts of my life (work, health, relationships, etc). I like doing this because it helps me pair big-picture values with small changes that support them — sans the list of equal and opposite failures. As the year unfolds, I can course-correct, and what the words mean can evolve.
Two of my 2017 words were easy: decisive and brave. I’ll spare you the manifesto on how those break down, but to me, they perfectly capture broad-yet-specific goals. The last one had to do with follow-through, with making good on a zillion lists and I-want-tos. Integrity, really, but in adjective form, and with feeling.
I couldn’t find the right word, so I’m inventing one: Stewartly, which is much more fun to say than Marthish. It means, well, actually doing things. Enacting a no-scrubs policy for myself and the people I love. Oh yes, son, I’m talking to you.
“For a long time, I thought it was always closed. Until one day I looked closer and saw people moving inside. Turns out, because it’s an eco-gym, there’s just one light bulb in the center of the room, and it’s powered by the machines. So if you’re slacking on your cardio, it’s gonna be a dark day at the eco-gym.”
Actually, there’s a whole lot of eco- here. The couple whose guest room I rented my first six months in town were “Master Recyclers,” an actual certification granted by the city to those exceptionally gifted at separating their bottles from their cans. At any given time, the sink was full of drip-drying plastic; where I was used to one recycling bin, they had, like, ten.
I tried. They were good people, and I wanted to make them proud. But I come from the East Coast, where hoarding Trader Joe’s bags to hold my empty paper towel rolls is as green as it gets. (That’s right, I said paper towels.)
I was constantly making mistakes. I’d toss the pull-top from a yogurt in the trash only to watch it get rescued hours later. Bake in foil to save on clean-up, then have to scrub that, too. Polish off a late-night pint of ice cream and feel too sheepish to set it in the sink. I started keeping my own trash in my room and stealthily dumping it in neighbors’ curbside bins.
I came home one day to a note on the porch: the envelope from a bill I’d discarded, my address printed on the front. Under it, a handwritten scribble: “Please use your own trash can! Thanks!!!” Eco-friendly? More like eco-passive-aggressive. With a touch of eco-stalker.
So I switched to the dumpster behind an auto-parts store up the street…until one of my drop-offs coincided with employee lunch hour. A group of burly men were convened in the parking lot. I smiled at them as I lifted the lid.
“You know, that’s really not a public dumpster,” one of them said.
“I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,” I muttered, heaving the bag over the side.
“Hey,” he called at my retreating back. Then again, louder. “HEY!”
I bolted. I didn’t stop until I had run three blocks and turned a corner. Panting against the garage of a former drive-by-trash-dump victim, I thought, Has it really come to this?
Also, those guys totally think I just threw a body in their dumpster.
So I’m learning to recycle. You know what I’m great at recycling? Food. I’m quite gifted at turning dinner into lunch and sometimes breakfast (to say nothing of second breakfast or midnight snack). It’s amazing how the same bean burrito filling can be equally satisfying squished in a tortilla, heaped over quinoa, or flash-fried and topped with a runny egg.
Just be sure to recycle your cans.
Go Green (Chile) Black Bean Burrito Bowl
This is basically chili without the liquid. I like to make a big batch to remix all week. Like most things I cook, it’s very customizable: you could add bell peppers to up the veg factor, par-boiled potatoes to up the carb factor, or a pinch of cayenne if you like it hot. Serves 4-6.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed (or about 4 cups prepared black beans)
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
2 4-oz cans green chilis
1 cup chicken broth
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp oregano
Salt, to taste
Brown rice or quinoa, to serve
1. If you’re making the rice, start making the rice. Shit takes 45 minutes to cook. Never say I don’t care about you.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
3. Turn heat to high. Add beans, tomatoes, chiles, broth, and spices. Once it bubbles, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes, or until all free liquid has evaporated. If it looks like it’s drying out too quickly, add a splash of broth or water.
That’s it! I topped my bowl with chopped tomatoes, avocado, nutritional yeast and hot sauce. But only because I didn’t have sour cream, cheese, cilantro, scallions, or rainbow sprinkles. (For the ‘gram.)
In order to understand me in Portland, you must first know me in New York City.
But before that, you must understand that there is no such thing as New York City — at least, not the familiar, glittering entity that is theoretical New York City. The reality looks like 8.5 million things to 8.5 million people: an uptown, downtown, five-borough kaleidoscope of 8.5 million different stories.
My New York City began and ended with a kitchen.
It was, like most kitchens in New York City apartments, more of a strip. But that 3x3 slab of countertop was effectively my world. It was always stocked with chia seeds and rainbow sprinkles and 48 half-used condiments and a very expensive high-speed blender and a whole drawer full of spatulas, each of which had a distinct and crucial purpose. It was rarely clean, because by the time I got around to washing dishes, it was only to hose them down and use them again.
By day, I churned out breezy articles for my job as a lifestyle editor. For as long as there had been a plan, that plan had been: move to New York City, become a writer. And I had done it. I Had My Own Place and Wrote All Day and while the work wasn’t always deeply satisfying, I got off on being legit by proxy. It was fun to drop a name that everybody knew.
By night, I cooked. Anything. Everything. I cooked alone and I ate alone. Sometimes I’d braise a whole pork butt or bake a three-layer cake on a Tuesday and chip at it for days. Sometimes I froze leftovers. Sometimes I gave them away. Sometimes I sat on the floor of my strip and ate until I wanted to cry. Sometimes I did cry. Often I wondered how food, something so inherently social in nature, had seemingly become my only friend.
I’ll tell you how: a half-healed eating disorder that owned more of me than I knew. While my behavior was less blatant than that which had earned me a bulimia diagnosis three years prior, my mind was ruled by compulsions that positioned my life around food.
Make breakfast at 4am because you’re too hungry to sleep. Wonder how you’ll make it to noon. Run five miles so you feel okay about a mid-morning snack. Coffee. More coffee. Eat lunch, but just enough to take your mind off food for an hour or so. Go for a walk. Coffee again. Panic when someone brings out baked goods from the test kitchen and instead binge on trail mix alone at your desk while scoping out dinner recipes. Take an extra-long walk to the subway. Cook an elaborate dinner. Eat a doll-sized portion. Record this in the food journal that has had an open tab in your browser all day long, where you’ve worked and reworked the next three days’ meals at least three times. Do some leg lifts. Read some food blogs. Spend Saturday at the gym and eating alone at trendy restaurants. Spend Sunday baking and prepping weekday lunches. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
While my weight just barely clung to the right side of healthy, my mindset was anything but. I was anxious and lonely and unable to see the role I played in my own misery.
Miraculously, I came to. I stopped running and started eating and, hey, how about that, stopped wanting to think about food all day. And while I knew I was doing the right thing by cutting the Vitamix cord (NOTLITERALLYOMG I AMNOT A PSYCHO), I was shocked by the emptiness of the life that remained. I had cooked a lot and eaten a lot and had very little to show for it, and even less knowledge of how to fill the hours between meals. The kitchen, once the source of every comfort and joy, felt like a trap to me. I spent very little time there for a while.
But we can’t quit the kitchen altogether, can we? In the words of my first celebrity crush, Aladdin, gotta eat to live. And the thing is, I do love food. I love the taste. I love the sensation of fullness. I love the creative chemistry that takes place at the stove. I love the way cooking lets me care for others. I love the way developing a recipe lets me ground a memory in something more concrete.
Gotta eat to live. Eating is good. But living, friends — living is the point.
So I made a decision, then and now, that I would love food for what it could show me and where it could take me. For who I became once my plate was clear. And I quit that kitchen for a new one: one that could be the start of my story, but not the end.