Pistachio-Walnut Baklava Butter (or, the cookie butter of baklava).

These is lean times in Chez Embry, my very fancy 400-square-foot home. I’ve never been great at saving in a world where J.Crew and cold-pressed juices exist, and this year, the holidays rolled around and I just. Went. Nuts. I mean, nuts. If you invite me to do anything before March, just know I’ll be eating beforehand. And probably walking from central Brooklyn.

January is blessedly lame and therefore an ideal time to ease up on the nuts. Meaning literal nuts, meaning no $15 jars of MaraNatha Raw Organic Almond Butter (I know but you guys, their texture game is on point). Necessity breeds invention and yadda yadda, and Chez Embry is never without le nut butter. I was out of le almonds, though. So I gave their sassy green brothers a conspiratorial wink, and Baklava Butter was born.

First, a shoutout to Nuts.com, the reason I have the whole world in my pantry. They offered my company a 10% discount and, being a lunatic, I promptly ordered $350 worth of ~superfoods~ (see: spending problem). Dare I say it was worth it, because I’ve been coasting on that stash for months, and I now know that kale granola exists and spirulina is aces mixed into brown rice. I’ve used Nuts.com a few times since; my order always arrives the next day, with an extra sample or two tucked inside. Everything’s top-notch and fresher than Beyoncé. Even the eco-friendly packaging is delightful. No front here, I just honestly love Nuts.com and I want you to put spirulina in your rice, too. And when you finish, there’s baklava for dessert.

Pistachio-Walnut Baklava Butter

I straight-up high-fived myself upon tasting this. It is spreadable baklava, plus all the goodness of B vitamins and alpha-linolenic acid, which I’ll let you google if you’re someone who cares about that. You could probably get away with two tablespoons of honey, but I have a sugar problem as well as a spending problem, so this is the version I’m putting my name on. It’s barely a recipe, but order and timing do matter, and toasting the nuts makes all the difference in flavor.

2 cups raw pistachios
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup raw walnuts

1. Heat oven to 375. Toast pistachios until fragrant, about eight minutes. While they cool, do the same to the walnuts.

2. Dump pistachios into a reasonably capable food processer. Forge past flour and into butter consistency, when the oils release and you have to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Add honey and spices. The mixture will seize up briefly, but don’t freak out! Let it get that out of its system so you can get it into yours (ha ha ha am I a food writer yet?).

4. Once the mixture is smooth and sticky, add the walnuts. Pulse for a chunky finish, or whip it good for a smooth one. Do not share.


Basic before basic was basic.

I bought the most amazing pajama suit last summer. (Pause for effect.) It’s Steven Alan, 100% silk, white with a subtle triangle print. It’s trendy…but so bedroom-to-boardroom versatile (logic)! I can break up the separates for double the fun (math)! I’ll wear it once a week for the next five years (desperate lies)!

I’ve worn it twice. Two and a half times, actually. Math!

Three years into my New York life, I’ve all but fallen to the cult of black on black. I don’t mind the idea of color — I’m just busy living the dream, okay, and I can’t be bothered with things like matching my clothes/checking my seat on the subway/doing laundry more than once a month. Black is chic. Black is easy. Black is kind to those who frequently slosh hot liquids down their fronts.

Black is harsh. I’m a very white human, physically speaking, and high-contrast isn’t always the most flattering move. Gray is good, but surprisingly tricky — I wind up buying all different shades and don’t like how they look together. Camel makes me look seasick. Navy makes me look waspy. White’s a win until lunch, after which I find myself trying to convince people that, what, I’ve been wearing this statement necklace all day, no, it is not made of office supplies and that stain is intentional, God, don’t you people appreciate art?

Black is chic. Black is easy. Et cetera.

You know what’s not too chic, though? Black plus any other color. It seems like it should work, but more often that not, it’s a one-way ticket to frumptown. Black plus print is fine, solid plus solid is a choice, but black plus solid? It’s like what you were ordered to wear to your choir concert, the kind that was too low-budget to spring for sparkly uniforms.

All due respect to the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus.

I snark having made this mistake over and over, and wondering why such a basic look comes off looking so basic (logic!). It just is. That’s the problem. This combo just is so aggressively. Like, commit to black or put together a real outfit, you asshole. Or get onstage and shake what your mama gave you, because there’s a good chance she dressed you and drove you here.

So um, I guess this is me committing not to do this anymore (and also to wear my pajama suit). Black is a choice. I choose my choice. Choices, you know? Am I alone here? Do you dig this look? (You basic.)

Gluten-Free Tortilla Soup for a Southern soul.

My grandmother, Leah, died in August. Let’s get that out there right now. It was sad in the way that losing grandparents is sad and watching parents lose parents is sadder. It was also okay, in that she was old and possessed the kind of fire better suited to a snuff than a slow fade.

We weren’t close. In fact, we were nemeses at the holiday table, my family’s nervous eyes on me through her railings against social leftism and women who work outside the home. I could barely be bothered to snort. There was no point, I thought. We had nothing in common, I thought. I wrote her off and swore I’d never become so bitter and out of touch.

Leah was a product of her time. It’s not an excuse, but it’s an explanation. And the truth is, if she’d have been born 60 years later, I think she’d have been a lot like me. She was sharp-tongued and stubborn. Charming when it suited her. Loved to entertain; then loved to be alone. Type A to a fault. A regular card shark. And as no one, least of all me, would argue: a damn good cook.

A southerner via the southwest, Leah had a way with Mexican food. Her tortilla soup tastes more definitively of childhood than things I ate on a daily basis. It’s what always appeared the first night of a visit, a restorative tonic for jetlag and tension. What we slurped before trick-or-treating on Halloween, the calm before the sugar rush. A stab at comfort on Sunday nights at my Dad’s house, drowning the strangeness of packing to leave a “home” that never quite felt like ours.

I flew to Arkansas for the service and came back with a recipe box. The hits are all there: her biscuits and gravy, her scalloped potatoes, her carrot cake. Lots of alarming Jell-O salads and tuna casseroles. I had my mind on one thing.

I made her version first: all-purpose flour, stick of butter and all. Then I made our version: that same sultry Southwestern flavor with a whole-grain base and a hit of veggies, as is my way. The result is something that would have been laughed out of a potluck 60 years ago. But times are different now. We get our comfort how we can.

Sorghum Tortilla Soup with Collard Greens

You can sub all-purpose or corn flour, but don’t sleep on the sorghum. It’s a super-nutritious, gluten-free grain whose mild flavor plays well with the smoky ancho chile. Making a paste with hot broth helps the flour melt into the soup, eliminating the need for a roux; if you skip this step, you’ll wind up with clumpy sorghum “dumplings” instead of the voluptuous broth that makes this bowl so soul-soothing. Serves 4.

2 tablespoons neutral oil or lard (I used duck fat)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup ancho chile powder
4 cups chicken broth
1 can white hominy, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
A handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1 bunch collard greens, thinly sliced
Avocado and/or corn chips, for serving

1. Heat fat over medium-low. Add onion and cook until soft, about five minutes. Add garlic, and cook for another minute or so. Add chile powder. Stir to coat, and add one cup of water.

2. Add broth, hominy, beans, and spices. Bring to a boil. Skim a few tablespoons of hot broth off the top and set aside. Add cilantro to pot and reduce to simmer.

3. Whisk flour into reserved broth to form a paste. Make sure there’s more flour than broth, or you’ll have a hard time getting it smooth. Return flour paste to pot and stir to incorporate. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, slice your greens. Extra-thin, because collards are as tenacious as Ms. Leah. Add to pot and simmer for another 10 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

5. Spoon into bowls. Top with avocado and corn chips. Slurp and be soothed.

Hacking the small stuff.

Once upon a time, I had a motto: Don’t sweat the small stuff (and it’s all small stuff)! I didn’t invent it, but I made a great evangelist back in 2009, right around the time I titled a Facebook album “My Life Is In Shambles But Here Are Your Damn Photos.” Term papers? Sorority rush? Costume designing three shows? Small stuff! Here are your damn photos!

I still don’t believe in sweating the small stuff. But I don’t believe in ignoring it, either — precisely because it’s all small stuff. If everything doesn’t matter, then…nothing matters. The itchy business of living is all we’ve got some days. The small stuff will absolutely undo us if we let it. And for no good reason, because small stuff is usually easy to fix.

As someone who chronically stresses over abstract ideas like Maintaining Balance and Finding Love and Designing My Career, I think the small stuff is a fine place for me to direct my attention. Instead of sweating it, though, I’m hacking it — systematically scrubbing until it figures out how to scrub itself. If I flick away the sweat before it drips, I’ll never wind up with a soaked shirt and eyeliner on my chin. And now I’m very much regretting this metaphor.

Small Stuff to Sweat Hack in 2015

No headphones on the train. Without a sense of hearing, I enter an eerie state of half-consciousness. I’m less likely to stare at adorable babies, admire a girl crush’s denim-cuffing technique, read the book I’ve ambitiously tucked in my bag or work through whatever’s on my mind. Instead, I just…zone. It’s not meditation, it’s dead time, and I don’t need two hours of it a day. Saying no to “headphoning it in” will make my commute more engaged and productive.

Up my manicure game. This is one of those things that speaks volumes about where I’m at with self-care. It’s a bit of a hamster wheel, yes, but I feel infinitely more pulled together when my nails are painted. I can spare 20 minutes twice a week to feel pulled together.

Commit to life after bangs. Growing out bangs is the worst, and I’ve now tried and failed on three separate occasions. This time is the last time (meaning, last time was the last time). Suffer the interim shag — like, two months, max! — and ye shall be rewarded with the ability to rock a sloppy topknot on days you DGAF (but it’s fine, cuz you painted your nails).

Dress myself the night before. Not another vanity hack — this is straight time management. My morning routine is quick and dirty, except that I’m horribly indecisive and spend 25 minutes shuffling in and out of various half-outfits before realizing I will be fired if I don’t show up for work and racing out in whatever I’ve land in at minute 26. Somehow I don’t see myself agonizing into the night if I lay out clothes when I’m in a less harried frame of mind. Doing so will also help facilitate early workouts, which is key because…

Run 13.1. I’m not the first twentysomething to run a half marathon, and I won’t be the last. But it’s a big deal to me! I’m registered for the Pittsburgh Half on my birthday weekend (in May), meaning it’ll be the first workout I complete in my second quarter-century. Happy new year, indeed. I’m calling this a preventative hack against small stuff like brain fog and body angst that creeps in when I start slacking on exercise. I’ve got time for long runs, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

Eat sandwiches for lunch. Literally nothing hits that sweet spot of satisfied-but-not-sleepy for me like a sandwich. Not salad, not soup, not souped-up fiber-fied grain bowls (I get gassy, okay?). Every few months, I attempt to go raw/go Paleo/break up with gluten and, after a brief placebo-induced reckoning, find I’ve cured nothing except my ability to function after noon. Stop the madness! Sane amounts of gluten and I are A-OK. Sandwiches are my happy place. And if I wind up back there in March, there is gluten-free bread I can pretend to like until I come to my senses.

Get outta town (and, if possible, the U.S.). I love staycations. I live in an amazing city, and bopping around at a leisurely pace and then coming home to cook in my own kitchen and sleep in my own bed makes me happy. I did so for two full weeks in 2014. But…I need to travel. For my own growth and, once I shake off my control-freaky roots, enjoyment. I’ve already got a few trips to look forward to — five days in L.A., a weekend in Philly for the 1989 tour (h8erz gunna h8!!!!!!!), the aforementioned half marathon — and I’m into living dat nomad life insomuch as my sanity and wallet will allow.

Wear pants on the weekends. Would you judge me if I told you I often go two straight days without putting on clothes? Good, because I judge me a little. As much as I need “me time” to function, weekends can and should consist of more than lounging all morning, forcing myself to the gym, showering, putting on fresh PJs and climbing back into bed at 2pm. I swear I enjoy the outside world — I just get sucked into things (like, um, things made of spandex) until it feels too late to bother getting dressed. Pants would be a game changer.

I’ve also had some frumpy growing pains transitioning into my Adult Look (it’s a thing), and I’m bound to pull it it together more quickly if I get all the terrible ideas out of my system when the stakes are low. More trial = more error, followed by NO ERROR EVER AGAIN. That’s how that works, right?

Unfilter myself. I wrote way more than I published in 2014 (good, but could be good-er), and a big part of that was psyching myself out over images. It’s dumb. I’m not a photographer. If I have a relevant photo, I will certainly throw it up here. But I trust that anyone who jives with my blog can figure out what I’m saying with out a dubious Instagram illustration.

What small stuff are you hacking this year?

Pipe dreams.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

My ancient radiator, that’s who. We’re transitioning out of transitional weather — trading jackets for coats and PSLs for comforts brewed on the stove. Polar vortex is descending, and with it a choice: snuggle up to a sweet new normal or let bitterness eat us alive.

Should probably find a new home for this guy.

I am a winter girl. (I also do not wear Abercrombie and Fitch, so Rich and I were doomed from the start.) Layering up and hunkering down is in my hard wiring, and each year I enjoy a surge of reverse SAD. I could point to my indoorsy interests or Buddy the Elf-like holiday spirit, but more than anything, it’s that I thrive in a season ruled by intention.

Intention is, to me, the source of all forward motion. It’s a close relative of mindfulness, but less about the moment itself than the act of constructing it: I will go here. I will do this. I will make my fate my own. It’s accountability, but only to myself — to things I think I want and know I need.

Summer, for all its loveliness, is at odds with intention. In bloom, I am bright and breezy and pliable. I want to say yes, and I want things to say yes to. I make myself available to whim and, in doing so, pluck myself from roots I planted when no other grass was greener, because there was no other grass.

For a few weeks, it’s bliss. By August, I’m stuck in a strange holding pattern — like I’m waiting for something to change me, and when or how is beyond my control. Like I’m failing every moment I’m not Living In The Moment. Plans waft my way; I say no and feel guilty, or I go and feel drained. It’s too much. I love unplanned adventures and aimless walks through the park. Just, you know, when I want to. Not because summer said I should.

There’s no dragging our heels in the winter. We’ll wind up knee-deep and turn back before we begin. Oppressed by the elements, we’re reduced to bare totems of priority, our will to fight for our good times revealing how much we want what we want. The lack of foliage exposes deep-sown yearnings that hide in the loveliness of an unexamined life. All that rawness leads to discomfort sometimes. I get it. I also know it comes back around to growth.

In winter, I do what I want when I want it. I write. I cook. I exercise. I clean my apartment and spend whole days perfecting my eyeliner technique. Paradoxically — or obviously — that bare, predictable landscape sends me grasping at tendrils that poke through the snow. Those are the powerful moments. I gather them fiercely and savor them without trying — because they’re exceptions, and because I know my fellow scavengers have fought for them too.

And so I intend to winter: in pursuit of things I think I want and know I need. To winter: an active verb, because I’m the one making changes around here. To winter: in a way that makes the spring irrelevant, and therefore that much sweeter when it comes.

It’s gonna be a damn good time.

Butternut Squash, Sage and Ricotta Calzones with Hazelnut Crust (or, Hot Pockets for dignified adults).

This is a tale of two underdogs: butternut squash and calzones. The first sidelined by its latte-plundering brethren; the second chronically, confusingly overlooked. In a world where Hot Pockets can turn a profit, I can think of no reason calzones aren’t killing it. Made in miniature, they’re a handheld dream for packed lunches or frozen dinners. A dignified way to dough on the go.

My epiphany came at Emily, a Clinton Hill pizzeria. The pies hit the spot, but the real star was the s’mores calzone that’s become the restaurant’s calling card (or at least its face on Instagram). It’s exactly what it sounds like: a full-size pizza topped with dark chocolate, marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs, folded and baked until charred on the outside and molten within. I mean. It’s just rude to serve something like that after a meal. Next time, I’m getting one for dinner.

In the meantime, I’d like to keep things a little (a little!) more sensible. So I stuffed my homemade calzones with the flavors of fall: butternut squash, sage and lush roasted garlic ricotta, all wrapped in a hazelnut crust.

These are a hard sell. I get it. There’s homemade pizza dough (yeast! Toasted nuts ground into powder!), pre-cooked veggies, and serious wrist calisthenics. The good news is that I made them four times, and start to finish, they’re ready in two hours. If you can’t commit to that, the dough and the squash can both be made ahead, trimming assembly to 30 minutes. The best news is that they’ll keep for months in your freezer — meaning if you put in the time now, you’ve got seven deliciously dignified Hot Pocket nights ahead.

Butternut Squash, Sage, and Ricotta Calzones

I am not a precise cook. This is not a precise recipe. The only thing you should be measuring is the dough, which I’ve broken out separately below. What’s key is slicing the squash into thin, layerable strips and letting the garlic soften to where you can mash it with the ricotta. These cook quickly in a hot oven, which keeps the dough from drying out — and don’t skip that last oil rubdown, okay? Does a body good. Flavors by Martha; form by Emily; engineering by me.

1 butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4” half-moons
1 head garlic
1 recipe Hazelnut Pizza Dough (below)
1 cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup fresh sage leaves, torn into small pieces
A handful of finely ground yellow cornmeal
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Heat oven to 400. Peel and slice squash, toss with a few glugs of olive oil, arrange in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt. Lop off the end of the garlic so the cloves are exposed (no need to peel them), drizzle with oil, and wrap in foil. Bake for 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make your dough. Let it rise on top of your warm oven while the veggies roast. When it’s doubled in size (about an hour), divide into eight balls.

3. Mash the roasted garlic (squeeze from the bottom and it’ll ooze right out) into the ricotta. Add the sage, a healthy pinch of salt, and cracked black pepper to taste. I added five cracks per calzone. Say crack again. Crack.

4. Grease two baking sheets lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with cornmeal. Pat dough balls into 4×8″ ovals (four should fit on each sheet). On one half of each oval, layer a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture, a few slices of squash, another blob of ricotta, and more squash. Fold the unloaded halves over and press edges firmly to close.

5. Rub sealed dough balls with olive oil. Bake at 450 for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Eat and feel dignified.

Hazelnut Pizza Dough

1 cup warm water (110 degrees. Think bathwater, not tea water. Would you give it to a baby?)
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
Heaping 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and cooled
1 ½ teaspoons salt

1. In a small bowl, combine water and yeast. Stir and set aside. If it doesn’t look foamy and rebellious in 10 minutes, start over.

2. Pulse hazelnuts in a blender or food processor until finely ground. A few nubs are fine, but it should be mostly sandy in texture. If you get to the nut butter stage, start over. (And put that ish on some toast tomorrow morning.)

3. In a large bowl, whisk flour, ground hazelnuts and salt. Pour yeast mixture and olive oil over top, and stir until a dough forms. At this point, knead on a floured surface, or do what I do and push it around in the bowl, adding flour until it Feels Like Pizza Dough. Very technical term. You should mess with it for a good 5-8 minutes, and you’ll probably add another 1/4 cup of flour.

And you know what? If you wanted to halve the filling, I bet leftover hazelnut dough would make a killer s’mores calzone. Just do yourself a favor and don’t eat dinner first. It’s the adult thing to do.

The gentrified side of the street.

This one.

I live in what brokers would call a “up-and-coming” area. (There’s no G-word in Brokerese.) It’s scrappy, but not slummy — a true neighborhood, with enough general stores and Pinterest-y cafes to feel sufficiently Brooklandia. I’m feet from fast trains to and from the island, blocks from Prospect Park and downtown, and minutes from dollar oysters and expertly made Manhattans at my spot around the corner. The essentials, you know?

For as much as we love to hate on the G-word — and as ill its effects on longtime residents who can no longer pay the rent — it’s not all bad news. Gentrification is as much about the cop stationed outside the ATM as the landing of Starbucks (for the record, we’re all mad about that). It’s a conscious effort the city makes to improve communities formerly underserved and overrun by crime. As intended, it makes life better for everyone.

But it’s a process, and not without its tensions along the way. My block pays witness to that: one side new-age gentry, the other a raucous bastion of hood. I’ve never felt personally threatened, but I’ve spent a few nights tossing and turning in my front-facing apartment as the street action raged into the wee hours. 2am. 3am. 4am. Good God, are these people still awake, filling the night with cackled obscenities? I were true gentry, I’d huffily slam the window and swan back into my air-conditioned apartment. As it is, I need the breeze.

So I hear a lot. A lot of “fuck you,” a lot of “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” and a lot of open-window domestic disputes. The vibe errs more rowdy than violent, but a few sound effects have made me wonder if I was turning a blind eye — or pillow-smothered ear — on humanity. A recent night left no doubt in my mind that something was off. I awoke to a dreadful chorus: rhythmic hoots, piteous feline yowling, and shouts of, “My money’s on the black one!”

I cracked. I called 911, slurring a half-conscious explanation from under my covers. In the moment, I knew I was doing the right thing. This wasn’t about stifling the community. It was about protecting it from destruction that arose — however organically — from patterns that could and should be changed.

By the time the cops came, the crowd had dispersed, but the guttural meows had not. No arrests were made, to my knowledge. The cats were removed from the scene. I wasn’t contacted for more information, but by then I was far from sleep, so I made bread pudding. The next day, my girlfriends came over for brunch. What a princess, right? Why don’t I go back where I came from?

That’s not the solution. Nor is my keeping my mouth shut when shit gets real. And that’s the undisclosed cost of life on the gentrified side of the street — a responsibility to see the evolution through. What’s more, I can’t expect my catfighting neighbors to see things my way, no matter how pleasantly we wave as I pass in my business-casual attire. Things look different from over there. One man’s cup of sugar is another’s trod-on petunias.

There’s nothing to do but wave when the waving’s good, and follow my gut when it’s not. And to know that being neighborly isn’t as simple as doling out bread pudding. Luckily, we’re moving into a season when I can close the window. I just hope we can find a way to keep the door open.