It’s always such a trip to look back over old posts and peer into my mindset from one year ago. My blog two’s were certainly far from terrible, but they did include some quarter-life soul searching.
Last April, I was just in the beginning stages of introducing wellness content to the site via my monthly hangout series. After only two years of feeding you, I was nervous about shaking things up with posts that weren’t directly related to cooking, and topics that I wasn’t necessarily an expert in. But the question of how to find a middle ground between health and hedonism was haunting me, and I knew that I wanted to explore what that meant outside the kitchen.
Would life without sugar and coffee be a life worth living? Would the stress caused by switching my favorite facial products to naturals have a worse effect than the toxic chemicals I was eliminating? Could I break a lifelong love of over-ordering Seamless Web Thai delicacies by killing my microwave? These were sides of the health Rubik’s cube I was trying to reconcile, along with a hundred other facets.
At the same time as I was grappling with life’s largest and most important questions about pad Thai and Clinque face powder, I was feeling a weird sense of career ennui.
When you go to work every day in your kitchen and get paid to do what you love, it can feel a little bratty and ungrateful to complain. But after churning out the 5,000th meatball in my small studio apartment, my sweater drawers long since cleared to accommodate catering-sized Cambro containers, I started to feel like I was slowly losing some of that love. Grocery shopping for 50 person parties in New York City can do that to you.
During this period, as I found myself quite literally up to my elbows in ground meat, something felt off-kilter. While my career included one of my callings, it didn’t include enough of the other: writing.
Ever since In The Small Kitchen hit stands I’ve wanted to write another book. I had a lot of fears to overcome though about putting more of myself on the page. I felt like I had just spent the last couple years trying to convince people that I was a chef, while secretly Googling things like how to tell if a Christmas goose is cooked as my clients finished their appetizers in the dining room. Was I really willing to throw away these small game bird victories in favor of doing something else I was more or less clueless about?
But I couldn’t shake this idea for a book that would help people stop feeding on fads and start finding balance. So I kept scheming, and eventually around Feed Me Phoebe’s half birthday last fall, an editor decided to take the leap with me.
I was excited for a total of 30 seconds. And then the fear set in again.
The struggle is real, people.
I’ve been having crazy writer’s block ever since I got back from the colony in Tennessee. As it turns out, it’s much easier to focus on a mountain top than in the comfort of your home where there are 5-episodes of HBO programming on the DVR at any given moment. Weird.
When I can’t write, instead of letting my afternoons devolve into a VEEP marathon or an inbox spring cleaning spree, I’ve been turning to other books for inspiration. As I was procrastinating this particular post, Blood Bones and Butter caught my eye. I’d read Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir for the first time around this time last year, as I was in the beginning stages of a book proposal about my health journey.
I flipped open the book and found myself revisiting a middle chapter where Gabrielle talks about her stint in grad school for fiction writing. I mostly remembered the page-licking food porn metaphors, not these passages about her cooking malaise. But her feeling that she was called to do something more than just cook—to write—must have resonated with me as I faced a similar crisis of career character last year.
This time around though, I found myself nodding my head in solidarity as she talked about the disillusionment she felt with literary life, and how she found solace from her schoolwork in tackling a mundane kitchen prep list—tasks that were much more manageable and easy to execute than 5 pages of prose.
Some days I wake up staring at the blank screen and fantasize about mindlessly portioning out those 5,000 meatballs. At least, I could do it while watching 5 episodes of Sex and the City. Now when the writing isn’t coming, in addition to reading, I procrastinate by making something for this site–something like these dairy-free, gluten-free healthy banana pudding cups.
Finding balance in my health, and writing about it, has made me realize so much about the balance I need to find in my work. And there’s nowhere I’ve found a better middle ground between my two loves–cooking and writing–than right here. The grass is always greener on Feed Me Phoebe, I suppose.
One of the reasons I’ve had such a hard time cranking out manuscript pages is that all I want to do is share my stories with you right now! So thank you for your patience as I’ve been a little slower than usual at pumping out content. And thank you even more for sticking with me as I explore how to flip flop between wellness writing and recipes.
I was so afraid of turning my back too much on my cooking roots. But then you guys went and got me nominated for a Saveur blog award! There’s no better 3rd birthday present in the world than being recognized in this way.
I’m so grateful.
In short, it’s been an amazing year of getting what I’ve always wanted, even if I find myself in the emotional weeds from time to time. At the end of the day, I feel so lucky for the space you’ve given me here to explore both of my musts. I can’t wait to share with you all the things I’ve been doing offline while not making meatballs. But in the meantime, I hope this celebratory healthy banana pudding will do the trick. It’s made with coconut milk, maple syrup, RUM (!!) and some gluten-free granola instead of lady fingers–just the kind of comfort food I turn to when I can’t write my way out of a problem and need to eat my way out of it instead.
From one grateful healthy hedonist to another,
Healthy Banana Pudding with Maple-Rum Compote
For the topping
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 2 bananas thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- Pinch salt
- Fill a large pot with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. In a large heatproof bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, egg yolks, maple syrup, cornstarch, and salt until smooth.
- Divide the bananas between 8 glasses or ramekins. You can also use a 2 quart casserole dish for 1 big pudding.
- Place the bowl over simmering water—it should fit snuggly to lock in the steam, and not be actually touching the water. If the bowl is making contact, choose a smaller pot or pour out some of the water. Cook the egg mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick, just shy of pudding texture, 10 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed – you should start to see progress around minute 5.
- Pour the pudding mixture over bananas. Cover with plastic, and refrigerate until cool, at least 1 hour or overnight.
- Meanwhile, make the compote: heat the coconut oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add the maple syrup and bananas. Cook, stirring occasionally over high heat until the bananas begin to caramelize, 3 minutes. Carefully pour in the rum and salt. Cook until the alcohol has burned off and the bananas are golden brown and soft, 2 minutes.
- Top the pudding cups with the hot compote and garnish with granola, if using.