Top 10 Neighborhoods In Los Angeles

Cover photo courtesy of Flickr/MullingItOver.

Cover photo courtesy of Flickr/MullingItOver.


Originally posted on Hot Pads.

We’ll be blunt. Los Angeles is difficult to navigate around. It’s the city of cars and impossibly long traffic. But once you get over that hurdle, you’ll see that between the freeways are vibrant communities, all with radically different personalities.

There’s Beverly Hills for the fashion-minded, Silver Lake for the vinyl-and-coffee-hipster, and West Hollywood for the night owl who thrives from bar to bar.

It’s the city of food trucks, authentic Chinese food, and late night tacos.

It’s where you can hike in the morning, surf in the afternoon, and lounge at a rooftop bar for sunset cocktails — all in the same day. Just remember the sunscreen. The sun is always shining in the City of Angels.

Here are the top ten neighborhoods in L.A.:

1. Silver Lake is hipster, so expect freshly grounded Fair Trade coffee sold in charming cafes, organically-minded eateries, a strong weekend farmers market, and boutique stores selling tiny, beautiful things. Thrift stores are a plenty and the nightlife is undeniably chill. Think dive bars with an impressive resume of hyperlocal beers. And yes, there is actually a physical lake.

2. Malibu is the neighborhood of the rich and made up of gorgeous, multimillion dollar estates perched on seaside cliffs. It’s no wonder why Los Angeles’ royalty have chosen to nest there: the views are astounding and there’s plenty of privacy to be found. There’s Zuma Beach, known for its excellent surf and clean waters, a handful of hiking trails, and if you’re determined enough, you might be able to score an afternoon on a secluded beach all to yourself. Top it off with a meal at Malibu Farm, where they serve farm fresh food at the edge of the pier.

3. Little Tokyo/Arts District You can spend an entire day just eating in Little Tokyo. Start with afternoon tea at Chado Tea Room, then stroll around the adjacent Japanese American Museum. For lunch — well — there’s ramen of many varieties, handmade udon, a smattering array of sushi, bacon-glazed donuts, and artisanal mochi. Walk it off at the Arts District, just a couple blocks away, where public art graces every available wall. There’s more food there too but we suggest ending the day at Angel’s City Brewery, where you can sip on beer and challenge each other to complimentary games of Jenga or Connect Four.

4. Downtown Los Angeles is rapidly transforming into one of the most exciting neighborhoods in the city. The food scene is fantastic; restaurants mostly specialize in seasonal, small plates. And the Grand Central Market, occupied by some of the town’s best food vendors, is a must. They have everything from Texan barbecue to Thai food to gourmet eggs. In terms of nightlife, there are rooftop bars (Perch, The Standard, Ace Hotel) where you can see the Los Angeles skyline, sultry speakeasies (The Association, The Varnish) with the finest cocktails in town, and plenty of throbbing venues where you can mix, mingle, and dance the night away.

5. Koreatown is only three square miles but has the largest concentration of clubs and 24-hour businesses in the country. It’s the place to go for All-You-Can-Eat Korean barbecue, followed by soju-fueled singing sessions at a nearby karaoke bar. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can get your fair share of bizarre bites in the form of blood sausages and squirmy live octopi. And if you’re ever too imbibed to go home, or just feel like treating yourself to something great, you can always check in at a 24/7 Korean spa where you’ll be treated like royalty.

6. Manhattan Beach is the place to take the parents when they come into town. It’s the perfect balance of culture and cleanliness without being overwhelmingly touristy. Bike along the beach, soak in the California sun, and don’t forget to stop and eat. There’s a fantastic dining scene at Manhattan Beach. David LeFevre’s Fishing With Dynamite is a must for seafood fanatics and just a couple blocks down, there’s MB Post, which caters to the brunch crowd.

7. Pasadena, located in the far-east corridor of Los Angeles, houses a quaint old town that’s pedestrian-friendly and perfect for families. Dine al fresco, or hang out at the Rose Bowl where there is an occasional flea market and on holidays, spectacular firework displays. Pasadena is nestled in the San Gabriel Valley, which is also home to the best Chinese food in the country. There are over 500 Chinese restaurants in the area alone.

8. Venice, similar to its Italian counterpart, has beautiful canals navigable by boat and worthy of romantic strolls. But while the waterways are a plus, the true heart of Venice lies at the boardwalk, where you’ll see teenagers on their skateboards, marijuana dispensaries by the dozens, and brawns and beauties alike pumping iron at Muscle Beach.

9. West Hollywood spans from Sunset Strip to Melrose Avenue and the neighborhood comes to life once it’s night. It’s the Angeleno mecca for gay nightlife. The Abbey is a hot stop for LGBT festivities, the House of Blues is a must for music aficionados , and there’s also Robertson Boulevard, where you’ll find your fair share of boutique fashion shops.

10. Beverly Hills is bougie and classy and the perfect destination for those looking for a black-tie affair. Dine in style at any of the local luxury hotels. Check out the SLS Beverly Hills and dine at their restaurant, Bazaar, where diners ooh and aah at celebrity chef Jose Andres’ molecular gastronomical creations. And of course, don’t forget Rodeo Drive, where high-end fashion labels reside and every mannequin is dressed from head-to-toe in haute couture.

God of Don’t

Dear Clarissa,

I’ve had breakups in the past, but nothing compared to the pain I’m experiencing with this one. I have a girlfriend that also broke up with her boyfriend around the same time and immediately started dating. She recommended I do too, I’m not ready. What do I do?

– Recently Broken

Dear Recently Broken,

Here’s the beauty of real life: You can do whatever the fuck you want.

I grew up in a strict, rigid church that taught an extreme Christian ideology not too far from what the Duggars practice, sprinkled with potent dose of Chinese conservatism. I lived a childhood of fear. We were force-fed the following ideals: Chaperoned godly courtship, “Please don’t wear jeans to church! It’s offensive!”, “Let’s watch only wholesome, family-orientated media,” “If you marry a non-believer, you will be dragged out of grace,” and “If you have sex before marriage, you will end up at the gates of hell.” My god was awfully concerned about my virginity.

And so, at 18 years old, whether or not to go to prom became the biggest war I, up to that point in my life, had to wage. A hot guy had asked me out. He was respectable, smart, and the most polite guy I’ve ever had the liberty to have a crush on. A real, genuine catch. My issue? I was afraid dancing with this guy would corrupt my purity. He wasn’t a Believer and I was supposed to save my first dance for my husband! And so I cried and prayed to my god, who had raised me with a firm gospel of do nots, hoping he would give me the strength to say no.

He didn’t. I went to that goddamn dance, jumped up and down to the music with my friends, and we ended the night at a local bowling alley bowling our hearts out. Scandalous.

And then I fell in love with that hot guy and we spent three wonderful years together and now you’re asking, “How does this relate to me?”

Don’t concern yourself so much with what not to do with your life.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you start dating now. Hell, go on a dozen dates in 12 days. Let men treat you well. Receive graciously. God knows it’s been a long time since you’ve been treated that way. It’ll probably make you feel better. It made me feel better. And that’s what you need to be focused on: making yourself feel better. Whether you can get off your pity couch, dress up, and have dinner with a man isn’t the issue. You can. The issue is your heart.

You’re one of the lucky ones: you’re perfectly aware of the state of your heart. You know you’re not in an emotionally stable place right now where you can fully commit to another human being. So don’t. And be firm and honest about that. But don’t let the broken heart stop you from going out and having a good time.

At 18, I was more fixated on my actions than my internal landscape and my intentions. I was obsessed with perfection but never bothered to ask myself, “What are your intentions?”

If you’re dating to find someone to lean on in hopes he will mend your broken heart and do the work only you can do, then sit it out. If you genuinely want to meet new people and have a good time, then go for it. I highly recommend it.

Don’t let a god of do nots rule your life.

 

Can I Be Friends With My Ex?

Hello Clarissa,

What I have been doing is jogging, it makes me feel better and also meditating. Do you think I should let go of trying to be friends with my ex even if it means she’ll think I am ignoring her all together and make a scene of it? Do you think because I’ve been seeing my ex as a friend and seeing her in general has made me sad?
Thanks.
- C.H.

Dear C.H.,

My last relationship ended with “Let’s be friends.” He didn’t say “Let’s break up.” “This isn’t working.” “I can’t do this anymore.”  It ended in bullshit. It ended with a declaration of friendship.

I agreed, bitterly, nodding only because I still loved him and didn’t want to lose him. But I knew the truth. He’d never reach out to me again. 

And guess what? I was right. Radio silence. He initiated nothing after that day. Not a single word. Sometimes I would cave in and text him with small talk, in an attempt to revive that last, pathetic consolation prize, and though he would respond, I came to realize….

Let’s be friends? That wasn’t for me. It was for him. It was so that he wouldn’t feel guilty about himself. It was so that he, at the moment of the breakup, would feel like less of a jerk because offering a hand of friendship felt better than outright breaking my heart. “Let’s be friends” was his bullshit, selfish way of telling me, “Look. I don’t want to be with you anymore, but no hard feelings alright? Don’t hate me.” Not, “I care about you deeply and still want to be a part of your life.” 

And so why was I, freshly wounded, trying to keep up my end of the bargain? Even though I knew this?

Because I missed him. Because I loved him. Because like you, dear C.H., I wanted him to know I still cared. Even though I didn’t want to be with him in a romantic context anymore. 

Yet, with me reaching out, we were reliving the dynamics of our clearly broken relationship long after the expiration date. Me pushing, him pulling away. And that hurt my heart, even though the romance was gone. I was in the wrong. I shouldn’t have reached out to him. You don’t need to be in a relationship, or even on friendly terms, to relive toxicity. 

I don’t know the pedigree of your broken heart, how it came to be broken, and what agreements were hashed out being you and your former love. But don’t offer “Let’s be friends” as a consolation prize to suppress guilt. You don’t owe her anything — whether or not the breakup was initiated by her, you, or if it was mutual. And if you’re reaching out to fill a void, like I was, goddamn it, now you’re just hurting yourself.

Your first priority is this: mend your heart. She is no longer a character in your epic novel. And I promise, your novel will be an epic one if you let it be. I know it seems confusing because you, your heart, and her all seem so intertwined in this giant blob of emotions, tears, and nostalgia. But right now, it’s just you and your emotions. Separate her from that.

Given all that I’ve said, I still believe that it’s possible to be friends with an ex…but only long after the wounds have healed. But let’s focus on here and now. The fact that you have written to me, distressed, tells me that you are not over her. The fact that you are depressed, plagued with semi-suicidual thoughts….that tells me that she still has a hold on your heart. You are emotionally incapable of being her friend. So if anything, be a friend and stop being her friend.

So yes, seeing your ex is making you sad. Of course it’s making you sad. You’re picking at the scabs of your wound. Run far away from her. To heal, you need to be alone and let time naturally erase all attachment. You won’t be able to heal otherwise. This is reason enough to cut off all contact. You are not being dramatic for refusing your friendship. You’re being kind to yourself, and smart, and wise, and for the first time in what I’m guessing in a while — prioritizing your own needs. It’s you against the world baby and that’s a great and exciting thing.  

And lastly, be truthful to her and yourself. You need to be alone and heal. You cannot be her friend.

Don’t bullshit your way around it.

- Clarissa

Oysters

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Few things excite me more than a platter of raw, briny oysters. I will go for your happy hours, I will wait in line with the same gusto and wide-eyed excitement as doughnut aficionados. Oysters are incredibly delicious, incredibly sustainable, the edible embodiment of simplicity plus luxury plus sensuality.

My favorite places in Los Angeles:

  • L&E Oyster Bar in Silver Lake: the oyster platter is a library of flavors, rest of the food is subpar though
  • EMC Seafood in Koreatown: best happy hour deal, i dig the uni pasta
  • Fishing with Dynamite in Manhattan Beach: everything is great, i wish the lines were shorter

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The Mirror Man

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fiction

I was once in close acquaintance with a man who, when we were alone, had something negative to say about nearly everyone he met.

“She doesn’t consider other people’s feelings. Sleeping with a hoard of people is a testament to that. I hate people like her.”
“Have you heard the way he talks? He is completely shallow.”
“Oh, he’s downright selfish,” he said of his best friend. “Only thinks of himself.”
“These people are all so vain,” he had once concluded when we were at a dressy awards ceremony for our mutual friend. “They have nothing meaningful to talk about. Everyone just looks fake. And these awards? They’re just glorified popularity contests. I don’t believe in them.”

He was terribly judgmental but I liked his snark. Slowly, over time, I began to bear the brunt of his negativity. “You really need to sort out your relationship with your parents in order to be successful in a romantic relationship.” “You can be really fake in front of your friends. It’s the way you talk.” “I don’t think you are vulnerable enough. You aren’t open with your feelings and that annoys me.”

“You’re being mean,” I’d respond.

“I’m just trying to be helpful. If you don’t learn how to be open, you’ll never connect with anyone and at this rate…” He looked me up and down. “You’ll never find a boyfriend that stays.”

“What about you?” I shot back. “Your dating record isn’t any better than mine either. And haven’t you heard? The faults we find in others are often the faults that are actually in ourselves.”

“Oh please. I am completely in touch with my feelings,” he said, dead serious. “But hey, trust me. You’ll thank me in the future.”

He could be condescending but I respected him enough to listen, even when he talked to me like I was an errant child. Once, as I was telling him about my day over dinner, my story was interrupted, mid-sentence, with: “Hey look at me. Eye contact.”

“Fine I’ll give you that.”

Time passed and we eventually lost touch. Nothing happened; we just drifted away. Our friendship was not built to last; he thought I didn’t understand him and I, quite frankly, tired of his negativity.

Forty years went by and I eventually ran into him again at a hotel lobby in New York. He was on vacation with his kids and I was with my husband, visiting our son in the city.

He looked nearly the same at 68, just a bit worn down — the same physical wear and tear we all go through with age. But he had a look that was off. Was he sick? Or was it something deeper, something internal?

We went through the motions typical of old friends: The hugs, the abbreviated story of our lives, the family introductions. Yet the entire time, he never looked me in the eye and kept nervously glancing to the right, and then I, thinking back to our conversation decades ago snapped.

“Hey. Eye contact. Remember?”

“That guy to my right… his pants need to be lengthened, his jacket ironed. And god, is it just me or is he following..”

“Dad!” his daughter cuts him off. She looks frazzled. “I’m so sorry. We need to go.” She takes him by his shoulders and they walk out into the streets.

“Whoa. That was really weird,” I say to my husband. “That was just him being his regular cranky, judgmental, elitist self. Though I get it. I would be embarrassed to be his daughter too. The things he says… ”

“Hon?” my husband interjects. “Look at his right, where he was looking at.”

It was a mirror and there, staring back at us — our own reflections.

Tasty Duck

Chinese food can be stunning. After a weeklong retreat at a farm and finally back home, I splurged on imperial cuisine. A feast fit for a royalty.

Eel sticky rice and Peking duck platter from Tasty Duck in San Gabriel — complete with the paper thin pancakes, piquant scallions, and finely julienned cucumbers.

Thankful to be back home.

1039 E Valley Blvd., Ste B102, San Gabriel, CA 91776.

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Dealing with Post-Breakup Depression, Part 2

Lately I’ve been getting a lot (and by a lot, I mean at least once or twice a week) of emails from people around the world asking for more advice re: How I Crawled Out Of Post-Breakup Depression By Dating Myself. Is there something about this summer? Or rather, the end of summer that has spurred on so much collective heartbreak? Or maybe that piece is just emerging up on Google’s ranks, and for that I should be thankful.

Mind you, that article was written a year and seven months ago and between that span of time I’ve, well, fallen in love and gotten heartbroken all over again.

Such is the nature of real life.

These emails are wonderful to receive and I respond to every single one of them to the best of my very, very limited ability. After all, knowing that I’ve impacted people’s lives for the better is what draws me to writing these type of posts.

I always find it a bit odd to be churning out more advice, as if people expect a sequel, as if, I’m a character in a novella who has found my happily ever after. (I haven’t. Nor do I believe in those sort of things.) And when people ask me, “How do I stop hurting?” “Your advice really helped, but what’s next? What should I do?”

I find it really difficult to respond to that. There isn’t a specific process.

The thing is, this is the nature of life. You get hurt, you dust yourself off, and with time, things will get easier. Such was the message of my first piece.

But I’ve also learned something new, something that most people don’t want to accept: Sometimes you will be back at square one, months, or even years afterwards, clutching at that broken heart wondering why it still aches. The pain is never as bad as that first initial shock, but it can still come back. After all, true love, even if it was one-sided or a bad idea, doesn’t just go away. It’s usually triggered by something — watching a poignant movie, listening to music, or accidentally seeing the picture you guys took together on your phone that you haven’t had the courage to delete.

This is okay. This is perfectly normal. It’ll come and go, to varying degrees. It won’t completely go away but you can render those thoughts harmless by accepting them.

We, our identities and personalities, are made up of a collective of memories and experiences. Without these, we would not be us. Some are memories are stronger than others. Unfortunately for the brokenhearted, love is one of those things you can never forget, whether it’s the love the new mom has for her infant child, as she holds him tenderly on the entire airplane ride, never getting up, just so the baby can have a peaceful slumber. Or if it’s that exquisite feeling of lying right next to the current love of your life, staring into his eyes and wishing time could stop because everything is perfect. To quote John Green, “Some infinities are bigger than others.”

The compilation of such moments are what propels us to do such grandiose things in the name of love. For that mom — that’s dedicating her entire life to raising her son. For that girl — it’s sticking by him through thick and thin and putting up with all his bullshit because she thinks he’s worth it.

And say that son grows up and runs away? Or that boy ends up breaking the heart of the girl?

Love is still love.

You can’t forget it.

This is a beautiful thing, as painful as it may be. Our life stories are threaded together by a string of emotion. But don’t let a lost love take over your entire novel.

Last time, my motto was: “I will not let myself hurt me anymore.”

I still believe that wholeheartedly. But this time, I’m taking it a step further: Do I want to make this a story about how I was a victim, or how I rose above it all and became a victor?

The key, I suppose, is to keep on writing that story. Embrace the plot twists. Realize that he or she is now a part of your story, that sometimes, memories of them will make you sad, but that’s completely okay. To ignore the impact a love has had on your life is to suppress a part of yourself and that is not healthy.

These twists are what makes you multifaceted and unique and vulnerable and deep. These heartbreaks have created within us a wonderful, special mosaic so that we can appreciate the people who do stay in our lives and most importantly, so that we can realize our own worths.

Just don’t let your story end at: “And then I got my heart broken and I was sad for the rest of my life.”

The plot thickens.

Quillisascut Farm: You Needed To Be There

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I cried when I left Quillisascut.

As I pulled out of the pebbled road, past the herb garden, past the honeybees, until the farm school, its wooden sign and the tire swing out in front disappeared out of sight…I felt a growing sense of loss.

Back on the narrow road, endless and winding, with only a bold yellow line leading the way and the steady sound of my rental car’s sputtering engine — the tears came, and then a full-on, deep, cathartic cry. The week was gone and I missed it, deeply, already.

And I know I wasn’t the only one.

Quillisascut Farm is a haven — an extraordinary place in ordinary circumstances. The 36-acre farm was built from the ground up by Rick and Lora Lea Misterly, who moved to the hills of northeastern Washington in 1981 with four goats. Together they started a life and raised a family, animals, and then soon, a burgeoning cheese business. Today they are also a farm school, where they teach lessons of sustainability and farming to anyone eager enough to listen and spend the time.

It’s one of those places that’s difficult to describe. You needed to be there.

When you’re at Quillisascut, things begin to make sense.

“Oh this is how potatoes grow.”
“This is how chickens are killed.”
“We can produce so much of our food ourselves.”
“There are so many wild edible plants around us.”
“We depend so much on Earth and its inherent magic and biology to survive.”

And when you leave, well, everyday life feels off.

“Why are there so many chemicals in this piece of bread? In this cut of meat?”
“We waste so much in urban living.”
“Why are our cities so sterile, so devoid of any real life and connection and nature?”
“Why do we depend on supermarkets for food?”

I tell people I went to farm school for a week and how it, in many ways, changed how I saw different facets of life. They’ll raise their eyebrows and nod in skeptical affirmation. “That’s lovely,” they’ll say.

I don’t think they get it.

You needed to be there.

You needed to be there, when Rick killed the young goat and we stood around its bloody carcass, hung upside down, as morning raindrops fell to the ground and mixed with its blood. It felt like a funeral. As we watched Rick tactfully skin the carcass, we all stood there, silently respecting the process and the life that was taken to feed us. But more importantly — to teach us.

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You needed to be there, when the neighboring farmer talked about his vegetable garden as his pride and joy. You needed to be there to feel how excited he was to show us the deep hue of green on the kale leaves. And how, to him, the baby spinach shoots were more than just spinach shoots. They represented vitality and hope and a future for him, his wife, and his newborn son Theodore.

You needed to be there to witness the peach farmer and how he knew the name and personality of every single tree in his orchard, when he planted them, and their individual history. You needed to be there to bite into the fruit — fresh off the branches, completely pesticide-free.

You needed to be there to feel the love Lora Lea had for her goats and see how she tenderly washed their udders and milked them, calling them by name and retreating into her workshop to create beautiful rinds of cheese to sustain her and her family.

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You needed to be there to hear how giddy the beekeeper got when he handled the backyard hive. And when he saw a baby bee, trying to push herself out of a cell for the very first time, you needed to be there to see him cheer her on, nudging nearby worker bees to give the baby space to breathe and emerge into life in the colony.

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You needed to be there to watch the chefs fashion jams, stews, breads, pasta, sauces, and infusions from the abundance of the land. You needed to be there to taste the feast and realize, “Wow, how rich life can be with just land, water, and seed.”

You needed to be there to feel the power of community as we all sat on the front porch, shelling walnuts, or picking grapes, staring at stars, or that one day we tediously separated a wagonload of spiny arugula leaves from their branches. You needed to be there at the dining table, to really experience how wonderful eating and drinking together with strangers can be without the interruption of technology.

And finally, you needed to be there to see.

To see how simple and beautiful living off the land can be. To see how little we actually know about our food and how dependent we are on gigantic agricultural corporations and generic brands. To see how small we are in the grand scheme of things and how much we need to take care of and nourish our land. To see how out of touch we are in our daily lives with nature and people and how we need to build more communities and connect with other human beings in genuine, heartfelt ways.

And to see — the true meaning of sustainability.

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Guys, I Think We’re Approaching Food Completely Wrong.

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Beets from Santa Barbara Farmers Market

Guys, I think we’re approaching food completely wrong.

I’m in the millennial generation. It’s a generation of juice cleanses, paleo if you’re in that community, gluten-free, and an endless feed of photos of my generational counterparts hitting the gym hard and supplementing with murky green shakes. For those who aren’t into that sort of thing, or “bird food,” as some of my friends like to call it, they’re hawking over bowls of glorious artisanal ramen and seasonal shared small plates in airy restaurants with chalkboard walls and local beer.

It’s exhausting.

People spend more money on gym memberships than on quality groceries. People know more about the pedigree of local chefs than their local farmers.

To be able to cook well at my age is a rare skill. Those who are adept at it are like unicorns. People actually brag about not being able to cook.

And it’s no wonder why. We were taught to prioritize academia. I grew up in a traditional Taiwanese family with immigrant parents who forced me out of the kitchen despite my protests. I was instructed to focus on math, piano, Chinese, science. When I would try to cook, I would be met with condescending eye rolls and scoffs. And so, illiterate in the art of cooking, I ate out all the time in college. I gained weight and felt depressed, constantly hungry, and obsessed with what I was eating. I started really getting into food and fell straight into writing about the restaurant world in New York City. People love food. Post an article on bacon-laced sweets or a doughnut/croissant mutt and lines will form. People will camp out. People will go out of their way. To consume, consume, and consume.

Pork chops from Cook Pigs

Pork chops from Cook Pigs

There was a brief phase where I started to really obsess over my body. Bombarded with images of fit, beautiful women both online and in real life, all while dating a gym aficionado — I guilted myself into working out endlessly.

I started counting calories, running miles, eliminating wheat, eating smaller portions, and I’d order mostly salads whenever I went out. I became stressed out and obsessive. Who wouldn’t? In addition of normal day-to-day tasks, I was micromanaging my body.

I’ve abandoned all of the above: The daily gym routine. The counting calories. The fad diets. The heavy juicing. The obsession with restaurants. I will not wait in your lines.

And I’ve never felt better in my life. I don’t have to think about what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, when I should eat, if I should be eating. I don’t feel behind if I haven’t checked out the latest, hottest restaurant.

It’s simple really.

Eat. Real. Food.

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Cooking beets

You see, the gym fad and the diet fad requires you to consciously think about what you’re doing with your body. It requires you to pay for that membership, to abide by strict dieting rules to accomplish a certain goal. On the other end, in the restaurant space, it’s easy to overeat because you’re determined to try the darlings of the menu that you’ve heard so much about. Eating has become some sort of statement. Checking in at a particular restaurant gives you a weird type of street cred.

It’s so unnecessary. (Which I why I gravitate toward mom-and-pop restaurants in my writing. I adore them not so much for the food, but for the culture and stories they’re bringing.)

I get a box of recently harvested, locally-sourced, organic, pesticide-free groceries every week. It’s not just fruits and veggies. There are meats, cheese, grains, and occasionally, a bar of fair trade chocolate. I’m forced to cook, to feed myself, and for the first time, begin a real love affair with my food. I’m eating rich, buttery pork chops, freshly-made pasta, hand-harvested rainbow carrots. The tomatoes are potent — they’re dry-farmed.

I’m learning that dinner can be utterly simple. I’ll slice my cheese of the week and eat it with the grapes. Or, I’ll saute my sunburst squash with onions, season it with salt and pepper and serve it over pasta. Not every meal needs to be a epic feat.

When you eat fresh, amazing things happen. You don’t need the sauces, the complicated dressings, the elaborate prep work. Fruits and vegetables have an entirely different texture and taste. My onions are consistently sweeter than run-of-the-mill supermarket varieties. I can eat an entire tomato by itself. I’m hooked on the subtle sweetness of yellow corn. Quick blanched vegetables with a simple aioli — that’s my go-to snack. Trust me, recently-harvested carrots taste a hell of a lot better than baby carrots from the supermarket. I don’t have to worry about brining my chicken; it’s naturally juicy. Grass-fed butter over a fresh loaf of bread that was baked that morning? It’s heavenly.

As for my body. I don’t even think about it anymore. I don’t have to. I eat to eat. I don’t eat to make a statement. I’m eating whole foods and simple dishes that aren’t laced with additives.

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Out of the Box’s Real Food Box

And so, I say, away with the crazy fads, the weeks of hard-core juicing, the obsessive workouts. Kale chips are delicious, but they shouldn’t be the only thing you eat.

I challenge you: try a week of eating real food. Try food that has been harvested recently minus the pesticides, minus the hormones. Go to your local farmers’ market. Re-learn, from the ingredients up, what you’re putting in your body.

Have a love affair with your food. Touch the produce. Cut it. Cook it. Because as with all relationships, if you’re in a healthy, loving bond — you won’t sweat the little things.