I’m getting really real today, peeps. That was your fair warning, so if you’re just here for some cozy baked oatmeal, now would be the time to scroll to the recipe.
I’ve touched on my anxiety from time to time over the years, but to be perfectly honest, shit majorly hit the fan in 2015 on the stress and overall health front. For the sake of context, I should probably tell you that I’ve always been a pretty serious stress case. I didn’t start having actual panic attacks until I was 22, but looking back, I regularly lost my cool as a kid/teen/young adult. I was what they call a neurotic “high-achieving” youth, and I often cracked under the (self-inflicted) pressure.
Just to give you a point of reference, starting in the second grade, I routinely begged my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime to study for various tests, and when they denied my requests, I would dissolve into a hot mess of tears, claiming that they didn’t understand! I would fail!! And my life would be over!!! (If you’re not picturing me in a button-down pajama set and headgear, you should be.) While these meltdowns were mildly melodramatic, and I never actually failed, the FEAR of failure was overwhelming. Shades of my future.
Being an extreme Type-A personality, the academic stress only got more intense in high school and then college. However, I always found it somewhat manageable because I was able to channel that stress into productivity, knowing that as soon as I wrote the paper or took the test in question, it would be over. I took solace in the fact that there was a finite, short-term objective, and once I accomplished it, the panic would (momentarily) disappear. Hallelujah!
Unfortunately, post-graduate, real world stress was an entirely different beast, especially since I had absolutely zero idea what I wanted to do with my life. Having no specific goal (other than to wear sassy work wear and be surrounded by an army of hot male assistants) was terrifying, and with no place to assign my fear/anxiety, I felt increasingly adrift, riddled with self-doubt and uncertainty about the future. Cue my first panic attack during graduation week and the start of my new life with an acute anxiety disorder.
While my close friends and family were aware of my anxiety back in the early days, very few of them understood the extent of it. I may be a Type-A personality, but I give off strong Type-B vibes based on my seemingly laid-back disposition and general love of hanging out (and cocktails). Plus, I got really good at managing my anxiety and was therefore able to mask its severity with (relative) ease. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for me to have an apparently normal, animated conversation at a cocktail party in the midst of a full-blown panic attack. I’d be standing there, smiling and laughing, as I took calculated breaths, sweat through my dress, and focused on not dropping the glass in my tingly, numb hands. With the exception of Logan, nobody could ever tell that I was freeeakingggg outttt, man.
It took a few years (and a lot of therapy), but I slowly got my anxiety under control and stopped having panic attacks on the reg—something I largely attribute to focusing so much on this little blog and settling down with my kickass roommate—but last spring, things took a turn.
In February, I inked a deal to write The Dude Diet book. This was easily the greatest accomplishment of my non-traditional career thus far, and I couldn’t have been more excited about the project. I threw myself into the recipe testing and writing process wholeheartedly (read: obsessively), and before I knew what was happening, it had completely taken over my life. I was scared shitless.
On good days, I worried about finishing the book on time, and on bad days I felt like I wasn’t qualified to be writing a book in the first place. The latter fear would then spiral, and I’d think something like, “What if this book sucks? Nobody will buy it, I’ll never get another book deal, and people will stop reading my blog because I’ve let them down, and then I’ll have to change careers, and I’ll be forced to start at the bottom somewhere because I don’t have any traditional work experience, and I’ll age prematurely because of the stress, and I’ll never have an assistant, and I will fail, and my life will be over!!!” Melodramatic? Duh. But again, the fear was very real.
My anxiety had reached unprecedented heights, and by April, it had begun to affect my health. I developed chronic eczema on my cheeks, chest and hands, which no amount of prescription medication or homeopathic cream seemed to help. I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep to save my life, and I started having debilitating stomach pains, which, after several expensive tests and doctor’s visits, ultimately landed me in an gastroenterologist’s office, where I was told that my stomach lining was severely inflamed and the technician could hardly move the camera during my colonoscopy (sorry) because my intestines were so tightly clenched. The doctor looked at me sternly and, in so many words, insisted that I chill the fuck out before I did more serious damage to my body.
You’d think that these ailments and that doctor’s warning would have served as a wake up call and prompted me to get a handle on my stress, stat, but no dice. The concept that my own worry had gotten me to this low point made me feel extremely guilty. And ungrateful. After all, it’s not like I was curing cancer—I was blogging and writing a book about my roommate’s obsession with chicken fingies! I was so lucky! What right did I have to be this stressed? Why couldn’t I just get my shit together?
So, in an attempt to avoid feeling like a pussy weak and guilty, I convinced myself that there was another underlying cause for my health issues, like a food allergy or a mysterious virus, and that I would figure it out just as soon as I turned in my manuscript.
I continued writing, and itching, and stressing.
But there was no underlying issue. And funnily enough, it was The Dude Diet photo shoot that provided the proof. After turning in my manuscript at the end of the year, I spent most of January in LA shooting the book, and I loved every. single. second. I loved being in the studio, I loved figuring out how the book as a whole would look and feel, and I loved bringing that vision to life with the help of an insanely talented, unbelievably passionate and fun team. It was as if a weight had been lifted off my chest, and at the end of the shoot, I looked in the mirror and was all, “HOT DAMN, GIRL!!”
My eczema was completely gone, I’d been sleeping through the night, and I hadn’t had a stomach pain or a panic attack in weeks. It was a miracle!
Except it wasn’t.
As soon as I boarded the plane back to NYC last Sunday, I experienced an all too familiar tightening in my chest. And when I started tackling my inbox Monday morning and discovered an email from my editor saying that she would start sending notes on The Dude Diet by the end of this week, I instinctively started itching a fresh patch of eczema that had sprung up on my palm. Heyo, ANXIETY.
Now that I realize the very physical dangers of severe stress, I’m trying to avoid undoing my recent good health by remaining as even-keeled as possible. I’m not exactly sure how to do it, or what it will look like (apologies if you thought I was going to tie up all this oversharing with a nice, neat bow), but I think the first step is to stop beating myself up. Stop feeling guilty about having anxiety. Stop immediately jumping to the worst-case scenario. Stop worrying that I’m not good enough, or talented enough, or qualified enough, or tough enough. Stop panicking about the future, and start focusing a teensy bit more on the present. In short, I’m going to try to treat myself like I’d want my personal assistant to treat me—i.e. give me lots of compliments (“You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”) and generally help me take a load off.
I’ve decided to jumpstart this “journey” (ew) by doing more cooking for myself. Before it became my job, I cooked to relax, and it’s been a long time since I made things just for the fun of it—not for the book or this blog. I want to make time for that kind of cooking again and focus on making recipes simply because I have a craving, or they’re on my personal cooking bucket list. This Baked Oatmeal with Orange and Almonds, which is a slight riff on a Heidi Swanson classic, falls into both categories. I made it once in early January on a whim and took some photos because it was pretty, and then I made it again yesterday for no other reason than that I wanted something nourishing and delicious, and the idea of a nutty, citrus-y smelling kitchen on a rainy day appealed to me. It seemed like the right recipe to share today.
I know this hasn’t been the lightest of posts (and dear GOD, it’s long), but I do my best to keep it real around here, and anxiety is a big part of my reality. Plus, I figured a few of you might be able to relate. And if that’s the case, you could probably use a friendly reminder that you are not alone. Your shit, whatever it may be, is real, and valid, and important. Cut yourself some slack. And maybe make a warm bowl of fancy oatmeal every once in a while…
Orange and Almond Baked Oatmeal: (Serves 4-6)
2 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking!)
½ cup sliced almonds
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
Scant ½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 large egg
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1½ tablespoons liquid virgin coconut oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
4 oranges of your choice, skin and pith removed and sliced into roughly ¼” rounds (I used a mix of Cara Cara, Valencia and blood oranges, but you do you.)
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar (optional)
For serving: (optional)
Preparing your Orange and Almond Baked Oatmeal:
-Pre-heat your oven to 375 with a rack in the top third of the oven. Grease a medium baking dish with coconut oil. (8”x8” or 7”x11” work well, but I think this would also work in a 10” ovenproof skillet.) Briefly set aside.
-In a mixing bowl, combine the oats, half of the almonds, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.
-In a separate bowl, whisk the almond milk, egg, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla extract and orange zest.
-Arrange half of the sliced oranges in the bottom of the baking dish.
-Top with the oat mixture. Then pour the milk mixture over the oats. Lightly tap the baking dish on the counter a few times to help distribute the liquid through the oats.
-Bake for 20 minutes until the oat mixture is just beginning to set. Top with the remaining almonds and orange slices.
-Return to the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the oatmeal is set and the top is very lightly browned.
*Personally, I like to sprinkle the orange segments with turbinado sugar and pop the oatmeal under the broiler for a minute or two to caramelize the citrus. This is totally optional, but it’s pretty easy, so…why not?
-Serve warm. Feel free to get a little almond milk or a drizzle of maple syrup involved.
- 2 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking!)
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Scant ½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
- 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
- 1½ tablespoons liquid virgin coconut oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 4 oranges of your choice, skin and pith removed and sliced into roughly ¼” rounds (I used a mix of Cara Cara, Valencia and blood oranges, but you do you.)
- 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar (optional)
- Almond milk
- Maple syrup
- Pre-heat your oven to 375 with a rack in the top third of the oven. Grease a medium baking dish with coconut oil. (8”x8” or 7”x11” work well, but I think this would also work in a 10” ovenproof skillet.) Briefly set aside.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the oats, half of the almonds, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the almond milk, egg, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla extract and orange zest.
- Arrange half of the sliced oranges in the bottom of the baking dish. Top with the oat mixture. Then pour the milk mixture over the oats. Lightly tap the baking dish on the counter a few times to help distribute the liquid through the oats.
- Bake for 20 minutes until the oat mixture is just beginning to set. Top with the remaining almonds and orange slices. Return to the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the oatmeal is set and the top is very lightly browned. (Personally, I like to sprinkle the orange segments with turbinado sugar and pop the oatmeal under the broiler for a minute or two to caramelize the citrus. This is totally optional, but it’s pretty easy, so…why not?)
- Serve warm. Feel free to get a little almond milk or a drizzle of maple syrup involved.
Adapted from Heidi Swanson via Food 52.
If you're not into citrus, feel free to mix up the fruit. Heidi's recipe calls for a mix of bananas and blueberries, but almost any fruit will do. Think thinly sliced (or finely chopped) apples and pears in fall/winter, peaches and cherries in summer, etc.