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Fearful Pizza, Midnight Snacks and Emotional Indigestion

That's quite a title, isn't it? With an intro like that, you can't afford NOT to read this post. Am I right?

Well, that seems to be the problem, doesn't it?

A lot of things have been happening in Elana-land. A lot of change. And with change comes uncertainty, midnight snacking and emotional indigestion. Usually EI is brought on by three factors: anxiety, stress and FEAR.

On one such anxious, stressful and fearful day not so long ago, I just couldn't eat. Because of that, I woke up in the middle of the night starving. So I snuck downstairs (I was at my parents' house) and made myself some peanut butter and jam sandwiches, as shown in the above and below illustrations.

But it's fear that I'd like to focus on for this post. Lately, I feel like I'm riddled with it. Like it's an infection or a disease.

In my mind, much of this fear is rooted in the perfectionism that that I am trying very hard to beat out of my system. I'm sure many of you can relate. This problem is not very original, but our experience of it is.

For me, this means doing things right. What's the best way to do it? Get people's approval. Don't rock the boat. Do what everybody else does, and make them happy. That will lead to your happiness. Right?
I've tried this route many different times in any number of ways. I always end up depressed.
As a career, I'm choosing something...different. Sometimes I have a hard time explaining it to other people. My parents have a hard time explaining it to their friends. This can be stressful.
Essentially, though, I am an artist. 
Deep breath. It's taken me a long to to accept that and also to say it.
Specifically, I harness that creativity and apply it to many things. Some people write. Some people paint. Some dance.
I like to combine art and food.
I am passionate about creativity, health and cooking. And I feel like my purpose is to teach people to bring art into their cooking using pizza as a canvas. To help me do this, I am building a mobile, artisanal pizza cooking school.
In a truck. Which I will drive from place to place (I hope across the country) teaching and cooking, cooking and teaching. And making art along the way. It's called:
This scares the ever-loving olive oil out of me.
I have constant fear that I'm doing it WRONG. What am I doing wrong? All of it. I'm making the wrong choices, going about those choices in the wrong way, and generally walking backwards on my hands without getting my shots beforehand. Sometimes it even seems that other people think these things about me, too. I can see it in their eyes. They fear FOR me. It's not encouraging.
I'm also fearful that the truck will fail because I will fail the truck. Meaning I won't do enough for it, can't do enough (I'm only one person), or even worse, it's a terrible idea.
To be honest, I know it's a fantastic idea. That does not mean the world will like it and that it will make money. And that's ok (really). If it can't float in this world as an idea because people don't appreciate it, that is very, very sad, but I can live with it. I will be plunged into a depression related to the undesirable state of humanity and question my position as a member of the human race, but I can live with that.
What I CAN'T live with is having the concept fail because I can't pull it off. I don't want it to be because of something I did. Whether it's that I didn't work hard enough, didn't put my energy toward the right things, or whatever.
I'm also having fear related to the overwhelm of getting something I want. I read a quote somewhere that says something like, "It's much easier to be almost something, than to actually be it." I am actually it right now. This thing is happening. There are dollars being exchanged and I am proposing the idea to companies, getting help from individuals, and attempting to make a plan for a cross country tour. And all the while I am trying to convince these same companies and individuals that I am a perfectly sane and capable person who just happens to be building a mobile pizza school.
Because that happens.
I have not seen it happen. And this is what faith is built on, correct? The idea that even though you have not seen, you believe. You believe because all the evidence to the contrary (people saying you can't do it, it doesn't exist, you are bananas... and you can't put bananas on a pizza), is not entirely convincing (I have appropriated that last line from Agent Mulder of the X-Files when he talks about why he believes in aliens).
Faith also assumes that there is something bigger than yourself out there.  I'm creating this school as an expression of myself, yes. It's personal. But it's also to reach out to others. To build a community and help, teach and learn from and for that community. To do that, you need believers. I need people to believe in me. People I know, and even people I don't know. I need them to jump on board.
And I have fear that they won't. This might be the scariest thing of all. I'm not sure if I know how to be a leader. Or if people will follow. I've been working as a solitary artist for the last few years so this outreach feels like going out into the very cold weather without a coat. I'm exposed and uncomfortable. I have to ask a LOT of people for help. I have to introduce myself to strangers, put my idea on the table and ask, "do you like this?" And hey, "How about helping me with it?"
And to be completely practical, I have to drive a giant van around the country that has a 3,000lb oven in it and teach people, hoping none of us will catch on fire.
I guess it boils down to, "Am I good enough?" And if I can get comfortable with the answer being yes (because I know that to be true) and also with the idea that many might disagree, then I should be ok.
Because you can't make all the people happy all of the time. Even after making my pear & gorgonzola pizza, there will always be those that prefer the caramelized onion & gruyere option.
I also have a completely separate but related fear and that is: the truck will take me away from my other art. The painting, the photographing, the creating. As I write that, I see how this isn't true. I see that the truck is an opportunity to inform my art and to have it grow because it provides a way to get direct feedback from people. I plan to use my painting and photographing as teaching tools, and also as ways to create other art pieces like cookbooks.
Finally, I have a fear of focusing. I've been doing about 100,000 different things for a long time, juggling them all in the air like some kind of professional clown. I've even figured out how to bill hours for said juggling. But now I'm saying, "This is it." This is the THING that I want to do. It's kind of like getting married—you're picking, with finality in your intention (even if not as an ultimate result) one person over the others.
I have been the bachelorette of jobs. The one-woman band who can play the harmonica, spoons and cymbals all at once. Now, I'm saying, "Pizza truck, will you marry me?" And instead of a ring, I bought an oven from Italy that burns things to seal the deal.
This kind of decision brings on a lot of anxiety, often referred to in the pre-wedding days as "cold feet." But I have already started my walk down the aisle, and even though I am occasionally casting glances back at the door behind me, I keep marching on.
I have faith in my choices. I have faith that this will work. And if it doesn't, I will have faith in the belief that I will have done everything I could, everything I possibly could. 
Now, who wants pizza?




Eat Like a Iaciofano — Toby

Toby was my first pet, if you don't count the occasional goldfish. I found him on from this photo:

I could talk about the kind of dog Toby was, but as this is a food blog I feel that it's most appropriate to do this by telling you what he liked to eat.

It might be easier to numerate the things he didn't find appetizing. Toby was a stray, so he always behaved like each meal was unexpected - scarfing down his dog food in big gulps, barely breathing or chewing.

Just like a Iaciofano.

When I walked Toby, I would have to scan the streets for anything remotely edible, lest he injest something really unsavory. Sometimes I want to follow The Box around in this manner, shaking a finger and exclaiming, "Ah-ah!" just as some questionable morsel is about to cross his lips.


In spite of Toby's penchant for "street food", he was a dog of some refined tastes. His favorite by far were French fries. He once turned up his nose at a batch of imposter toaster fries. He wanted the real thing.

Perhaps because of this food preference, I started referring to Toby as, "M. Pamplemousse," and speaking for him in an atrocious French accent. "M. Pamplemousse" means "Mr. Grapefruit." It's the only French word I know. Interestingly, I never investigated as to whether or not Toby actually liked grapefruits.

Another favorite were apples. He especially enjoyed these in his later days, taking slices gingerly from my hand and trotting off to eat them in a private corner of the Iaciofano TV room.

Blueberries were another fruity preference. A week before he died, I baked him a special batch of tiny blueberry muffins which he very much enjoyed (recipe at the end of this post).

He liked to lick an empty ice cream bowl (who doesn't?), always received his own small portion of Iaciofano family holiday dinners,

developed a taste for Italian cured sausage and provolone cheese (thanks to The Box), and once tried to launch himself on a candy-apple Thanksgiving turkey that I made for Thanksgiving.

Toby and I were together for 14 of his 16 years. Even though he was 16 and his kidneys were declining, I never expected him to leave me. To say that I miss him very much is an understatement. I miss not only the actual dog that Toby was — his energy, quirky personality, piercing PTSD-inducing bark — but also what he represented: a companion that embodied a childlike playfulness and enthusiasm for the world.

I've taken this last piece of Toby and translated it into a character. His name is:

Pecorino is the ultimate trusty sidekick for my own character:

Zaza is a ten year old version of myself. Together, Pecorino and Zaza travel the world, searching for the Perfect Pie. 

Pizza, that is.

I'm hoping the two of them will have many adventures together, small dog and little girl, ever curious and looking to paint a little magic into their lives with pizza.

I'm also hoping you'll be able to follow their adventures very soon.

Rest in peace, Toby. 

Recipe for Mini Blueberry Muffins, Suitable for Small Dogs and All-Sized People


1-1/2 cups almond meal

½ cup coconut flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt

3/4 cups turbinado sugar

1 pint blueberries

3 eggs

½ cup almond milk (you may need more)

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used Colavita)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Heat your oven to 350°F.

Place the blueberries in a blender with the almond milk and puree until very smooth - so smooth you could drink it. I reserved a few blueberries to press into the tops of the muffins, but this is optional.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, coconut flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and turbinado sugar. Mix all dry ingredients together.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, olive oil and vanilla extract.

Add the puréed blueberries to the egg mixture and mix to combine. Pour the wet ingredients into the mixing bowl with all of the dry ingredients and stir until combined. If the mixture seems dry, add some more almond milk. Coconut flour tends to absorb a lot of liquid, so adding more milk is totally fine.

Prepare a cupcake tin by lining with cupcake paper or greasing with non-stick baking spray.

Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake tins and press any remaining blueberries into the tops of the muffins.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean. If you are using mini muffin tins, you only need to bake them for about 12-15 minutes.

Allow the cupcakes to cool.

Share them with a small dog near you.


Elana's UnFood Journal

This isn't food related. Or is it?

This is a phases of the moon chart. It's made from a music book salvaged from the trash (yes, I occasionally dumpster-dive for art), water color, parchment paper, and ink.

I don't really know why I wanted to paint the phases of the moon. Perhaps it's because in NYC, I feel slightly divorced from nature. Perhaps I just liked the colors. Perhaps I was sick of painting food.

Either way, perhaps we can just take it as what it is.

Sweet dreams.


Elana's Food Journal - Week 2

As part of a 40 day yoga challenge I'm undertaking (at Lyon's Den in TriBeca), I must maintain a food journal. 

This should be easy for me, yes? Hmmm.... 

Writing down what I eat is easy for me. But I felt as though there was an opportunity in this project to challenge myself.

Challenge is the very reason I signed up for this challenge. You following me? Thought not. 

Lately I've been feeling that I am relying on old tricks. For recipes, for social interactions, for career moves. FOR LIFE.

Like if I could just sous vide instead of sauté, I might have a break through. Or what if cardamom is the difference? I've often felt it is, but when I try to sprinkle it on myself instead of in my almond milk chai, nothing happens. Cardamom is not fairy dust, people. Mental note.

Anyway. With this food journal, I wanted to challenge myself to be creative every day. To paint my food. Or think about it visually in a different way than just photographing it. This is the result. 

It's not fabulous. It's not meant to be a masterpiece, but a place where I can play, not be too serious and see what works.

Just like my kitchen!


Elana's Food Journal - Taking a Break. Or Two.

What does it mean to take a break or even a step back? Both phrases have a negative connotation for me, as they suggest that whatever I'm doing might be in excess or require re-evaluation.

Historically, I'm not a break-taker. I like to keep the huskies mushing, believing (or being trained to believe, perhaps?) that all motion—regardless of direction—is progress.

But now, I believe this is not the case. By the above model, I (or you) would turn into the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil version of productivity—limbs (mental and physical) flailing in all directions at once, making it impossible to discern a left big toe from a right ear.

At a design studio I used to work at, we had a phrase for this: PANTS ON FUEGO. The intentional mis-combination of English and Spanish was meant to convey with even greater urgency how really ON FIRE your pantaloons were in that moment. 


Or mucho.

Readers of this blog (all 5 of you!) know that I've been a bit reflective lately. Years of operating "on fuego", some unfortunate athletic mishaps, and a complete career regeneration seem to have spurred this. Or else there is something in my water.

To encourage my reflective phase, I recently had two "breaks" which yielded some unexpected results, both artistically and gastronomically.

I spent a week at Iach HQ babysitting my dog while my parents were on vacation.

I thought I would be lonely. I was not.

I thought I would hate getting snowed in with no escape. I did not.

I thought conversations with the dog would get old. They did not.

The literal space this break created allowed me to asses my life from afar, like reading a recipe and deciding what subtractions, substitutions or additions I would make to make it taste better.

What's my new life recipe? I'll be constantly rewriting that. And it will never be perfect, but most likely lumpy, like an heirloom tomato. Those tomatoes always taste better...I think those might be flavor lumps.

Here is an excerpt from my Food Journal for Lumpy Life Heirloom Tomato Salad:

My next "break" was in Puerto Rico - a real vacation! No computer. I brought a set of travel watercolors (pictured at the top of this post), a few Sharpies and a sketchbook. I meant to draw and paint on my own but what happened instead was a series of painting sessions with the children (ages 3-10) that were in our group's number.

Every day we found time for painting together.

Sometimes we painted food.

Sometimes the three year old commandeered my sketchbook for excessive rainbow application.

And sometimes we painted animals.

By Max Philips, Age 10We made sure to keep everything drippy and unprofessional.

I didn't think I would enjoy this. I was wrong.

I didn't think I'd be running to the local school supply store for more art supplies two days into the trip. I was.

I didn't think the kids would be giving ME ideas. They were.

Here is the remaining pages of the notebook I kept, complete with a few loosely constructed recipes. This notebook is a combination of my works, rainbows by the youngest student and additions by the twins (aged 10).

I didn't think the book would be better with their help. It is.