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Category: Lifestyle

How to Get Mood Lighting at Home


How to Create a Glowy Home

The other night, I went to a friend’s party, and the apartment glowed. Candles and lamps peppered each room, and fairy lights twisted around tables filled with cheese and crackers. The vibe reminded me of Cafe Cluny (above), a restaurant we’ve loved forever.


Also, Balthazar! You might even say the lighting is crepuscular.

mad men lighting

Alex always says he loves “Mad Men lighting.” Inspired, I remembered reading these tips from Pilar Guzmán in the Yolo Intel newsletter:

After a few times at our Brooklyn house for dinner, a couple who are old friends finally pulled us aside to ask, “How do you get the lighting to glow like this?” The short answer, and a perennial tip of ours, is alliteratively easy to remember: Lots (a dozen sources in a single room is not uncommon), Lateral (sconces, lamps, and accent lighting that hits you at or below eye level from all sides), and Low (warm, sub-3000KW bulbs — or nothing higher than a 25-40 watts if you still use incandescent).

Noted! In our living room, we have mostly overhead light, so table lamps are now on my holiday wishlist. Here are three pretty ones:

How cute is this?! It has a real personality.

I LOVE this Stockholm-designed concrete number (and here’s a “steal” version from Target).

Lastly, the British shop Pooky has tons of cool prints and patterns, and you can mix and match lampshades and bases. How cute is the combo above?

What lighting do you have in your home? Any pro tips when it comes to creating glow? (A portable lamp also seems like a cool idea!)

P.S. How to beat the winter blues and an apartment with the prettiest paint colors.


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My Persian Jewish Nose: A Love Story


My Persian Jewish Nose

This past spring, I ducked into a hole-in-the-wall in downtown Manhattan and got my nose pierced. I walked out on air, giddy with a newfound confidence in my face. It might sound silly for a 35-year-old to find her anchor in a nose ring, but it was a long time coming.

I’ve always hated my nose, with its acute angle and signature bump at the bridge: it allowed people to make assumptions about my background and set me apart from my friends. Remember when Whoopi Goldberg said, on national television, that the Holocaust wasn’t about race, because no one can tell a Jew by looking at them? It’s simply not true: people have always known or assumed I’m Jewish, because I have a marker plain as the nose on my face. It is the nose on my face.

In the Persian Jewish community where I grew up, many women believe they need to conform to a Western ideal of beauty. Noses should be small, European, inconspicuous. For many years, Iran has had one of the highest rates of rhinoplasty worldwide. Plastic surgery, which is often offered as a high-school graduation present in upper middle class Persian communities in the U.S., is a chance to remake yourself and your beauty.

And today, in Iran, the country where my mother was born, women are quite literally being killed for the way they look.

I can’t stop watching videos of teenagers slicing through their braids, slamming on the hoods of police cars, and burning their hijabs in public protest of the death of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died in custody of the country’s “morality police,” who allegedly beat her to death after arresting her for failure to properly conceal her hair and neck.

Many Muslim women around the world can choose how they look and whether or not to wear a headscarf (a right that in some Western countries is endangered), but in Iran, there is no choice: the dress code has been strictly enforced since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Both of my parents left their homelands as children (Iran for my mother, because it wasn’t safe for Jews; and Israel for my father, a country adopted by my grandfather when his parents were killed in the Holocaust). On both sides of my family are people who were victimized for the way they looked.

My mother had a nose job in her late teens, at the behest of her mother, who saw the surgery as a way to an easier, happier life, one where she wouldn’t stick out as much in their Rhode Island town. “You’d be so much more beautiful with a smaller nose,” my grandmother told her. My mother then suffered an identity crisis; an unraveling that resulted in my grandmother sending her away from home to live with an aunt in Los Angeles.

I remember a trip to L.A. as a young girl, gazing around at all the Persian women in the Beverly Hills synagogue, where we were relegated to one side, divided from the men by a thick, dark curtain. I asked my mom why there weren’t any other Jews. “What are you talking about?” she asked. I gestured to my nose, and pointed at all the dainty versions around me. She nodded in understanding. “Those aren’t their real noses, joon.”

My father’s mother had had a nose job, too. I still remember, a year after my Bat Mitzvah, when she told me how relieved she was that I was finally growing into my nose. I wasn’t, really; I was just doing my best to hide it. I tried wearing my hair down, but it poked out. I tried hair up and dark eye makeup to distract, contouring to slim, and never ever allowing a camera to catch me in profile.

My best friend from sleepaway camp and I made a pact that we’d go together for our nose job consultations. We were 14. I dreamed about the very first thing I’d do: the moment it healed, I would adorn it with a diamond stud, to highlight the petite perk. When I told my mother about our plan to go to the consultation, she said “over my dead body,” recalling her own trauma. It was only then that I put myself in her shoes, a child whose own mother wanted to change the face she’d formed to fit a foreign standard. So, I gave it up, then envied the pierced button noses of my peers, and later, of my mother’s, when she pierced hers just before my wedding.

When I told my now-husband about the fantasy, he said I wouldn’t be as unique if I changed my nose, that it was part of my identity and what distinguished me. He said it was elegant and strong. I tried to believe him.

Mine is a legacy of women who, through generations, have been beaten by fathers and husbands, who never come to the table until everyone else has been fed, and who always take the smallest portion of tahdig, the crispy golden rice that’s the pride of every Persian cook. But as I learn more of my family’s story and see how it’s reflected in what’s happening in Iran today, I see now that mine is also the legacy of women who led their families out of danger, learned English, wrote poetry, and built homes and raised children in a new world. Mine is a legacy of women who dance around rings of fire.

I, too, moved to another country as an adult (Mexico), learned a new language, and survived a major earthquake while pregnant with my first child. I birthed another during a pandemic. Strength is my birthright.

Just a few months ago, following two years of lockdown, feeling free of societal pressure to wear makeup or look a certain way, I decided to pierce my strong, Persian, Jewish nose – with a gold ring, not a stud. I’ve always loved the way they look, and life is too short to wonder what if.

It’s a nose I am learning to love, a nose that would boldly protrude from the chador framing my face if my family hadn’t fled Tehran, and that would earn me a yellow Star of David badge in my grandfather’s Nazi-occupied Polish town. Here, in Los Angeles, where I now live, it still sets me apart from many of my female relatives, whose nose jobs camouflage their identities. It’s a protest, and it’s decorated in gold.

Allegra Ben-Amotz is a writer, editor and amateur chef living in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Afar, Grub Street, Cherry Bombe and more. She’s also the brand manager at Masienda.

P.S. Samin Nosrat’s beauty uniform, and how to help Iranian women right now.

(Illustration by Abbey Lossing for Cup of Jo.)


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Toby and Anton in Conversation


toby anton

What funny things have the kids in your life recently said? Nine-year-old Anton and 12-year-old Toby make us laugh every day, and their humor has become a mix of cute-kid wackiness and grown-up jokes. Here are a few…


Me, while walking to a restaurant after work: “Sorry, I’m just in a bad mood today.”
Toby: “But, Mommy, you’re going out to dinner with your beautiful son!”

Toby at the grocery store: “Whoever invented raspberries is a god.”

Anton: “What if there was an anti-helium that instead of making your voice really high it made your voice really deep?”
Toby: “It’s called puberty.”

texting with kids

Toby is the funniest texter. Sometimes it’s short and sweet, like above, but other times my phone will buzz and I’ll see: “Hey man what’s up?” or “U free for a call?” Hahaha.


The other day, Anton impersonated me working from home (above): “You always have a pillow on your lap and are talking on the phone, like, ‘Maureen, we need that fashion post,’ or ‘Jannelle, one second, one second, my kid just came in.’”

Anton: “Mommy, maybe you can try to be like me and say ‘I love you’ every few days. Instead of like Iloveyouiloveyouiloveyou.”

Anton: “I can’t speak any other languages but I can say ‘tasty’ in an Australian accent.”

Anton: “I want to get a Christmas countdown calendar. It’s just, like, jolly.”



What about your little dudes? Please share below… xoxo

P.S. More conversations with Toby and Anton, and Anton’s week of outfits.


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What’s Your Post-Kids’ Bedtime Ritual?


Seinfeld Elaine ice cream

Seinfeld Elaine ice cream

There’s that moment each night when my kids are finally asleep, my spouse is watching whatever new Star Wars series I’ve opted not to rabbit-hole into, and I have approximately 47 minutes before I zonk out. This is the time for a large fistful of Goldfish.

To be clear, this isn’t a handful. It’s a massive fistful. The kind where you reach deep into the large 30-ounce carton — not the squishy smaller bag — and grab the largest possible amount of fish. Then, you shovel them with abandon into your mouth. The goal is to fit more in your mouth than one should, the kind of massive portion that you would only eat when no one’s watching because no one is watching. Some might fall onto the floor and yep, you pick those up and eat ‘em, too. This is your time. This is your moment. This is the snack that smiles back.

While scarfing the Goldfish, lalala I’m not listening to the reasons why one shouldn’t eat right before bed. And I’m definitely not reading the celeb profiles that share nighttime routines involving meditation, yoga, expensive skin creams, or something else that feels more aspirational than it does realistic, at least for me.

Because the important thing about one’s ahh-I’m-alone wind down is that it’s uniquely yours, and that it’s something that enables you to take a deep breath. Well, once you swallow all the crackers, that is.

What’s your post-kids’ bedtime ritual? Bonus points if snacks are involved.

Important note: If you would like to substitute another cheese-laden cracker for Goldfish, such as Cheez-Its, I approve but would caution that fistfuls of Cheez-Its are slightly more logistically complicated due to the sharp edges that could graze the roof of your mouth. Instead, I recommend eating them in short stacks of four, which still offer a mouth-is-full scenario without the potential for low-grade injury.

Carey Polis is an editorial consultant and content strategist who lives in Washington, D.C. with her spouse and two sons. She also has a newsletter: Cheese, Book, Restaurant, Thing.

P.S. A sleep trick that’s changing our lives, and Jerry Seinfeld’s bedtime rituals with his kids.

(Photo by Marc Bordons/Stocksy.)


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Have a Lovely Weekend. | Cup of Jo




What are you up to this weekend? We’re deciding on our Halloween costumes — Anton will probably be a pile of leaves — and stocking up on Reese’s and Snickers. (What kind of candy do you pass out?) Hope you have a good one, and here are a few links from around the web…

How pretty is this work dress?

Can’t wait to watch Kristen Bell’s new comedy movie.

A yummy dinner to eat before trick-or-treating.

Always fun to read Jennifer Coolidge interviews. “I like my house in New Orleans… It’s dark, and you feel like you’re in another world. There’s a lot of people that can’t handle that. If you had a one-night stand in my house, you could say, ‘Would you like to meet the rest of my dead family?’ My house is kind of scary. That would be the anti-sell… But I can handle being alone in an echo-y place.” (Vogue)

OMG THIS PILLOW! This is the motto I say all the time with my boys (about my body, their bodies, everyone’s body).

Would you wear a bright pink wedding dress?

The sixth love language does not exist. (NYTimes gift link)

Five reasons I don’t want a bigger home.”

We’re always trying to get the mood lighting right in our apartment, and here’s my new inspiration. Now that’s crepuscular. (NYMag)

This shirt is on my wishlist.

Cotton candy monsters!

Plus, three reader comments:

Says Suze on 11 comments on parenting teens: “My dad, who passed away 10 years ago, was an excellent dad. He was embarrassing and sang all the time. But he constantly told me how proud he was of me. He’d leave little voicemails and texts; he would scrape my car from snow and ice; and he’d leave cups of coffee for me before school. But this one tip sticks. He would come in my room, have a seat, take a deep breath and say, ‘Suze, you have such a cool room.’ It was an easy one liner that often led to long conversations. I sure do miss him. Grateful he was my dad for 26 years.”

Says Lexie on 11 comments on parenting teens: “‘Holding space’ is one of those phrases that gets said a lot but I never understood the meaning until recently. I’m a middle school teacher, and what I tell the parents of my seventh graders is that you must continue to ask your child questions, even if they answer the same way every time (for example, how was school? ‘Fiiiiiine’). It matters that you ask, invite conversation, and show care, no matter how many times you’re rejected. Teenagers want that control, that ability to be dismissive, etc. because their lives still aren’t in their control just yet. Hang in there!”

Says Lyndsay on a great Brooklyn apartment tour: “My friends and I have a game like Salad Bowl, but we call it ‘Level 6.’ The first three rounds are the same as Salad Bowl. [Everyone puts three words into a bowl; then in the first round, you can say anything; the second round is charades and you act out the word; and the third round is just one word.] But then round 4 is just a sound, round 5 is a facial expression, and round 6 is total TELEPATHY. Level 6 almost never works, but it ends in hilarious eye contact, or people closing their eyes and trying to absorb the energy. And when it does work, it’s just the best.”

(Photo of Paris by Julia Volk/Stocksy.)


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What Pact Pieces I’m Wearing on My Next Trip (Plus, a Sale!)


pact discount code

What clothes do you like to wear for everyday adventures or trips? On a flight, for long walks, or while knocking around the neighborhood, I feel my best in a soft sweater or relaxed skirt. So, lately, I’ve been really into Pact’s women collection. Here are a few favorites (plus, a huge sale)…

pact discount code

How effortlessly cute is this sweatshirt dress? Paired with white sneakers, it’s the perfect outfit to wear while curling up with a book or taking an evening stroll with friends.

pact discount code

This honeycomb sweater feels timeless. I’d wear it with airplane joggers over the holidays, while playing Pictionary with the boys or watching So I Married an Axe Murderer with the family. (It’s never not hilarious.)

pact discount code

The graceful silhouette of this midi-dress makes it perfect for dinners out or family gatherings, and I’ve always loved 3/4 sleeves. Bonus: it comes in 10 colors and has pockets!

pact discount code

And how about this polo sweater? This style has been everywhere this fall, and you could wear the timeless look for years. I’m also eyeing this fisherman turtleneck, which has just right for a hair-tuck.

pact discount code

Good news: Pact is offering Cup of Jo readers an early Black Friday sale — which they never do. Use code COJ30 for a whopping 30% off their entire women’s collection (excluding sale items). Good through October 30th. Here are a few more pieces we adore…

Thoughts? Find everything here — including the coolest jumper and my new favorite pants.

(Top photo of the downtime pant. This post is sponsored by Pact. Thank you so much for supporting the brands that support Cup of Jo.)


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My Friends’ Brooklyn Apartment Has the Coolest DIYs (and the Cutest Dog)


I first met Grace Cady when she regularly babysat the boys for a few years. She brings a beautiful mindfulness to all she does; my kids always say, “Grace is sooooo calm.” (Here’s a photo of her at Toby’s ninth birthday party.) Grace now lives with her husband Jack and their dog Cooper, and she gave us a look around their sunlit apartment…


Chair: Article. Blanket: Pendleton. Pillow: Raymour and Flanigan. Black rug: Chairish, similar. White rug: Amazon. Round light: Big Reuse. Candle: Yui Brooklyn. Boob Match Holder: Grace Cady. Pear bud vase: Grace Cady. Jug: Grace Cady. Planter: By Grace, similar.

On first impressions: When we first saw this apartment, it wasn’t in great shape. There was a broken light in the kitchen. There was a diaper in the toilet! But I walked into the living room and felt like this space had to be in our life. My husband was like, no way, I hate that apartment. But in the end he trusted that I had a really good feeling.

On fresh paint: At first, all the walls were weird colors — like a puke-y yellow, and a not-cute blue, and a salmon pink. So, we painted everything white. We also changed the light fixtures and sink faucets and medicine cabinet — inexpensive things that made a huge difference. More recently, Jack installed the built-in bookshelves. We used to have Ikea standing shelves, but last winter he was bored and started researching and then just did it! It changed the entire space. [Ed. note: Grace and Jack then made our bookshelves, which we love.)

Paint: Benjamin Moore. Large mirror: Horseman Antiques.

On the weird ledge: The ledge in our living room is the strangest thing — we don’t even know why it’s there! Our dog Cooper lies on it, and we display plants. Every Saturday night, we have friends over, and it turns into a stage to play a charades-game called Salad Bowl. (Everyone puts three words into a bowl, and each team goes back and forth, and it’s three different rounds; in the first round, you can say anything; the second round is charades and you act out the word; and the third round is just one word; by that time, everyone has inside jokes about the words!)

On a beloved pet: We adopted Cooper four years ago from a dog rescue called Hearts and Bones. At first we were interested in another dog, but then we met Cooper, and he was so sweet and cuddly, and we took him for a walk, and we were like, this is it, this is him.

On happy wiggles: We call him ‘the camp counselor.’ He’s always trying to get everyone to play and have fun. We think he knows he was at a kill shelter because he has a second lease on life — he’s bursting with joy the whole time. And he LOVES having his teeth brushed. Jack and I will be brushing our teeth at the same time and Cooper will come in and drool at the door until we brush his teeth, too.

Desk chair: Big Reuse. Desk, vintage, from a stoop sale. Rug under desk: Vintage, from a friend. Light above desk: Amazon. Painting by Grace.

On naming him: We took him for a walk on his first night, and we walked down Hooper Street, and I thought, ‘Cooper!’ I sometimes think, should we have been more creative? His best dog friend in the neighborhood is Ravioli, which is hilarious, but at the end of the day, he’s such a Cooper.

Credenza: Article. Sconces: Etsy. Bud vase: Grace Cady. Small mirror: Vintage. Green pillow: Etsy. White pillow: Amazon. Woven pouf: Creative Coop, similar. Vase: Grace Cady.

On movie nights: We don’t have a TV, but we have a projector. We take the painting down over the mantle and project the movie on the wall. I really want to watch Everything Everywhere All at Once.


Pendant light: Flkisnuas. To Care Print: Raniban. Pottery: Grace Cady. Chairs: West Elm. Filing Cabinets: Big Reuse.

On a couch cover: We found our used couch at Housing Works in Brooklyn Heights — it was $250, and Jack and I carried it home down the streets. It’s comfy and big, but it’s dark blue, so once Cooper moved in, we were vacuuming the couch every single day. I ordered a huge piece of canvas for like $30, and I cut it to size so it would be a little draped. Then we just tucked it in. We’ve now had it for more than two years and wash it every other week. If someone spills wine on it, I just don’t care, and that’s such a nice feeling — I don’t want things to feel untouchable.

On a career change: Years ago, I went through a pretty big career shift. I was a social worker working in hospice and end-of-life care. I loved it but I craved change. So, I kept following little gut instincts and eventually made my way here. Now I do freelance graphic design work; and I make ceramics and sell my work through my website and wholesale; and I teach my own workshops and also teach at BKLYN CLAY. Income-wise and security-wise, it was a scary shift. Honestly, it’s still scary and even though people make it look not scary and totally normal, I’m terrified most of the time, and I imagine other people are, too. The internet makes things look really simple, like everyone has it together, but that’s not usually true!

On finding support: What helps is surrounding yourself with people who are delighted by you and believe in you. That goes the other way, too — if you have a friend who is trying something new or making a career change or taking a risk, let them know that you support them.

On life lessons: My social work background shows up in my creative work, like my mindfulness offerings and newsletter and workshops. I still refer to a lot of those texts and lessons. I think my experience in end-of-life care is also why I’m not as rattled anymore by smaller things. In the long run, little things don’t matter as much as we may feel they do in the moment — like getting stuck in traffic or other annoyances. Also, I try to never assume anything — you never ever know what’s going on with other people.

On meaningful work: There are so many different kinds of potters out there, and I was watching a video of an instructor and he said, ‘I don’t want you to think about my work, it doesn’t have any meaning, it’s just there to be useful.’ And it was so interesting because I feel the opposite. There are so many things I want people to feel when seeing my work in their house. Sometimes it’s fun, like my boob pottery is to bring joy; and some is more about slowing down and creating ritual in your life. I love hand building, which takes way more time but the pieces feel very textured and personal. They’re sort of pinched and you can almost see my handprints. It takes weeks to make one mug! There’s a lot of waiting with the process, which is a reminder that good things take time and you have to be patient. I also run workshops where I want people to mindfully play, which is something Brené Brown talks about. We’re so hyperconnected, always on screens and running around, and it’s nice to create spaces where we put everything down for an hour or two and touch the earth with our hands. Finally these disjointed parts of my life are coming together and meshing in this beautiful, exciting way.


Table and chair: Big Reuse. Kettle: Fellow Products. Coffee grinder: Crate and Barrel. Boob mug and bud vase: Grace Cady. Sponge holder: Grace Cady. Wall calendar: Aly Miller Designs.

On cooking at home: More recently we started getting Hungryroot because we’ve been so busy trying to get my business off the ground. But fall is my cooking season. I love making stews and chili and bean bakes and lasagnas. Sometimes I’ll get recipes online but often I’ll make things up.

On neighborhood sounds: In our building’s backyard is a restaurant. Every night while I’m cooking dinner, I’ll hear the music and people chatting, and I’ll almost feel like I’m at the restaurant. Sometimes I’ll look out and spot a friend. Oh my god, I went to high school with her!

On an evening ritual: Another kind of weird thing is that the bathroom is right off the kitchen, which feels sort of odd. But it’s also sweet because at night after a long day, I’ll be cooking dinner, and Jack will be in the shower, and we’ll be chatting, and it’s such a nice way to unwind.


Shower curtain: Parachute. Hamper: West Elm. Bath mat: Quiet Town. Nude Print: Raniban. Pottery: Grace Cady. Shelf: Schoolhouse.

On eloping: Jack and I had talked about getting married, and while we weren’t into the idea of a huge wedding, we wanted to do something with my family. In 2019, my parents were planning a family trip to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. So, we decided to turn it into a wedding but not tell anyone ahead of time. My family loves games, so at the beginning of the trip, we passed out playing cards with Cooper’s face on them and it said, ‘My parents are getting married on Friday!’ My relatives read them and were so shocked. I loved it because it felt like a big deal but also incredibly natural.

On spreading the news: We were very thoughtful of how everyone else in our life might take it — we didn’t want anyone to feel left out or hurt. So, we slowly started telling people in person as we saw them, which was — and I didn’t expect this part — so special and intimate. We told our friend Taylor and he started crying, which was sweet; and we face-timed our friend Graham and he was so happy. Our friends visited from Portland and we were folding laundry before going to dinner and we were like, ‘So, we’re married!’


Paint: Clare paint in Daily Greens.

On a green bedroom: Last winter, I wanted the bedroom to feel cozier, so we would feel more held. Our room was painted white, so I decided to go with green. It gets super dark and cozy at night, but in the morning, the light reflects off and it feels energizing.

On a homemade headboard: Jack and I made the headboard. We’re a good team in that I’ll design things and Jack will bring my ideas into the physical world — I make the design and he makes it happen! He cut all the slats to size and put them onto boards and then installed them on the wall. The side tables are connected, and I made the lights out of porcelain. It’s so cool seeing my work suspended in the air and the shadows around them.

On open windows: We don’t have any curtains because we’re big on natural light. When people come to stay, like my parents or brother, we’ll give them our bedroom, and we’ll sleep in the living room. They’re always like, do you have any curtains we can put up? But we’re one story up so people walking by on the street can’t see in, it’s only our neighbors across the way. Living in NYC, we are used to it and just don’t care!

Thank you so much, Grace! We love you.

P.S. More house tours, including an apartment that feels like a treehouse and a family home bursting with gorgeous rainbow colors.

(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo.)


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A Friendship Meet Cute | Cup of Jo


Friendship Meet Cute

Friendship Meet Cute

When I first met my best friend, I was crying in a room full of strangers…

It was a cold January night, and I was sitting in a circle of women. I was freshly single and extremely lonely. During my last relationship, I had stopped prioritizing friendships and only hung out with my boyfriend. So, after our breakup, I found myself both boyfriend-less and friendless. I spent hours on my phone in bed, scouring Facebook and Instagram, looking for communities I could join. Finally, I decided to try out a women’s group hosted by a local church.

The evening began with a round of Rose, Bud, Thorn, where everyone shared the highs and lows from their week, while sitting on a wine-red sectional. As my turn drew closer, sweat beaded above my lip, and I recited an ever-so-casual answer in my head (rose: passed my barista certification at work, bud: making new friends, thorn: gloss over the breakup).

When the person next to me finished talking, the room grew quiet. It was my turn. I squeaked out “Hi, my name is Jannelle!” but the tears welled. “I broke up with my boyfriend because I need to learn how to be happy by myself,” I gasped. “It was the right decision b-bbuu-buuuut-but my heart is breaking!”

At first, there was silence, until I felt a box of tissues in my lap and heard women murmuring ‘I’m so sorry.’ Then the woman next to me started talking, and the moment passed. After the group ended, I stood up to power-walk out the door and avoid another embarrassing meltdown. But a 20-something woman, with black glasses, a messy bun and a warm voice, walked up to me.

“I’m sorry about your breakup. I’m going through the same thing. Do you want to talk?” Her name was Angela. She seemed genuine, so we sat back down together.

What I assumed was a one-time conversation that night soon evolved into a weekly sleepover. Every Thursday, after the group, we’d hang out at Angela’s house. She’d settle into a worn khaki bean bag, and I’d cozy up on the loveseat. We’d open our snacks of choice — Cool Ranch Doritos for me, Boomchickapop for her — skip the small talk and get right to it.

We were each other’s ideal audience. When one of us needed to replay every moment leading to our breakups, the other listened and asked, “What else?” We were the female version of Harry and Sally, and while we didn’t get married, we did fall in love.

Over the months, we slowly made it out of the heartbreak woods, and our sleepovers stopped revolving around the guys we used to date. Instead, we shared other things we cared about — Angela’s obsession with the royal family, the latest videos I’d made for my multimedia class, our shared love for meeting and befriending women at church. Soon we added Saturday and Sunday hangouts, like grabbing lunch or driving to Santa Cruz on Saturday nights to perform at open mics. It wasn’t long before our relationship grew from confidants to best friends.

Eight years have passed since I cried in front of Angela and those 15 other women, and since then she and I have been together through every life event: graduations, birthdays, road trips, first corporate jobs, friend fallouts, engagements, weddings, deaths, kids. And this September, I stood by Angela’s side as her maid-of-honor.

Sometimes, I imagine my sliding door moment and wonder what life would have been like if I hadn’t decided to go to the church group that night. But the game never lasts long, because then I would have missed my soulmate, which isn’t something I can bear to imagine.

Angela and me on a road trip in 2018.

How about you? How did you meet your close friends? I’d love to hear.

P.S.The joy of being friends with older women, and the love story I never thought to tell.

(Photo by Bonninstudio/Stocksy.)


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How I Taught Myself to Cook


Tomato and Garlic Confit Pasta

When my boyfriend Jeremy and I first started dating, I made him pasta limone for dinner. I had no idea how to make it beyond boiling the water. But I envisioned this whole romantic scene with me cooking in the kitchen, casually drinking wine from a glass in one hand while stirring some type of sauce with the other, music in the background.

Well, it did not turn out like that. Instead, it was me feverishly bouncing back and forth from the stove to my laptop, trying to understand the five-step recipe. The pasta came out inedible. It was so sour, it tasted acrid and poisonous. I can be dramatic at times and actually cried from true embarrassment, while Jeremy managed to eat his entire bowl without dying. He reassured me that it was “not that bad” (which made me cry harder) but I knew the truth. It really was that bad.

I was 30 years old when that happened and I decided soon after that I didn’t like not being able to cook very basic things. I had just quit my job in social services and with time on my hands to explore something new, I started an Instagram account as a fun way to document my learning process. I thought my family could follow along, since they found my newfound desire to learn to cook very amusing.

Teaching myself how to cook and bake became a half job/half love affair. I say job not because I make any money from it, but because I dedicated seven hours a day, six days a week, to playing in the kitchen. It became a love affair because I discovered along the way how truly beautiful the process of cooking can be. I enjoyed making things for the ones I love, the intentionality of grocery shopping and picking out ingredients, the act of plating something I made with my two hands. It became a new and meaningful way to treat myself with care and kindness, which has saved me in a lot of ways.

Three things I found helpful during this process:

Set Your Mise
When I was learning how to cook, my brother gave me a set of 10 metal bowls. They were cute and charming in their own little sterile way. He asked me if I knew what ‘mise en place’ was, and I said ‘uh, no, absolutely not.’ He explained that it meant ‘everything in its place’ and that measuring out the ingredients and organizing them in bowls would be extremely helpful. And he was right. It was almost meditative. I began to appreciate the process of prepping — setting each ingredient in its own bowl until it was ready to play its role. It’s much more pleasant to cook when you don’t have to stop to measure every ingredient.

Cook What You Love
Find recipes that look good to you. It feels like magic when a recipe looks delicious and then I take the time to make it and taste it. This method also encouraged me to keep trying dishes. If I saw a photo of a three-layered chocolate cake, I could find a recipe and try making it. Even if it didn’t turn out perfectly, it was still motivating.

Taste As You Go
Trust your instincts! Use recipes as a guideline, not rules! I followed recipes religiously when I was learning how to cook and it taught me quite a bit, but I learned there is just as much value in trusting your palette. Food is personal, and it’s okay to treat it as such. Do you feel like it needs more salt? More spice? More acidity? As I became more confident in cooking, I steered away from following each recipe to a tee.

These days, I can cook a variety of different dishes, with a lot less crying. I’m still haven’t re-attempted that pasta limone, but I love making a simple-yet-robust pasta, like this one with Tomato-Garlic Confit — which I think 30-year-old Ethaney would have been proud of.

Tomato and Garlic Confit Pasta

Tomato and Garlic Confit Pasta

Tomato and Garlic Confit Pasta

Tomato and Garlic Confit Pasta
So simple, it’s barely even a recipe.
Serves 2

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups cherry tomatoes, whole
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
A few sprigs of fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary
Flaky sea salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces dry pasta of your choice (I love a classic spaghetti or a fun shape like fusilli corti bucati)
Fresh basil, torn or shredded (for serving)
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (for serving)

Preheat your oven to 250°F degrees.

In an oven safe pan, coat the bottom of a baking dish with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place the tomatoes in the dish, along with the halved head of garlic (facing up) and your fresh herbs. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil over everything, then season everything with salt and pepper before placing in the oven.

Roast the tomato and garlic for two hours until everything is melty and cooked down. Check on this periodically. If the garlic ever looks a little dry, spoon the olive oil in the pan over the top of the garlic. Once the tomatoes look cooked down and the garlic is soft, remove from the oven, set aside, and let cool.

Heat up a large pot of water that is well salted and boil the pasta, until it’s just about al dente, with a little chew. (You don’t want to overcook your pasta because it will cook a bit more in the pan with the confit). Save about a 1/4 cup of pasta water before you strain the pasta.

In a separate large skillet, set over medium high heat, add the tomato and garlic confit along with the olive oil it was cooked in and let it heat up in the pan. Add the cooked pasta in the pan and sauté everything, tossing it all together until they’re well acquainted. As necessary, add a drizzle of pasta water to help loosen the sauce and evenly distribute it.

Taste for seasoning and add a bit more flaky salt if needed. Top with fresh basil and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Tomato and Garlic Confit Pasta

Ethaney Lee loves to cook for herself, her loved ones and the people in her community. She lives with her boyfriend, Jeremy, and their Taiwanese rescue dog, Cleo, in Berkeley, California. She has also written for Cup of Jo about chaotic pavlovas. You can find her photos and thoughts on Instagram.

Thank you, Ethaney!

P.S. Orzo al limone, and 15 things I wish someone had told me when I started cooking.

(Photos by Ethaney Lee.)


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