My Uncle Laurence passed away this November 23rd, 2018. There’s no way to put into words exactly what he was like because you just had to know him. And you were incredibly lucky if you did – and you’d never forget him.
It was a blessing to have Laurence in my life. We met on my 25th birthday in a completely unusual way. He drove down to the East Village, walked right up to me in a bar called Bento Burger below where Lucky Cheng’s used to be on 1st Ave and 2nd Street. Laurence said that my friend had hired him as stripper and asked where should he setup. I must have lost all color in my face, because friends asked “Is this guy bothering you?” He promptly shouted, “Brooke – It’s me, your Uncle Laurence!”
From that moment, Laurence became one of my favorite people in the world. He was funny, fascinating, and fearless. He didn’t give a damn what people thought about him (or didn’t let on if he did), and yet his energy was infectious and he touched everyone he met. He made their life, at the very least in that moment, better. Even at the end, he was concerned with those around him and that everyone was doing well and having a good time.
In the years that followed our meeting, we created countless memories together that I’m so grateful for today. He met my friends and often drove down to NYC to see any one of us perform. I found out that he would send some of my friends messages of encouragement on Facebook, one of whom said, “You had the Uncle we all wish we had.”
Outside National Underground, NYC
He visited my cousin Elaine & Robert from Scotland in NYC at The Oyster Bar in Grand Central and we went down to the Sidewalk to get dinner and see everyone perform, much to his delight. We celebrated his cousin Jim’s wedding in Central Park, an incredible Scottish wedding I’ll never forget. I drove up to West Haven on my golden birthday to see him with two of my closest friends – a trip I’ll never forget. He baked me a yellow layer cake (some of which I ate on the way home), had a balloon and gift bag for me with a special black feather hairclip I wear when I have special performances. He always took me out for the best seafood and knew all of the places to go. Laurence showed me the coast, the beautiful houses and shared stories along the way.
He drove me to see Yale on one of his good days and pointed out all of the spots he and my Dad would visit. We talked about everything from relationships and music to the state of the world, books to read, movies to watch. He was incredibly generous even when he didn’t have the means and showed up for family, friends and people in need. And boy, did he have style!
He was even there when my Grandfather passed away, helped my Mom and Dad clean the apartment and attended his funeral. We had a great time catching up at dinner and then he drove me to the airport and we talked more. Man, I never got tired talking to Laurence. It’s was funny, even after meeting him at 25, I felt like I knew him my whole life.
One of my favorite memories was of the evening we shared last Christmas. I’m so grateful that Laurence wanted (really, he insisted) for us to be all together – Lauren, Daniel, Michael, Nora, Stephen and Heather. It was an evening I’ll never forget – with the best company, Connecticut snow, a warm fireplace and a truly blissful holiday.
However, after catching up for a few minutes upon his arrival, Laurence asked me pointedly, “Well, how’s your musical coming?” in a way that moved me. For someone who wasn’t feeling well, that my artistic endeavor going on six years then was his concern, something of urgency and importance to discuss instead of how he was feeling still shakes me to the core. And I think of Laurence each time I write. The day he passed, I sat down at the piano and finally “finished” one arrangement I was working on for years, at least enough to play live. Even in his absence, his spirit still motivates me the way he did in life. I find myself wanting to write better, do better, be better to make him proud. He deserves at least that: my very best.
I wish I had more time with my Uncle Laurence. More conversations, laughs, love, guidance, seafood dinners, questions for Alexa, records to play, jokes, drives to take, reflections on the train back from CT, photos, parties, birthdays, holidays and a drive cross country with him, like I’d dreamed of doing “someday.”
The deal is that “someday” doesn’t always come. If Laurence has taught me anything by example, it would be to live life with freedom of expression, with passion for what you do in life and with very special care for those you love. To jump in your car when you can, drive down to a city not too far away and make an incredible, lasting impression by just being yourself. To fear less and do more with a full and open heart. To give others the gift of joy by your presence and do your best not to apologize for who you are. To make friends wherever you go but never take shit from anyone, either. To show up for people you care about. And to not wait for “someday” – because if he had waited for “someday” to meet his niece, chances are we would’ve only had half of these memories. Or none at all because you just never know.
Christmas with Laurence
Christmas with Stephen and Laurence
Christmas cracker bow-tie
Thank you Uncle Laurence for sharing your love and all of these moments with me, your family and this world. The world may seem darker with you gone now, but you’ve shared so much of your light and kindness with others, I believe there’s no choice for it to shine brighter simply because you were here living in it.
Ever since Pret A Manger released their Fall menu, I’ve been excited to try their Pumpkin Bisque. It’s a treat for me since I don’t eat lunch out too much and avoid salty soups. But this vegan version using coconut milk (also a treat) was tempting!
One afternoon, feeling a little hungry and hummus-less after my salad, I ran over to Pret for a coffee and snack. I saw one small pumpkin bisque left and analyzed the nutritional content:
Not bad! And I love that they have their nutrition facts clearly labeled both in store and on the app. I can deal with that level of sodium and sugar, especially in a pinch. And check out the fiber content and a little bit of protein. I also added a little bit of leftover tofu and chickpeas as toppings once I got back to the office – and check out this sweet Fall view of Union Square:
It was delicious and I wanted to get it again the following week. But they tend to run out of the small size and the large is too indulgent for me. So I decided to make my own version! My goal was to get it to taste as close to their version as possible, but cut down on the salt, sugar (from apple cider I assume) and fat (coconut milk) – but adding fiber and omegas.
I measure by eye, but here’s the approximate ingredient list I used:
Garlic Powder – salt free (if more time, use fresh)
**Onion Powder – salt free
Toppings (optional, but delicious!)
Steamed Organic Sweet Potato / Yam – cubed
Low sodium chickpeas
Extra Firm Organic Tofu
In a non-stick large saucepan, I combined the base ingredients, starting with the pumpkin and milk. When that begins to simmer, add ingredients one by one and stir.
Add the spices, to taste. I was particularly heavy on the cinnamon myself.
Bring to a slow boil and taste.
*When I tasted my first go, it was a bit thin so be aware of the liquids or cooking long enough to let them evaporate while keeping the flavor.
**It didn’t taste quite right until I added a few dashes of onion powder. If you have time and resources, adding in sauteed onions and garlic would be great too I think! It’s all according to preference, but I was in a pinch for time and lack of fresh ingredients, so I’m grateful for my spice shelf!
Let it cool, add your toppings of choice and enjoy!
I was very happy with the result and plan to make this again over the weekend. I paired it with an Engine 2 Kale and White Bean Veggie Burger and spinach salad. Perfect for a rainy or chilly Autumn day – and nutritious too!
Mix all in a bowl with any add ons (fruit, nuts, spices) until smooth. Add milk or flour if needed for proper thickness.
Heat frying pan on medium – non-stick with no oil
Cook and flip – about 4-5 minutes on each side on medium heat
Serve and enjoy! I like mine with fresh fruit, walnuts and a little maple syrup
Since many of us are just getting to know each other here, I’ll preface the slew of recipes coming your way with this fact:
I used to use my oven for storage. I never made anything more than spaghetti and stir fry on the stovetop.
Then, in early 2017, I started getting serious about my health. At the same time, I met a man who loves pancakes but prefers not to eat oil, gluten or dairy most of the time. I was already no dairy when we met and was on my way to no gluten after a challenge my co-worker and I had one week, leaving me feeling so much better.
My first attempt at pancakes from scratch was laughable. I bought the Arrowhead Mills gluten free pancake mix and thought it would be easy – just add almond milk, maybe an egg white, and some blueberries. But without a nonstick pan at the time and no oil, it stuck to the pan and the blueberries burned and I got frustrated. I tried again with lower heat. More frustration, even less pancake.
Without oil, I really needed a nonstick pan. So I found a saucepan and it worked! I just had to use a plate to flip it and top with fruit. Yay!
Months later, I’ve ditched the all-purpose flour and am making my own combinations after trial and error. Some tips:
Buckwheat flour is great, but not on its own. It takes forever to cook and stays too moist even then.
Strawberries and cacao are a great combo 🙂
Brown rice flour works very well even on its own
Invest in a good set of non-stick pans that are non-toxic. I researched for weeks and though they’re “safe”, they’re not the best (smell at a high temp and scratches easy). On a daily basis, I wish I spent a little more. And at the time, this set was $80-$100:
In my research, I found GreenPan to be the best for safety, but didn’t want to spend that much. With as much cooking as I do now, I will definitely be investing in a better set. But that’s for another blog post 😊
My Mom used to say that to me and I always took it to heart. You can always alter the course of your day, no matter when it is. When the day is over, you might say, “Well, that day sucked.” But if you go out with a positive mindset, there is so much more potential for it to be an incredible day from the start!
When I originally drafted this introductory post a few months ago, I was in a bad mood, dealing with sadness and malaise in general. I struggled to turn it into something more positive and give up fear and anxiety.
So, I took actions to resolve and remove the negativity, lack of clarity and worry. Then I went to Vinyasa Yoga last night with a new teacher and Zumba tonight with a favorite familiar teacher. It’s a harmonious balance. And of course, my mood turned a complete 180. I was, and still am, exhausted but I’m so glad I made myself go. There’s something about dancing in a room full of women… it’s fun, feels safe and provides community and connection. And economic status or background doesn’t matter. Size doesn’t matter. Skill doesn’t matter. Some women were spinning in circles (the wrong way) the whole time, but they were laughing and trying and sweating and having fun.
The music was actually the perfect volume. I find in gym dance classes, it’s painfully loud very often and if they don’t turn it down upon request, I will leave. Tinnitus is a real thing. Ironically, tonight was the first time I thought I may ask to turn it up!
I feel incredibly free when I dance. I grew up taking tap classes from 8 years old and developed rhythm from that point forward. And I feel even more freedom in these supportive ZUMBA classes and it doesn’t matter if I mess up. It made me want to teach and inspire people to do this too, which isn’t a new thought. I’ve contemplated a yoga certification too.
I realized that it’s not just movement and dance, but the entire shift I’ve made in the last year. It’s a way of eating, a lifelong habit and dedication to eating whole foods in addition to exercise. No fad diets here. I typically avoid any oil (yes, even coconut and olive oil), fats, butter, etc.. in addition to your typical, more “strict” diet of leafy greens, berries, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, etc. This is the way I had learned it in Dr. Fuhrman’s book Super Immunity – a gift from my wonderful mentor and my first Music Together director in CA. It arrived with another book called How Not To Die which I received and proceed to laugh to no end, as it was a massive reference book and a surprise. But now, I wish I could find and study it. Ahh, hindsight.
In addition to added oils and fats, I avoid dairy, gluten, sugar, processed foods, red meat, alcohol, and most animals except a very occasional chicken and mainly fish (salmon, tuna and sardines). I exercise 4-6 days per week, depending on intensity of workouts and life in general. I was doing 2 days of that is yoga, ideally. Plus maybe a running warmup. One Hatha, one Vinyasa, if possible. Since drafting this, I’ve sustained an injury that has made me shift my exercise plan for now and add physical therapy, but more on that in another post.
With this and having an incredible partner who inspires, supports, and teaches me – as well as learns with me – I’ve lost about 20 lbs. over the last year. But it feels like more like I’ve shrunk overall. Since 2016, I’ve gone from a 16 to 10 (and now even 8). An XL to M.
And honestly, this isn’t about size or weight for me. It’s a way to feel better overall, from bigger issues like respiratory (asthma) and gastro issues (ulcers) to annoying issues like continuous breakouts (ugh) or getting winded by a few flights of stairs (still don’t like stairs). To be able to wear dresses in the Summer without stockings is a major victory of comfort and joy.
And my life has changed. I don’t actually think too much about it anymore because 1. It’s a habit and 2. I’m not perfect about it. Sure, it can be a struggle those days when my office has cookies and some of those days, I’ll have one. Or two. But I don’t let it throw me off course completely, or beat myself up about it. It’s a conscious choice and more special and tasty than if I had it all the time.
So, I guess in that way, I’ve “made it a great year” too. And I’ve realized I’d like to help others do the same – thus a blog is born. Stay tuned for recipes, motivation, playlists, and more!