I met Jess after her mom asked me to hire her as an assistant in the communication’s office I headed at the time. Her mom was one of my favorite people at work and I was grateful for the afternoons we spent forgetting official tasks for the more important mom job of muddling over our kids. My son was the same age as Jess and struggling as much as she was through his late teens, both smart, hard-working, full of spirit and humor, but floundering in college and a path forward. Her mom and I traded stories about their creatively outlandish adventures formed around their natural nonconformity tendencies.
We had a ton of faith in them and in many ways proud of their unconventionality but that didn’t mean the two of them weren’t aging us and seriously disturbing our sleep. My one source of comfort rested on my son attending what I have since referred to as the “George Switzer Finishing School for Wayward Boys.” At some point you’ll read about George but it’s enough to know that he is a no-nonsense retired NYC policeman who rules Queen Ann Ravioli and Macaroni, his family’s pasta store and one of the oldest–and last–in Brooklyn. My son worked as one of his delivery men and, under George’s tutelage, he received hardnose guidance and the kind of unwavering support found only in being surrounded by a range of old-school characters who had walked their own bumpy roads. Jess’s mom thought a similar job would help her, too.
It would be false to say Jess excelled at the work she was hired to do–mainly filing and helping out the office manager. Her filing abilities were impaired by her wide ranging interests outside work which required a lot of organization and subsequent recuperation. Much more hard to overlook was the office manager’s disapproval of Jess’s exuberance. But the rest of the staff adored her as a ceaseless source of distracting humor and respected her authority about what stories us middle-aged writers should write that wouldn’t make our primary audience–college-age kids–stone us. Everyone celebrated when she finally graduated college and, with the exception of the office manager, mourned when she left us for a job in the city.
That was a long long time ago. Her mom quit the college before I did and, since then, Facebook and Instagram has been my only news source for what Jess’s been up to.
That’s how I found her a few weeks ago. There she was on Instagram, engaged in a message about health and nutrition for women in a manner that is pure Jess. Here’s what happened:
Eight years ago Jess felt depleted. She was in a dead-end job and in a long-term relationship that, while loving, felt stifling. She was also unmoored by her family moving away. She quit her job, broke up with her boyfriend and began working as an event planner. For several years she couch surfed or stayed in other people’s homes babysitting their pets. Her car was her closet. The good news was event planning fit her energy and ebullience. The bad news was she worked long hours creating events and managing a department of 800 people. She was without a secure home of her own and cycling through the city’s depressing dating scene. Jess aced masking how alone and adrift she felt. Even she didn’t notice the strain she was under.
No matter what her circumstances were, Jess maintained a good diet and exercise routine. But at the same time she began to suffer from cripplingly stomach and intestinal pain. Her hair and nails turned brittle, her face drawn. All the doctors she saw brushed her illness away as minor complaints–one suggested it was little more than mensuration. It got to a point where bananas and rice were the only food she could keep down.
“On the one hand I was losing weigh so, what’s to complain about? On the other, I knew something was really wrong. But I felt the doctors knew better than me. I think that’s the way a lot of women are, especially when they’re young. I was willing to put up with feeling shut down by them,” she says now.
That’s where things stood until a nutritionist friend convinced Jess that she knew her body better than anyone else. She researched probable causes for her illness and found the right doctor to treat her. It turned out she had contracted a parasite and, once successfully cured, she took stock of her situation.
“Around this time a friend told me about an apartment and, as soon as I move in, things began to shift. It was huge having a place I could finally be alone in. I stopped making plans for after work and began cooking for myself. I found a base where I began to realize what I was doing to myself.”
In looking back over the previous years she circled around to her experiences with doctors and learning the importance of nutritional balance on her physical and mental health.
“When Covid hit I started asking myself what am I passionate about and it sure wasn’t my job. I had learned how much food affects our lives and I thought about how people have always felt comfortable talking to me about problems they were facing. If I could combine the two then maybe I could find ways to empower women to take charge of their mental and physical health,” she says.
For the first time, Jess took a leap of faith in herself. She left the events company and formed one of her own. For someone who never excelled at school, she summoned the courage to enroll at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a health coach.
“That was a huge fear for me because I never liked school but I’m now on my way to a master’s degree and loving it.”
It takes a lot of grit to change your life around and to do it with the idea of sharing what you’ve learned along the way.
A recent post, elaborates. “Bet on yourself. Choose yourself over the ‘easier or safer’ choice. Because betting on yourself is always the right choice.”
In January, Jess will be offering a 12 week program geared to helping women strengthen their mental, physical and financial health. The program consists of weekly virtual group workshops and one-on-one sessions. To learn more about the program and to register, contact Jess on Instagram @jess.bam or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
And now presenting three of Jess’s healthy recipes!
Fermented Garlic Honey
Note from Jess: Both garlic and honey are high in antioxidant compounds which helps to balance your immune system and prevent illness. The main health ingredient in garlic is allicin which gives it antibacterial and disease-fighting properties. Honey is naturally high in flavonoids and polyphenols. These chemicals help fight inflammation in the body. It has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties and can also help balance the immune system, prevent certain illnesses.
12 cloves of garlic, peeled
honey (local or raw is preferred)
Submerge the glass jar in a pot of hot water, making sure it’s completely covered. Bring water to a boil for 10 minutes. Use tongs to remove the jar from the water and cool completely.
Place the garlic in the cooled jar and pour in enough honey to reach about 2 inches at the top.
Seal the jar and leave untouched for 3 days. It should be forming bubbles which means it’s fermenting. Take off the lid, stir, and close it back up.
The honey will become more liquified as time goes on and will last for about a month on the counter at room temperature. It’s delicious stirred into tea, drizzled over food, especially fish, or take a spoonful everyday to fight off colds and flu.
Butternut Squash Soup
Jess made this in an Instapot but, since I don’t have one, I made it the old fashion way in a pot. It comes together in about 30 minutes. The measurements will make about 4 servings. If you double the recipe you’ll have leftovers for a rainy day.
3 slices of bacon, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 green apple chopped
1 quart chicken stock, store bought or your own
1 12 ounce can coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon turmeric, more if desired
salt and pepper to taste
Optional chopped scallions and/or cilantro for garnish
Sauté the bacon in a large pot until slightly cooked. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a gentle boil then lower the heat to simmer and cook until the squash is easily pierced with a fork.
Pour the soup into a food processor or use an immersion blender to puree until smooth.
Garnish and enjoy!
Ginger Lemon Tea
Good for everything from an upset stomach to fighting the common cold.
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 to 3 tablespoons ginger, peeled and grated
Steep the thyme in 4 cups of boiling water for 10 minutes.
Squeeze the lemons in a large glass container and add the grated ginger.
Pour in the thyme-steeped water (you can strain the thyme from the water if you wish) and stir in the honey, stirring until dissolved.
You can drink hot or store in refrigerator and drink cold. It keeps for about a week.
Banner credit: @elizabethgrantphotography
Food photos credit: @jess.bam