Freelance Gazpacho

pen and palate tomatoes market

illustration: tram nguyen


The “freelance writing lifestyle” has its ups and downs. It’s been about a year since I quit my full-time reporting job to do the whole freelance thing, and during that period I’ve learned a few things about myself. For one thing, I am disturbingly okay with my limited degree of human interaction. Being at home alone with my cat all day suits me basically fine! I also like being my own boss. No one is going to give me shit if I sleep in or take a 2-hour ice cream break or work from bed while wearing my soft clothes; and because there’s no one to ask me to write cheap-click blog posts in the interest of “generating content” or getting X number of page views, I have no real reason to do so. It’s basically forced me to hold myself to a higher standard, which means that, in the last year, I’ve done mostly work in which I’m actually interested. That alone feels like an enormous luxury. 

The downside is that half the time I feel like I’m on the brink of a nervous breakdown. For one thing, it is reallllly hard to make good (any???) money as a freelancer, and the best freelancers are super aggressive and relentless, which I, by nature, am not. So I spend a lot of time and energy beating myself up for not making enough money; and not being dogged enough; and not being as prolific as I imagine my peers are; and for sitting around stressing about all these things when others would, I dunno, “pound the pavement” in search of a story. (Here I envision Lois Lane and Murphy Brown, dressed in boxy beige pantsuits, shouting into their rotary phones.)

There’s also the internet. When you have an office job, the Internet is a pleasant distraction. If you spend the whole day noodling around online while being paid to do a job you hate, hey, you win! You just made money by idly gchatting and checking Twitter for six hours! When the time is yours to waste, though, the Internet feels much more nefarious. Hours spent gchatting are hours that could have gone toward writing. Time spent on Twitter—a place where writers tend to promote their work, tell jokes, and get into fights with each other—is actually worse than time you’ll never get back, because now you’ll also have to discuss that time with your (very expensive) therapist, due to renewed feelings of inferiority and schadenfreude. Even the New York Times website can be dangerous. If there is a breaking news scenario, rest assured you will be the person who knows every single thing about it. You will read each news item, then you will go to Twitter and read every tweet, then you will gchat your friend with a day job to fill her in on every single gory detail. Guess how much writing you will do?

I struggle a lot with this aspect of freelancing, which is one of the reasons I love New York summers. During the winter, in my small apartment, the only escape from the Internet is the shower (or so it feels to me, because another great thing about the freelance lifestyle is that you don’t have to go outside in bad weather if you don’t feel like it). But now when there’s something particularly gnarly going on, I can… just leave. Go for a walk, a bike ride, get a sandwich or a fancy coffee, bring a book to read in the park, whatever. Manhattan always empties out in the summer—NYU is out of session and the really rich people take long vacations—and walking around quiet streets in the stifling heat feels lethargic in a way that the city rarely does. It’s kind of intimate, almost romantic, the New York I always imagine when I’m reading an Edith Wharton novel.  

I was in the market for a distraction the other day, because a lot of depressing things were happening in the news, and people were fighting on Twitter for no reason, and I didn’t want to get sucked in. So I slammed my computer shut, grabbed my purse and some headphones, and started walking across town to the farmer’s market for some fresh tomatoes. Gazpacho for dinner will be nice, I thought. I’m not a huge tomato fan, but the farmer’s market has nice, juicy ones in the summer. Plus, the great thing about gazpacho is that you can just keep adding various vegetables to the blender until the soup doesn’t taste too tomato-y anymore. As I walked down 11th street I listened to an episode of This American Life, which per usual made me both laugh and cry, and when I discovered upon arriving at the farmer’s market that it was closed, I gently cursed myself for being an idiot and then promptly set off for a nearby Whole Foods. I did not get the tomatoes of my dreams, but the soup was delicious anyway. Also, I managed to stay sane.


Serves 6

4 tomatoes, chopped
1 white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 orange pepper, seeded and chopped
4 tinkerbell peppers (I used 1 red, 1 orange, and 2 yellow, but I’m pretty sure you can use whatever you want to no ill effect), seeded and chopped
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, partially seeded* and chopped
1/4 cup basil, roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper


*I wanted my gazpacho to have a little kick, so I only removed about half the jalapeno pepper seeds. For less spice, remove all seeds. For more, leave them all in.

Throw all the ingredients in a powerful blender and purée until it’s soupy. Pour into a big bowl and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours, until cold. Garnish with some extra basil leaves, if you have any, and eat.

7 Comments Write a comment

  1. If you had also mentioned watching kdramas all night long and always feeling guilty for not working out, this piece would have mirrored my freelancing life exactly. Lovely writing. Delightful art. Yummy gazpacho.

  2. Your beautiful writing itself says it all about why you deserve and should use your talents to write for something higher-leveled than a sponsored post! I really enjoyed reading this. I am stil workig my 9-5 job in London, some days are better than others meaning that some days I beat myself up less for not being able to break free and do what I love with purpose – photograph, cook, write, exchange food knowledge and make a change in the food world. I am scared to death to do it, mostly for the financial reasons you mention – London is SO expensive, as I imagine is NYC. Procrastination and distraction are also huge enemies of mine, other than that, I hear you – my poor people skills would make me feel exactly in my dimension being alone with my thoughts for hours every day.
    Beautiful gazpacho – I happened to make one too, it feels like a very right thing to make while summer lasts!

  3. thank you, @elle and @valeria! i definitely need to add kdramas to my list of procrastination tactics.

  4. Haha love this post. You nailed it. Grateful for the reassurance that I’m not the only one having nigh nervous breakdowns on a regular basis. Freelance writing is a strange and tumultous existence. Lovely blog, thanks for the laugh!

  5. Came to your blog from Saveur’s Best blogs article. LOVE this post. So real. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself and doing it so smartly.

  6. It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly donate to this
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  7. Lucy! Your description of the freelance writing lifestyle is so familiar, it nearly brought me to tears. I know the personal battle well, and you’ve described it to a tee. Things that were once gently entertaining turn on you – and money becomes a strange and sometimes limiting obsession. But the quiet pride of freedom, of mid-day yoga classes and simple tomato-based dinners fills you in a way that the lethargy of 9-6’s just never will. So delighted. Cheers to your endeavors.

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