One of my favorite content franchises on the internet is Grub Street’s “The Grub Street Diet,” in which they ask celebrities, chefs, and foodies to detail everything they eat over the course of a weekend. This is excellent, distractive reading for my fellow middle-of-the-night worriers. It is light and conversational but surprisingly intimate to learn how and what people eat, and to listen to the narratives they weave around their dining and nutrition decisions. You learn a lot about people this way! I was thinking that it would be interesting to do a “Reading Diet” interview series where writers and celebrities share everything they read in a given day. Which articles? Which twitter exchanges? Which sections of which books? Where do they go to read, and at what time of day?
Anyhow, that’s an idea for another blog. Today, sharing my own food diary from this past weekend.
For most of the year, I run 3-4 miles every other morning, and during those periods of discipline, I force myself to eat something before my run, though I am rarely peckish in the morning. I am currently in an illness-induced fallow period of exercise, having slogged through norovirus, a sinus infection, and strep, as well as two courses of antibiotics, and shepherded all of my family through permutations of the same. I have had to take a step back to permit myself a full recovery. Normally, I feel a vague sense of guilt and anxiety when I am not clipped into my running regimen, but it turns out that at 38 years old, I have finally unearthed the perspective I need to take care of myself without self-chastisement. In fact, it dawned on me this month that nearly every year of my entire running “career,” I’ve absented myself from the habit owing to injury, illness, or the demands of other things in my life for a few weeks here and there. I am now seeing these hiatuses as a feature of my fitness regimen rather than a bug. Knowing that there will, without a doubt, be times I will need to take a step back, but that I will maintain a much broader pattern of commitment, has unlocked something for me. It is not laziness or giving up; it is making temporary space for other, more urgent things, like nursing myself and my family back to health, or digging into a creative project. And it is OK.
But, all of that to say: I have not usually been eating breakfast these days, but yesterday, I saw that Thomas English Muffins were buy-one-get-one-free at Safeway and bought both the cinnamon raisin and the plain varieties, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since I ferried them home. I toast a Thomas English Muffin, smear with Kerrygold butter (we keep out at room temperature in one of these — which you need, as I mentioned yesterday!), and sprinkle with everything bagel seasoning. I enjoy this in ritualistic silence after ushering my children through the 34 discrete steps we complete every morning between 6:50 (when we wake up) and 7:42 a.m. (when we walk out the door). My husband is taking them to school, and the quiet, and the English muffin, feel like an indulgence.
My husband returns at 9 with an oat milk latte from Grace Street Roasters for me. He normally makes our coffee from home, grinding beans with a hand grinder (apparently, coffee-heads think hand-grinding beans results in a better grind and there is also something masochistic and traditional about it that the Redditors on various deep coffee nerd threads like) and brewing with a Moccamaster, which is sort of a hybrid between a drip coffee machine and a pour over. But today we were out of beans so he stopped at Grace Street and treated me to my favorite coffeehouse beverage.
At noon, I descend from my studio to the kitchen. We always have a lunch plan in place by 9 a.m. and sometimes the day or two prior. This is Mr. Magpie’s doing: if it weren’t for him, I would be eating a lot of “clean out the fridge salads” and fried eggs. I make the planned tuna salad using fancy tinned tuna procured at Bread Furst, following the ATK Recipe. It’s a tad finnicky, requiring me to soak red onions in red wine vinegar for 15 minutes, add fish sauce, etc, but it’s worth it. I notice that Mr. Magpie has already chopped and soaked celery in a small dish of water the counter (presumably because it’d gone limp in the fridge), and has also brought some parsley in from his garden, which he has rinsed and patted dry on paper towels. He is detailed to the point of affectionate about his food, and the way he preps his ingredients is almost spiritual. I love this about him. I think it says something about his openness to joy. We layer olive tapenade (also purchased at Bread Furst) with the tuna salad, some butter lettuce leaves, and very thinly sliced red onion, on top of lightly toasted levain purchased at Bread Furst, which is absolutely one of the best bakeries I’ve ever been to in my life. We serve with Bubbie’s pickles, which are very garlic-y. (I prefer Wickles or Grillos.) I drink a mango-orange Spindrift.
At dinner, we eat leftovers from the night prior: pork chops Mr. Magpie marinated for three days following a Zuni recipe and then grilled on his Weber kettle. He is a maestro at the grill — the pork has perfect grill hatchmarks, and it is cooked absolutely perfectly. He serves with a sweet potato hash and stewed kale, both also from the Zuni cookbook and outrageously good accompaniments to the savory pork. I think I have some kind of deficiency because I cannot get enough bitter, leafy green vegetables. The kale has been cooked in Mr. Magpie’s own chicken broth and is flecked with bits of onion. The texture contrast between the stewed kale and the crispy, lacey, caramelized sweet potato cakes is unreal and addictive. My children summarily refuse to eat these sweet potato cakes, which is beyond my comprehension. They do, however, like the pork, which I’ve supplemented with buttery peas, berries, and slabs of levain bread, knowing they will not touch stewed kale. I am drinking a margarita I mixed up for myself, which is a faux pas in Mr. Magpie’s book. He prefers a pre-meal aperitif (negroni, daiquiri) and then wine with food. But I am less particular about these things, and we’ve just gotten hooked on a new blanco tequila, G4. It is a perfect margarita tequila — it tastes almost vegetal or fruity, and is very smooth.
After the children are in bed, we eat leftover and mildly stale halves of cupcakes I’d purchased at Georgetown Cupcake the day prior, not knowing that I would also be purchasing them the following day for a birthday celebration for my father in law. I mention this to Mr. Magpie and he says: “There are worse things.” We are in bed by 9:30 after finishing a long and poorly paced episode of “The Last of Us” on HBO. We like this show, but it has taken us months to get through — we need to be in “the right mood” to undertake it, and some of the episodes are pretty shaky. This was one of them.
I eat a few cubes of honeydew melon alongside a mug of Mr. Magpie’s coffee, scarfed down as I rush to get my daughter ready for soccer and my son ready for an indoor pool party. (It turns out we have lost his goggles somehow between the final swim of last summer and today.) We are then out for the morning, my son and I stopping to pick up (more!) cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcake on the way home. We are greeted by a birthday feast for my father-in-law: peking duck with all the trimmings, plus hot and sour soup and fried squid. We enjoy the bounty at our dining room table, listening to Harry Belafonte and introducing my in-laws to face filters on Snapchat (we howl with laughter when my son becomes Albert Einstein in one). We then bring out cupcakes.
After my in-laws have left, we spend a few hours at home and realize there is a burgeoning, pent-up, not-good energy between the children. I’m sure parents around the world understand the pall I am describing: somewhere around 4 p.m. on a Saturday that you’ve largely spent at home, the wheels start to fall off. We decide to throw the children in the car and take them to our family’s country club for a change of scenery, luring them with the promise of shirley temples and goldfish. The club has big baskets of goldfish, peanuts, and wasabi snack mix on offer, and they take little servings and then sit outside with fresh activity books and sticker pads, sipping on a shirley temple (my son) and chocolate milk (my daughter) while Mr. Magpie and I perch on adirondacks at the edge of the 18th hole with aperol spritzes, watching golfers drive, then chip, then putt the final hole. We are smug with our ingenuity at making this gametime decision. I eat around the wasabi peas in my snack mix, not because I don’t like them, but because they’re Mr. Magpie’s favorite, and he palms an entire fistful of the ones I’ve apportioned for him and eats them all at once. Everyone is happy. Between mild skirmishes over the sticker pads, my children chase birds and “check out the fountain” (furtively dip their shoes in the water) and we decide to prolong our stay and have them eat dinner there. We’d already decided we’d be eating later, and separately, because we are thawing out meatballs Mr. Magpie made a few weeks earlier with his homemade spicy fra diavola sauce, neither of which my children will touch. The meatball rejection is a particularly acute affront to Mr. Magpie, as they will scarf down frozen ones from the local Safeway at least once or twice a week, but somehow draw the line at Mr. Magpie’s tender, perfectly-seasoned veal-pork-beef ones, lovingly prepared from scratch. The children ironically order big plates of pasta with meatballs (!), which they eat hungrily, before selecting ice cream bars from the freezer inside the clubhouse.
Back at home, after the children are tucked into bed, I prepare a green salad with butter lettuce, avocado on its last legs, shallot, and pecans, dressed in a mustard-honey vinaigrette. I always do the same proportions: 3 T vinegar, 5 T olive oil, 1 T canola oil, and a teaspoon each of mustard and honey. Sometimes I will add a garlic clove, but today I omit. We serve this alongside the meatballs in fra diavola sauce (showered heavily with pecorino romano, and by the way, as I mentioned yesterday, you need a pebble grater — it is so much better than the thin, wispy shavings you get from a microplane when topping a plate of pasta or a bowl of soup — trust me, it’s worth the crazy shipping) and a few pieces of toasted Levain bread from the aforementioned loaf, which is an excellent way to mop up the extra sauce. We drink sangiovese out of juice glasses and watch the first half of the Tetris movie. By 9:15 p.m., we are yawning. This is 40: unable to finish a movie in one night.
This morning, I skip breakfast and take the children to Mass and then my daughter accompanies me to a “teddy bear tea” at my high school alma mater, Georgetown Visitation. I catch up with former classmates, fawn over their children, permit my daughter to have an ill-advised number of donuts and mini-muffins, and subtly plant the seed that she might one day want to attend this wonderful school? “Isn’t it beautiful?” I ask, and “What do you think?” She looks unimpressed. “It’s good,” she shrugs. We head back to the car.
Back at home, Mr. Magpie eats leftover Peking duck and I have the last of the tuna salad on the last of the bread. We make a big fuss over how proud we are of having eaten the entire loaf of bread. We hate food waste but bread can be tricky. Levain does keep pretty well in a big Ziploc bag, especially if you are toasting when using the days after it is first cut. This is also 40: having long conversations about how well you’ve done cleaning out your fridge and pantry.
That evening, we take the children to the Mario movie — my son’s first theater experience! He sits in my lap halfway through the movie, pressing his face against mine, and I know he’s finding it overstimulating. I had wanted to buy them popcorn for the full experience, but it is a 3:15 p.m. showing and we are planning to go to an early dinner right after. I love movie theater popcorn but can never figure out the right viewing time to accommodate it. It’s always too close to lunch or too close to dinner?
We drive over to Frankly Pizza in Kensington, MD after, our first time there. They serve up neopolitan style pizzas in a casual, family-friendly environment, and it’s a good thing, because my children — revved up by the stimulating movie — are in a cagey mood, arguing about and snatching at stickers. They do, however, polish off most of a cheese pizza (which comes out blessedly quick), and the mood improves. My son has me cut each slice into small pieces that he then tries ineffectively to spear with a fork, often scooping sad bits of paper-thin pizza off the table into his mouth. For some reason, I could watch him eat food all day. My husband agrees: there is something deeply reassuring about watching your children eat. I think it’s some kind of parental, animalistic instinct, but the sight of my son’s little bird mouth eating bits of pizza, even in an ungainly fashion, makes me strangely joyful. My husband and I split a “masala salad,” a special that evening, which has Indian spices, shaved carrots, green leaf lettuce, pistachios, and dried fruit. It’s quite good. We then share a margharita pizza and a sausage and pepper pizza.
Back at home, we put our children to sleep and then finish the Tetris movie. We both agree this is one of the best movies we’ve seen in awhile — it’s just fun. Well-paced, exciting, funny at the right parts. We speculate that this film, in conjunction with the Mario movie, might be an elaborate marketing program Nintendo is undertaking in advance of the release of some kind of new console or system. This, finally, is also 40: unable to absorb a fun movie without contemplating the business architecture around it. We go to bed by 10, well-fed and happy.
If you are a journaler, or a writer of any kind, you might enjoy undertaking your own food diary. It is surprisingly self-revelatory. I did not realize, for example, that I rarely snack any more? I used to graze throughout the day and now I nearly exclusively eat three square meals. I don’t know when or how this happened? Of course, I am also struck by how much loving effort Mr. Magpie puts into keeping us well and diversely fed. I am lucky!
Please feel free to share some of your own food writing highlights in the comments!
+Not to be morbid, but what would your final meal be?
+When we were at the lake, the house we borrowed from our neighbors had a memory cushion mat in front of the sink and it was kind of…heavenly? I just saw House of Noa released a really chic cushion mat for this purpose that looks a lot like the Stark antelope rug we have in my husband’s study. Tempted…
+My children bring these little artfolios with them everywhere — Church, restaurants, etc! A great little carrying case. Somehow on sale for 70% off. These make great gifts! More of my go-to gifts for young children here.
+My kind of everyday dress.
+Currently on my shopping short list: one of these cashmere mock necks from Alice Walk. The prettiest colors!
+Cool girl jean shorts.
+Fun squeeze of citrus dress for a summer wedding.
+This caftan, part of a collab between the boutique Monkees and brand Emerson Fry, is perfect for beach/pool days.
+My daughter saw these sprinkle-emblazoned goggles at the shoe store and has been begging for them. Pretty fun.
+Something fun to keep up your sleeve for a slow summer weekend.