Musings + Essays

We Ate Well and Cheaply.

By: Jen Shoop

2018 was an upswing for the Shoop Family — a year that answered.  After a rocky couple of years that culminated in the dissolution of our business, a stressful and botched move to New York, and the drawn-out sale of our beloved home in Chicago, Mr. Magpie and I both suffered from situational depression.  We were uncharacteristically pessimistic and — while we nurtured one another at home, in our cozy little pod — we found ourselves more “elbows out,” less kind, more impatient, than we had ever been in our entire lives.  I’ll never forget the morning Mr. Magpie was attempting to get our car out of the garage from our temporary lodging at a hotel during our move to NYC (note that we were paying an exorbitant monthly fee — a second rent — for said garage spot) as he hurriedly prepared for work.  It was his second day at a new job — tensions were already understandably high — but we had to orchestrate an early morning transfer of all of our bags, our traumatized airedale (she didn’t eat for four days in protest of the move), and mini to a new hotel because the hotel we’d been staying in suddenly had no more room at the inn and we were without lodging at the last minute.  (Do you know how hard it is to find a hotel that permits 60 lb dogs and does not cost over $1,500 a night at the last minute?  I think I called 14 hotels.  And this one was way down in Soho, whereas we’d previously been up close to our soon-to-be apartment on the Upper West Side.  But I digress.)  He’d called several times to have the car brought up.  No response.  No response.  No response.  Finally he got someone on the line, and that someone gave him an earful about needing to call earlier if he’d wanted to get his car out by 7 a.m.  I can’t be too sure, but I think Mr. Magpie physically transformed into The Hulk for a split-second.  My patient, even-tempered husband snapped.

“No.  No.  No.” he said, a foreign-sounding rage seeping into his voice.  “You’re going to get my car right now.  I’ll see you in 15 minutes.” 

(There may have been some colorful expletives thrown in.)

The car was ready when he arrived and mercifully (shockingly) scratch-free.  But I’d never seen him with emotion bubbling so close to the surface. We were living on tenterhooks.

It took until June of this year — around the time of my birthday — for our rehabilitation to be complete.  He took me to Prune for the occasion and — we are not normally so lavish, even on on birthdays — directed me to order a bar snack, an entree, a side, and a dessert, plus any wine or cocktail I wanted off the menu.  I remember watching him from across the table, his face arranged into a loose smile, his shoulders relaxed against the chair, his eyes occasionally traveling to nearby neighbors’ plates to inspect their orders.  He looked himself.  He wore his signature air of healthy, happy-go-lucky satisfaction, that curious and occasionally devious glint in his eye twinkling every now and then as he’d lean in to tell me to check out the wildly dressed couple at the door, or the oversized tattoo on the waiter, or the oysters at table 10.   

We sauntered down 1st street, and then Houston, full and happy.  I thought of a line from Hemingway, at his best in A Moveable Feast:

“We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”

Only in New York, you never eat or drink well and cheaply, except for when you travel down to Super Taste in Chinatown on Saturday mornings for hand-pulled noodles and dumplings, as has become habit for us — but but but the sentiment stands.  Life feels simpler when cocooned in love.  We were warm and well and I thought to myself, as I have many times since: “This is enough.  This is life at its peak, at its fullest.  I am enough.  We are enough.”

Mr. Magpie has a phrase for this feeling: “The Shoops are back.”  When we sold the house despite a midnight hour leak in the master bathroom ceiling: “The Shoops are back.”  When mini got into her pre-school of choice: “The Shoops are back.” When he crushed his first year at work, forging a new discipline, acquiring a new team, and earning the respect and love of his colleagues: “The Shoops are back.”   When TheFashionMagpie really took off this year: “The Shoops are back.”

I cotton to his determination and his drive.  I am drawn to the flint in his eye, the set of his jaw.  I see in his resolve a straight and unbroken line to his roots: the son of an entrepreneur, from a webbed family of enterprising, hard-working Americans of German stock and more brave, conscientious members of the military than you can count.  

And so when he says ‘The Shoops are back,” I find myself wrapping my arms around 2018, not quite ready to say goodbye to it.  It’s been kind to me.  It’s borne a kind of peace and well-being that in some ways I feel I do not deserve, but now is not the time for my Catholic guilt to get in the way of my enjoyment of a really really really really really good year.

I hope 2018 was as generous to you, but if it wasn’t: may 2019 be a year that answers for you. 

And to Mr. Magpie: cheers to another year of eating and drinking and sleeping well and warm together.


+Must order this Prune cookbook for Mr. Magpie.  He already read — and loved — the chef’s memoir.  (P.S.  — More of our favorite cookbooks here.)

+What are the odds of finding this adorable calligraphed print of that Hemingway quote?  I may buy it in the card format and frame it in one of these acrylic frames for Mr. Magpie’s bedside.  (We use these frames for meaningful cards — including a sweet bedtime prayer my mother-in-law scrawled on a card to mini on her Baptism that we now say nightly.)

+Another quote I love that reminds me of Mr. Magpie.

+Now is the time to stock up on ornaments for your collection.  I’ve mentioned this in the past, but my top strategy for building a “grown up” holiday decor reserve is by buying a handful of festive pieces each season — preferably when they go on sale around now.  I love these candy ornaments, these clip-on candle ornaments, these birds (I have quite a collection of bird ornaments by now — I just love them perched on the branches!), these skis, and this cloisonne leopard.  Also: this for mini, who just wrapped up a semester of pre-ballet.  Now is also a good time to buy boring but necessary things like wreath hangers — love this one!

+After yesterday’s hair-centric post, a friend texted to let me know how much she loves and lives by Ouai’s dry oil for static hair issues in the winter!

+Legit dying over these Prada mules.  The perfect Christmas shoe.  I have this black watch tartan Ralph Lauren dress I bought at the age of 19 that I still wear nearly every holiday season.  These heels would be the perfect accoutrement.

+Your little boy needs these.  (OMG.)

+Hannahs for $20/pop!  Now’s a good time to stock up for next Christmas…

+Love this pearl-embellished sweater for New Year’s Day.  All the pearls please.

+THIS!  For Valentine’s Day!  For $20!

+A fun hair embellishment for under $15.  I like the polish it lends to your everyday ponytail.  Appropriate for work or evening cocktails.  Love.

+I own this one-piece style in a different colorway and it is SO flattering.  Might need it in the neon pink too.

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11 thoughts on “We Ate Well and Cheaply.

  1. I adore Hemingway and (in particular) A Moveable Feast! This post is so evocative, and I’m glad 2018 was so good to the Shoops.

    Intrigued by the Ouai dry oil! Adding it to the list of Ouai products to test-drive…

  2. I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I enjoyed this post. What an uplifting sentiment to end the year! The juxtaposition between super-stressed Landon and twinkling Landon was especially well drawn. Wishing you three a very happy 2019!

    1. Thanks, Stephanie! Yes, twinkling Landon is a good way to describe him. I was thinking of that particular sketch I drew of him just yesterday when he came out of his massage — the first he’d had in YEARS — and he looked so happy and tousled that I thought maybe he’d drunk six beers in the back. HA! Happy to see him so happy, and happy that you liked this post, too 🙂

  3. This was beautiful, Jen. My best friend and I call those “golden moments.” The ones that feel so full and true that they keep you warm your whole lifetime. xx

    1. I love that, Katherine. I read this a week ago and have been talking about “golden moments” ever since. Thanks for the new turn of phrase, and for the kind words. xoxox

  4. 1. I absolutely love A Moveable Feast. It’s a book I have found myself returning to many times (also then when I read The Paris Wife, I wept at the end for Hadley).

    2. I was struck by what you said at the end about Catholic guilt. Far too often I’ve found myself unable to enjoy a good thing or fretting over an extended period of good living–both sure that I don’t deserve it and sure that soon the other shoe will drop. I know that guilt isn’t uniquely Catholic but I do feel like some of my non-Catholic friends don’t completely understand this special brand of guilt! Yet, when I am able to free myself from the claws of guilt and let it go, I am always better for it. I hope that you are able to love this year freely and wholly as you wish. Cheers to 2018!

    1. Molly — Sounds like we are two peas in a pod. And, yes, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” is about half my waking thoughts. HA! But I agree — if we can permit ourselves to just relax into the luxuries we’ve been granted, life is happy 🙂

      Thanks for writing in! Love Hemingway too 🙂 xo

  5. I love this Hemingway quote. I just read Love and Ruin, on Hemingway’s marriage to Martha Gellhorn, by Paula McClain. It was a great read and I am now a little Hemingway obsessed. He is such an interesting man who lived a rather crazy life. I may need to find a little spot for this quote in my future kitchen!

    1. Hi Jen! I need to check out the McClain book — you are the third or fourth person who has recommended it. Definitely worth rereading some of the Hemingway classics. I actually think he is most technically talented in his short fiction — you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who writes better in and for that genre — but I so dearly love the characters of his longer form novels. Anyway, I’m now feeling an urge to reread! xo

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