The Chicago Diet

Comedian Julia Sweeney Treats Her Coffee Machine Like It’s Her Child

Photo: Courtesy Julia Sweeney

Julia Sweeney gained fame on SNL in the early nineties, but it’s her second career as a monologist that took her to Broadway and now Chicago. Her film version of the Grammy-nominated one-woman show, Letting Go of God, can be seen on Showtime this fall, but you can catch her monthly performing with folk-rocker Jill Sobule in The Jill and Julia Show. (The next performance is on September 5 at Evanston SPACE.) Sweeney and her family moved to Wilmette in January, a special time to arrive in the Chicago area. “I actually like the cold,” she claims. “I’m already looking forward to the next round.” See how Sweeney makes out in the warmer months with fresh vegetables and plenty of grilling in this installment of the Chicago Diet.

Friday, July 31
My husband Michael and I drove to the airport and picked up Jill Sobule and her bass player Dave Carpenter. We were doing a show on Saturday, so we had to pick up a bass in South Chicago where I had never been, even though I’ve lived here 6 months.Then Michael said “there’s a really good restaurant around here called Army & Lou’s,” and it turned into the most amazing night. It’s the oldest black-owned restaurant in the midwest! I had smothered chicken, my husband had ribs, Jill had fish. On the side I had candied sweet potatoes, which were really good, better than the smothered chicken even, and some pickled beets. But then what really killed us was the dessert. We had the peach cobbler — my husband said, “that was worth the drive.” The drive was terrible. The peach cobbler was worth all that driving.

The most fun thing was that a family was there that had 11 kids, all in their 40s and 50s, and they all got up and started singing. It was incredible. They were singing a lot of Smokey Robinson, some old standards, some stuff I’d never heard before. They were really good singers. It turns out on Friday night it’s kind of like open mic, and Jill walked in with her guitar and they were really sweet and invited her to play but she was too shy.

To drink I just had water. They don’t serve alcohol there! Or they might, but we thought they didn’t. It’s upsetting. I just had water, I’m not into iced tea.

Saturday, August 1
For breakfast every day my husband has the exact same thing. It used to drive me crazy, but now I’ve come over to his side because it just takes all the complication out of the morning. So every day we have coffee with half & half — not milk. My feeling is if you can’t have half & half, don’t have it at all. The coffee is from our Nespresso machine, which we spent a lot of money and care for like it’s our child. It’s a very important machine in our house. And then I have a little packet of nuts and dried fruit from Trader Joe’s, which is great because it fills you up just enough.

I was performing that night, and I don’t like to have a big meal right before I perform, so we had this huge lunch. My husband is the most amazing griller. When we met, I had a big grill in LA — bigger than you might expect for a single mom with one kid — and I have this friend who does a Canadian food show and he taught me to make all these things. When i wanted to impress guys i made, like, these three dishes. So I impressed my husband-to-be, and he became obsessed. He bought this big grill here, and at night he goes to bed with books about grilling. So for lunch he grilled salmon and asparagus and red peppers and eggplant, and then from his great vegetable garden we had peas and broccoli.

I had dinner at the place where we did our show, Evanston SPACE. It was a big hit and we sold a lot of tickets and it was packed, and they serve pizza there and it’s really good! We got the pizza margherita and another pizza with eggplant, which we were really excited about. And I think I had a gin and tonic. No! I had a glass of chardonnay. I wish I’d gotten a gin and tonic.

Sunday, August 2
Nuts and coffee. Always nuts and coffee.

Everything’s different right now because my daughter’s at camp, so we just eat when we want to which is a whole different world. For lunch Michael grilled a cheese sandwich using tomatoes from the garden, and we put some bacon on it too. He put the bread directly on the grill, just brushed a little butter on it. I don’t know how he did it but somehow the edges of the bread was crispy and the inside wasn’t dried out. We both woke up at 3am that night, not being able to sleep, and I said “what are you thinking about?” and he said “that grilled cheese!”

For dinner we went to this restaurant in Wilmette that we can walk to called Depot Nuevo. It was so good. We’ve been sort of thinking that the restaurants in the neighborhood are only okay, but this one is the first great one we’ve found. I had a ceviche for an appetizer, and they do homemade tortillas and these two different sauces to start. I had the fish - it was chipotle-rubbed, encrusted with something, trout. It was so good — I couldn’t beleive this was in our neighborhood and we could walk there. We finished it all off and got the chocolate cake with cinnamon ice cream. We both had mojitos. My husband is the biggest lightweight when it comes to alcohol, but of course I had one drink and it was like I’d had a lemonade.

Monday, August 3
Nuts and coffee! Every morning nuts and coffee!

Every day at lunch I have the same thing because I”m trying to finish a script, so I can’t take time to do anything. I have an Amy’s frozen meal — you can get them at Jewel or Whole Foods, they’re like meatless organic frozen meals. They’re a little expensive but I think they’re worth it. They have good Indian food selection that I like. I had Palak Paneer.

For dinner, we grilled! We grill the same thing — this is how we’re boring — we grilled the leftover salmon from Saturday, and red pepper and asparagus. We’re trying to be good so we’re trying not to have any starch, just fish and vegetables. but we put so much olive oil on everything that I’m sure it makes up for whatever we save by not having potatoes.

Tuesday, August 4
Nuts and coffee!

An Amy’s frozen lunch.

We went back to Depot Nuevo, and it wasn’t quite as good. It was like it had been a great first date and we fell in love and the second date it was like “eh, you’re okay.” It might be that we weren’t as shocked — we had very high expectations — and we weren’t as hungry. This time I had shrimp in a blue cheese sauce. It was good, it just didn’t rock my world like that trout did. My husband had the same thing he’d had the time before. He thought it was good but not as good as it had been. We didn’t have dessert at the restaurant. We were with friends, so we walked back to the house and we grilled peaches and put feta cheese on top and let it melt onto the peaches. That was good. That was better than anything.

Wednesday, August 5
Nuts and coffee!

Another Amy’s - Mexican this time. Tamale pie. It was good. I always love Amy’s.

For dinner we had salmon. Again. Broccoli and cauliflower both from the garden. A beet from the garden, and we had onion and red pepper. We’re going on a trip to Turkey and we’re just trying to just eat up all the vegetables in the refrigerator. I can’t believe I haven’t been to Turkey before. All the ruins are really in Turkey, all this amazing stuff happened in Turkey — the country needs to step up our awareness! Who knew all this great stuff was there!

Nuts & coffee

For lunch I went to Panera Bread. I had half a vegetable sandwich with hummus. It was good. I always try to get a half sandwich and I’ve never really loved them, but now I’ve found my sandwich. And the salad I get is the fuji apple chicken salad. I always get that, to me that is by far the best salad. I drank Poland Spring sparkling spring water. When my husband and I first met I was a no-bubbles person, but I’ve come over to the other side. I enjoy the bubbles. You know what’s great about sparkling water is when your mouth is really dry, it seems like the bubbles sort of clean it out really effectively.

For dinner we went to Terzo Piano at the Art Institute. There were four of us, and we got three appetizers: the white fish dip (fantastic) the squash blossoms filled with cheese (only okay) and the meat tray (great!). We had two bottles of wine, one white and one red and I can’t remember their names but they were great. Then I had the salmon first course which was kind of … common tasting. Nothing special. I had the rabbit and pasta and again, not so special. Fine, but not great. But the best part of the meal was the final cheese course — an amazing blue cheese and honeyed pistachios and a couple of other cheeses that made the whole meal so memorable. New Hill blue cheese I think it’s called. And the atmosphere! Looking out at the city lights and walking in Millennium park afterwards — what a great night.

Comedian Julia Sweeney Treats Her Coffee Machine Like It’s Her Child