the grub street diet

Designer Susan Alexandra Wants Her Food to Be Cozy

“I like anything soft and smushy.”

At Baz Bagels. Photo: Nina Westervelt
At Baz Bagels. Photo: Nina Westervelt

Susan Alexandra made her name with Technicolor, beaded bags that look, cheerfully, like Lite-Brite toys. As our friends at the Cut have written, “exuberance and excess is the point of her brand.” It’s not no surprise, then, that the good vibes extend to her food. “It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about and obsessing about,” she says. While prepping for Fashion Week this month, Alexandra went on a Jackson Heights food crawl with her sister, popped by the farmers’ market with her dog Pidegon, and ate some “designer berries.” Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.

Thursday, August 1
Woke up very reluctantly, after pressing snooze 15 times. I had every intention of making it to an 8:30 a.m. barre class but realized I simply couldn’t visualize myself making it there in time and canceled. In an effort to do the whole “self-care” thing, I’m very protective of my mornings. I like to ease into the day. My mom attributes this to me being a C-section baby, i.e., I don’t like to be rushed into anything.

It was time for the first coffee of the day, which I drank black, on my roof. My roof is a little urban oasis. It’s very West Side Story meets Goop. It features a carpet of Astroturf and my sweet little plant babies. I drank coffee and did a crossword puzzle. My dog, Pidgeon, pleaded at me with his chocolate-pudding-hued eyes and I crawled back inside and fed him.
Then it was time for his walk, where I procured my second coffee, an iced espresso freddo with almond milk from Aimé Leon Dore. We took a walk around the neighborhood. I caught up on emails on my phone and Pidge caught up on marking his territory.

Back at home, it was lunchtime. I was really excited because I had leftovers from Baz Bagels. My signature order is the Two Shot Salad (mixed greens, avocado, tuna, onion, hard-boiled egg, secret-ingredient dressing). Bari, the owner, was so kind as to include her secret, top-shelf stash of heirloom tomatoes in my salad, which brings us to what will be an overarching theme of this diary: tomato season. One of the most glorious times of the year. I zhooshed up the salad with a spritz of lemon and ate it while I watched this remarkable movie on the Criterion Channel called Gaslight. Highly recommend, utterly captivating.

I then headed to the studio where I’ve been preparing for my upcoming New York Fashion Week show. The theme is “Fashion Bat Mitzvah.” Rookie mistake just eating a salad: I was soon starved but luckily had a snack stash in my purse. The day’s snack was an Epic chicken bar — literally a bar of cured chicken, embedded with cranberries. Think elevated jerky. I gave Pidge a bite too.

Everything I eat he pretty much eats. So I guess I’m not the best at teaching dogs manners. I know what he likes. He doesn’t like things that aren’t very flavorful. Like if I offer him plain bread, he wouldn’t eat it, but if it has sauce on it, he’d be into it.

Off to Modelfit on Bowery, to compensate for the guilt of missing my morning class. Perfect sweaty class. On my way home I popped into Polosud, a gelato joint across the street from my apartment. I picked up a vat of deep, rich chocolate and pistachio gelato to go. It was for dinner at Bari and Saralyn’s apartment. (Right around the corner!)

Bari and Saralyn and I had a working dinner where we unpacked all the plans for my upcoming clothing line (!!!), website relaunch, market week, studio, yadda-yadda. I was greeted with a beautiful glass of Champagne. Bari is an exquisite chef and she made scallops in a rich green herbed oil, fresh corn, and heirlooms. These were served with an abundant arugula salad topped with (you guessed it!) multicolored heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and grilled halloumi. Also present: a steaming bowl of clams and broccoli rabe. Dessert was the aforementioned gelato and some status-symbol designer berries from Eataly.

Note to self: Whenever potentially exhausting business meetings arise, always temper them with copious amounts of food and drink.

Friday, August 2
Day two of a canceled 8 a.m. workout. I told myself it was okay. Coffee in bed, crossword puzzle instead.

I decided to walk Pidge to the farmers’ market. I go at least once a week during the summer. On the way we stopped at La Colombe and tried the new lemon cold brew with a splash of half and half. It’s exciting, and it transported me to Sicily, which is what I look for in everything I consume. I was really pleasantly surprised to see it at La Colombe because I didn’t think they went that way.

At the Union Square Greenmarket I picked up green plums, peaches, nectarines, baby zucchinis, white corn, and copious amounts of heirlooms. I ate a nectarine on my walk home and talked to my dad on the phone.

Coffee meeting with my friend Sarah, who is an expert in all things jewelry. We went to Le Pain Quotidien on Grand. I told her these crazy ideas and she gave me advice for how I can bring them to fruition. Mediocre iced coffee with oat milk but points for having paper straws. I took two sips and couldn’t take anymore. Sarah just started a business called Knead Love where she makes these gorgeous, thoughtful, gluten-free baked goods. She brought me a loaf of bread wrapped in paper with hot-pink tape. She also brought me a jar of this Japanese preserved-lemon paste that she suggested I use on salmon.

After the meeting, I went home and sliced the bread, served it with a schmear of the preserved-lemon paste, a lovely golden heirloom tomato, sardines, and a sprinkle of Maldon. Perfect lunch, and the bread was fab.

For dinner, I met my sister Janie at Taverna Kyclades on 14th and First Avenue. We had an organic rosé with grilled dorade, Greek salad (the kind that’s topped with a brick of feta), sautéed broccoli rabe, and a dip sampler platter. The dips were all varying hues of carnation pink and I’m pretty sure one of them was pub cheese. I asked for a side of sliced cucumbers instead of bread. They bring you a complimentary dessert (such a nice touch) of galaktoboureko, which happens to be my favorite texture: custard. I just love mushy texture. I just love it, like a tapioca pudding. I feel like it repulses a lot of people, but I’m very engaged by it. I like anything soft and smushy and cozy. It was so good. I finished mine and ate half of my sister’s.

Saturday, August 3
I am in desperate need of a vacation but feel tethered to NYC until Fashion Week is over. So I’ve decided to make my weekends into micro-vacations and visit all the neighborhoods that feel like escapes from my reality. Today, I met my sister in Jackson Heights, a place I go when I need an inspiration infusion. We started at La Esquina del Camarón Mexicano, which is located in the back of a bodega.

We ordered the shrimp-and-pulpo cocktail and a pulpo tostada. The seafood cocktail is served in a jumbo cup of tomato and orange juice, chopped onion, lime, and cilantro, with a basket of off-brand saltines.

After this, we bought some jewelry and hair clips at a luxe 99-cent store and picked up a plastic Dixie-cup Popsicle that was sold on the streets. This one was coconut flavored, full of shredded coconut — delicious. We grabbed an espumilla, an Ecuadorian guava meringue cream, too. My sister, who used to live in Peru, also insisted I try a dessert she loved there called humitas, basically corn pudding in the shape of an éclair. I have a weakness for corn pudding.

We also procured a drink called Quaker from an Ecuadorian food cart. It’s sort of like the original oat milk, very gloopy and thick, and tastes Christmasy. We stopped at a little taqueria, mostly to use their bathroom. We shared shrimp and nopal tacos served with radishes and grilled bulbous green onions.

On the way back to the train, we stopped at an Indian bakery, Raja Sweets & Fast Food, and shared a box of treats, including ladoo (a round ball and also a nickname for chubby kid), halwa, and gulab jamun. So good: You know I love a dessert that is damp.

Later that night I went to my friend Lucy’s birthday in Bed-Stuy. It was a house party and I was thrilled to arrive to a massive spread. My friends and I have a running joke called #spreadawareness, which is the concept that every party should have a lovely spread. Not everyone knows how to do a proper spread, and this one was done with style and grace. A highlight was a bag of Lay’s chips that had been baked with Parmesan and pepper and transformed into cacio e pepe chips. Also fried Ritz crackers with pimento cheese.

Sunday, August 4
Coffee in bed followed by a workout at Modelfit. After that I met my sister at Olive’s, which is halfway between our apartments. I got a lemon-esso. I feel like the older Soho dwellers love the place. I just really like this lemon-coffee idea. It’s soda water, lemon syrup, and espresso. I feel like coffee and lemon go really well together. I only get it during the summer, so I try to seek it out as much as I can.

Later at home I sliced gluten-free bread and toasted it in my cast-iron skillet with a drizzle of olive oil. I used the skillet because I don’t have a toaster, and I’ve been using my oven as a storage unit. It worked like a charm. I then made a new invention that I’m calling “fish toast.” I took leftover dorade and flaked it onto the bread, topped it with thin slices of cucumber, tomatoes, a squeeze of lemon, and Maldon. I was really enchanted by the toast and almost took a pic of it but didn’t. I ate it while I watched Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a delicious Almodóvar flick from the late ’80s. Inspiration for my upcoming show. I followed this with a peach that I ate over the kitchen sink to catch drips.

Dinner was at Pho Vietnam on Chrystie. I met my sister and we shared shrimp bun, water spinach with garlic, and summer rolls. She made the excellent point that there should be autumn and winter rolls. The bun was perfect. It came with a platter of cucumber slices, pickled carrots, lettuce leaves, and mint. I made wraps with the vermicelli and shrimp in the lettuce, topped them with mint and pickled carrots, then drizzled fish sauce on top. It was very messy, so eventually it became a sort of shredded salad, still delicious. I was so full and rolled home. I finished Women while sampling Whole Foods’ new line of dairy-free ice cream. I was testing their peanut-butter chocolate and dug around in the pint to locate every single peanut-butter swirl.

Monday, August 5
First coffee of the day in bed. Once upon a time, I vowed to never look at my phone upon waking, but those days are long gone. Did the requisite Insta/text/email song and dance.

I’ve become a devotee of Citi Bike and hopped on a bike to head to a barre class in the West Village. I find biking extremely healing. You have to remain so in-the-moment, especially biking in traffic. It’s a forced meditation. The only thing is I am constantly being yelled at for going in the wrong direction.

I biked over to Stumptown and ordered an iced espresso with oat milk. Perfect.

When I got home I was digging around in my fridge and accidentally dropped a carton of eggs. Shit! The eggs were in a plastic carton and all the goo was contained, so I thought on my feet and decided to make scrambled eggs on the spot. I sautéed zucchini and tomatoes and waited until they were tender, then poured on the eggs. The eggs were soft and perfect. I ate it atop gluten-free toast. Also so good! As a gluten-free person, I don’t get to partake in bacon-egg-and-cheese culture, so this was my moment.

At the office, we were celebrating a birthday and obtained a Chinatown cake. It was covered in fruit and random frosting blobs that looked like cartoon eyes. The cake was nice and spongy, layered with more frosting and some sort of stewed fruit. We soon discovered that the objects we thought were cherries were actually cherry tomatoes.

My day was extremely stressful with Fashion Week prep. The hard thing about running the business is that the part I love most — making art — gets swept by the wayside. When I got home, I felt like I needed a little creative jolt, so I lovingly made myself a summer-bean salad, an homage to my mom’s signature potluck dish. It wasn’t so much nostalgia, more like, “What do I have here?” It was definitely cobbled together.

I used cannellini beans, diced zucchini, cucumber, tomato, garlic, and corn straight off the cob. I dressed it with olive oil, lemon juice, and Dijon. Dusted with Maldon. This was followed by two handfuls of organic blueberries, half a bar of Lily’s Coconut Dark Chocolate, and a nectarine. I had to finish six more things on the new website, then I poured myself a glass of wine.

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