the grub street diet

Author Carmen Maria Machado Wants Her Food Spicy and Strong

“I like food that kind of kicks me in the teeth.”

Carmen Maria Machado at Vanessa’s Dumplings, a New York favorite. Photo: Christian Rodriguez
Carmen Maria Machado at Vanessa’s Dumplings, a New York favorite. Photo: Christian Rodriguez

“I think, you know, the body is sort of a nightmare and human existence is sort of a nightmare,” says author Carmen Maria Machado, “but one of the pleasures we have is food.” Her interest in horror is no secret to fans of her lauded short-story collection Her Body and Other Parties; and her love of food will be no secret to her followers on Instagram, where she happily posts about pickles, fresh stroopwafels abroad, and hot cocoa in the Netherlands. When she’s home in Philadelphia, she tends to cook “elaborate meals,” but this week she was on the road to promote her memoir In the Dream House, and so had a two-dumpling day in New York, drank her fair share of bourbon, and encountered her first “Jucy Lucy” in Minneapolis. Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.

Thursday, November 14
Started my day with seltzer waters: two orange Poland Springs. I drink so much seltzer water. Too much, really. I went to college and was one of those kids who just started drinking Coke nonstop, and what I realized later was actually what I liked about Coke was not the sugar or the flavor but it was this coldness and the carbonation. And so at some point when seltzer became a thing, I was living in the Midwest, and LaCroix was really taking off. I started buying cases of seltzer, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is amazing.”

There’s something about the coldness and extreme carbonation that makes me feel sated in the way that nothing else does. Usually if I’m out, I’m drinking sparkling water in some capacity or another. And if I go to a residency, I’ll buy cases of it and just have it stacked next to my desk.

I like food that kind of kicks me in the teeth. I like things spicy, I like them strong, I like them less sweet, and in the case of seltzer I like maximal bubbles. Slightly painful, delicious: All food I eat is like that.

I was traveling from Philadelphia to New York for my book tour, and got a Caesar wrap with extra dressing for dipping from Au Bon Pain at the 30th Street Station. I love a chicken Caesar wrap so much. It’s like a real fucking pleasure for me, and the one from Au Bon Pain is like perfectly fine, you know? It’s a perfectly fine thing to order when I’m at 30th Street, which does not nearly have the culinary choices of Grand Central or something.

Also, I love Caesar salads. A Caesar salad or Caesar wrap is a perfect food. It’s also very hard to fuck up. I mean, I have had bad ones. But it’s rare. Generally speaking, even the worst ones are pretty good and will do the job that I need them to do.

I also had some Trader Joe’s kale (period hunger!), with a sweet note from my spouse pinned to the top. Everytime I leave for tour, she’ll put together a little bag of snacks of various kinds that she’s procured and then puts a little note on a napkin inside. Then this time she was like, “Do you want the rest of these kale chips?”

I got to New York and had to be at the Strand to sign books, but was staying with friends in Brooklyn, so after I went to the Vanessa’s Dumplings in Williamsburg. I got the pork-and-chive dumplings, beef noodle soup, and a honeydew green bubble tea with milk.

I love Vanessa’s. I never lived in New York, but when I first moved to Philadelphia I would come up because a good friend of mine from grad school was in New York, and I was very lonely in Philadelphia and I was stressed and sad. But I was hella broke, like, so broke. So when he was like, “Let’s go out for food,” I’d be like, “I can’t afford anything.” I thought, you go out in New York, you’re spending so much money. And then I went to Vanessa’s and I was like, “Oh my God, this is delicious and I ordered enough food to stuff me for the day for just $10.” Which is amazing. So Vanessa’s is sort of a habit of mine.

Later, I had dinner uptown at Peri Ela, a Turkish restaurant that happened to be near the 92nd Street Y that my editor picked for me. I drank a couple Manhattans. A Manhattan is sort of my drink right now, or a dirty vodka martini, but I’ve definitely been on a Manhattan kick for like a year now. Or maybe two years?

To eat, we had the cheese cigars, dolma, hummus with bread, and manti, beef dumplings in yogurt sauce. I’m a dumpling fiend. Basically, any kind of food tucked in a dough wrapper — which I guess is maybe how you’d define a dumpling. At the restaurant, they were like, “We have these Turkish beef dumplings,” and I was like, “Yes, yes, I want those.” Yeah, I always want dumplings. I find them so satisfying, I find them so lovely, I just love them in all sorts of iterations.

Friday, November 15
Breakfast was a latte with an extra shot at Gregory’s Coffee. I’m tired most of the time when I’m traveling, so if it’s a particularly rough morning I’ll usually get an unsweetened latte because, like I said, I like my food/drink to kick me in the teeth.

For lunch, we ordered from the Brooklyn Standard Deli to my friend’s house. I got the surf and turf with housemade, all-white tuna salad, tarragon mayo, bacon, red onion, romaine lettuce, and pickles on seven-grain bread. Also, Voodoo chips. I love tuna fish so much. I think because it’s delicious and it reminds me of being a child and it’s very comforting but also tasty and salty and funky because it’s fish. It hits all my pleasure notes that I have as an adult, but also this nostalgic value.

Dinner was at Grand Army bar. Desiree, who I did an event at Books Are Magic with before, was like, “Here’s a place that’s nearby.” I had two of the Midnight Rider cocktails: Kansas City whiskey, California brandy, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, coffee amaro, and Peychaud’s bitters. We also ordered the cheese plate with smoked honey, onion jam, cobbler and fig chutney, and cobbler crumbs.

It was very lovely, the cheese platter was fucking delicious, and I had two very good cocktails. And then I went out and did karaoke afterwards, which was great.

We went to this piano bar in Chelsea. I must have had a drink there, but I can’t remember. It was probably a bourbon-based cocktail, that is what I would do. I’ll drink a lot of things, whatever matches what I’m doing. But all things being equal, I will always drink a bourbon or a whiskey drink.

I have several go-to karaoke songs, but because it was a piano bar the choices were more limited. I sang Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight,” which is one of my standards.

Saturday, November 16
Breakfast was at Doughnut Plant in Williamsburg. I don’t love sweets, but I do like doughnuts. Often a whole doughnut is too much for me, though. But this place was across the street from my friend’s place, and they are gluten intolerant and so needed to have gluten-free doughnuts, and Doughnut Plant has really good gluten-free doughnuts. I got the wild-blueberry doughnut, it was sort of tart which was really lovely, and I had a cortado with that.

We went to Egg Shop in Williamsburg for lunch. I had a Bloody Mary with a bacon salt rim, it was spicy; a spicy maple sausage, harissa, egg, and Vermont cheddar cheese sandwich on a biscuit; and ruffle hash browns with rosemary and pecorino. I do like egg sandwiches, always on a biscuit. Well, not always. But if there is an egg sandwich on a biscuit, I will get it wherever I go. Biscuits are buttery and salty and delicious. I love a good biscuit, it’s my favorite thing in the world.

I was feeling very decadent during these few days, it was all these restaurants and stuff. When I’m at home, I love cooking. I cook very elaborate — I love plating, I love all the things. I don’t know, I find it very soothing. It’s very different from all the other things I do in my practice. I can hose my brain down and it feels very normal and organic.

For dinner, we went to this weird Mexican place, Dos Toros Taqueria. We just needed to eat because we were going out, and we walked by and I was like, “Let’s just go in there.” My friend was like, “This is not a great place, we could wander around a little more.” And I was like, “No, no, no. It’s fine, whatever.”

It was not great. It was like one step up from Chipotle. I got a carnitas quesadilla. But I did drink a Mexican Coke, which is another favorite of mine. Every so often I just want a cane-sugar Coca-Cola, so I ate very salty, mediocre Mexican food and then drank a very delicious cane-sugar soda and that was lovely.

Sunday, November 17
When I was ordering the wild-blueberry doughnut at Doughnut Plant on Saturday, I was staring at the Brooklyn blackout. It was many levels of chocolate, which is also something that I love. And I was like, “Oh I kind of want that one” and they said, “We’ll come back tomorrow.” And we did. It was also delicious. Very chocolatey. I had a cortado again.

For lunch, I was given a very weird Mediterranean salad on my flight from New York to Minneapolis. I was very lucky — I got upgraded to first class, I didn’t buy first class. So I was in first class, feeling very fancy and I had two choices. It was some sandwich I didn’t want and then the Mediterranean salad.

For dinner, I went to a friend’s house in Minneapolis and had cacio e pepe, a beautiful tossed salad with tomatoes and peppers, bread and butter, and red wine. It was just a perfect dinner, exactly what I needed.

Then they gave me eggnog with freshly grated nutmeg, because my friends love me. I really love, love eggnog, it’s my favorite part of the holidays. Once I’ve bought it, I’ll put it in my coffee every single day until they stop selling it. My friends knew this and were like, “You’re probably very tired, and having a hard time with your tour, so we also got you eggnog.” I was like, “I love you.”

Also, we had some fancy chocolates. Dark chocolate with dried fruits, the kind you get at a co-op that’s like $10 a bar.

After, I went back to my hotel and picked at a fruit plate that they’d inexplicably left me. I was like, “All I want to do is eat all these raspberries,” which is exactly what I did. Then I had a couple of blackberries and was done with the fruit plate and put it outside. But I’ll always eat the raspberries, that’s like a thing.

I don’t know if it’s my favorite fruit, but it’s probably up there. My favorite is probably pineapple, because it bites you back. I used to work, when I was college, at the Marriott. And I remember once there was this party with all these leftover desserts that they would otherwise throw away. All these perfectly untouched desserts, and there was a single raspberry on top of each. So I was like, “Before you throw it out hang on,” and I just plucked raspberries from each one. “Okay, now you can throw away.”

Monday, November 18
Breakfast was at Moose & Sadie’s in Minneapolis. It’s very sweet, they’re the daughter and dog of the owner. So there are pictures of this Great Dane and this little girl, which is very cute. I just had a blueberry-and-raspberry muffin, it was delicious, and a latte with an extra shot.

Lunch was Panera at Graywolf, my publisher. I’m not a fan, generally speaking. But they had a Caesar salad, which again, like I said, it’s hard to fuck up a Caesar salad. Also had a chicken-salad sandwich.

Dinner was more exciting. It was at the Blue Door Pub, my first experience with the “Jucy Lucy,” a Minneapolis specialty. My friends were like, “Have you had a Jucy Lucy?” And I was like, “I’ve never heard of that, what is that?” And they were like, “It’s a stuffed burger.” And I was like, “Done, sold, take me to that.”

It was delicious, it was very, very good. I was like, “Yeah, I wish I lived in a place where these were a thing always.” I actually wanted to try … there were lots of flavors and I was torn about which one I wanted to get. I got the Como Bluse, which is stuffed with brie and bacon jam and topped with a sweet berry sauce. I choose it because I love brie. I also love a sweet-and-savory combination, and it had that berry compote on top. With the meat and the brie I was just like, “Ugh this sounds so good.” I loved the one I got, but I was also like, “Man, I would try all of these flavors. All of these combinations.”

I also got a blood-orange Citrus IPA from a local brewery — I thought, Here I am eating a Jucy Lucy, I might as well order a Minneapolis beer — and a side of beer-battered, deep-fried green beans with ranch.

I only ever eat ranch when I’m dipping — okay, I guess it’s three things now because I’d never had deep-fried green beans — deep-fried green beans, fried pickles, or wings. Wings and ranch. But I wouldn’t put ranch on a salad, that’s just gross. When it’s cutting something fried or spicy, that’s something I’d do. But, oh my God, so so good. It was really satisfying. I polished off that plate. I was really hungry.

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