“Sometimes I think about the amount of money we spent on restaurants in New York City, it would probably make me weep,” says A.C. Newman, who is likely best known as the founding member of the New Pornographers. These days, the musician spends a lot less money in restaurants than he does in the kitchen of his Woodstock home, where he moved in 2009. He’ll get back on the road later this month for the second leg of his band’s tour for their eighth album, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights, on which Pitchfork says the group is “slyly twisting and expanding” classic guitar-pop. Over the holidays, Newman surprised himself with his knack for “great garlic mashed potatoes,” participated in his family’s Christmas Day traditions of lasagna and Norweigan krumkake, and leaned into his dill habit. Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.
Wednesday, December 25
Yes, this was a strange day to begin a food diary, but maybe it was a great time to begin. After all, Baby Jesus didn’t have an issue with being born on that day. Just for context, you should also know that we were all being hit by different stages of the flu. After present opening and lots of coffee, I decided to skip breakfast and go straight into Christmas Eve leftovers. So let’s tell the story of these leftovers.
Without a ton of forethought, my wife and I had managed to throw together a proper Xmas turkey dinner. The place was already lousy with winter vegetables: squash, carrots, parsnips. Always nice to have food in the fridge, it makes you feel like a grown-up, though we had to make a short grocery run for Brussels sprouts. Roasting vegetables is very much my speed because it is mostly the grunt work of cutting them, though there is a vague science to deciding how to dice. Brussels sprouts cook quicker than squash and parsnips and all that.
My wife wasn’t going to make mashed potatoes, and I surprised myself by knowing exactly how to make great garlic mashed potatoes. I’d just done it a few days before in our Blue Apron meal (more on that later). Being able to cook food is a relatively new thing for me.
She made the stuffing, and my father-in-law Bill came in like a relief pitcher to make the gravy. Neither of us had any idea how to make gravy. I should have shadowed him, but I think I was happy to not be in the kitchen anymore.
So I ate a giant pile of turkey and trimmings for a late breakfast/lunch and then literally an hour later there was lasagna. My wife’s family, on her mother’s side, are Sicilian, and lasagna is a Christmas Day tradition, so I was obligated to have my second late breakfast/lunch like some kind of goddamn hobbit. Their lasagna has meatballs and the separate sauce, which I think they might call gravy sometimes, that you add. It’s a very decadent Italian lasagna.
This is not to mention the krumkake, which is a Christmas tradition on my mom’s side of the family. A kind of Norwegian shortbread waffle, cooked with an iron and then rolled into a cone shape (yet not a waffle cone, not at all). Just look it up; I’m not explaining it very well. In tribute to my mother and our family traditions, my wife decided that she would always make it a tradition in our home as well. I ate one of those every half-hour, give or take.
I don’t think I am big on traditions, but I think about them now because my mother died in 2010. Wanting to carry on, because she never knew my son and it’s a piece of her that comes around every once in a while. Maybe he doesn’t know it, but still. I guess that’s tradition.
Later in the day, around 8 p.m., I ate another giant pile of turkey dinner leftovers. It was there and … I don’t need to justify this to you.
Thursday, December 26
I am usually content to eat the same thing every day, and so I ate my regular breakfast: McCann’s Irish oatmeal with honey, milk and berries (raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, whatever you got). I like to eat healthy bachelor food like this that takes no time to prepare. Also a big fan of apples with almond butter and good bread dipped in olive oil. In particular, I love Bread Alone’s whole-grain health loaf. It is the best bread, and arguably healthy, if the name is to be believed. Interesting semi-related factoid: If you chug a 32-ounce bottle of olive oil, it is 7,500 calories. I haven’t done it, and neither should you.
For lunch, I ate the rest of the turkey leftovers. A smaller serving, but only relative to the three other turkey dinners I’d eaten in the last 48 hours.
Dinner was a Blue Apron meal, Korean chicken tacos with marinated cucumbers and roasted vegetables. Not a big fan of cucumbers, but they were the star of the meal.
I felt some trepidation before we started Blue Apron. Had we given up on cooking and grocery shopping and become Meals on Wheels people? But it has not been like that. It felt like we were always throwing out food that went bad, and I appreciate that there is no waste with these meals. At $20 per dinner for two, it’s not the cheapest way to eat, but try doing the math on how much every element of your home-cooked meals cost (plus the cost of food that gets thrown away) and you may begin to realize it’s not a bad deal. It’s fairly easy to add or subtract from the recipes as you see fit, not a ton of premade elements.
I really hope that Blue Apron does not turn out to be awful people. I don’t want to have to boycott them. Of course they’re not, right? Let’s assume that they are not.
I’ve also found that I’m becoming a better cook, seeing the patterns between different recipes, remembering the ones that I really liked for another day when we could make it on our own, free solo. I’ve never been much of a cook, mainly because it has always stumped me. I felt like a writer looking at a blank page, blocked. Now I have more ideas.
And hey, it was me who made the garlic mashed potatoes on Christmas Eve. Didn’t even need to look at a recipe.
Friday, December 27
This morning, I changed it up a bit. For breakfast, I started with some Kashi Berry Fruitful cereal. Have always loved what I call the “hippy cereals.” That is, the organic healthy takes on classic breakfast forms like flakes and shredded wheat. They just taste better than the regular garbage versions.
Followed it up with scrambled eggs and more of that Bread Alone whole-grain health bread. I am so good at making scrambled eggs that it has made me very judgmental.
The flu was not passing; it was hitting me harder. It’s worth bringing up that we live a mile outside the center of Woodstock. Delivery options are very limited (just a pizza place), and many restaurants have irregular hours. Many shut down in the winter months, as it’s the tourism that keeps them afloat. So we can’t run to the deli for bacon-and-egg bagels like we did when we got sick in Park Slope or the East Village. This is why something like Blue Apron works well for us. I don’t want this to feel like an advertorial for them, but it’s keeping this diary from becoming a sad tale of how hungry and secluded we are, like Shackleton’s ship’s log, with nothing to eat but the fading Christmas leftovers.
I skipped lunch but made mac and cheese for our son for three reasons: It is all that he will eat, it is easy, and it is something that we have in the kitchen. I ate what was left straight out of the pot, like some kind of damned hobbit, lost to delirium. Then I lay in bed and read Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 1 and 2. It is truly a balm in these trying days.
I summoned my will and inner strength to make dinner: za’atar chicken and farro salad. I’m getting to the point where I could get very close to making these dishes without recipes, just looking at the ingredients. Nevertheless, I followed the recipe like it was a holy text. Then I went to sleep as soon as I could.
Saturday, December 28
On this day, I was even sicker. I had oatmeal with honey and berries, the usual, and then went back to bed. We wanted to go to a new restaurant in town, Dixon Roadside. It used to house the old Mexican place Gypsy Wolf and has been remade/remodeled by the people behind the Phoenicia Diner. We decided that we were too sick to go and then we found out that they weren’t doing takeout yet. I bring this up only to communicate that we were trying, and we knew that it was a “food diary” day. This meant we had to figure out dinner at home.
For dinner, my wife made fiskesuppe, a Norwegian cod-and-root-vegetable chowder. It is a fairly popular choice around this house, and it continues the Scandinavian culinary theme introduced with the krumkake. It wasn’t something I grew up eating. We just got some Scandinavian cookbooks — because it’s good to have different kinds — and decided we should stick to this after we made it a couple times. It’s great comfort food, and it’s like, “Hey, I’m Scandinavian, and this is Scandinavian fish soup.” It’s got a lot of dill in it, which I love. It’s a very dill-heavy soup. I didn’t realize I liked dill so much until that soup.
It’s like a Norse variation on making a pot of chicken soup when someone is sick. Also a great thing to make because everyone is happy to eat it exclusively until it’s gone, however long that takes (usually a day, tops). So that is what we did.
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