the grub street diet

Author Mateo Askaripour Has a Waffle Routine

“I’d eaten three Van’s waffles almost every single day for about two years.”

Mateo Askaripour and his waffles. Illustration: Lindsay Mound
Mateo Askaripour and his waffles. Illustration: Lindsay Mound

Mateo Askaripour is the author of Black Buck, his debut novel about an initially unambitious 22-year-old who becomes the only Black employee at a tech start-up. The book is a mix of satire and earnest self-help, and the Los Angeles Times writes that Askaripour “wields a sharp satirical blade to deliver social commentary.” As a writer, he says, it’s important to maintain structure: “I have a very elaborate and thorough writing routine, and the waffles are just a part of it. It’s very Pavlovian, you know?” Askaripour did have some waffles this past week, of course, but was also seeking out “spicy-ass Thai basil fried rice,” frying plantains, and making yerba mate.

Friday, March 5
I woke up next to Queen Vic this morning. Her name, of course, isn’t Queen Vic, but in an attempt to maintain some privacy about my love life, as I contradictorily discuss it now, she is Queen Vic — named for the East Village bar where, almost a decade ago, we had our first date. Okay, calling it a date may be a bit gratuitous, but it was the first time I asked her to hang out one-on-one, aside from an earlier interaction when we left a bar together, found a garbage bag full of freshly thrown-out baked goods outside Le Pain Quotidien, and — between pelting each other with the floury delights — handed them out to people in Washington Square Park and Union Square under the guise of my father owning a bakery and needing to get rid of his daily surplus.

Queen Vic watched something on her phone as I did my daily 30-minute meditation, during which I thought about the previous night, when I had taken her to an expensive spa for a Korean scrub and we arrived too early for our dinner reservation after. Yo, the place was packed! I thought NYC restaurants were only supposed to have 25 percent capacity. Shit was like a subway train at 8 a.m. It’s probably still not a good look to eat out during the pandemic. Anyway, we ended up somewhere else, and it was just the two of us in an outdoor cubicle. How wild is it that people are eating outdoors during a New York winter?

For the record, Queen Vic isn’t my girlfriend, but we’re working toward something, and that something, among other things, is what crossed my mind during my meditation — one of the “other things” being the fact that I hadn’t taken the Tupperware of waffle batter, which I’d made the day before, out of the fridge to thaw out a bit. I decided that it was fine (maybe a by-product of my sitting cross-legged on the floor to up my cache of zen so I don’t fret over the small things) and that it would have enough time to loosen up while I took a shower, and it did.

Skipping forward, Queen Vic left, and I plugged in the waffle-maker my mother got me. Before then, I’d eaten three Van’s waffles almost every single day for about two years. That waffle-maker was a game changer. Now, I’m not making the waffles from scratch; I usually use Maple Grove Farms brand, the Belgian-waffle mix to be specific, but, shit, cracking an egg, shaving lemon peel, melting butter, and adding a dab of water must count for something, no?

I slathered my singular yet large and well-rounded waffle with SunButter (that’s the brand) sunflower-seed butter. When my younger brother first told me about sunflower-seed butter, I thought it was too good to be true. I’m allergic to peanuts so never understood the allure of it, but, yo, sunflower-seed butter is something else. With my waffle SunButtered up, I poured out an inch or so of Natalie’s organic orange juice, devoured my waffle, washed every item I used and then prepared yerba mate, the drink of the gods.

I won’t give you the play-by-play of how to prepare yerba mate, but the process is reminiscent of a Japanese tea ceremony. Of course, drinking it alone is a different experience. These days, I opt for a stainless-steel mate (both the drinking vessel and the drink itself are called “mate”) since I feel more comfortable keeping the loose herb in it overnight than I would with a calabash mate. Easier to clean, too. Just like waffles, mate is my weekday companion. Sometimes during weekends, too. I find that I don’t drink it with others anymore, which is a shame because that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it: connection.

Preparing lunch gives me the opportunity to meditate since I’m usually just listening to music and using my hands for something other than typing, but today was different. I’d moved my weekly meeting with my cousin to today, but we decided we’d just speak when we had a moment, and that moment was while I was making lunch.

As I cut broccoli, mushrooms, and onions, I discussed her business with her, gave her some sales tips, hung up and then realized I had no quinoa. This rarely happens. Every weekday, I make the same breakfast and the same lunch, but keeping in line with not getting hung up on unplanned changes, I remembered I had a sweet plantain, and after cutting it into circular pieces, as opposed to the Jamaican style my mother is partial to, I fried them — now while on the phone with Queen Vic — then used the same olive oil for my vegetables, which I enjoyed since there was no waste. When it’s in the pan: cumin, turmeric, pink salt (is this shit a scam?), black pepper, red pepper, onion powder (I know, I chopped whole onions and still add it), garlic powder. Once it’s in the bowl: Valentina hot sauce, El Yucateco green-chile habanero hot sauce, my go-tos. A lime Spindrift as my beverage.

Emails. Responding to readers, scheduling, writing bits and pieces of book promo for people like Apple. By the time night came round, I decided to order Mexican from Chavela’s. I got the black beans and rice, which sometimes reminds me of the food I grew up with, rice and peas, as well as an avocado tostada and quesadilla. More hot sauce, of course, except I ran out of the El Yucateco and had to switch to a Caribbean version I recently bought. I paired my dinner with the visual delicacy of The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Life is wild. A little over a year ago, I had a meeting with Lee Daniels, and he told me he was filming a movie about Billie Holiday. The lengths people went to to silence her truth, which was, and is, the truth of many.

I promise my following entries won’t be this long.

Saturday, March 6
You ever wake up tired from the intensity of your dreams? Yeah, that was me. I wanted to wake up around 8 or 8:30 a.m. but kept hitting snooze, dropping into a deep sleep, waking up, hitting snooze, and repeating the cycle until 9:30, which meant I had to skip meditation so I could take a shower and eat before a 10:30 tech check.

I don’t exactly remember when I made the switch, but at some point in 2020, I stopped eating waffles every single day, given that brunch has now become a twisted game of Russian roulette–cum–Fear Factor, where you first see if you’ll be seated indoors or outdoors, whether there will actually be six feet between you and other patrons and then, if you’re the lucky winner of an outdoor seat with a heater warming up only one of your four main limbs, you have to survive a David Blaine test of endurance of waiting for your food, then eating it and paying the bill, all before your pinkie toe becomes entirely frostbitten.

This is all to say that I opted for coconut yogurt (now that I typed it out, it sounds gross, but I promise it isn’t) from Siggi’s topped with sunflower-seed butter and Bob’s Red Mill apple-blueberry granola. Light and delicious, just how I need my pre-event weekend breakfasts to be. The only downside is that I have to look at Bob’s ugly mug every time I want this granola. I don’t know if the smirking white man — complete with stalker glasses, one of those Irish flat caps, and a damn bolo tie — is actually Bob, but he looks like he’s up to something.

After downing the yogurt and a mouthful of Natalia’s organic orange juice, I filled up a stainless-steel thermos I’ve used for the past ten years with cold water, poured the cold water into my electric kettle, waited for it to rumble, not boil, and then refilled the thermos before topping off the mate I made yesterday.

Today’s main event was a discussion with Bryan Washington, author of Lot and Memorial, hosted by the Tucson Festival of Books, called “The Humanizing Power of Humor.” Bryan also did the “Grub Street Diet,” so we bonded over that and our shared Jamaican ancestry. The event itself was great, and I enjoyed hearing Bryan deconstruct his approach to writing, especially in terms of character development and making sure his scenes hit the way he wants them to. But even more special than that was his speaking about writing to render his truths as vividly and authentically as possible while not paying attention to the industry. This is exactly what I’m on, so to hear someone else speak this way was affirming.

With the session wrapped up, I thought about heading to Barnes & Noble on Court Street to sign books, but I had an Apple appointment at the Oculus, though I didn’t know it was at the Oculus, so I spent ten minutes trying to find the Apple Store before I realized where it was.

I actually had two Apple appointments, but that’s not important. What’s important is that I was tempted to get gelato in between them but knew that I was going to have lunch soon and that I don’t need the extra sugar, so I walked away with a single tear crawling down my cheek. The single-tear part never really happened, but I hope you were able to picture it.

By this point, your boy was hungry. I contemplated heading up to Red Bamboo, one of my old favorites, for takeout but had work to do, so I looked up the closest Dig Inn or Cava. But the Dig Inn in Fidi was temporarily closed, and Cava would be cold by the time I got home so I screamed out, “I’M FUCKING HUNGRY!” and a pizza shop, Joe’s Pizza, appeared.

“I’ll take one of those,” I said, pointing to what I guess was a margherita slice. It was just tomato sauce and large circles of mozzarella. If anyone knows the actual name of this type of slice, let me know. I also grabbed a cheese, but when I said, “Do you have garlic knots?” the man behind the counter answered in a way that sounded both proud and perturbed. I had a Poland Spring water, too.

I told you my future entries wouldn’t be as long as my first, and I lied but I didn’t mean to. The rest of the day was filled with writing and promo, and after my stomach alerted me to the fact that I’d only given it yogurt, a Made Good Vanilla Crispy, and two slices of pizza, I ordered an unsatisfactory vegetarian-chicken bánh mì with an off-color Thai bubble tea. I know I’m supposed to include the names of the places I order from and eat at, but I’m not here to hurt businesses that are already struggling for COVID, so let’s just call it “High-Rating But Inconsistent Output Express.” Nah, on the real, they had great ratings, and I think it was just an off night for them. Still, the food did the job, and I’m drinking my too-dark Thai bubble tea as I write this.

Sunday, March 7
Word to the wise: Never drink Thai bubble tea late at night. I was up until at least 2:30 a.m., blinking on my back for hours until the bubble tea decided to bestow its mercy upon me and let me sleep.

This morning was a working one, so I did the hygiene thing and had my Siggi’s yogurt — vanilla, not coconut, this time — sunflower-seed butter, and Kind oats-and-honey granola with toasted coconut. They say it’s a “good source of fiber,” and who doesn’t like that? Suspicious Bob and his Red Mill apple-blueberry granola was done, so I didn’t have to contemplate whether this was the day he would finally come to life and say something slick to me. With that said, I’ll purchase another bag this week for sure. I decided to put yerba mate in a French press today in an effort to switch it up, but I don’t think I put enough in because it didn’t hit me in the same way drinking the loose leaf from a mate does.

My email is backlogged with emails from readers. I could simply not respond to them, but way back when I was still dreaming of being where I am today, I watched a documentary on the bodybuilding all-star Ronnie Coleman. Aside from watching him push the human body beyond what we think is physically possible and yelling, “YEAH, BUDDY! LIGHT WEIGHT!” to hype himself up, what stood out to me most was that he responded to every single email he received from fans of him and his work. Seeing his dedication to giving back to the people who support him made me vow to always do the same, no matter what. But to keep it real, this shit is no joke! It feels like when you respond to one email, five others pop up in its place, like gray hairs.

Despite being tired from lackluster sleep, I managed to bang out a piece I was working on, albeit not as quickly as I would have liked. Fortunately, it’s not due for a couple of days, so I can go back and tweak it until it shines like I want it to.

Earlier in the day, I hopped on Facebook and saw my mom had shared photos from a trip to Thailand two or three years ago. This made me think Thai would be a good choice for lunch, so right when I thought I was close to finishing the piece, I scanned Thai restaurants on Seamless, thinking it’d be a good idea to find a new place that could satisfy my needs. What were my needs? Simple: spicy-ass Thai basil fried rice. My mouth began to water as I thought back to a place in Narragansett, Rhode Island, called the Boss, which had the best Thai food I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve been to Thailand twice. It’s not exactly in Narragansett but close by. What I’m saying is that I wanted food that good and that spicy in New York, and the half-dozen other Thai places I’ve ordered from in Brooklyn were never able to give it to me. So I ordered from somewhere new with high ratings, though it doubled as a Japanese-Thai restaurant. That’s always a bad sign to me since the whole “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” thing, you know. But the ratings! I should have known. The food wasn’t good. It’s sitting in my fridge as I type this, laughing at me because it somehow knows I don’t like to waste food, which means I’ll wait until I’m very hungry tomorrow or the next day, try to spice it up on my own, and eat it. I will say Thai food also sometimes tastes better when you reheat it, so there’s that.

At some point, I ate another Made Good Vanilla Crispy. By the late afternoon, I was waning, which sucked because I had, and have, more work to do. I did watch the new Biggie doc on Netflix, though, which was excellent. I’ve never seen B.I.G.’s story rendered this way — there was so much hope and humanity in it, instead of the typical focus on the tragedy that is his unsolved murder. Like all good documentary footage, it felt like I was getting to know him in another way, through intimate footage of him being himself with his friends. A gift.

I remembered I was supposed to join a tech check for a welcome reception only five minutes before it was happening. A couple of people hopped on, then we were free to turn our videos off until the actual reception, so I brewed some Ahmad Tea Earl Gray, my favorite. It didn’t help.

No longer playing around, after the welcome reception and breakout introductory section with the workshop group I’m leading, I ordered Ethiopian from Ras Plant Based in Brooklyn. It’s expensive but worth it, even though the injera always comes lukewarm at best and cold at worst. It’s sitting in front of me right now, and I already know it’s going to be delicious.

Queen Vic came over around 11. She’d had dinner with two friends at a restaurant in Greenpoint called Oxomoco. “It has a Michelin star,” she said as we walked up the stairs to my apartment. “I ate everything.” Of course she did. When we lived together, seven years ago, she routinely proved she could out-eat me any day. For the record: The Ethiopian was good, and the injera, as I already suspected it would be, was cold.

Monday, March 8
“Where are you going?” Queen Vic asked this morning as I donned my jacket, mask, and sneakers. “To get orange juice. Need anything?” She requested almond milk and blueberries for oatmeal. I went to the corner store, which is basically a bodega on steroids, and snapped a photo of a small juice-box-size Silk almond milk before sending it to her for approval. “As long as it doesn’t have sugar.” I looked down and saw that this little-ass box had 12 grams of added sugar. Don’t get me started on sugar; just watch Fed Up (2014). That’s the doc that pushed me to drop sugar for almost two years until a talented singer in Singapore told me I was missing out on so much, so I partook in their national delights, one of them being a scoop of ice cream wrapped in a piece of sliced bread. It was actually good. But I digress.

I found a larger, buxom-y bottle of unsweetened almond milk, grabbed inorganic blueberries so they wouldn’t spoil after a few days, even though I’m partial to all things organic, and then met my temptation for the day: a buttery, no doubt sugar-packed corn muffin in the display next to the register. It hearkened to me like a potential mistress: “Come on, big guy. You know you want it.” I bit my lip, and my mouth began to water. “No, no, I d-d-don’t. Today is a waffle day, and you have too much sugar for my taste.” But my feet, betraying me, lifted off the speckled Über-bodega’s floor, and I floated toward the corn muffin before the man behind the counter said, “These yours?” and pointed to a handful of coffees and other random merchandise on his counter. “Nah,” I said, and gulped before going to his counterpart.

With corn-muffin crisis averted, I headed back to my spot and proudly plopped down the almond milk, Natalie’s organic orange juice, and blueberries on my table. “Wow!” Queen Vic said as she grabbed the almond milk. “Cool shape, right?” I replied, trying to act like I hadn’t been turned on by the curved plastic bottle minutes earlier.

I noticed I had lemon-infused waffle batter from a couple of days ago and let it thaw out before dripping it onto the waffle-maker. Sunflower-seed butter. A mouthful or two of orange juice. You know the deal.

By the time Queen Vic got around to making her oatmeal, I was already at my desk reviewing manuscripts for a workshop I was hosting the next day. Afterward, I asked Queen Vic what she wanted for lunch. She said whatever I wanted, “so long as it’s healthy.” But what she didn’t know was that the clock was ticking. Listen, I don’t claim to be skilled at too much in this life, but when it comes to timing a food delivery, I have a 98 percent hit rate.

We settled on El Barrio Burritos, one of my go-tos. I usually make lunch during the week, but I have almost no food in my fridge and I wasn’t going to go shopping, then cook — so ordering in it was. El Barrio Burritos has a seemingly endless variety of burrito bowls that rivals only that of Beanie Babies. I went with my regular: a vegan sweet ribs bowl with refried pinto beans, chipotle hot sauce, habanero hot sauce, diablo hot sauce, jalapeños, chopped pickles, scallions, salad, rice, pico de gallo, Mexican corn, and, of course, the “specially imported” soy-based vegan spare ribs. Queen Vic got “The *NEW* Bangin’ Chicken BOWL — ‘Pollo Poblano’!” It was delicious, per usual, and Queen Vic enjoyed hers. We each washed it down with a lime Spindrift.

Realizing that I needed to rest, lest I put myself on the path to a heart attack before I’m 30, Queen Vic and I drew the curtains, got into our pajamas (she was already in hers), and kicked back with a documentary, Pelé (2021). I loved it and was thoroughly inspired by Pelé, even if I was disappointed with him once or twice. A Made Good Vanilla Crispy was had.

With Pelé done, I prepared for a reading, gave said reading, and chopped up a potato while chatting with my mother. She lamented that I still don’t have a proper baking tray and said she has one for me, so no ifs, ands, or buts. I finished chopping the potato. “You’re giving lefties a bad name!” my mom said as I told her I was this close to cutting off my finger — “But who needs them all?” I tossed the wedges into a bowl, threw on some olive oil, and asked Queen Vic to pour onion powder, rosemary, garlic powder, black pepper, red pepper, and salt into it as I mixed it all around. I’m hearing “Stir It Up,” by Bob Marley and the Wailers, as I write this. Shout-out to my Jamaican roots.

Earlier I said I had almost no food in my fridge, and I’m cooking what’s left before making the journey to the grocery store in global warming-induced warm weather sometime this week. This means seasoned sautéed kale with lemon juice, some scrambled turmeric eggs, potato wedges, and a Spindrift, of course. I told Queen Vic that she’s in this piece, except with a different name, which probably wasn’t a good decision. I had a peach Siggi’s yogurt with Kind oats-and-honey granola and toasted coconut to cool the burn.

Tuesday, March 9
This morning, I learned the Spanish word for nightmare: pesadilla. I had a couple myself but didn’t tell Queen Vic that. Dreams and nightmares aren’t the types of things I just shrug off. I’m not saying there’s always a meaning behind them, even though there may well may be, but I view them as alternate realities — in some ways just as real as waking life.

It was a decade ago when I lucid dreamed for the first time, which was likely due in part to watching Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001). I won’t go into the details of my dream, but I woke up that morning, sat on the brick stoop outside my parents’ house, and felt, with an unshakable certainty, that dreams and nightmares, despite their ethereal quality, are not without real form and substance. I also thought that the limits we place on ourselves in waking life, conforming to what we perceive to be reality, aren’t as necessary as we’ve been taught they are. Anyway, I had an uneasy feeling as I woke, and Queen Vic did too.

Water. Vitamins. Meditation. Some other stuff. Shower. I decided to switch up today’s waffle — instead of shaving lemon peel into the batter, I opted for cinnamon, which probably had something to do with the fact that when I got out of my shower, the cinnamony smell of Queen Vic’s oatmeal greeted me. That reminds me of how, when I was younger, I’d go to the mall, and the smell coming from Cinnabon would lure me, and no doubt many others, to it. Later, one of my older brother’s friends told me he worked for the company in charge of designing scents for restaurants like Cinnabon to pump out into the main walkways of malls in order to attract customers. Always. Be. Smelling.

I had Natalie’s organic orange juice to go with my waffle, but you already knew this. Thermos. Water. Kettle. Hot water. As I poured it into yesterday’s mate — the brand was Jesper, which never fails me — it brought the day-old leaves back to life, and, after I took my first sip, also woke me up.

Queen Vic’s gone, and it’s time for me to get to work. As for lunch, maybe I’ll try to salvage that Thai from two days ago. Or I’ll finally go grocery shopping and make something for myself that I don’t have to mask the taste of in order to enjoy. Choices, choices, choices. But before I go, I want to thank you for following my food-filled journey over the past five days. I appreciate your time, energy, and attention. PEACE!

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