the grub street diet

Emily Flake Bakes Pie to Show Off

“This is literally the only thing I will ever brag about.”

Illustration of Emily Flake in a blue hoodie surrounded by pies
Illustration: Margalit Cutler
Illustration of Emily Flake in a blue hoodie surrounded by pies
Illustration: Margalit Cutler

For “cartoonist-writer-performer-teacher-illustrator” Emily Flake, the last year has been “a weird non-time,” like “being at the airport — one of those limbo-like spaces where your body and brain kind of cease to exist.” Still, the New Yorker humorist has had plenty going these final, pre-vaccine months, including a proposal for what would be — she counts — her fifth book, a YA graphic novel, and establishing the St. Nell’s Humor Writing Residency for Ladies in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Ferrying between Brooklyn and the Keystone State this week, Flake fielded a minor salad crisis, assisted in the making of a “legit” meatloaf from a children’s meal-kit service, and may have discovered an off-label use for Mentos.

Thursday, March 18
I don’t really eat breakfast per se, a holdover from a semi-recent and entirely unsuccessful attempt to lose weight through intermittent fasting. I’d spent the entire pandemic avoiding the scale, partly because it had run out of batteries, partly out of a perverse desire not to document anything about this weird non-time. But then New York announced vaccine eligibility for anyone with a BMI over 30, so just, you know, for fun, I shoved a couple AAs into my dust-covered scale and hopped on. Vaccine eligible. Which is nothing to sneeze at, silver lining-wise, but on the other hand, the number I saw on the scale was sobering.

Anyway, I had my morning ritual, which is unchanging: two cups of Café Bustelo, pretty much the minute I wake up, brewed as strong as possible and enjoyed without adulteration. I don’t know coffee-language, but I’ve noticed a tendency toward bright, sour, clanging notes in some coffee that I hate. Café Bustelo tastes dark and comforting and kind of chocolatey, heavy on the bass notes. Maybe this is because I use twice as much of it to brew a cup as I should?

A little after eleven, my “body” was sending me “hunger cues,” which I’m only supposed to listen to when they reach a level three, according to my “diet program,” which is called Naturally Slim. Three is somewhere between “Ehh, I could eat” and “I will murder you just to eat your whole face.” I slithered a glorp of unsweetened cashew yogurt into a bowl — I’m not vegan, I’m just a weirdo who likes cashew yogurt — and topped it off with a handful of sunflower seeds to give my teeth something to do, plus a spoonful of honey. I also had a mandarin orange, separately. Mandarin oranges are a staple around here. I’m picky about some very specific things: The coffee has to be Bustelo. The honey has to be the pricey raw shit I get from the farmer’s market because the stuff that comes in a bear tastes like Band-Aids. The orange has to be a mandarin or a clementine. I cannot abide a navel orange.

I ate the yogurt slowly, as per my diet app’s instructions. Eating slowly is particularly easy for me these days — I had a molar extracted a couple weeks ago, and it’s still a weird, gummy sponge up there. I don’t want to beslime it with even a whisper of cashew yogurt. Maybe the honey would be good for it though?

By two, I was hungry again. I wasn’t sure if this was level-three hunger or level-three worry and procrastination manifesting itself as a tummy rumble, but I figured I might as well throw food at the problem and find out. Plus, I had to pick my daughter up from one of her two weekly in-person days at school.

There was leftover meatloaf and cheddar-broccoli soup in the fridge from the night before, from this bougie kids’ cooking box thing I subscribe to that comes once a month. By “subscribe,” I mean I just bought one once and have allowed them to charge my card ever since. I guess it’s consensual? I’m remarkably susceptible to Instagram advertising. Honestly, though, sometimes the recipes are excellent. I’m not a meatloaf person, usually, but this meatloaf is legit, comforting and filling, perfect for a raw day. These recipe boxes make you imagine you should be doing them side by side with your child in your well-appointed kitchen, maybe at your kitchen island, instead of at your wobbly old IKEA table, trying your best not to grab the egg out of your kid’s hand and just crack the fucking thing yourself — the egg, I mean, not kid. I have learned many, many unpleasant things about myself during the pandemic, and one is that I am a lousy and impatient teacher, and that watching 8-year-olds try to measure flour is an excellent road to a heart attack.

I ate the meatloaf and soup as “mindfully” or whatever as I could and answered the app’s questions: “Did you eat slowly? Did you stop when comfortably full?” I don’t know, I guess so?? Another day, another app to disappoint.

My husband had a hankering for Thai food for dinner, and I was only too happy to abet this. There are a ton of Thai places in our neighborhood, but my favorite is Stang Thai. I ordered pad see ew with chicken and refrained from getting a Thai iced tea, because then I’d have had to tell the fucking app about it. I chewed slowly, though, which in this case is a pleasure, because what’s better to chew than wide, slippery noodles?

The third and final recipe in the bougie kids’ box is crumb cake, and I promised my daughter we’d make it. I managed to keep the urge to back-seat egg-crack in check, for once. I ate a bite for quality control purposes — pretty good, but not as good as my gold-standard recipe, which is the one from the Baked cookbook (it features a 50:50 crumb to cake ratio, which is my ideal).

My real thing is baking pies. Another of the unpleasant things I’ve learned about myself during the pandemic is that I absolutely just baked pies to be a show-off, because I have not baked a pie for myself nor for my family this whole time. I have won two separate awards for pie-making. This is literally the only thing I will ever brag about. The first one was for a chocolate silk pie and the second one was for a custard pie that was flavored with this Bangladeshi five-spice.

A baking aside: Anytime I have to grease a pan, I use a 1:1:1 mix of Crisco, vegetable oil, and flour that I make in batches and keep for all my pan-lube needs. It works about a billion times better than spray grease. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Friday, March 19
Bustelo again. Bustelo, my love, my light.

Then I realized I had a problem, which was that I was out of all the fun things I like to put in my disgusting cashew yogurt, and I was also out of most of the things I like to make a salad with — I’m big on salad — but then I remembered: I had the rest of the pad see ew from the night before! High five, past me. I ate it cold with a mandarin orange after. The chicken was kind of dried out after a night in the fridge, but good enough for government work. It also became clear I was gonna have to go grocery shopping later.

Around 2:30, I was starting to get peckish, but not hungry enough to eat a whole meal. This is when the app tells me I should employ a “hunger saver” — a small snack to be eaten very slowly, like “two teaspoons of peanut butter” or “six strawberries.” I winged it with a teaspoon of peanut butter and a square inch of the crumb cake. I didn’t tell the app about it. App’s not the boss of me.

I took a long walk to the store — Isaac Fruits, because they reliably have pomegranates, which are one of the Fun Things I like to stick in my gross yogurt — so that meant for dinner I could make my salad, which appeals only to me: red pepper, butter lettuce, an ounce of cheese, handful of cashews, some scraps of the rotisserie chicken that’s lurking in the fridge, half an apple, dressed with an olive oil-balsamic-mustard situation, and a liberal dusting of nutritional yeast. I love nutritional yeast. I like to do the thing where I dump enough of it on a salad that it sort of makes this disgusting slurry. I love that slurry. Also, I ate a small handful of dark chocolate chips, which felt like the harm-reduction choice.

Saturday, March 20
Gimme a B, gimme a U, gimme an S, T … (I had Bustelo.)

Want to know what I do with my coffee grounds? I mix them with oil — any oil will do, probably, but I like almond oil I get from a bodega that’s so cheap there’s almost no chance it’s actually almond oil — and use it as a face and body scrub in the shower. I also keep an extra thing of Dawn in the shower so the oily grounds don’t clog up the drain. I don’t know what I’ve become. Anyway, Saturday Bustelo Time is my favorite Bustelo Time, because that’s when I read fun sections of the Sunday New York Times, by which I mean hate-read the “Real Estate” section.

By ten, I was like, “Fuck it, let’s have breakfast.” I mixed cashew yogurt with actual cashews, which feels like putting chicken in an omelet, pomegranate seeds, and honey. An excellent breakfast to do the crossword to. For some reason, my mouth has tasted like metal for the past couple days, which for all I know is a side effect of the vaccine. Or maybe the hole where my tooth was has gone bad? Gross.

Later, I did a salad rerun: Same as the last time, except with pomegranate seeds instead of apples. Goddamn I love that salad.

In the afternoon, we had the wild idea of taking a load of stuff out to the house we bought in Pennsylvania to run as a humor writing residency. Would it have been better to have made this decision in the morning? Probably! The house is a long story, but basically, we have an 8-year-old. When everything we were going to do with her this summer fell apart, we started looking for places to go so we would not be sweating our faces off in our stupid Brooklyn apartment, and we wound up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. We raised the downpayment for the house with a Kickstarter last fall, and now we’re getting it into shape for people to just be in, pretty much.

On the drive I ate a pack of Mentos to try to get rid of this awful metallic taste. Didn’t work.

Dinner was a veggie burger from a place in town. What is there to say about a veggie burger? This one had beets! There were also fries, but they were kind of cold. Very few things are as unappealing as cold fries.

I was up late working on deadline stuff, the final version of a cartoon I have coming out in The New Yorker and some pitches for a McSweeney’s anthology about parenting, and by 2 a.m., I was hungry AF. There was a bag of shortbread cookies in the cupboard, but I’m not going to tell you that I ate night cookies.

Sunday, March 21
They have Bustelo in Pennsylvania. I tanked up and painted one of the rooms upstairs, and then we went out to run errands, so I didn’t eat anything until almost 3. I was popping Mentos all day, though, to make the metallic taste abate with minimal success, but somehow I also wasn’t starving? Wait, is the key to weight loss secretly Mentos?

Eventually, we pulled into a restaurant, where I ordered two appetizers as a meal, a crab cake and quesadillas, and ate about a quarter of each. Too many Mentos? Also, the crab cake was actually too heavy on the Old Bay. I love Old Bay, but it tasted like I was eating it right out of the canister.

Before bed, I was peckish again, so  I ate another quarter of the quesadilla and a mandarin. I was all out of Mentos :(

Monday, March 22
Three guesses what kind of coffee I had?

For lunch, I kept it pedestrian with a bowl of cereal  — Panda Puffs —  and a couple of my goddamn mandarins.

Then I had a conversation with an editor, and then I taped a podcast — not my own podcast, somebody else’s podcast — and by the time we were ready to go, it was four and there wasn’t time to, like, sit and eat a meal. I was hungry, though.

I’m gonna level with you: I ate hella road snacks. A couple Belvita cookies, an Rx bar, regional Cheetos knockoffs. I didn’t even look at my app. When I got home, I ate a handful of cashews in a manner that can only be described as “desultory.” And my mouth still tasted like metal.

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