Taffy Brodesser-Akner is every other writer’s favorite writer, and she’s likely written some of your favorite stories, too: Maybe about Britney Spears, or Paula Deen’s post-scandal cruise, watching Thirtysomething in your 40s, or going deep on Goop. Now, she’s published her debut novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble. “It’s an addition and an inversion,” she says of the divorce novel. A staff writer with the Times, Brodesser-Akner lives in New Jersey with her husband and children, and, while she has recently gone (mostly) vegan, she also has a weekly “cheat” day of sorts during which her family celebrated the start of summer with the traditional pool-club cheese fries. Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.
Thursday, June 6
Lately, my husband has been making me an Israeli salad in the morning, because I get very tired if I eat carbohydrates in the morning. He’s very good at taking care of me, and I am very bad at taking care of me, so we leave the job to him, and then if I’m in the city I can get food for myself. But I forgot to eat breakfast, so I stopped for an oat milk latte at this great new bakery in Millburn, called LivBreads. It’s, like, the first bread bakery that opened in the area in forever and you can’t even believe how people are lining up out the door.
I usually don’t forget to eat, ever. I do sometimes like to deny that my body has needs. I obviously love to eat, but sometimes I think, maybe, today I will be cured of the need to eat. Because I think that the most inefficient thing about the human body is how often it has to urinate and consume food. I think that’s a flaw in the design. You should only have to eat once a week, like a snake.
When I’m in the city, I go out for lunch very, very, very often. I work outside the house, I don’t remember to pack lunch — on-brand here — and sometimes I work in a café and it’s only ethical to buy a lunch there. But, also, every little while I go in to the New York Times office and I want to see my editors, Mike Benoist and Sia Michel, and have lunch with either of them. It makes me feel like I’m in an ’80s movie about magazines when I have lunch with my editors. Or I see my friend Anna Dubenko, and I think we should have lunch, and if she agrees, we do, but she has a lot of meetings scheduled for lunch time, or at least that is what she says.
So, I have obsessive compulsive disorder. I was diagnosed with it when I was 9. A lot of it relates to both my body and food and it gets triggered. It’s always kind of in the background, but when I’m under stress, it gets bad. Unrelated, about five or six weeks ago, I found out that I have high cholesterol that has to be treated. And both of my parents have high cholesterol and they’re both allergic to cholesterol medication. What happens when you’re allergic is you get muscle cramps, and my mother went off of it and the muscle cramps didn’t go away. So I’m not even willing to experiment. So I said, “What else can I do?” My doctor said, “you can try a plant-based diet.” That’s why I’m vegan now. This was around the time the full push for my book happened, and I started becomingly extremely stressed out about all of this, and the stress triggered my OCD. The point is that when I think about my blood now I think of it in this OCD way, it kind of turning into the consistency of margarine or special sauce from McDonald’s. I can’t believe it’s not blooder.
Still, I love to eat with people. I love a good date, a lunch date. I like the efficiency of it. I like to see how and what other people eat. I eat with Caity Weaver sometimes and she can eat a lot, and she loves eating. We met on a cruise ship and I felt like I had finally found the person who should’ve been my spouse. We would go to the grill deck for hot dogs every three hours. So, for lunch, I went to Jack’s Wife Freda on Carmine with Mark Lotto, who was my editor at Matter. Now, Jack’s Wife Freda is a good place. It is quiet and serves good food, and so it is an easy place for me to remember to meet people. I told him I was concerned that there weren’t enough vegan foods there and he said I should go because it will help give some tension to my Grub Street Diet. Once an editor, always an editor, I guess.
They have this one vegan item, a tofu and spaghetti squash dish, that I always get and Mark ordered something with sunny side up eggs and duck bacon. With the duck bacon, all I could think of was the duck and where on the duck they took it. And then also, the sunny-side up egg, every time the table moved a little, the gelatinous-ness shimmered and it really grossed me out and helped me not wish I was eating something else. Being too close to other food, sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s a vegetable. That’s the fun of having OCD: you never know. It’s always surprising! Well, anyway, there’s your tension, Mark.
For dinner, I went to Nix with my book publicist, Carrie Neill, and my friends Gilbert Cruz, Reyhan Harmanci, and Anna. When I decided to become a vegan, which was before I knew about this, Gilbert gave me a list of good vegan restaurants. (Actually, he sent me the Grub Street list.) They were all very nice and supportive about my veganism, if also openly disappointed.
So we shared a bunch of things, and I could only have some of it because a lot of it had cheese. We had pea dumplings, a very spicy Sichuan tofu thing, the crispy cauliflower in the buns was amazing. But there were only a few things that were vegan. They got some stuff that was vegetarian and it was very, very good.
Gilbert and I shared a bottle of, I think, Chianti and I also had one of the cocktails, In the Pink, with pink Champagne in it. The others shared a white but Reyhan didn’t have any because she’s pregnant, even though I encouraged her to have a Gwyneth pregnancy. I told her I’d met those Martin kids and they’re fine — they’re literally perfect — but when I said that she got angry and left the table for a cigarette. I’m just kidding. She didn’t do that.
I don’t drink heavily. I drink more than I used to, but I developed the taste for it very, very late in life. I’m a lightweight. When I drink hard alcohol, my body feels drunk, but my head does not. I’ll only drink with other people. I think that it’s, like, strange the way we’ve made worked so hard make cocktails delicious, to make a thing that doesn’t taste good into something we can bear. Like, a White Russian. My friend Janet and I always felt bad that we didn’t have a drink, so we experimented and she found the gin and tonic. But I was like, White Russian. You can drink a lot of those, because they don’t taste like anything but a weird glass of milk.
Anna had one drink made with this stuff called aquafaba. It was really interesting. This is how unadventurous I am: I didn’t know, until they explained to me, that it was a substitute for egg white. I didn’t even realize egg whites were used in a drink. And I thought, Oh that’s disgusting. Eggs in a drink is like what Rocky drinks.
Friday, June 7
I had two hours of phone interviews with British publications and I just knew they could not handle me eating something. So before, I stopped at Jackie & Son in South Orange. They make an avocado smoothie there. I had an oat milk latte and I ordered the avocado smoothie. Only I left it there accidentally, but I was running around too much to go back and get it.
Lunch was at Greene Grape Annex. It’s right off Flatbush Avenue, near the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It’s a place that has some outdoor seating and some inside seating. I was doing a Cosmo interview. I ordered a quinoa bowl and asked to have no feta. They gave it to me with feta, so I returned it, and then they gave it to me without feta, but they had removed the tempeh bacon I ordered as an add-on, which was going to be the protein source, or at least the fun thing in the bowl. I guess that’s what happens when you’re a vegan! Now that I’m vegan, I’ve found that my feelings about animal foods have transferred to vegetable foods. When I used to think about chicken thighs, my actual thighs would tense up. Now, sometimes I bite into broccoli and I can feel it’s pain a little. See?
For dinner, we went to the Ani Ramen in Summit and I had the vegan ramen with roasted bean sprouts and other things. That place is taking over. They have the best ramen in New Jersey. Everything that they do, they do well or, at least, everything we try they do well. We used to stand in line for a million years at the one in Montclair, and then they opened up one in Summit. They’re opening one up in Maplewood in July, and my husband says we should start waiting in line already.
Saturday, June 8
I was back at Jack’s Wife Freda, same thing, with Jamie Faith Woods and Meredith DePietro. I’m a big creature of habit, and I go through phases. Also, remember, I’m trying to be responsible. “I’m going to finally take care of my body.” So I’m figuring out how to eat and where I can eat.
Here’s the funny thing. Every time I eat the tofu and spaghetti squash I think, I wish I could just go to a vegan restaurant. And when you walk out on Carmine Street and, literally, look straight ahead there is a restaurant called Vegan Kitchen. This keeps happening to me. I ate the tofu and thought, This is good but I wonder if I could go to a vegan restaurant? I wonder if there is one around here? And then I walked out and see Vegan Kitchen staring me in the face. So maybe at some point, when the stress of the cholesterol and the book news happened, I had a stroke and now I can’t remember anything.
Back in Jersey, we went to the pool club and my kid’s made this case that it’s not really summer until we’ve had cheese fries. It’s a totally fucked up way to decide it’s summer, because it’s not, like, a mojito or ice cream cone or something. Anyway, in my veganism I’d made the decision that there will be one day a meal a week that isn’t vegan. This was it. I made it to Saturday.
So my husband and I decided to get the cheese fries, and it’s cheese whiz fries and it’s not great. It’s still cheese fries, though, and I haven’t had cheese in a while and I still don’t think I’ve had cheese, but I’ve had some kind of dairy cheese product.
That night was a Jewish holiday called Shavuot, so I ate baked ziti. It is the celebration of the Jews receiving the Torah from Mount Sinai, and people eat dairy on this holiday. And why do they eat dairy? Because they didn’t know the laws of kosher, of how to kill an animal, until they read the Torah. They knew there were new laws, and had to play it safe and just ate dairy in the interim. If you believe this sort of thing. (Sometimes we go to Synagogue. But I’m raising Jewish children and I grow concerned that I can’t raise them Jewish unless there’s some kind of ritual attached.)
Anyway, I ate baked ziti because my husband said, “what do you want?” And I said, “I want baked ziti.” Because baked ziti is my favorite disgusting food. This is the thing you need to know. When I told my family about this food diary, they were like, “Oh, they want to get into instant food? Do they want to hear about your macaroni and cheese lifestyle?” And I said, “I guess they do. It’s time for them to know.”
Sunday, July 9
I had a cabbage salad at Jackie & Son. I learned recently that if I eat vegetables in the morning, I feel much better, so I started eating cabbage salad in the morning and it makes me feel like a million bucks. It’s purple cabbage with, I think, olive oil, lemon, and salt. Maybe some kind of vinegar, I don’t know. But it’s changed my world. I feel betrayed, especially by my cholesterol but also by my taste, by the purity of traditionalism — by the tyranny of meal-specific foods. The idea that you have to have eggs for breakfast, that you have to have oatmeal for breakfast, that there are certain things that are “breakfast foods” and I wonder how much of that has messed us up.
I don’t really cook for myself. I can make a fake chicken burger for myself, but I only prepare food for myself that’s vegan — I don’t prepare food for my children that’s vegan, much to their chagrin and much to my husband’s chagrin. However, trying to start being a vegan has been really fraught for me because I found these really delicious vegan chicken patties, or I thought they were vegan, but it turned out they were just vegetarian and had egg in them. When I found that out, I was very distraught.
At 5:30 p.m., we had our friends Allison Benedikt, John Cook, and Sasha Erwitt and their kids over for a barbecue. Our dog was there, too. He’s a golden doodle that I rescued from a breeder in December. (That’s a joke.) My older son has allergies, so we had to get a dog that we knew was hypoallergenic, and I just didn’t know how to find that by other means. I want to be the change I want to see in the world — most of the time. Meaning I can’t always.
My husband was grilling. He made pasta salad, too, and he used Vegenaise which was very nice of him. I had a Beyond Meat burger, which is probably more beneath meat. It’s fine, it’s just not a hamburger.
Everyone else ate my husband’s very delicious hamburgers, but with only fake cheese as an option. Our house is kosher — so that our family can eat here; it’s one of those Jewish identity issues — and that means we can’t serve milk and meat together, which shows you how good of friends these people are. I’m a little self conscious about it. John makes a really good cheeseburger.
Monday, June 10
I had a smoothie from Joe & the Juice that Carrie Neill bought for me before a photo shoot. It was a chocolate smoothie, but it turns out that the vanilla milk they use is actual milk. So instead they used a double amount of chocolate and I did not find it so delicious. It was too much. It was like too much fake, intense chocolate.
The problem with veganism is how often you’re expected to want a smoothie. Why aren’t there smoothies that taste like salt? Why aren’t there are smoothies that taste like French fries? Why do they always have to be the most reduced sweet thing in the world? Why can’t granola bars and things like that be savory? Why can’t anyone think of that? Who will think of that?
Then I had a Bobo’s chocolate chip bar for lunch, in an Uber, and the driver saw it, and was very disturbed by how crumby it was, which I understood. But I’m very good at cleaning up after myself. The Bobo’s bar is something I learned about when I did a story about Billy Bob Thornton, who is a vegan. Every morning, he eats a Bobo’s bar. (He weighs maybe 30 pounds total if he’s soaking wet.) And he takes each bite of the bar with a huge scoop of Smart Balance, which I did not feel was appetizing at the time. But I’m a professional, right? Like I have colleagues who go to Afghanistan and put themselves in harm’s way. Am I going to to complain about having to watch a man eat a granola bar with margarine on it? Maybe? I didn’t use the margarine. I just ate the Bobo’s bar. I want to make that clear, because it’s disgusting.
For dinner, I went with a friend and my family to Za-Ya Ramen and tried to have a vegan bowl before an event at Books Are Magic. We all like ramen. So I asked for the vegan bowl, but the noodles had egg in them. The whole point of ramen is to have the noodles. I asked if there was anything else I could do and they said it won’t be good with the other noodles. And I said, “I guess this will be my non-vegan meal of the week.”
I didn’t want to blow it on a Monday, but I did, and I ordered the chicken and they got it wrong. At first they gave me the chicken meatballs, when I wanted the chicken breast. But it had an egg in it and that made it all better because those eggs that they put in ramen are magic. I don’t know what you have to do to make it like that. Like how to hard boil an egg so that it could be like a Ramen egg.
Here’s the thing. I always thought I would grow up and be someone who had more sophisticated taste, but it never came. I always thought I’d be someone who grew up and, when I got off the phone, instead of saying “bye bye” I would say “take care.” That never came. I’m someone who just wants pasta with a slice of American cheese melted on it.