Hrishikesh and Watson Hirway. Illustration: Margalit Cutler

Hrishikesh Hirway is best known as the creator and host of Song Exploder, the podcast and Netflix series that critic Wesley Morris once wrote reminds him “of the alchemical fusion” in the art even when he’s not a big fan of the specific song. (Hirway is also the co-creator of Home Cooking, with Samin Nosrat, and The West Wing Weekly, with Joshua Malina.) Before he started digging into other artists’ processes, Hirway was a musician himself who released songs under the moniker the One AM Radio and as Moors (with LaKeith Stanfield). On March 30, he’ll release his EP Rooms I Used to Call My Own before heading out on tour for the first time in a decade, with stops in cities including New York. Hirway has been gearing up for the tour from his home in Los Angeles, where this week he made chole and enjoyed his regular doses of cookies and Calabrian chiles. 

Wednesday, March 9
Breakfast was a chocolate sea-salt RX Bar and a smoothie made with almond milk, banana, protein powder, and PB Fit. You are getting a snapshot of my life in two specific moments. One is me getting ready to go on tour and the other is a little more generally me as a person who loves sweets but is trying to have a healthier lifestyle, with some degree of success and failure. I am trying to find a way to live in this world as a semi-healthy man who likes cookies a lot. To some extent I’m trying to just make up for years of just eating whatever I wanted and having a real sweet tooth and not really paying attention.

After publishing a new episode with the musician Perfume Genius, I had my lunch: Gardein Ultimate plant-based chick’n patties with pickles, lettuce, avocado, and Calabrian peppers. I first had Calabrian peppers a handful of years ago at this pizza chain. After that, I found out you can buy Calabrian chiles in the store, so now they’re a prime ingredient, basically we have one shelf in our fridge that is all different versions of hot chilies from different parts of the world. There’s mango pickle, and there’s Calabrian peppers, and there’s harissa, and then we have a shelf of sriracha and chili oil.

I had a Christian moment, bringing me back to high school. In high school, there was a place called Supreme Pizza (that I just learned burned down in December, which is incredibly heartbreaking) that used to make a chicken-finger sub. That was the greatest sandwich I had ever had. It was breaded fried chicken fingers in sub form, with shredded lettuce, mayonnaise, pickles, and what they called hots, which was just hot peppers. And I never knew what the hots were, but it was incredible. I still daydream about that chicken-finger sub. High school was when I started being a vegetarian, but I would still eat these chicken-finger subs. I couldn’t give up that one sandwich.

While I used to miss fried-chicken sandwiches, the veggie options for fried chicken are so good now that I don’t have to anymore. This sandwich I make with the Gardein patty and the Calabrian peppers is my attempt to recreate the fried-chicken sandwich from Supreme Pizza-slash-my high-school years, and I legit love it.

After lunch, I rehearsed with Jenny, whom I collaborated with on my EP, and then did a radio interview with KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis.

Snack (?): OWYN chocolate protein shake.

For dinner, I made chole with tofu and rice. Mango pickle on the side. My mom was a great cook and I never really had the discipline to learn from her except this one dish. In college, I asked if she would teach me how to make chole, because that was one of my favorite things she made, and to this day, it’s the only recipe of hers that I really took the time to learn.

Now basically anytime I try to make any kind of Indian food, it’s essentially just a couple degrees away from that base recipe. I made it for my wife, Lindsey, when we first lived together and she really loved it. She would ask me to make it and then she would ask me to make it more often than I was willing to want to eat it, but she really liked it. So I started making it pretty regularly. But I remember one time asking my mom as she was teaching me how to make it. I was like, “You’re not measuring anything.” She said to me, “It’s an Indian recipe, there aren’t really any measurements.”

Thursday, March 10
Breakfast was another protein smoothie, plus Ezekiel toast with almond butter.

Did an interview with the Boston Globe, and then worked on editing the next Song Exploder episode, with the composer Steve Reich.

Forgot about lunch so I ordered take out from All-Time: a salmon bowl with sushi rice, pickles, cabbage slaw. We moved to Los Feliz recently, and it’s right down the street, so I haven’t been there that many times. I’m still kind learning the menu, but I like it a lot.

I had an event that night for PRX, the nonprofit public media company that distributes the Song Exploder podcast. There was a cumin-y, roasted, spiced cauliflower appetizer, and the main course for vegetarians was mushroom risotto. Thinking about how it’s mostly rice and butter and cheese … and considering I was about to get onstage and talk for 40 minutes, I ended up skipping it. When I’m onstage, I feel I’m especially self-conscious of what’s going on in my body, and I don’t like to be too full because if I feel gloppy, it’s going to come out of me.

For dessert, the event organizer’s actually got the catering to make my mom’s mango pie — the version that Samin Nosrat adapted for the New York Times. It was incredibly kind, and moving.

Came home and had an OWYN protein shake.

Friday, March 11
Another smoothie. This time, I added beet-root powder to it, which is supposed to help with blood flow? It did add a beet-y, slightly earthy flavor to it. Kind of nice!

Today was a day of trying to prep for tour: went to the gym, practiced my songs, got a haircut.

I’m making a cookie in collaboration with this great company in L.A. called the Very Best Cookie in the Whole Wide World. They’re a bakery that delivers cookies to your door here in town or ships cookies nationally. We worked on the design and language for the postcard, which is a spicy chocolate cookie with dark chocolate chips and pistachio. It also happens to be vegan, though you could never tell by eating it.

This cookie has been a dream since I watched the first season of the Great British Bake Off, whenever that was. I remember watching it and feeling really inspired to make something. I had this chili-pistachio bark, which I loved, from a store in San Francisco where my friend works called Chocolate Covered. Every time I would go to San Francisco, I’d stop at the store and get this chili-pistachio bark, and I was like, “What if I could make this into a cookie?” As much as I love cookies, at the time I did not know how to bake them at all, but I was, “Eh, whatever.” I was just so excited after watching that season and I tried to make my version of this spicy pistachio-chocolate cookie and it was not good.

It turns out you have to know something about how to make a cookie before you try and do your own variation on it. But that started me off on the process of trying to learn how to make cookies. I decided, I’ll be a better cookie eater if I can start to learn how to become a cookie baker.

Ate a salad at my desk: spinach, tempeh, red peppers, avocado, with a hummus dressing.

Once a week, for dinner on Friday nights, my wife and I make burgers. Our burger is a Beyond Burger, on Dave’s Killer Bread. At the start of the pandemic, I wanted jalapeño ketchup but going to the grocery store was still very uncertain, so I bought some online. The only way to get it was a box of six. We’re now on the sixth bottle. We also put some lettuce from our garden on it, and Dijon mustard, and dill-pickle slices, which are the most important part. Lindsey made home fries, which is her favorite thing; she had quit her job and it had been her last day, so it was a little treat. We now have an oven with a convection setting, so they turn out great.

Also, to be clear about our garden lettuce: That’s all Lindsey. She has a little garden with herbs, lettuces, and kale. One of the things that’s been the most successful has been the lettuces.

For “dessert,” a chocolate protein drink, and a vegan pecan chocolate-chip cookie that the Very Best Cookie had given me.

Saturday, March 12
I had to get up a little early to interview someone, because they’re based in Germany. So I just made some toast with almond butter and went to work, ate at my desk.

Late, surprise, another protein smoothie. I had to record podcast ads with my West Wing Weekly co-host Josh, and with my Home Cooking co-host, Samin. I grazed on some cashews between recordings, and then ate leftover tempeh while standing in the kitchen.

My tourmate Jenny had a big event that night for her podcast, which is a recap and discussion show about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, through the lens of gender studies and queerness; it’s called Buffering the Vampire Slayer. Every year, they put on a “prom” as a special live event, and this year, they got permission to hold it at Torrance High School, which was the actual location for the high school from Buffy. We realized as we were getting ready to go that we were going to have to eat early before we drove the 45 minutes or so to get there, and the only thing we really had in the fridge was another package of Beyond Burgers. So we ate the same thing as the night before. No home fries; but we put avocado on the burgers.

At the prom, we hung out backstage with Jenny and her wife, Jess, and her co-host on the show, Kristin Russo. Backstage, they had green-room stuff. My friend John Mark Nelson, whom I also collaborated with on most of the songwriting for the record, had told me, “The level of green-room snacks are actually quite elevated,” and, “They have dolmas, which I’ve never seen in a green room before.” This was exciting. I ate a dolma, and a Lara bar.

We went home and binge-watched a bunch of The Afterparty. Lindsey made stove-popped popcorn with a little bit of truffle oil.

Sunday, March 13
A late breakfast: oats with this pea protein milk called Ripple, a scoop of protein powder, chia seeds, almond butter, coconut, sliced banana, and apple and blueberries.

Jenny came back after her event, and we rehearsed in the afternoon. It was a really nice day so we took a break and walked about a mile and a half to Jeni’s ice cream and got kids cones. Jenny is not vegan, but like me, she prefers the non-dairy ice creams, which we both got. (Cold brew and coconut cream for her; dark-chocolate truffle for me.) We walked back while eating them.

My preference for vegan ice cream has only been the case recently, and it’s not to say I prefer all vegan. I think the vast majority of ice creams that I like are dairy. But at the very, very top of the game for me right now are non-dairy ice creams, ones that are done really well. Jeni’s is really, really good at it. There’s a place locally here called Wanderlust Creamery that is amazing. One of the things that makes the ice cream so, sort of, luxurious but also expensive is the fat content, and there’s a certain point where it’s too much for me. The ice cream has almost like a buttery quality to it because there’s so much milk fat in it and it feels heavy and even a little bit greasy, even though it’s premium ice cream made by very good ice-cream places.

But it turns out if you take that same approach and then just substitute it with a non-dairy base, like a rice milk or whatever else they use, and it still is really rich. That’s usually the problem with non-dairy ice creams, that they don’t have that richness. But these places like Jeni’s and Wanderlust and Salt & Straw, when they use their powers — their incredible powers of luxurious, creamy ice cream — and just start with something that’s less creamy then it strikes the perfect balance for me.

While we were rehearsing, Lindsey made dinner for all three of us — a “sushi bowl.” Rice, yuba, tofu, carrots, cucumber, avocado, topped with furikake. We watched the last episode of Valhalla Vikings. I am definitely relieved to be done with it, because that was me just being a passenger. My wife and Jenny have a shared love of any show that has a woman killing people with a sword.

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