WNYC’s Alison Stewart Socially Distances With Champagne

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Alison Stewart feels the tomatoes calling out to her. Illustration: Margalit Cutler

“I’ve been trying to take care of myself, make sure I sleep a lot, exercise a lot,” says Alison Stewart of the past few months. “I don’t have a lot of extracurricular fun, but I think what we are doing right now and being there for people — people are really relying on public radio.” As the host of WNYC’s “All of It,” Stewart has been exploring pandemic etiquette questions and mutual aid as well as pressing topics like Bruce Lee’s legacy and André Leon Talley’s memoir. Another way she’s taking care of herself is by making her regular trips to the farmers market — where the peaches and tomatoes have been calling out to her — more of a “destination” and celebrating her birthday outside with a friend on the Hudson River waterfront. 

Thursday, July 16
I make Illy coffee in a single-serve coffee-maker. I drink it with barista oat milk and usually have coffee before I work out.

My coffee-maker is a Hamilton Beach; it looks like an espresso-maker, but it’s not. In what I buy for my kitchen, I tend to be very practical, and this is a version of that. I buy things that are useful and only what I need. You won’t open my cabinets and find a million food processors and a blender and this and that. I don’t have a Keurig, because I don’t want to pollute the world with plastic, but I went and researched and found this single-serving coffee-maker so I didn’t wind up making a big pot of coffee and not drinking it and throwing it out. Why do I do that all the time? I just drink a cup of coffee in the morning and then, if I really want a cup, I’ll go make another.

Post-workout avocado toast: Bread Alone whole-grain bread with avocado, lemon juice, and Burlap & Barrel black pepper. I’m going through a spice transition currently, since I had Ethan Frisch, who started this company, on our show. I really started rethinking what spices could be and what they could do. It’s like when you stop drinking bad coffee and drink really good coffee for the first time, it’s like, Oh my God, there’s such a difference.

When I started using their black pepper, I was like, This is a whole other level of taste. I really was not fussy about spices at all. I was the kind of person who was like, Oh crap, I have five cinnamons because I bought them because I made cookies once and forgot I had it in the back of the cabinet.

I have to eat lunch before I go on the air, or I get spacey. I made last-minute-y tuna salad (I like to throw capers in sometimes — that tastes really good — and a little bit of celery) with lettuce wrapped in a lavash bread. I get the lavash from FreshDirect; it’s Damascus Bakery’s BakeSense roll-ups. I’ve always loved the texture of that bread; I feel like you can do so many different things in so many different ways. There’s something about the chewiness that I really like.

Had a snack of some pineapple and a raisin-and-honey GG Scandinavian Fiber Crispbread with cream cheese. This is such a vanity thing. I work out a lot, but I say it’s not for vanity, it’s for sanity, at this point in my life. When I turned 50, I just gained weight suddenly, just out of nowhere. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. And I know it happens to a lot of women. So I went to my doctor, who told me one thing to consider is how much fiber you take in.

I guess there’s a cult around this bread, because it has a really high fiber content. The plain kind is just like eating a piece of cardboard or a piece of bark, not even good bark. But they make this honey-raisin kind that is actually kind of good. I sort of fell in love with the taste of it and the crunchiness of it and then if I put a little bit of cream cheese on it, then it tastes really good. Who knows, this might be canceling it out because it’s got sweetness to it.

For dinner, I made maitake-mushroom-and-potato tacos with a salad. I get this recipe kit, Gobble, midweek. This was a really good one. I went on a whole meal-kit search. I tried all different ones — I tried out vegan ones, gourmet ones, and I just found out some of them were so labor intensive and some were really, really carb heavy. It might’ve been my sister, who loves to cook, who said, “You should try Gobble. They seem right in the middle.”

This week my son is with his dad, so I’ve had a little more freedom for what I can cook because I’m not cooking for me and a 12-year-old boy. But he likes these. He said to me once, “This is restaurant-quality food.” (I would try to cook the vegan ones, and he’d be like, “Mom, can you just make me spaghetti noodles?”) I ordered them for me for ease, so when he’s here it’s a double yay. When he’s not here, I can also have these for leftovers. There’s one set of parents that’s like, “The kitchen’s closed, you eat whatever is in front of you.” The other is like, “How would you like me to feed you, darling?” I try to be the balance of those two.

Friday, July 17
Early-morning coffee with oat milk before my workout.

Surprise deliciousness: a Portuguese roll called a bolo levedo that I brought back from New England, toasted with honey.

I was on Martha’s Vineyard last week. My sister lives there full time, and it was a family thing. They have all these great Portuguese breads and rolls; while you’re there, you have to have them. When I was leaving, my sister told me to take one of these rolls for the road in case it was a long trip, and I just forgot I brought it back. This morning, I looked over and it was like a little piece of vacation.

Lunch of leftover mushroom tacos from the night before. So good.

Snacked on some watermelon while I watched an ACLU documentary, The Fight. On Fridays, we’ve been airing our book club so people can take vacation and all that. It’s been such a stressful four months. Newspeople didn’t work less; they worked more. On the days we don’t have shows, I try to watch all the documentaries I need to watch.

I said to my teen, “When you’re a journalist, you run to the problem, not away from it,” so we’re just gonna have to work really hard. There are people for whom this is a very scary time; they’re tuning in to the radio for information but also for comfort, and we need to be there for them. We all need to take care of ourselves so we can be there for them. And I’ve been trying to take care of myself, make sure I sleep a lot, exercise a lot. I don’t have a lot of extracurricular fun, but people are really relying on public radio. If I open my phone lines, they’re flooded. We could take calls for four hours straight.

Had some Boomchickapop sea-salt popcorn before I left to meet a friend. I like the saltiness. I always still, no matter what, associate popcorn with going to the movies. There’s something about popcorn that’s fun, no matter where you eat it. No one eats popcorn when they’re sad, like you’re drinking glasses of whiskey ’cause you’re bummed out or stuffing carbs in your mouth.

Met my friend Leah for some bubbly (Philippe Prei Champagne) and grapes on the water at Hudson River Park. I’m only recently seeing people. I was really trying to be conscientious about quarantining and social distancing for my kid; my sister has underlying conditions, and I knew I would see her. My friend usually takes me out for my birthday, and she has a condition too, so we were like, “How are we going to do this?” She was really staying put but told me, “I feel good, we have masks, I know a good spot on the Hudson.”

We met at sort of an off time. We both had gloves and masks, got to the waterside, sat on opposite sides of a long bench. She brought Champagne glasses, I brought a big thing of grapes, and it was so, so nice. I had only tried this with one other friend, who has outdoor space. You’re with a good friend, you want to tell them private stuff, but you realize you have to yell it from six feet away. It didn’t feel normal, but it felt okay.

Came home, ate leftover chicken and peppers I made earlier in the week (another Gobble-box recipe) and watched The Old Guard on Netflix.

Ended my night with a Chloe’s strawberry-mango pop. I love those. I don’t know what it is about them, if they just got the combination right. They don’t taste like little-kid popsicles, but you get the popsicle thing you want. It’s a little more sophisticated. You don’t feel like somebody took Kool-Aid and poured it in a mold.

Saturday, July 18
No workout this morning. Woke up and had some sliced pineapple.  When I order food or go get food in the early part of the week, I chop up a bunch of fruit so I have it all week.

Breakfast was Nature’s Path Flax Plus Pumpkin Raisin Crunch cereal with oat milk, and coffee with oat milk.

Around noon, I went to the Union Square farmers market to get fixings (the L and T) for a BLT, and peaches for a chicken dish. I normally go, but I’ve made it more of a destination as a way to get out. I probably linger a little bit more than I used to. I used to go in and out. It’s great to go with a friend. It’s outside, you can socially distance. Every time I’ve been, people at the market have been really responsible and chill. I don’t know if it’s because there are fewer people or everyone is trying to be responsible citizens.

I just wait for the tomatoes to call out to me from wherever. BLTs hit me last month when I was at the market. I was looking, like, Bacon. Lettuce. Tomato. I put it on Instagram, and everybody had something to say. “Did you use Hellmann’s? You gotta use Hellmann’s.”

On the way home, I picked up an iced coffee from Dunkin’. I am in a relationship with my Dunkin’ app. Two-dollar iced-coffee bonus! Only drank half, though, because it is such a tanker.

Got home and … it was too hot to cook the bacon and toast the bread for the BLT. I just didn’t want to use the stove. It was 94 degrees. I had been out there and so sweaty I didn’t even want to eat anything hot. So I did a pivot to a recipe I have for zesty chicken salad with some roasted seaweed on the side. The recipe is from Real Simple. This is one of those things I make for my son. He likes it a lot. So do I.

Snuck one of the peaches I was saving for my dinner recipe. I got them for this chicken thigh, peach, and ginger recipe I learned about when Melissa Clark was a guest on my show. It’s so easy to make. When I was at the market, I saw the peaches and was like, Oh, that’ll happen too. It’s a good recipe if your peaches get too mushy.

Had a little side salad and a glass of Sancerre with it. I really can only do wine or hooch when I don’t have my show.

Sunday, July 19
Finished the Dunkin’ coffee and worked out.

Made my belated BLT for breakfast! Only I didn’t have the bread I like, so I used a lavash roll and it was great.

At noon, I went on another farmers-market trip, to the Upper West Side, with my friend. Then we went back to his place, where he has a backyard, and had a socially distanced lunch. He made guacamole, so we had a lot of guac and Xochitl chips, some fruit salad, and he also made the most delicious blood-orange–and–Meyer-lemon lemonade. I had two glasses.

Then we realized it was National Ice Cream Day — so we went to Screme. I had vanilla gelato. The guy there was so hilarious. He was just selling his gelato. He was saying, “This will change your life, there is nothing artificial, when you eat artificial ice cream all you’re tasting is the chemicals, this is pure, this is real.” I would normally go for the blackberry sorbet, and I was like, “Well, is that cheating?” It’s Ice Cream Day. “A scoop of vanilla, please.” Something about the taste of it on this hot day after this lunch with this blood-orange–and–Meyer-lemon lemonade felt like the right thing.

Arrived home still a little hungry. Finished off the pineapple and had about a half-cup of the chicken salad.

For dinner, I ordered sort of a Sunday-night treat from Masala Times: chicken tikka and tandoori vegetables. It comes with rice and a great paratha. It’s been a regular place of mine for about the past year. My other go-to place closed, and the other one I like is super-spendy and I thought I’d rather go and sit there. Masala Times kind of hit the spot.

Monday, July 20
Had my morning coffee and worked out.

Toasted whole-wheat bread with Peanut Butter & Co. peanut butter with honey. I only like really good bread. I must have a texture thing; I really love sourdough because of the texture, and I really like grainy bread because of the texture. When I was a reporter, I traveled a lot — I’ve been to all 50 states, I’ve been to Europe and Africa and all over the place — and all cultures have really good bread.

I’m just not a sandwich person generally. It’s a very funny thing. They don’t do anything for me, I don’t enjoy them, I don’t feel particularly satisfied after them. When I think of bread, I think of it as its own thing. Not as a food-delivery system. I’ve got no interest in bread on the table.

For lunch, I had a Trifecta organic meal. I usually have these delivered for the week so I have something easy to eat before the show. This one was roasted yams with salmon and greens. The way my schedule is, it’s a lot about being on-air and I have such limited time. Even while I’m eating, I’m still editing scripts and questions. It’s the downside of living on a hard deadline every day.

Finished off the grapes from Friday. Had another of those raisin-and-honey fiber crispbreads with cream cheese, and made my own fresh lemonade with lemon juice, SodaStream bubbly water, and agave.

For dinner, I used the rice from the Indian food as a base for the rest of the chicken-and-peach dish, mixed it together. Also some of the leftover tandoori vegetables. You do the remix of the original recipe. That’s for sure, especially when I’m on my own. There’s something about, Huh, it just takes a little bit of magic, could those two go together? Most times it doesn’t. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I also had another Chloe’s fruit pop. It felt good after the spicy food.

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