David Sedaris’s Grub Street Diet

David Sedaris and his jello.
Illustration: Ryan Inzana

“If I were having people over, I would generally be embarrassed to cook for them,” admits David Sedaris, though he’s tried in the past. “I made a meat loaf and it was so bad that when I threw it down my chute at the end of the night, the entire building shook.” Instead, he generally does the eating while his longtime boyfriend Hugh Hamrick handles the cooking. Sedaris just released his latest book, Happy-Go-Luckyfor which he’s now on tourso before setting off, he made sure to enjoy plenty of Hugh’s cooking — while also popping into Magnolia Bakery As well as indulging in the many different flavors of diet Jell-O of which he’s become quite fond.

Monday, May 23
Hugh, my boyfriend of 30-plus years, wakes up long before I do and makes a pot of pinhead oatmeal, the sort you have to stir for 20 minutes. It’s always cold by the time I get to it, and though I suppose I could warm it up, I never do. It’s what a pig would eat in the morning, but I tart it up with a few raisins and maybe some pecans or walnuts. I never understood people who eat lunch or dinner standing up, hunched over the sink or whatever — it’s a meal for God’s sake! — but I often eat my oatmeal while walking from the kitchen to my desk. Breakfast is just not that important to me.

When I’m traveling in the US, I’ll order oatmeal in hotel dining rooms, though more often than not it’s been turned into candy, mixed with honey or maple syrup. At a restaurant I went to in Ohio once, they threw chocolate chips into it. In the UK, they make oatmeal with milk, which is disgusting to me.

After my oatmeal, I drink nine or so cups of coffee. This means that for the rest of the day, I am urgently having to pee.

Lunch. I lost a lot of weight in the year 2000. Before that, I would have hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch, but since then it’s mainly salads, usually made by Hugh, who is a great cook. Part of that is knowing what goes together. It’s also about the dressing, which is usually a simple vinaigrette.

Today’s salad was lettuce, boiled eggs, feta, tomato, and crunchy thumb-size cucumbers. It’s nothing I’ll remember for the rest of my life, but it’s always nice to sit at the table together.

Hugh grew up in Africa and was a vegetarian until he moved to Paris in the late 1980s. There he found a job as a chef for an elderly couple and entered the world of meats, where he remains to this day. Cooking steak is his superpower.

“Hey!” he said when I pointed this out to him a few months ago. “You have other qualities,” I explained. “This, though, is the one thing you do better than anyone else in the world.” On Saturday, for example, my agent Cristina came over, along with my sister Amy, and we all gushed over Hugh’s rib eyes, which were rare for some and medium rare for others.

Tonight, he perfectly panfried two veal chops the size of snowshoes and served them with risotto and pre-natal zucchini. Sage was used, and, as is his habit, he took great care spooning the life-giving drippings onto the meat. Like always, we ate at the table, which was set and had candles on it. We eat lunch and dinner like civilized people.

Before dinner, I sat at my desk and drank two gigantic cups of PG Tips (English black tea, very unfancy). This means that until the morning when I start drinking coffee, I am constantly having to pee.

Tuesday, May 24
Breakfast. More oatmeal.

I had an appointment at my publishing house and afterward met Hugh at Limani, a Greek restaurant at Rockefeller Plaza. There I had the spanakopita and a side order of horta, which are greens. I like going out for Greek food but would rather do it at dinner as then you can really pack it away. Too much lunch puts me in a stupor, but at night, I really take the gloves off. We usually sit down for dinner between 9:30 and ten. I like to eat until I hate myself.

Dinner. More Greek food. Hugh made moussaka and while eating we discussed the latest school shooting in Texas. What did we have the night of Sandy Hook? I wondered. The night of Columbine? I’m often in England when American mass murders happen and much prefer to hear the reports on Radio 4, where the tone is generally one of befuddlement: “Why on earth would anyone need a gun, let alone an assault rifle?” Here it’s the same formula time after time: Outrage, teddy bears, and flowers piled up on some curb, a call for action, then nothing.

Wednesday May 25
More cold oatmeal.

Lunch. Another salad, just like yesterday’s.

Dinner: Hugh made sea bass and served it with zucchini. I followed it with three boxes of cherry Jell-O with frozen cherries in it. I love Jell-O but no one else will go anywhere near it — not Hugh, not Amy, none of our dinner guests. The kind I make is only 40 calories a box and takes the sting out of the peanuts I’m unable to resist. I like Aunt Ruby’s Country Style or Aunt Ruby’s Roasted Redskins. They come in a can with a picture of a woman wearing glasses on it — Aunt Ruby, I’m guessing. Her peanuts are huge and look like camel toes. They’re crunchier than other peanuts. They’re, well, peanuttier.

I once ate an entire 12-ounce can in one sitting, hoping I’d get eternally sick of them, the way I did with Goldfish crackers when I was 6. No such luck, though. Aunt Ruby’s peanuts are my weakness. I cannot resist them, and so I have to do things like eat salads and fish and diet Jell-O in order to fit them into my life. I have to walk a minimum of 15 miles a day and do these sad little exercises all morning otherwise I would be massively overweight, which is something I like on other people, just not on myself.

Thursday, May 26
Breakfast. Cold oatmeal.

Hugh served a salad with some pan-fried halloumi cheese on the side. I like how rubbery it was.

For dinner, Hugh perfectly cooked a rib eye and we ate it with gnocchi and spinach. Work crews started tuck-pointing our building the other day and used our terrace to store bricks and equipment on. People are coming and going all day, so they taped a thick paper walkway that starts at our front door and continues through the living room. It makes me wonder what our apartment smells like compared to the other ones the workers traipse through. If they’re vegans — always a possibility — the lingering scent of meat must disgust them.

Friday, May 26
Breakfast. Cold oatmeal.

Lunch. Same salad as yesterday served with hummus Hugh made. I’ve never quite understood hummus and always wish it were peanut butter instead. I like crossing across the 59th Street bridge and going to Titan, a Greek grocery store in Astoria. They have a porta-john in their parking lot that I really appreciate. A few months back, I brought home some of Titan’s dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) in a can, so we had those as well.

Hugh cooked halibut in the oven and served it with roasted cauliflower. Afterward I ate orange Jell-O with oranges in it that I’d made earlier in the day. I used to pitch a fit when fish was put in front of me, but now I’m always happy to see it, the exception being when it has bones in it. Big ones don’t bother me so much, but the tiny slender ones really get on my nerves.

Before going to bed, I watched an episode of The Staircase — the dramatization, not the documentary, and was horrified by the food Colin Firth has to eat in prison. I guess if you’re guilty as charged it’s a fitting punishment, but for the innocent, it’s a step too far. A good title for a TV show would be Tim Cobblestone, Prison Chef.

Saturday, May 27
Oatmeal.

Hugh made vegetable soup with orzo in it. While we were eating the sky opened up. A great wind blew and it rained so hard we had to leave the table and shut all the open windows.

Afterward I walked downtown, stopping along the way at Magnolia for a slice of coconut cake. This was at their midtown outlet in the basement of Grand Central. There are a few tables down there, but a guy who was sitting on the floor was using a portable speaker to blast heavy-metal music from his phone. It was loud and abrasive and didn’t really go with coconut cake.

Dinner. Hugh roasted a chicken in the schlemmertopf and served it with a mashed root of some kind and green beans. No one does this better than him except maybe his French friend Colette, who taught him a lot about cooking. Afterward I ate three boxes of strawberry-banana Jell-O, which Hugh says makes the refrigerator stink like an air freshener.

Sunday, May 28
Oatmeal and half a sticky bun Hugh brought home.

Lunch. A salad Hugh made with feta cheese and leftover roasted chicken in it.

For dinner, Hugh made spanakopita and served it with a rack of lamb. Afterward I ate two boxes of peach Jell-O and wondered why there aren’t people out there making more interesting flavors. Mint, maybe, or grapefruit. I’d still want it to be diet grown though and to leave the light chemical aftertaste I’ve so fond of.

After Hugh went to bed, I got into the leftover spanakopita, if only because I’m leaving on tour soon and won’t be able to stand before an open refrigerator at 2 am If you want to make yourself indispensable to someone, learn to cook and be better at it than anyone else in your boyfriend’s address book. Leaving Hugh would mean leaving his manicotti, his sauté de veau, his lamb and barley stew, and so I will remain with him forever, or until he loses his arms.

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