You’re freelance now, full-time, after 6 years at Warby Parker. Every time I look at your website I think to myself, “She has so many exciting projects going on.” Can you tell me about some of your current work?
I have an irresponsible number of projects happening, always. I have an illustrated book coming out in May called “D C-T” with Joana Avillez. I also have a screenplay in the works. I do freelance brand work for fashion, food, beauty clients. I still write magazine pieces. I now try and writer fewer magazine pieces, and more in depth ones. I am going to Milan- I’ve never been to Italy!- at the end of the month to do an interview that I can’t say much about but I’m very excited about. I am on contract with New York Times Magazine, and I also do crosswords for Kinfolk magazine.
Tell me about your daily routine now that you work from home.
I try to wake up early and make a giant pot of tea. I have only recently started using a tea kettle, but I used to use a big dented pot. (laughing) My friend bought it for me for my birthday. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to it, but then I realized civilization has developed the tea kettle for a reason. I originally started out with Old English Breakfast tea, then I graduated to Irish Breakfast, but then I discovered that Scottish Breakfast exists! It has a lot of Assam, is malty, and takes cream really well. I have a really complicated to-do list. I sit down with my tea and then usually start with an hour of whatever is the most challenging on that list. I am pretty much tapped out by four, and then try and go for a run. I also take a lot of breaks throughout the day during which I cook to occupy my mind in a different way.
“I have a formula which is something like this: vegetables + something sour + something sweet + browning element. We mostly make dinners with a lot of vegetables. We call it the DMV- “A Dinner of Many Vegetables.”
How do you decide what to cook, and what do you find yourself making regularly?
I never use cookbooks, but I should. I usually pick seasonal vegetables- all pretty simple. I have a formula which is something like this: vegetables + something sour + something sweet + browning element. My husband Teddy does the grocery shopping and I do the cooking. We mostly make dinners with a lot of vegetables. We call it the DMV- “A Dinner of Many Vegetables”. It’s an ongoing joke where Teddy will be like, “Are we going to the DMV tonight? We usually have a plate with veggies and then homemade bread with butter.
Have your meal prep and cooking routines changed since you started working from home?
Yes. For lunch at Warby we were given a Seamless allowance that we could use to order whatever we wanted three days a week, and the other two days they catered. There was a vulgar amount of snacks, which I found really distracting since my desk was by the kitchen. I was always in the crosshairs of the kitchen traffic. Now that I work from home, I have three meals a day, whereas before I was just kind of nibbling the whole day. I make a lot of bread- I have a lot of projects that require passive participation.
Do you keep your own starter?
The full name of my starter is “Minsuk Junior”. It named after my dear friend Minsuk, who kindly gave me a blob of his starter so that I could make my own sourdough loaves and waffles.
How many hours would you say you spend in your kitchen?
I tend to make simple food, so I don’t really spend more than an hour cooking a day. I will usually work for two hours and then reward myself by steaming kabocha squash and then putting pumpkin seed oil over it, and then sticking it in the fridge for dinner. I work for three more hours and then saute green beans with lemon zest and garlic and then put that in the fridge. So by the time the day ends I have amassed dinner material. It’s really nice and relaxing, and I can clean up as I go. It’s a meditative way to take a break from the computer.
“The people I’ve profiled tend to have a combination of extreme charisma and laser focus. They are people who located their talents early and honed them assiduously, sometimes ruthlessly.”
I was listening to your Longform interview and you talked about being interested in power, which was what got you into writing profiles. You also mentioned how you have an idea about the person going in and it usually changes. What were some of your main takeaways?
The people I’ve profiled tend to have a combination of extreme charisma and laser focus. They are people who located their talents early and honed them assiduously, sometimes ruthlessly. Many of them managed to find what they were passionate about at an early age, which seems to me like a stroke of incredible luck. For many of us, it takes years to figure out what we’re good at. Some people are born knowing it.
You’ve lived in both California and New York. Do you find yourself comparing the two coasts, and do you feel like New York is your forever home?
I’ve been in New York for 10 years. I think it helps because my best friend that I grew up with in California is here, and we do the same thing: we’re both writers. That continuity of the friendship makes me feel at home here. Also, my family moved here, weirdly. Both my brothers and my mom moved here, but now she’s in Amagansett. She was like, “My dream is to be an old lady walking around collecting trash.” I actually don’t think I’ll go back to California. I think it’s because I love New York but also because San Francisco has changed. It’s like a Google campus, but with the same inequality that they had 15 years ago. It’s shocking, and it’s pretty immoral. My work is here but I do miss the produce in California. Whenever I go back I’m like, “Why does the food make me feel like I’m stoned?” And then I realize it’s just actually good.
“I do miss the produce in California. Whenever I go back I’m like, “Why does the food make me feel like I’m stoned?” And then I realize it’s just actually good.”
Tell me about your apartment and particularly your kitchen. It’s so big and open.
These wall images were a great idea Teddy had. He had a large print of a Jasper Johns painting, but enlarged a detail from it and made even larger prints from it on banner paper. Every couple of months he’ll stencil a new phrase on the board. This phrase is from John Waters. This giant chalkboard is blocking the shower actually, otherwise you’d be able to see into it. I have a lot of plants around. I get obsessed with vessels and wait around for months on eBay until they turn up, like these Mexican green glass goblets. It’s a surprisingly well-designed kitchen. There’s lots of storage, but everything I use often is out on the counter. I am obsessed with not having any ugly bottles around, so I put everything into these Muji bottles.
What was your childhood home kitchen like? Was there anything about how you spent your time there that you do similarly now?
I think that the “kitchen as the main organ of the home” was always true for me and remains true now. My mom is an amazing cook. She would do a mix of Northern California hippie cuisine with French classics. She is great with cooking homemade bread, coconut pie, anything really. Our family life was centered around the kitchen. After dinner we’d put on Motown records and my brother would do the dishes while we’d all dance around. Our house was pretty small, so the kitchen was the most hospitable place for three kids to hang out.
“Our family life was centered around the kitchen. After dinner we’d put on Motown records and my brother would do the dishes while we’d all dance around.”
Are there any items in your kitchen that you are particularly sentimental about?
This cracked Le Creuset from my mom. I make all my bread in it. The enamel is coming off on the bottom and the lid is going to break in two soon, but it’s fucking perfect. It gets so hot. I love it so much. It’s like it’s out of a Flemish painting. I want to put my ashes in this thing.
Tell me about your folding dining table!
The table basically folds out into a giant square so it fits twice as many people. We found it on some weird antique auction site. Initially we were going to have friends make it, but they said our design was physically impossible, so this is the compromise.
Most of my finds are from eBay. I get really obsessive and wait for months ‘till I pounce. But I also use this estate sale auction site called Everything But the House. If you find someone who has good taste, you can basically buy all of their kitchen and its cheaper than eBay.
Do you have any rituals centered around cooking?
We have pancakes on the weekends and pizza from Williamsburg Pizza once a week. Adding some crispy kale on top is really good! We often do crossword puzzles while we’re eating. For New Year’s we always do a fancy picnic with smoked salmon and champagne. We also have oatmeal often for dinner, with salted brown butter… like Scottish shepherds.
“The enamel is coming off on the bottom and the lid is going to break in two soon, but it’s fucking perfect. It gets so hot. I love it so much. It’s like it’s out of a Flemish painting. I want to put my ashes in this thing.”
What are some of your favorite food items currently in your kitchen?
Toasted pumpkin seed oil is really underrated, I put it on everything, even on ice cream. It’s really savory, like a brown butter. I also like Matcha a lot, even though the caffeine doesn’t really work on me. We use Nellie and Joe’s for all of our cocktails. It’s the only one that tastes like real key lime. We usually use tequila, key lime juice, and coconut Lacroix.
Do you exhibit any OCD-type behaviors in the kitchen?
I love to do dishes. It’s a soothing manual labor… Any repetitive activity to break the circuit of neuroses. Wipe counter, dust bust, etc. I can’t go to sleep without cleaning the dishes. Even the dish drain has to be cleaned so there’s no scum lurking in the bottom of it. Nothing is more depressing than waking up to a sink full of dishes. It ruins my day.