Mara Wilson has been famous for a long time. If you are a young millennial woman, you know who she is, and you were probably obsessed with one of more of her movies as a child. But Wilson doesn’t seem affected by either childhood stardom or her insanely huge Twitter following. She’s down-to-earth and just as charming as you’d hope she be. She’s also a prolific baker, a lover of tea services, and a huge fan of The Great British Bake Off, and she was nice enough to chat with me about how she eats, what she drinks, and why saltines are the ultimate in comfort.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Current gig: Actress and writer
What do you usually eat for breakfast?
I was actually eating when you called. I usually have a brunch type thing — usually I make myself two eggs, and sautéed greens. Right now I have part of an avocado. I usually do variations on that. There are also a lot of diners and restaurants around me that do really good breakfast food and really good brunches. Not fancy brunches — not like the weekend mimosa brunches — just good brunches during the day.
I have a couple of restaurants that I go to pretty regularly. It’s got to the point where either I’ll come in and they’ll say “there she is!” or I’ll come in with my sister and they’ll say “there they are!” I have to admit I am not the best cook. I have lit spatulas on fire. I have burned instant popcorn. I’m really not the best. What I do really like is baking. So, usually if I’m making my own breakfast, I keep it pretty simple.
I love the fact that you’re a regular at a breakfast place. What do you usually order?
I’ll get two eggs, turkey bacon, and maybe a green salad, or fruit, and rye toast. I’ve really been leaning into rye toast lately, and getting more in touch with my Jewish heritage. And my sister always orders the same thing which is, in my opinion, kind of a weird thing to order. She gets a BLT that’s not really a BLT. She just gets turkey bacon and avocado on bread. No mayo. No tomato. Nothing else — just turkey bacon and avocado. And she loves it — it’s her favourite thing in the world. And then I always have tea. Tea is very, very important to me.
So you’re more of a tea than coffee person?
Oh yeah, definitely. I come from a family where anytime anything was physically wrong or even emotionally wrong with us, my dad would say “OK, well first let’s have a cup of tea.” You know? “Let’s have a cup of tea about it.” We could be in the middle of an emergency, and the first thing my dad would do after calling 911 would be to make some tea.
Is there a particular leaf that you’re a fan of?
I can’t have caffeine anymore because of the health issue that I have, which is the worst. So I’ve had to search sort of high and low for good decaf tea, because herbal tea is fine, but it doesn’t give me the same kind of comforting feeling as black tea does. It doesn’t taste as good with things. I mean I like rooibos. I like peppermint. Chamomile’s fine. But it’s not — it always feels like the second choice, like the “is Pepsi ok?” kind of thing. Although to be honest I don’t see much of a difference between Coke and Pepsi, and never really have.
But I’ve been trying to get British and Irish teas more, because the decaf ones still taste really good—they still taste pretty strong. I was disappointed with PG tips decaf tea, even though I really like their standard, caffeinated tea. And I’ve been mostly doing—let’s see — Barry’s Tea, which is an Irish tea, and Yorkshire Tea. Yorkshire Tea is really good; their decafs are great. They’re hard to get because they’re British and Irish teas, but there are stores around here that—you know, World Market and things like that — will have imported tea, and you can get them there.
One of my favourite teas that I can’t have anymore … there’s a place in Pasadena called “The Tea Rose Garden,” and they have a black tea with rose petals in it that is just amazing, and I love it so much, and I miss it so much. This tea place—I’ve taken all of my friends—it’s sort of antiquated. There will be like soft piano covers of the theme from Titanic playing in the background, and lace doilies everywhere.
There’s all these very old-fashioned little cups, and it’s always somebody’s grandmother’s birthday, or somebody’s baby shower, or a little girl’s birthday. I love it so much. The food is so good. It’s so adorable, and it hasn’t been appropriated in a hip, ironic way. It just is what it is. So although you will see these little kids having their birthday parties, and women having their baby shower, and grandmothers having their birthdays, you will also, every now and then, see some gothic Lolitas, but it’s very sincere. It’s silly, but it’s very sincere. It’s great. I really love tea shops in general.
That sounds like a very wholesome place.
It is! It’s extremely wholesome. And I’m forever looking for ones that have — because of dietary restrictions and stuff now — I’m forever looking for tea shops in LA that offer good decaf options and also are OK with non-dairy stuff, because I recently became lactose intolerant. There’s a vegan place that does a tea service that’s amazing. That’s the best. I also, for some reason, I don’t know why, but I have a lot of vegan friends and I’ve dated a lot of vegans. I’m a vegan magnet. I’m not a vegan myself, but vegans are attracted to me as friends, I guess. It’s a strange thing. So I end up eating a lot of vegan food.
I have a lot of vegan baking cookbooks and such. Like I said, I’m not a good cook but I am a good baker. But there are a lot of dietary restrictions in my family. So I usually end up baking for my siblings and my parents. In our family we have lactose intolerance, we have gluten intolerance, we have diabetes. We have people who can’t have caffeine, chocolate, or alcohol. We have all kinds of different things. I think we have a vegan in there somewhere—between my siblings and my step-cousins and everybody. So even before I made a layer cake, I had made sugar-free treats for my stepmother, or something for my dad.
I make ginger snaps for my dad on his birthday and on Father’s Day because they’re his favourite. I’ve also done a little experimenting with Filipino baking, because my stepmother’s Filipino. I’ve made a thing called “Food for the Gods.” I really want to make this thing called sans rival, like “without rival.” It’s a nut and meringue kind of thing. It’s really rich but it’s so good.
I feel like my relationship to food has been kind of defined by my mum and my stepmom, because my father is very straightforward; he’s very pragmatic. He’s an engineer. So food for him, it’s not anything super fancy, although there was very much food cooked with love, you know the kind of macaroni and cheese with the bread crumbs in it kind of thing, but he always kept it very simple. My mum wasn’t that great of a cook either, but she was a really good baker, and she would always make latkes and matzo ball soup and things like that for us around holidays. And with my stepmother I’ve had a lot more exposure to Filipino food and desserts.
It’s why I have an affinity for Jollibee, the fast food restaurant. Jollibee fried chicken is the best fried chicken—it’s the best fast food fried chicken. I had a picnic birthday a couple of years ago, and one of my friends brought a bucket of Jollibee chicken, and I had this Proustian-like memory of my teenage years and I was freaking out. This was in New York and I was like “Oh my god, Jollibee! Where did you find Jollibee? I thought that was only in California!” And it was so good, and I told my stepmother, so now every holiday that we celebrate with my stepfamily they bring a chicken bucket just for me.
That’s amazing. Going back briefly to the the substitutions and baking. Do you have like a favourite vegan baking hack or sugar-free substitute?
I’ve baked with … what’s it called? Not erythritol because it tastes like mint, and I used it in pumpkin bread, and it was terrible. Lately I’ve been doing Stevia baking blends. I didn’t used to like Stevia but I’ve kind of grown accustomed to it, and in baking you don’t get the weird aftertaste.
I like xylitol a lot, but xylitol can cause upset stomachs, and it’s also really dangerous for cats and dogs, but I’ve used that too. Vegan cupcakes are one of the easiest things to make. Cupcakes don’t need to have dairy in them, and I have that book—Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, which is great.
One thing is, I’m really bad at making frosting. I made it a couple of times, but I can never make vegan frosting on my own. I have to follow a recipe very strictly. Vegan cupcakes you can pretty much just curdle soy milk by putting some apple cider vinegar in it, and mix some cocoa powder together…and some rising agents. It’s pretty basic. You can’t go wrong with them. Vegan cookies are also harder to make, but I’ve made them and they’ve been great. Gluten-free stuff is very hard for me because you don’t know if your kitchen is contaminated.
So usually if I’m cooking with friends who are gluten-intolerant or have celiac, I try to do it in their kitchen. I used to babysit for a family where one of the parents had celiac, one of the parents was lactose intolerant, and the kids had nut allergies and we used to laugh about how we could never dip the same knife into the butter, and how we had to keep everything separate. People like to make fun of food allergies and stuff, but I’m at an age now where — like I said I have health issues that preclude me from eating certain things.
I remember a couple of years ago people were talking about gluten intolerance, and I think I actually tweeted “Your journey begins when you stop caring about people who don’t have celiac disease going gluten-free” because judging people for what they put in their bodies … I don’t know. I eat meat but I don’t like fish and I don’t eat beef or pork, so I guess I don’t eat mammals. One of my friends recently said that she doesn’t eat mammals and she says that a lot of times people at restaurants aren’t really sure what a mammal is. That can be hard, but it’s not their fault, it’s the state of education in this country; don’t get me started. But I feel like, I don’t really like the carnivore thing of like “I eat meat and I’m awesome!”.
I don’t understand that. And most vegans I know really aren’t in your face about it. Have I known one or two that have belonged to PETA? Maybe, but most of my vegan friends are like “No, I’m a vegan. I’m going to bring my own food to this thing. You keep enjoying yourself. I’m not going to judge you.” They’ve been very great and very kind about it. But the smell of barbecue does take me back because I grew up in southern California, where we could have barbecues year-round.
I like that approach. I’m a big fan of minding your own plate. Moving on a little further in the day: What do you usually eat for lunch?
I usually keep it pretty simple for lunch. Sometimes, if I wake up late, if I’ve been up late the night before, I will just have one big meal, which isn’t great. I usually have a pretty small amount of food in the middle of the day. I’ll usually have a bigger breakfast, and a bigger dinner. My diet has changed a lot in the past few months becasue I have this condition called “dysautonomia.” It has to do with the autonomic system. The autonomic system, it’s the thing that controls a lot of the automatic systems of the body. Mine has to do with blood pressure.
There’s specifically a subset of dysautonomia called “POTS”, which is postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, and I’m currently undergoing testing to see if that’s the kind of dysautonomia I have. Basically, it’s like you stand up, and your heart rate speeds up, because your blood pressure is low, and your heartrate speeds up to overcompensate for it.
I’ve had this for a couple of years. It got particularly bad the past year and a half. It’s triggered by things like caffeine. I went to this lovely tea parlor with my friend a couple of years ago in the west village, and as soon as I got outside, I couldn’t walk anymore and ended up collapsing. I had to go to the hospital. It really sucked. But it’s a really common thing and it’s very commonly misunderstood. And it’s also very common in young women.
I’ve had personal experience, and a lot of my friends have shared anecdotal experience with being young women whose health is not taken very seriously. So it took years for them to finally figure out what was going on. But they say to try and get rid of caffeine and alcohol and have low-carb meals. Those can make you tired and trigger things like I had…I went to Disneyland a couple of months ago and had a Dole Whip, and it was the best thing ever, but then I got sick afterwards and got dizzy and wasn’t feeling well, because it was just too much sugar.
I know! it’s Dole Whip! It’s classic. It’s classic Disneyland. Weirdly enough, the thing that seems to help with it, and the thing you can have almost as much as you want of is salt. One of the treatments for POTS is — you have to make sure you stay hydrated, so you drink a ton of water but you can also have salt. So, I’ll be at a restaurant and I’ll take a salt shaker and pour salt into my water, and this is sanctioned by cardiologists. My doctors are like “Yeah, increase your salt. That’s fine.” And nutritionists and cardiologists will be like “Yeah, put salt on things.”
It’s really weird, but yeah, I can have as much salt as I want, so salty snacks are something that I eat a lot of and I’ll have a lot of those in a day — usually things like pumpkin seeds, stuff like that. Salted pumpkin seeds — salted seeds are probably the best because they’re lower carb. I love Bamba, which are like peanut butter puffs. Those are my favourite.
There’s also these things that I pretty much have to take every morning — they help me get out of bed — called Nuun tablets. I pretty much have to drink that if I want to get out of bed in the morning, because my blood pressure is so messed up. It sucks but it’s livable.
Lifestyle changes have helped a lot, and I don’t have it as seriously as other people do. But I do think that if anyone’s reading this and they’re having symptoms that they can’t explain, they should look into POTS and dysautonomia, because it’s often a symptom of a larger problem, like a lot of people with Ehlers-Danlos syndrom, which I do not have, also have it or a lot of people who’ve had Lyme disease, or Epstein-Barr virus, or things like that will end up getting it too. It’s probably pretty common but people don’t really know about it. A lot of doctors don’t seem to know about it.
But I usually end up eating something kind of small, but very salty. One thing I love a lot is either edamame or miso soup. Miso soup is great. I didn’t used to like seaweed at all, and I still don’t like uncooked seaweed, but miso soup is a lifesaver. It’s salty and it’s good. My sister is also like a total hippie flower child, and she’ll make herbal infusions; she uses oat straw a lot and that’s really hydrating and really nice and it helps when you’re sick.
It’s not like an alternative medicine, it’s just a drink that you can have in addition to things, and I notice I always feel better when I drink that. And you can go to juice stores in L.A. and in New York, but it will be like eight dollars for a glass, whereas Anna will just find some and make it overnight, and it really does seem to help. It can settle your stomach it can help with a headache, things like that. And it’s not seriously strong like a lot of other herbal things are.
My sister is actually a good cook and we spend a lot of time together. So she will make soup and she will cook vegetables, and she will make things that are really amazing. I feel like there’s some sort of breakdown between people who are more artistic and people who are more analytical, which is oversimplifying things, but she’s a visual artist and she just experiments with food and makes all these great things when she’s cooking, and will just be like “I think I’ll make this today!” Meanwhile I have a lot of trouble — I burn things when I’m cooking. It’s just a big mess. So I usually let her handle the cooking. And she’s not fond of baking, so she can make the dinner and I can make the dessert.
I do find that people usually gravitate towards one or the other.
They say cooking is an art and baking is a science, and despite having been working in “creative fields” since I was young I have very much always been more of an analytical, left-brained — again, the left/right brain dichotomy doesn’t really exist, but for methaphor’s sake — I’ve always been much more like that. The way that I think is a lot like my dad, and my dad is an engineer. I’m very pragmatic and analytical and that actually helps me I think, because I was a perfectionist for a really long time, but the engineer mindset is basically like “perfect is the enemy of the good.” Just make sure that it’s good and it’s functional and it’s pragmatic, and that I think has kind of given me a lot of peace.
It’s funny that you’re into baking because one of my most vivid childhood memories of food in pop culture is the iconic chocolate cake in Matilda.
Yes! Oh my gosh, people have been telling me for years! There is actually a book I think called “Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Recipes” [Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes], and they have a chocolate cake recipe in there. I don’t think I’ve ever made it. I need to find it. It’s somewhere. It’s probably at my parents’ house, but I feel like I should make that chocolate cake. Sort of like how they do the Comic Relief bake off. The Great British Bake Off is like my religion. I have so many cookbooks from it.
For my sister’s birthday last year I made — she doesn’t like cake — so I made her the cookie dough cake from Nadia — who won The Great British Bake Off a couple of years ago — I made it from her book. It’s so good. And it was a really big hit. They would never let me on because I’m not British. And if I were, I’m not that good of a baker anyway to do the celebrity bake-off thing. We did have an American version, but it was not the same.
It’s funny because on the British version it’s very much things like “Please make this 16th-century Cornish pasty that nobody has made in hundreds of years,” then on the American bake off or Australian bake off it will be like “Please make cupcakes.” The Great British Bake-Off has got me through break-ups, through illness, through all kinds of things, and it’s absolutely the best.
It’s a very soothing show.
It is very soothing. I love that they hug at the end every time. So many of my celebrity crushes are people that I follow from The Great British Bake Off. I don’t know if I should say who, because I think some of them might follow me on Twitter, and I don’t want to make things weird.
I think they’d be flattered but if you don’t want it printed I won’t. How did you feel about the host change?
I was sad. I love Mel and Sue very much, but I’m not horrified by it, I’m just kind of like “OK, this is all right.” And I’m used to baking with substitutes. So it was a little bit like “Oh, this is like that time that I couldn’t bake with sugar so I baked with xylitol.” I think that they’re funny and interesting in their own right. One thing that I have realised though is that I look a lot like Noel Fielding, and that’s kind of scary. I looked at him one day and I was like “Oh my god, on a bad day I look like Noel Fielding.” I have the same big nose. I have blue-green eyes and dark hair. I look like a shrunken version of him. We even dress similarly because he’s got that British glam rock thing. And so that’s what I say when I want to make fun of myself in a British way.
To be fair though, I’m really into Noel Fielding’s whole deal. He has a lot of look, but he wears it really well. Going back to the subject of salt: Have you gotten super into like fancy salts or anything?
I do definitely have a lot of Himalayan rock salt. And I have gotten super into dark chocolate. It’s funny because when I lived in New York, I always wanted milk chocolate, and New York is a dark chocolate town. I kind of had to acclimate myself to dark chocolate. I still don’t like it. Well that’s not true, I guess I do like it now, but it took me a long time — probably only in the last year — to get to where I really like dark chocolate. And some dark chocolate is just too dark for me. But I love salted chocolate and you can actually find ones that have a good amount of sodium in them, especially if they have nuts, so I’ll do that, and they’ll also have less sugar, which is good because I can’t have too much sugar. I do like the Himalayan pink rock salt, but I worry because I do know there’s iodine in salt, and I worry a lot about that. So sometimes I’ll get a sea salt canister and iodized salt and mix the two.
I do love rock salt and one of my—I’ve been doing this for years—but I sprinkle a little bit of sea salt or pink rock salt on chocolate chip cookies when I bake them. And I make really good chocolate chip cookies, if I do say so myself. I have a great recipe for it, and I can tweak it a little bit for people who have allergies, but I’ve been told over and over again that I make the best chocolate chip cookies. And I always sprinkle a little bit of salt on them before they go in the oven, and it really brings out the chocolate. I usually try to use two or three different kinds of chocolate in there. I’ll put in dark chocolate, and semi-sweet chocolate, and milk chocolate, so there’s kind of something for everybody.
Those sound sounds amazing. Are they a chewy chocolate chip cookie?
They’re very chewy. My mum always made really good chocolate chip cookies when I was growing up. I don’t know which recipe she would use — probably just the Nestle Tollhouse one—but they were always the best. And I remember I’d go to my cousin’s house or friend’s houses and their mum would make cookies, or their dad would make cookies, but those cookies would end up really fluffy and doughy and just have chocolate chips on top. And I hate that kind; they taste like pancakes.
I mean, they’re OK. One of my friends makes a version of them that are really, really good. But they’re too — I don’t know if there’s too much baking soda in them or what, but it’s like if I wanted cake I would just have cake, or if I wanted pancakes—and I love pancakes — but if I wanted pancakes I would just have pancakes.
So I try to make mine as chewy as possible. And one of the secrets—I mean there are many secrets to making chocolate chip cookies, but they’re all pretty open secrets by now—put them in the freezer or in the fridge for a while. That will make sure that they don’t spread out too much. If you want them big, you can tap the baking sheet lightly or drop it a little bit, and that will make them nice and flat but I like them to be smaller and chewier, so I usually put them in the fridge or even in the freezer. I have cookie dough in my freezer right now, if my sister hasn’t eaten it all. She prefers cookie dough to cookies. But I’ll do that and then I’ll sprinkle a little bit of salt on them and put them in. And sometimes I’ll bring them to a party and they’ll still be warm. That is like everybody’s favourite thing.
Yeah, that’s a really good party move. That’s better than bringing alcohol.
Exactly. And I don’t know if I have a Jewish mother in me or what, but I definitely have this desire to feed people, and give them treats. And people will be like “Oh, you don’t need to bring food to this,” and I will end up bringing food anyway.
I totally relate to that. Shifting slightly from salt. Do you have a favourite hot sauce or condiment?
I am a wimp when it comes to spicy food. I guess I got my dad’s Irish-English taste buds. Lately, I can kind of put cayenne pepper in things. Like one of my favourite foods ever is Spanish rice, or I guess “Mexican rice” is more accurate, and when I’m trying to be healthy I can make it with cauliflower rice. And that’s one of the things I love about being back in L.A.; like even my friends who are carnivores have this desire to be healthy—desire to better themselves. One of my guy friends who is always grilling steaks is like “Oh yeah, I love cauliflower fried rice,” which I think is hilarious. There is nothing more Californian than always trying to be on a self-improvement kick.
I thought I was supremely New York for many years, and in some ways I am — Oh! There goes my cat trying to steal my food. I was in the middle of eating when i took this call and I put my food down for a second and put a lid over it, and now one of my kittens is trying to eat it. He’s an adorable kitten but he’s in this stage right now where he’s testing his limits, and a lot of that includes trying to eat my food, especially when it’s things he loves like avocado and eggs.
Is that what you’re eating? Avocado and eggs?
Yeah. I have avocado, eggs, and sautéed greens. And I’ll have a big cup or tea, and usually Kedem tea biscuits. I love them—they’re so plain and bland. Somebody said that they’re the saltines of cookies, but I love saltines. I was always carsick and always had the stomach flu when I was growing up, so saltines mean comfort to me. So yeah, of course I love super bland cookies as well to dunk in my tea; they’re my favourite. Sorry. I got distracted. What was the question again?
Do you have any “must have” condiments that you put on everything? It doesn’t have to be spicy.
I mean I’ve gotten more into soy sauce lately because it’s got a lot of sodium in it. I remember I went out to a restaurant with a friend of mine at an Asian fusion place. And when we got there I was feeling kind of dizzy and tired, then I got something with soy sauce on it and I immediately felt better. I mean, it could just be the placebo effect but that’s definitely something I cook with more these days. I do really like turmeric. Turmeric lattes … they taste good. I don’t know if it has any of the benefits that people say, but they taste good! So there’s definitely a lot of that that I cook with.
As far as condiments and things go, not really. My stepmother is big into banana sauce. Which, you know, seems kind of funny but it’s basically just ketchup. My taste buds have expanded since I’ve gotten older, and they’re probably even going to continue to do that. When I was younger I thought I might have that super taster thing, where you taste more things than most people. Because I definitely have the cilantro thing where it tastes like soap, and I couldn’t eat things that were too sweet or too bitter. You know, I hated dark chocolate. I couldn’t have any artificial sweeteners. I’m extremely picky, but I’m less so now. And now I’m like “Have I just killed off some of my extra tastebuds?”I’m only 31, but when I’m 40 am I just going to be eating everything? And I kind of hope so because I don’t like putting people out. I don’t like being like “Oh, I don’t eat that.”
Because I recently became lactose intolerant, I’ve started ordering a vegan pizza to bring with me to parties. And in L.A. someone there is probably going to be a vegan too. But honestly, I would not wish vegan pizza on anybody because there are very few good vegan pizzas. The cheese tends to take up all the moisture from the tomato sauce. Sometimes I’ll make them at home. Kite Hill has a really good ricotta that I’ll use. This might sound blasphemous but I’ve actually never been that big a fan of cheese. It’s funny, when I tell people I can’t have cheese anymore, they look at me like I told them that somebody just died.
But the truth is that I always pretty much only liked soft cheeses. I liked brie. I liked ricotta. I liked mozzarella. You know, softer, medium cheese. I don’t like Parmesan. Not a big fan of cheddar. So I’ll just use a fake one and it will be fine. There just aren’t very many good mozzarella ones that melt very well. So I end up doing a sort of basil and ricotta and tomato kind of pizza, if I make it at home, and that’s really easy to make and it’s really good.
I haven’t found a good vegan mozzarella either. I do like a lot of fermented cashew products.
Yeah, those are really good. The Trader Joe’s one is pretty good. But I’ve been disappointed in a lot of the major brands that do mozzarella.
Speaking of Trader Joe’s: Do you have any favourite Trader Joe’s snacks?
Oh man. They don’t have their peanut butter—I keep going back—and I like the one with the chia seeds and stuff in it. I don’t if it’s actually healthier for you but it tastes really good. I feel so bad around people who have peanut allergies. I dated somebody who had a peanut allergy for a couple of years and that was really hard. I was like “Is it ok for me to kiss you after I eat peanut butter?” Bamba, like I said, is one of my favourite things, so I like Trader Joe’s bamba.
Their chocolate chip cookies, the little round ones are so good. Trader Joe’s is a funny place, like I never get checked out more than I do at Trader Joe’s. There’s always like a dad with his kid, and the dad is in a Pixies t-shirt. And he’ll see me in my boots and leather jacket and I don’t know if I remind him of a girl that he saw at a Bikini Kill concert, but yeah. I never feel more desired than when I’m at Trader Joe’s.
Do you usually have a bigger evening meal?
It kind of depends. My sister and myself will sometimes go to dinner some place, or we’ll cook something on our own. I usually hang out with her. I’m very close with my siblings—always have been. There are a lot of good restaurants near where I live and I will go out to them a lot. I have my favourite four restaurants that I go to and kind of circle around. I try not to anything too big and I usually end up eating dinner pretty late. I remember when I was in Spain as a kid and they were staying up late, and eating food really late, I was thinking to myself “This is the way to live.” Don’t eat at six, eat at like, 10.
What are the four restaurants usually go to?
There’s a vegan restaurant that I go to a lot. I like Thai food; I’ll go to Thai food places a lot. There was a mediterranean place that I used to go to a lot but my sister got food poisoning from it, so we’re probably not going to go there anymore. That’s one difference I’ve noticed between living in New York and living in LA, is people in New York will be like “Yeah, I got food poisoning from this place, but I’m still going to go there.” The health ratings do not matter at all, where as in L.A. people will be like “Oh, no they got a B, I don’t know if I can go there anymore.”
There’s one restaurant I go to because they have good breakfast and they have a really good chicken dinner. A lot of celebrities end up going there. It’s kind of an interesting place to people watch, and I have personally embarrassed myself in front of Jon Hamm, like, five times at this restaurant. Maybe only three or four, but it’s been multiple times. It’s gotten to the point where if I do something embarrassing, or if I have spinach in my teeth, my sister will say “Where’s Jon Hamm?” and start looking around for him. He’s just always there when I’m making a complete arse out of myself.
Oh, Canter’s! Canter’s is one of my favourite places. I love Jewish delis so much, and I really miss being able to get matzo ball soup any hour, day or night. I also miss bagels. There aren’t any good bagels here. My brothers used to do Little League not too far from there when we were kids, so I have a lot of happy memories of going to Canter’s and getting their rainbow cookies and sprinkles and babka and things like that. Matzo ball soup is comfort food for me. It’s still one of my favourite things in the world.
Speaking of comfort food in general: Do you have a go-to “can’t even” meal or a “sad meal”?
Yeah, probably something with a lot of toast. Something like that. I’ll usually order or make burritos. Growing up in Southern California, my favourite foods were Ashkenazi Jewish food like my family had, or tacos and burritos. I still complain about the Mexican food every time I go back to [New York]. Aloo gobi, I really love that—that’s very comforting to me. Saltines, tea—actually probably the most comforting to me is tea party food, like a scone, and sandwiches. When someone is having a really rough day, I’ll take them to a tea parlor or something like that, and that always kind of cheers them up. Or if I feel like really eating a lot I’ll order a burrito or a burrito bowl.
I think probably diner food too, things like pancakes. I’m from Burbank, and in Burbank you have to have the affinity for one of the diners or the other—you have to pick one. There are three big diners—there’s Coral Cafe, there’s Tallyrand, there’s Lancers. And you have to pick one as your favourite, and we always went to Lancers, but later on I realised that Lancers was probably the worst of the three. Tallyrand is—in terms of quality—the best. And there’s nothing better than going to the diner when you’re miserable.
Oh yeah, or hungover.
Or hungover, yeah, exactly. Or it’s late at night—24-hour diners—I was a regular in New York, I lived up the street from one. And I still haven’t found a diner out here yet, in my L.A. neighbourhood that I really love. So diners, reach out! You might be able to win me over.
Do you have a go-to diner order?
I usually get a turkey burger; that’s one of my favourite things. If they have matzo ball soup, I’ll get that. If I’m trying to eat healthy, I’ll get a chicken salad—like a salad with chicken on it. I’m not the biggest fan of salad. I liked cooked greens. But if you put some cranberries on it, and some nuts in it, I’ll definitely eat that. If you make it not just iceberg lettuce and tomatoes—if you actually put some effort into it, I’ll eat that.
My friend Max Ash wrote an article for Reductress a couple years ago called “Woman Could Make a Way Better Salad Than This.” And now I’m every time I’m at a place and they give me, like you know a soup and salad kind of thing, and the salad just isn’t good, I’ll take a picture of it and send it to him and say “Area woman could make a way better salad than this.” That’s something that I like a lot, a salad with cranberries and nuts and things like that. I also really like any kind of roasted squash or vegetables, so a lot of times I’ll get something with eggplant in it. I do love a good nightshade. Those are pretty much my go-to’s. A chicken tortilla soup.
Do you have a go-to movie theatre snack?
I do love popcorn. Sometimes the smell of popcorn will just get me into a different headspace. When I was a teenager I would always have an Icee when I would go to the movies, but now if I have an Icee I will crash really hard and fall asleep, and I don’t want to fall asleep in a movie. Usually what I do now is popcorn, sometimes M&M’s. Again, I love anything with peanut butter, so anything with peanuts or peanut butter in it, peanut M&M’s were always my favourite. But these days I’ll see if they have anything with dark chocolate or I will—don’t tell them—sneak a bar of dark chocolate in there, and eat that a little bit at a time. A little bit of dark chocolate with popcorn—they taste really good together.
That’s a great salty/sweet combination.
Exactly. I remember probably about ten years ago, when salted caramel was really a big thing, we went out for my roommate’s birthday and they brought out just this block of salt and poured caramel on it, and gave us a bunch of stuff to dip in it, almost like fondue. It was hot salted caramel, and it was amazing. It was so good.
I’m actually stunned, fathoming a block of salt with caramel. That sounds life-changing.
I feel like it’s something you could probably do for a party.
It’s a new goal of mine, so thank you very much for that.
If you could only choose one source of salt, one source of fat, and one source of acid? What would you choose for each?
Oh man, I don’t know. I mean, I do love butter, but it’s not good for me. For acid, I do love lemons and I do love lemon juice. We used to have a lemon tree in my backyard growing up so it might be that. Like the smell of a lemon tree and lemon blossoms, that’s a California childhood to me. For fat? I might have to say avocado. God, I sound so basic Californian right now but, I love avocados so much. I live in an apartment, but the only reason I would possibly want a house is so I could have an avocado tree. Because I know there’s so many problems and labour disputes with all of these things.
And for salt? I mean, I put salt on everything. Salt and I are best friends. I even have a shirt that I got from—there’s a web comic that I used to read in college called “Married to the Sea” and they did on once that’s like “Salt! It’s gluten-free! No high-fructose corn syrup! Lactose-free! It’s Kosher! Mmm! Salt!” and I have it on a t-shirt, and I wear that t-shirt a lot, especially when I’m going to see my cardiologist. I think he gets a kick out of it. I’ve only begun to explore the uses of salt. I guess probably, salted chocolate, salted caramel would be my favourite. I mean, even peanut butter; peanut butter has a lot of salt. Actually I should probably say “saltines.” That’s kind of my brand.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.