Chaey with chard, chia pudding, and a rhubarb galette. Illustration: Maanvi Kapur

After leaving Bon Appétit in 2022, former senior food editor Christina Chaey started her newsletter, Gentle Foods. “It’s really a place where I do a lot of writing about food and all of these other things that feel like they intersect with food,” she says. “Mental health, anti-diet culture, anti-perfectionism.” Now, she’s in the process of turning it into a cookbook, and ahead of that, she’s been helping out as an assistant stylist on shoots for other books. “Cooking all the food reminds me more of working on the line than working on a magazine story,” she says. “It’s an orchestra of people who are trying to time things exactly right.”

Thursday, May 9
My alarm goes off at 6:30 and I engage in my daily ritual of snoozing three times, which unfortunately happens every day no matter what time the alarm goes off. I have two cups of drip coffee and the last of a pint container of coconut-cashew chia pudding with rhubarb compote leftover from a recipe test while I do some expenses. I know, I know — chia pudding is very 2013 of me, but it’s having a moment again (with me, and me alone). The rhubarb compote is so good. Cooked rhubarb can easily look and taste like stewed mush; the trick is to cook it very quickly on high heat, then pull it off the heat just as the rhubarb starts to soften but still retains its shape, a trick I learned from The Last Bite, by Anna Higham. It turns bright pink as it cools, tastes fresh and vibrant, and lasts for at least a week.

Friends are coming over for dinner and The Empire Strikes Back, but I won’t be home until 6:30 or 7, so I do some prep: I salt and pepper a whole Snowdance Farm chicken and place it in the fridge, uncovered, so it can get nice and flavorful while the skin dries out a bit. I have a stalk of leftover green garlic from recipe testing earlier in the week, so I throw it into the food processor with some lemon zest and mash that into some softened butter that I’ll ask my boyfriend to smear all over the chicken later, which he will hate.

I make a small jar of matcha with almond milk and a little maple syrup for later, because I categorically refuse to pay $9.80 for a bad store-bought matcha latte. Why are they all so bad? I keep a tin of Kettl Soukou matcha at home — reading between the lines of their website, it’s their matcha for n00bs. It is delicious. One tin gets you about seven $3 matcha lattes.

I pack up and bike to set by 9 a.m. For the last handful of days, I’ve been assisting a talented food-stylist friend on a big cookbook shoot because I wanted to see how the proverbial sausage gets made in advance of my own cookbook shoot later this year. It’s hard but gratifying work and kind of just chaos all the time, which is great. I thrive on chaos.

We’re getting breakfast from Peck’s in Clinton Hill, so I order an iced oat-milk mocha and a smoked-salmon sandwich that’s like a tricked-out bagel but on an onion roll, plus avocado. I also get a feta burek to eat later, because I sense it’s going to be a long day.

I am right: It is a long day. In the brief lulls between shots, I grab random bites of leftover spicy cauliflower and mac and cheese. I remember my burek and devour half of it and down the matcha latte. I haven’t felt this kind of frantic hunger since I was a line cook at Untitled (RIP) at the Whitney Museum when I was in my 20s. During service, we were always too busy to be hungry, and my main meal of the day was usually a quart container of whatever mystery food I managed to squirrel away over the course of the day, wolfed down at the end service.

We finally order from Yia Yia’s Taverna for lunch. I get a shrimp souvlaki platter with Greek salad, pita, fries, and tzatziki. I dump the Greek salad into a big mixing bowl from the kitchen and toss in the shrimp, sauce, a torn dolma, and a little pita and mix it all up, but skip the fries and most of the pita, because I’m trying to stay alert and fries make me sleepy. I drink a plain LaCroix and remember I need to drink more water.

I quash the temptation to get a post-lunch coffee even though I’m tired, because it’s been affecting my sleep. After we break down, everyone has leftover frozen cocktails from the last shoot of the day, so I have a tiny glass with a tipple of rum. Perks of the job: I take home a quart of leftover mac and cheese, some ricotta with fried garlic, and a pound of sea scallops (the fat, meaty kind). I am ecstatic.

Our friends Courtney and Bobbi are already over when I get home, and Matt has successfully gotten the chicken in the oven and baked focaccia to boot (we are die-hard Sarah Jampel No-Knead Focaccia stans in this household). I pop half an edible (Camino Sour Strawberry Sunset), mix dirty gin martinis, and sear the scallops with brown butter, lemon juice, and a big spoonful of capers.

I have some perfectly juicy and sweet sugar snap peas that demand to be eaten raw, so I thinly slice them and toss with some lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and torn mint. I pile that on top of the garlic ricotta, which I’ve whipped in the food processor until it’s fluffy and whipped-cream-like, perfect for scooping up with bites of focaccia.

I’m already stoned by the time the chicken is out of the oven. We put on Star Wars and I eat a Van Leeuwen Vanilla Caramel Swirl ice cream bar. By the time we reach Cloud City I, too, am in cloud city, asleep on the couch.

Friday, May 10
I rarely drink or get high on school nights anymore, and this morning, I remember why. I make a full pot of coffee and drink a mug while flopped on the couch with a piece of cold chicken. I make a jar of matcha latte and head to my last day on set.

On my way in, I stop by Peck’s and get an oat-milk latte, an oversize gougère, and a corn muffin to share with the other assistant. This ends up being a good idea because our group breakfast order is from Juice Generation. I order a Mr. Greengenes smoothie, which is decidedly not breakfast.

Set lunch today is from 5ive Spice, a fast-casual Vietnamese spot I order from occasionally. I get a shaking beef rice bowl with a side of sautéed broccoli and French fries. I can’t explain my love for 5ive Spice’s fries — they’re wan and flab and really not very good, and I get them every time. Sometimes the soggy fries just hit, although I wouldn’t call this an endorsement.

Toward the end of the day, there’s a smorgasbord of leftovers up for grabs. I grab bites of tuna tartare, saucy pasta, and paella, and by the time the day wraps, I am very full. I pack up as many leftovers as I can carry and bike home.

I take a bath with a raspberry-lime Spindrift and sit in the dark until the water turns cold. I put on Sex and the City (season two, the Big-Carrie affair era) in the background and work for the rest of the night until, somehow, I’m finally hungry again. I eat some leftover seared tuna and tomato salad and heat up some leftover saucy pasta.

Even though it’s late, I bake some sorghum flour chocolate-chip cookies for a friend’s birthday. The recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Mother Grains by Roxana Jullapat, which is full of incredible recipes that employ a wide spectrum of interesting and flavorful flours beyond wheat. I took a whole-grain sourdough-bread baking class a year ago and have some specialty flours I’m still working through, including sorghum flour from Kandarian Farms in California. The cookies are sublime: crisp edges, tender centers, and a sweet caramel-nutty flavor from the sorghum that perfectly complements the flaky sea salt sprinkled on top. Matt comes home and we watch the last episode of Everybody’s in L.A. while eating some of the warm cookies.

Saturday, May 11
This is the first morning in a while that I get to sleep in, so I take advantage and sleep until 9:45. I drink coffee and nibble on some leftover corn muffin while we finish watching The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve never seen the original Star Wars trilogy, but I recently watched Andor and Rogue One and was hooked, so now I’m committed.

We meet up with friends for brunch at Zatar Café, a casual Yemeni spot in our neighborhood that we always forget about, but is one of those great low-key, tucked-away spots where you can reliably get a table, an increasing rarity in NYC. We get mezzes for the table with lots of thick, fluffy, warm pita, and I get a cold brew and shakshuka.

After brunch, Matt and I meet up with our friend Arthur for his annual birthday walk. Every year for his birthday, he takes a walk that spans the length of Manhattan and invites friends to join for all or part of it; this year he’s walking from McCarren Park to Coney Island. I bring the chocolate-chip cookies, which are a total hit and welcome sustenance for those who started the walk in Williamsburg. We happen to join the leg of the walk that passes by Di Fara, where Arthur has preordered five pies for the group like the gentleman he is. We eat our slices curbside, and I am reminded that pizza eaten while standing is the best pizza.

It’s the first truly beautiful day after a week of humidity and rains, and Coney Island, when we get there, is absolutely glorious. Matt and I split chicken tenders and fries, the only proper boardwalk food, and I get an IPA. I make it through half a Nathan’s hot dog before a group of us decides to ride the Cyclone. We end the night with more beers at the Red Doors.

Sunday, May 12
I can’t remember the last time I stayed in bed until almost noon, but apparently that’s what three beers does to me at 35. We are devastatingly out of coffee, so I make an iced matcha latte with almond milk to tide me over until Matt goes to the store.

I have a lot of recipe development to get through for my cookbook this week, so today I try to use up what’s in the fridge to make room, the constant struggle of the recipe developer. I invited over a friend who’s having a complicated Mother’s Day for a cozy hang, and she requested soup, so I put a pot on for stock, using the chicken carcass from Thursday’s roast chicken and some random things I find in the fridge: a quarter of an onion, some sliced ginger, a few smashed garlic cloves, a couple of wilted scallions, and a green-garlic top. Once the broth has simmered for an hour or so, I strain it and stir in a cup of short-grain rice and simmer that until the rice starts to swell and burst and thickens the soup. I blend a bunch of blanched spinach with a big handful of dill, more scallions, garlic, and ginger, and pour the purée into the pot to turn it Kermit green. To finish: some shredded, cooked chicken, lemon juice, sautéed asparagus, and a spoonful of Dong He fried shallot oil, these incredibly tasty Taiwanese oil-packed fried shallots I got from Yun Hai in East Williamsburg.

We eat soup while watching The Idea of You, which is way better than I thought it would be; we both cry. I make tea and bake off a few cookie-dough balls that I keep in the freezer, one of my favorite host flexes. They’re chocolate-chip oat with lots of seeds and nuts mixed in. Matt doesn’t care for them, but I think that’s because he’s using a regular chocolate-chip cookie as his point of comparison.

Dinner is a cold noodle salad with ribbons of yuba (I love Hodo Foods yuba), lots of crunchy vegetables, and an almond-butter sauce, another recipe test. It’s fine, but needs a few tweaks. After a week of intense cooking, the last thing I want to do is retest a recipe, but I make some notes and resolve to make it again later this week. I go to bed early to try to reset my internal clock.

Monday, May 13
For the last year and a half, most of my days have been spent working from home, so today is the first time in weeks that feels back to normal. I drink coffee and do my expenses at the dining table, my unofficial office.

I’m deep in the recipe-development and writing phase of my cookbook, Gentle Foods, a collection of recipes for feel-good comfort food that’s coming out in 2026. This sounds eons away, as does my end-of-year manuscript deadline, and yet every day I wake up feeling behind.

Today, I’m writing up a bunch of recipes I’ve had knocking around in my head that I haven’t tested yet. Often, I’ll have an idea for something I think might work, type it out as if it were a fully developed recipe, and then start testing — the “pre”-recipe writing process helps me visualize what’s going to work and what might need adjustments before I commit to the actual cooking.

I type up a few recipes and then test a batch of buckwheat crêpes with asparagus, Gruyère, and a fried egg. I follow it with more coffee while writing up my testing notes.

I write for four hours before realizing it’s suddenly 3 p.m. and I’m starving. I try not to let this happen too often, but sometimes it’s inevitable, and that’s okay. I haven’t gone grocery shopping for the week yet, and I’m still on my clean-out-the-fridge-and-freezer campaign, so I make a lunch I can only describe as “deranged but good”: a skillet of canned chickpeas cooked with garlic, onion, harissa, berbere, freezer pancetta, and most of a jar of leftover Rao’s marinara; microwaved frozen cauliflower; a shredded cabbage and carrot salad with lemon, honey, olive oil, and dill; the last of a bag of frozen onion rings; and a single frozen mozzarella stick. It is incredibly weird, but it is very satisfying to empty out the various open bags, jars, and containers while also getting a decent mix of veggies and protein. The longer I cook, the more I appreciate what can be made with what you have on hand.

I wrap up my computer work and go grocery shopping at the Park Slope Food Coop (yes, I’m one of those). It’s surprisingly bumping for late on a Monday night. I come home and make two recipes by other people for dinner, which is something I do when I’m trying to learn about a new-to-me flavor combination, ingredient, or technique. I try a Brussels-sprout taco recipe that teaches me about the perils of shallow-frying cut Brussels while shirtless and an oven-baked panko chicken recipe that teaches me there is no point in trying to “healthify” a pan-fried chicken cutlet. Unfortunately, neither recipe really hits, but there’s a McVitie’s Milk Chocolate Hobnob for dessert, which helps. I love the way British cookery writers use the term “moreish” to describe certain treats that make you want to eat more. For me, Hobnobs are the epitome of moreish. So I eat more.

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