Hadestown Creator Anaïs Mitchell Gets Down With Fancy Jams
“It felt like a completely different world from Hadestown, which I have been living in a state of heightened, passionate anxiety about for however many years,” the musician and playwright Anaïs Mitchell says. She’s talking about the soon-to-be-released, self-titled debut album from Bonny Light Horseman, the folk supergroup she formed with Fruit Bats’ Eric D. Johnson and the National’s Josh Kaufman. Paste calls the album “spellbinding,” and it has been a welcome change of pace for Mitchell after her acclaimed, award-winning musical. Though she now lives in Brooklyn, Mitchell grew up on a farm in Vermont with parents who were “hippie back-to-the-landers,” and she spent the last days of 2019 visiting them in the Green Mountain State, where she ate leftover pasta on New Year’s Eve before heading home to New York to kick off 2020 with fried Halloumi and homemade lamb chili. Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.
Monday, December 30 I was in Vermont with my 6-year-old daughter, Ramona (sometimes called “Mo”), visiting my parents and my brother’s family, so a little out of culinary context! For breakfast, I had the end of some salty, coconutty homemade granola my friend gave us for Christmas, with Greek yogurt. Scrambled some eggs laid by my mom’s chicken — she used to have chickens, plural, then all but one were eaten by predators, so now she says things like “I’m going to feed the chicken.” So sad/funny.
So these eggs were from “the chicken,” and I scrambled them with cheese for my daughter, which is how she likes them. In Brooklyn, we usually use Swiss, like a Jarlsberg Lite from the Park Slope Food Coop, but because we were in Cheddarlandia I used extra-sharp Cabot cheddar, which, ever since I can remember, my parents have bought in these huge, rectangular blocks. One time in high school, my older brother carved a big penis sculpture out of the cheddar block; he called it The Phallus and then no one wanted to eat it. Anyway, Ramona didn’t like the cheddar, so I ended up eating most of her eggs as well as my own, which is okay because I’m six months’ pregnant.
For lunch, we had some leftover turkey meatloaf my mom had made, along with some fresh bell-pepper slices. My daughter, weirdly, was fine with eating some of the cheddar straight-up, as long as it wasn’t in her scrambled eggs. We also ate clementines and chocolate, of which there is an endless holiday supply.
My parents were hippie back-to-the-landers. They moved from New Jersey to Vermont and started this sheep farm. But earlier, my dad had this lucky break when he was young, where one of his books was made into a movie, and briefly they were living the Life in L.A. They had a Porsche. My mom said what the Hollywood wives did was take cooking lessons, so she took French-cooking lessons. Then they moved to Vermont and she would sort of, in a romantic way, maybe, keep up this kind of Europhile stuff. Then my grandparents moved to that same farm and my grandma really did all of the main cooking for our family. Both my parents had jobs so not a lot of time to cook.
They also lived briefly on this Greek island, and I think that’s why they got into Greek stuff. There were definitely some romantic notions about some foods. I think the sheep farm and the lamb are part of that. My mom makes an incredible leg of lamb; it’s really so good. It’s just all about marinating it like crazy and cooking it really fast.
We did a little shopping at the local food co-op, which is really nice but twice as expensive as the Park Slope one. In the car, we ate dried mangos, which were not as good as the ones from Brooklyn. We visited my friend who is even more pregnant than me, so we came bearing snacks: almonds, dried apples, salted seaweed, and more clementines.
For dinner, we ate with my mom again: She made salmon and shrimp served over pasta, which had some peas in it.
Tuesday, December 31 For breakfast, I scrambled more eggs, this time with Swiss. It was an Emmentaler that I had to buy because Ramona poked her finger through the hole in the plastic at the co-op checking out the depth of a hole in the cheese. I had some fresh tomato slices because I felt desperate for vegetables.
For lunch, I was on my own, and I had a kale-and-lentil salad from the co-op. Lemony! Then I put some almonds in some applesauce at home and ate that along with more dried fruit. I’m really into applesauce. I don’t know how that started. That might be a pregnancy thing, I don’t know. At the Park Slope Food Coop, I’ll buy applesauce from Vermont.
Everyone was fairly exhausted from holiday cooking. We thought about defrosting some lamb, but instead we chose to have a New Year’s Eve leftovers smorgasbord where we basically put leftovers on pasta. My kid and my mom made chocolate cake from a mix.
Wednesday, January 1 Had a crazy night of pregnancy insomnia on NYE. Was ravenous in the night and ate an entire bag of carrots and another bag of almonds.
Mo and I flew back to New York in the morning, so we had breakfast at the Burlington airport. A friend of mine from college started this locavore crêperie called the Skinny Pancake — it started as a food cart, then a restaurant, then two or more restaurants, and then he somehow got a lockdown on the Burlington airport, so basically, if you fly out of BTV it’s your only option. Not a bad thing! I shared something called the “Noah’s Ark” with Ramona. It was scrambled eggs, most of which I ate, two “frumpled” cinnamon crêpes, which we split, and local bacon, which I let my daughter have.
Arrived exhausted back in Brooklyn, and there wasn’t much left in the kitchen so we ordered in sushi (Mo said this is our ritual when we return home from a trip, and she’s not wrong). Still unsure what the best takeout Japanese is in Park Slope. We tried Sumi Sushi this time. Pretty good! My fave Japanese place in Park Slope is called Katsuei on Seventh Ave., but they don’t deliver. Mo’s favorite “sushi place” is the fish store on Fifth Ave. that also sells premade California rolls. Cali rolls are her jam. I didn’t order rolls for myself at all, as I’m not supposed to have raw fish while pregnant, so I had shrimp-and-vegetable tempura, gyoza, miso, and edamame.
Dinner: dragged myself to the Coop for groceries. It’s a working co-op; you aren’t allowed to shop unless you’re caught up on your working shifts (about three hours per month). There are times when I’ve been like, Man, I wish I could just pay money and not work this shift, but you can’t do that. It is pretty special. Sometimes you go in there and it’s elbow to elbow. People, they’ve got their kid, they’ve got their backpack they’re going to put their groceries in, a cart, somebody is working with a U-boat cart with many boxes on it. It’s just total gridlock. But ultimately, it’s so awesome because you don’t feel like a consumer.
Anyway, I was craving tabbouleh, which has happened a few times in this pregnancy. I didn’t have it in me to make it from scratch, so I got some premade. I had farfalle with pesto and made some for Mo with just butter and Parmesan. I also fried some Halloumi cheese and ate it straight-up. This is a thing I got really into with the Hadestown creative team when we were working in London. Lots of late-night Halloumi frying.
I also made a green salad and a dressing with raw garlic and apple-cider vinegar. I do this lately if I’m worried about getting sick. My brother’s family was taking turns having this terrible coughing virus over the holiday; it’ll be a miracle if neither of us caught it. The raw garlic and the cider vinegar feel like powerful immunity boosters. Also like they’re destroying your throat, but I’m into it. Later at night, I had this almond-based chocolate pudding by a company called Zen.
Thursday, January 2 We had cereal for breakfast.
For lunch, I finished the tabbouleh, fried more Halloumi and one egg, and had some toast. I was so excited to try this small-batch pear-rosemary compote that I’d bought on a whim at the Coop. The compote is so fucking good. I also had a bowl of applesauce and put some cashews in it (we were out of almonds, which are my fave).
I like fancy jams, nice jams. There’s a shelf at the Coop when you’re heading for the register that’s got a lot of weird, imported, nice stuff. Jams, cured meats, stuff like that. A lot of times I’m waiting to check out and I’m like, Oh, look at that, I’m going to get that. It’s not that I sought it out. It was in the right spot.
Husband Noah finally returned from a month on an ashram in India! He’d been eating vegetarian the whole time, and it’s still in question whether he’ll stay on that train. I am definitely not on that train. I was off mammals for a couple years, but while I’m pregnant, I eat pretty much any protein that crosses my path. Anyway, I was considering making a lamb dish (my mom gifted me a bunch of frozen lamb from the farm), but instead I made a lentil soup so there’d be something vegetarian in the house for him. It’s a Melissa Clarkrecipe for red-lentil soup with lemon, and it’s so good and so quick and easy to make. I recommend it to anyone.
I served this with custardy popovers, which are a favorite with my kid, and I was excited to put more of the pear compote on them. I also made another green salad with “immunity” dressing and ate all this with my friend who is also Ramona’s babysitter. Mo didn’t do so well with the soup, so I made her some broccoli and was pleased that she ate a whole bowl of it.
Friday, January 3 Daddy made the cheesy eggs this morning! So good to have him back. More toast with compote.
My husband is good at making breakfast. That’s kind of his domain. He’ll put some vegetables in there, do some greens and stuff. He’ll make pancakes. We’ve always eaten a lot of eggs as a family because we used to have chickens when we lived in Vermont. So the fridge was just always full of them. I guess that habit has stuck with us. Also, because I’m pregnant, it’s a way to get protein right away in the morning.
At lunch, he and I finished the lentil soup and the popovers (the compote is also now almost gone).
For dinner, Ramona was excited to have a “pizza party,” as pizza is a love she shares with her dad. It’s a New Yorker thing: Noah is originally from Long Island, and Mo is (now) a Brooklyn kid. I’m from Vermont, obviously, and a little less passionate about it. But we all went to Two Boots, which is on the block we used to live on in Park Slope, so it’s very familiar. It’s the most kid-friendly establishment. For me, the best slice there is called the Buckminster. It has marinara, spinach, and lots of garlic. I had one of those and then, for good pregnancy measure, I had the Newman, which has Italian sausage and pancetta or something.