Kennedy, who prefers her gin martinis “heavier on vermouth than some people like, but never dirty.”
Illustration: Maanvi Kapur
For Alicia Kennedy, a bounty of fresh cabbage is cause for celebration. “What tomato season is to most people, cabbage season is to me,” she says. “One of my favorite farmers has these gigantic cabbages, and I freaked out the first time I saw one.” The food writer and author of the new book No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating was trying to use it up — along with everything else in her kitchen — before flying to New York for a quick trip. (She’ll also be back in September for an event and to sign books in Carroll Gardens.) She still found time to hit some of her favorite restaurants at home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, even as she struggled to develop a recipe that would use up all her lemons.
Wednesday, July 26
My book is out in just under three weeks, so I wake up with a touch of nausea from anxiety. Perhaps I’m also anxious because I have been asking myself whether I can be as memorable as Baron Ambrosia was in 2010. Probably not, because I’m a neurotic vegetarian who eats mainly cabbage.
I feed Benny, our 4-year-old rescue mutt who’s 80 pounds, his two cups of kibble and then we go out for the usual morning walk, which always concludes at Cuatro Estaciones, a kiosk coffee shop in the Plaza de Armas here in Old San Juan. I drink coffee daily on an empty stomach, which TikTok tells me is a terrible thing to do, but I don’t care. It’s a four-shot iced Americano for me. We see the same folks here every day, and they all know Benny and serve him tap water in an old Costco biscotti bucket. If he doesn’t get his tap water in a biscotti bucket, there will be hell to pay.
Because of the nausea upon which I poured espresso, I put off eating and start to prep food that’s in the house. This is how I self-soothe. Then I remember I am chronicling my diet and so I eat two bananas. They’re not the Cavendish variety everyone knows; they’re small and firm, called guineo manzano for having a flavor that somewhat resembles an apple.
I roast cabbage, onions, and chickpeas while it’s not midday hot. I cut the cabbage into eighths, brush with olive oil, and dust with kosher salt, and I’m going to end up just snacking on it for a few days. The onions and spiced chickpeas are for a kale salad my husband will eat for lunch because he works nearby in historic preservation. I mash up the other half of a can of chickpeas with some of a large batch of a mint-cilantro sauce I made the other day, which was way more mint than cilantro because it was about to go bad.
For lunch, I toast some of a baguette from a bakery called Levain that I’d had in the freezer — it’s a rule of mine to always keep a baguette in the freezer — and add on the smashed chickpeas, sliced tomato, and crushed Calabrian chile. Right after eating, I hop on to Zoom to record with FoodPrint’s podcast, What You’re Eating, about my book. I’m reminded I owe them an essay related to my chapter on ecofeminism.
After lunch, I test a lemon-lavender olive-oil cake. I’d done a test the prior week with a different method that didn’t work out well, trying to simmer the lavender in the milk. I realized I needed to just grind the lavender with lemon zest into the sugar.
I’m hungry when the cake comes out of the oven and want to eat some leftover rigatoni in marinara that’s just sitting there, but we’re going out for pizza, so I take some dates (along with the baguette in the freezer, I keep a large jar of dates in the fridge at all times) and eat them with some peanut butter off a spoon. This is my go-to afternoon snack.
I bring some of the test cake to the dog park to share with neighbors for their opinion. One of my friends, Laura, is a sommelier and owns a restaurant in town called Pio Pio, and she suggests I use orange rather than lemon to bring some more sweetness to the cake. This is an excellent suggestion, but I’m making this cake because one of the farmers at the weekly market has had so many lemons that I’ve been buying them by the sack. It’s back to the drawing board!
After the dog park, my husband and I get changed and grab an Uber (we don’t have a car) to go eat pizza at Fidela in Santurce, which we adore. We’ve seen them go from a food truck to a bare pizzeria where they were pushing out to-go orders to a spot with just some beers. Now they’ve got salads of local watermelon and herbs over stracciatella, bread pudding for dessert, and an expanding selection of pies, wines, and cocktails.
There’s a wait for a table and we have drinks on the street, where we chat with another couple we know. I drink a dirty vodka martini on the rocks, made with a Puerto Rican vodka brand called Bravada. I am a gin-martini person — heavier on vermouth than some people like, but never dirty — yet I’m fine with this. Because I woke up feeling like crap, I’m embracing fun!
We ended up running into many more folks we know at the pizza place, most of whom are also moving over to the wine and beer bar Hermanos Lucca afterward for the first night of its anniversary celebration. It’s a night that reminds me why I really love San Juan, which can feel like a small town in the best possible ways. There’s a friend at every corner.
Thursday, July 27
I have my black iced Americano, per usual, but once home, I do eat an actual breakfast, which is just a messy sandwich on more of that baguette: roasted cabbage, mint-cilantro sauce, feta, and a hard-boiled egg.
Lunch I eat standing up: leftover chickpeas in mint-cilantro sauce with pique, a Puerto Rican hot sauce that’s vinegar-based and herbaceous, and two more roasted-cabbage wedges, all cold. Our fridge is always full of herb sauces and quick pickles and roasted or boiled vegetables, and these are what I base my eating around. I’m very anti–food waste, but I try to be on top of things so that the food I make is always also delicious and not a sanctimonious chore.
Before the dog park, we stop into Latita, a corner bar, for bottles of Magna beer that are two for $5 and a couple of empanadas for a nosh. I get the vegan one with hummus and roasted vegetables. The bartender here, Percy, is a beloved neighborhood figure, and he always gives treats to Benny. Old San Juan can feel like it’s just for tourists, but if you live here, you have your places, and Latita is one of ours.
For dinner, I turn that leftover rigatoni in marinara into a baked ziti with some ricotta that was lingering in the fridge too long for my taste. I dress some arugula in a balsamic dressing. This batch of dressing uses up the last of an infernal bottle of French’s proudly American Dijon mustard that I had gotten stuck with somehow, and now I am free to get a fresh bottle of Edmond Fallot.
After that, we have some scoops of Ben & Jerry’s nondairy ice cream — Cherry Garcia for me, Chocolate Fudge Brownie for my husband — with Caroline Schiff’s olive-oil-based chocolate magic shell that I saw on Instagram. It’s too easy and already becoming a very regular presence in our home. We eat our dessert while watching our friend Alejandra Ramos’s PBS show, The Great American Recipe, which is so wholesome that the introduction alone makes me cry every single week.
Friday, July 28
To follow my daily espresso, I have a hard-boiled egg on toasted baguette with crushed Calabrian chile, and I eat the last roasted-cabbage wedge with my hands. I’m planning out what we are making tonight for a barbecue with friends because I want to use up all the odds and ends we possibly can before we go to New York next week to see my family and sign some books. The supermarket didn’t have soy-based tofu this week, but it did have chickpea tofu, so I’m going to marinate that and see what happens. I find an eggplant approaching the end of its life in one of the fridge drawers, so I roast it on the stove over a direct flame.
For lunch, I make a salad of what’s left of a bunch of kale, a bag of chicory, a leftover piece of tofu from making Bon Appétit’s bulgogi-tofu burgers, the end of the baguette, and the rest of the balsamic dressing I’d made the night prior. It’s served and eaten out of a mixing bowl.
Later in the afternoon, I make a double batch of our go-to pita dough to rise for a bit and try to use my usual grilled-tofu marinade on the chickpea tofu — I just toast some spices in olive oil, then pour it all over pressed and sliced tofu — but it’s so dense that I am sure it’s useless. There’s not much else to prep, as it’ll be a dinner of mainly prepared things or raw vegetables, and I’m trying to keep myself from making a dessert. I eventually give in and make a vegan agar-set chocolate mousse from a recipe I developed last year. But it doesn’t set because the local coconut milk I ordered by the half-gallon doesn’t have a high enough fat content.
I have nothing going on today work-wise in the midst of some wildly busy weeks and feel, frankly, catatonic. I’m not a napper; I’m absolutely desperate to sleep. The few weeks before a book comes out are the busiest weeks since finishing the first draft.
Before the dog park on Fridays, I usually treat myself with a visit to La Sombrilla Rosa for a $4 Dewar’s white-label whiskey-and-soda. It helps me shift out of work mode and into weekend mode.
For dinner, a few friends come over — one who’s moving imminently to London for graduate studies in photography — and we serve up pita, the grilled chickpea tofu, quick-pickled cabbage, some sliced cukes that have been quick-pickling, mint-cilantro sauce, hummus, marinated olives I bought at Marshall’s, and feta with Calabrian chile. It’s a meze situation. Everyone loves the chickpea tofu, which is a relief, but I want my soy back.
We drink a lot of wine and think it’s a good idea, for some reason, to go to El Viejo Almacén, an Argentine restaurant where they make strangely good martinis. That decision inevitably leads us over to El Batey, a dive bar that’s been open more than 50 years, for Medallas, the local ale. We do shots to send our friend off to her new adventure, despite the fact that I vowed at my 35th birthday that I’d no longer do shots. Once a year, I go back on this promise to myself. I’m now done with shots for 2023. Again, during this time of high anxiety, I’m embracing fun!
Saturday, July 29
Saturday always begins with the farmers’ market. It’s small with produce, prepared foods, skin-care products, and breads, and it’s where we get all of our fruit and vegetables for the week. This week, of course, we don’t need much, but I still want to pick up some greens so we can have salads.
Because of last night’s copious drinking, we pop into Caleta, a very teeny-tiny café by day and bar by night on a tree-lined street near the cathedral at the center of town. It has a great vegetarian sandwich that is essentially a sweet-potato veggie burger with green chutney, tomato, cucumber, and beets on toasted sourdough. My husband and I split that, and I also lap up the house yogurt, topped with papaya, praline, coconut, and honey. It’s just what the doctor ordered along with the amazing yerba-mate soda that’s on tap, made by Sociedad de Soda.
Saturday middays are very crowded and, currently, very hot in San Juan, so we spend the day relaxing in our bedroom, which is the only spot in the apartment with air-conditioning. We watch some Sopranos, and I keep reading Brian Dillon’s latest book, Affinities: On Art and Fascination. I make a deal with my husband that if he does the evening dog walk by himself, I’ll clean the whole house and do all the dishes before dinner. He’s hesitant, but I haven’t really put it up for debate.
Sometimes I wonder if we go out to eat just to have an excuse to wear pants, because if we’re not going somewhere air-conditioned, there’s no reason to get really dressed. I’m always in a black top, jean shorts, and Tevas because my life revolves around the dog’s walks.
Which is to say we go out to Pio Pio, which is here in Old San Juan, for dinner, and we don some pants for the occasion. They’re changing the concept soon (it’s been small plates of locally sourced food produced with intense attention to detail by chef Ciarán Elliott, making it a really lovely balance of special occasion and easygoing), so we’re getting in as much as we can before a remodel. We drink Dido’s La Solució Rosa rosé, and the stars of the meal are charred pumpkin with carambola agridulce and crispy sage, an off-menu veggie hot dog made with mushrooms, and a passion-fruit-and-coconut mille-feuille. Every time I am served dessert here, I basically scream with delight. Last time, it was because of an acerola (Caribbean cherry) clafoutis. Classic pastry with tropical fruits hits every joy button in my brain.
Sunday, July 30
Sundays are special because we get red eyes — cold brew with espresso — from Cialitos, a coffee shop that serves espresso from coffee it grows and processes itself. To me, it’s the best-tasting coffee in the whole metro area.
After coffee, I’m completing my goal of cooking everything in the house before we go to New York. The roasted eggplant becomes a sandwich with leftover pita, hummus, and a romesco sauce I’d made the week before. I’m turning half a large red cabbage, lingering celery, ginger, and scallion into dumplings. Last time I made dumplings, I used wrappers I got at the supermarket and they stunk, so I’m making the entire shebang from scratch.
The other half of that cabbage will be roasted for me to keep snacking on, as is my wont, and I’ll make some tomatoes into a fresh, light sauce. I caramelize a gigantic local onion that I’ll turn into a savory tart with some pie dough that’s in the fridge, as I have been itching to use my new rectangular pan. I woke up a couple of weeks ago convinced I needed to make a savory rectangular tart — that it would just be much more chic than a round one.
So it’ll be pasta and tart for dinner the next two nights before we head out, and when we return, I will start fresh with a cleaned-out fridge. There will be more vegetables to quick-pickle, fresh herbs to turn into sauces, and definitely still some cabbage. Always cabbage. I’ll be ready for a new round of food prep as anxiety medicine.
But before that, we head to a friend’s for dinner — grilled flatbreads topped with tons of vegetables, plus my dumplings — and, again, too much wine. I’ll be embracing fun for the foreseeable future.