Hello, dream operators, and welcome to Stargrazing, your one-stop shop for all your food horoscope–based needs. Ready for your self-checkout?
The season of Libra, which began last week and will stretch to the near-end of this month, is a fertile time for harmony, balance, and woodshedding. Libras, represented by scales, value dedicated work and its fruits as one part of a hugely dynamic life. They know when to quit for the day—the scales are not focused on relentless/dogmatic work, but on allowing all the pieces of your life attention and care in equal measure. So go ahead and party down, read a Russian novel, take a bath, or go home with a stranger if you need to blow off steam after bench-pressing your to-do list.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, we know, but what the maxim doesn’t tell you is that the city was officially founded under a Libran moon(Cicero, an astrological skeptic, was unimpressed by the supposed influence of this stellar birthday, as first celebrated by Tarutius, the astronomer. In De Divinatione, a work on spirituality from 44 BCE which includes a blistering takedown of astrology, Cicero wrote, “What stupendous power delusion has!” about the whole Libra/Rome thing. The whole treatise is mad funny—I recommend it.) once it was ready. This is apt, given that Rome is credited with the invention of a proliferation of thoughtful concepts that we continue to rely on today, like calendars and newspapers. That takes dynamic, balanced thinking—and sometimes dinner does, too. Here’s how to eat if you want to build a similarly durable, rad, and well-constructed life this Libra season.
What’s lurking in the back of your pantry, Libra? Is there an ingredient that, despite your best intentions, you consistently add to your grocery list and then forget about until you find it’s gone bad yet again, unused and mushy, in the crisper, leaving you feeling guilty about the waste of money and food? It’s time to calibrate your understanding of what you like, aspire to, and want to be a part of your life in all respects, including what you eat. Think about what really works for you and what doesn’t—and what kind of food you’d realistically chomp every day if you got to choose. (Which, if you’re lucky, you do.) For your birthday, let’s honor and make use of that luck by deciding against future guilt and mold. What do you like? Work from there.
I’m not trying to advocate for the false idea that most of us can spend every day lunching at starred restaurants and then take three hours to prepare an elegant homemade dinner. I’m saying: What everyday meals make you really happy, and which do you never quite seem to choose, despite every intention of adding them into your rotation? Take stock of what your real food habits are and where they get tripped up in your intentions.
Are you routinely noticing that fresh herbs break down into rancid slime in your possession? Make sure you select a recipe that includes each one you want to buy before you go to the store, rather than deciding in the moment that you need to “add more flavor to the mix” that will slip your mind during your routine meal-making.
Is it that you want to cook healthier, but can’t convince yourself of that anyplace beyond the confines of your browser’s “E-Z Clean Eating Ideas” bookmarks folder? Make adjustments to the foods you will actually eat instead of trying to, like, follow any regimen that includes the word “elixir” when you’re Jughead’s attitudinal twin in hamburger-based dependency. Review the evidence of your entire past, Libra, and it’ll help you eat what you love in this next year and beyond.
You’re in high idealism mode this season. Rather than letting that get you down because things aren’t, in fact, perfect, use it to believe you’re capable of making something worthy of your ardent brand of praise. To you, cooking-show food, or the food described in books, can seem so much more sumptuous than the actual comestibles we see before us every day. This is normally because it is, but with a little commitment, you can eat like that for real.
I’m in the middle of a novel called Buddenbrooks. The writer’s near-to-lurid descriptions of what’s eaten basically chase me into the kitchen. Here’s one vision from a dinner party that takes place early on:
The plates were changed once more. A colossal smoked ham, brick red and strewn with bread crumbs, appeared, along with a brown, tart shallot sauce and mounds of vegetables so large they all could have filled themselves from just one bowl.
Doesn’t that make you want to do whatever it takes in order to find that on the other side? (If yes: Use Jacques Pépin’s recipe for the former and get your balsamic and shallot sauce right in order to dress the latter—it would be nice with parsnips, which are coming into season and so appropriately monster sized.) Think of a meal that seems, to you, unattainable. Pick one out of the cookbook version of the restaurant you most wish you could afford to eat at daily, and endeavor to make it, even if it takes hard work/lots of time/significant money-saving efforts.
The execution of your complex menu doesn’t need to be picture perfect. Either way, you’ll appreciate the satisfaction of expending effort to consume gorgeous food in real life instead of just looking at it. That’s even better than reading/watching Mind of a Chef/being weirdly jealous of the roast chickens dreamed up on cartoon desert islands.
You’re up for the challenge this season, Sagittarius, whatever it may be. Efficiency benefits you right now, so make workhorse meals to support the skin-of-your-teeth deadlines, late hours, and other demands needing to be met in the next few weeks.
On occasion this season, you’ll find it’s two a.m. and you’re in need of a late-night dinner to keep it moving for just one more hour—like, a real one, not just hummus and stove-grilled pita again. You are hereby invited to make my favorite quick-ass, one-pan rustic dinner of all time. Don’t worry—it pairs well with energy drinks.
Heat a few splashes of oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions. After a few minutes, get a seasoned chicken thigh in there. Move the onions around and put some of them on top of the meat. After that side is done, knock them off and repeat on the other side, leaving the chicken only sliiiiiiightly undercooked before you remove it. Deglaze with lemon juice and broth. Add a half-cup of milk or cream, let it reduce, and throw in a cutting board’s worth of chopped baby spinach with a small, minced clove of garlic. Move that around until it shrinks into the sauce. Put your chicken thigh back in the pan on the same side down it just was, and baste the hell out of it with the pan sauce until it’s done (check with a thermometer). I made this last night on a half-hour break from a work spree, and it restored my ability to feel in any way like an alive-type person capable of good thinking. Protein is truly a wonder drug.
Other options in this vein are roasted broccoli and parmesan, seared fish fillets and salad, and asparagus with poached eggs and toast. You have your own versions of fast “these ingredients are always around, and the result shreds” dinners, right? Get them into your life to abate that battery-acidic energy-drink taste and keep you focused. Good luck in your efforts this month—eat well and kill it.
This is a good season for getting down with your family, Capricorn. You may find yourself wanting to carve out space and time to be with those closest to you, whether that means your parents, the cousin you love like a sister, the spouse you love like a best friend or vice versa, the children in your life (yours and others’).
This year’s class of rad cookbooks have your back on making great family meals. An oven bearing Sqirl’s version of sticky toffee pudding makes for a hearth worth coming home to. I’m suddenly wishing of making Red Rooster Harlem’s short ribs for my grandma. The charming Jenny Rosenstrach’s new cookbook, How to Celebrate Everything, interprets family life into a series of holidays. You may not always feel so fuzz-driven toward your own kin, but give it a shot with your not-wholly-maddening relatives this season, and you might decide that “family dinner” doesn’t always have to be code for “hell itself.” Toffee can be convincing that way.
Despite the existential mysteries most of us grapple with throughout the sloppily drawn question mark known as “human life,” there is a sole path to true happiness. It’s easy: Every Saturday(Or whatever day you have off!), despite or because of how the precedent week went down, you have to spend about an hour making a risotto/singing “My Risotto” (performed in the style of the Knack’s “My Sharona”) to it as you stir, and stir, and stir.
Put whatever vegetables you like into your risotto, as long as you otherwise follow the recipe’s basic template. Risotto is a class act, and it’s perfectly customizable. The soffritto that I find most spiritually enlightening is parsley (doye), garlic (doye-er), onions (doye-lent green is people)—and, after sautéing those with olive oil and butter, I add the real star of the graze to the pan: roughly chopped (not minced) hunks of warm-color-spectrumed peppers which, in the final product, become creamy somehow, like pockets of mozzarella! (Near the end of this whole process, I also add pockets of mozzarella.) Make sure your ratios are tight; toast the rice. Never gonna stop, stir it up, such a boiled broth...mm-m-m-myyyy risotto!!(Earnestly: How smart is the guitar line in that song, and particularly the solo at like 3:30? I also love “My Sharona” because it’s as adaptable as this dish—you can bend it to any subject with three syllables, and all your friends will just love your humorous “spin” on this rock and roll classic! Or they will stop coming around, unless, of course, your risotto’s really good.)
Happy October, Aquarius. I promise this works. The beautiful moral of this parable about living well: When you make risotto at home, no one cares if you put Valentina hot sauce on it, and that is an honest-to-goodness reason for continuing to aspirate.
Coziness isn’t always synonymous with health, even when it seems to feel like the safest option this season. “Spending all your free time in bed” ≠ “getting good sleep” if, in actuality, you’re staying up all night poring over theories about famous unsolved mysteries online when you inevitably can’t sleep after a day of loafing. Similarly, “comfort food” can begin to feel more lethargic than cathartic when eaten to the exclusion of all things unbuttered.
I’m not saying you have to altogether ditch cheese, burgers, and all things fried; I would never say that to you. If you want to continue eating these things on the daily, I am resolutely on your side. It could feel a bit less stultifying to use them in new-to-you ways! How about this broccoli, cheddar, and bacon arrangement culled from Poole’s? The high holidays are upon us—consider testing out Sqirl’s mutant latkes. These potato-and-pea burgers, replete with a homemade Big Mac-ish special sauce, look good as hell.
It’s also worth considering that fruit is sometimes a fine dessert, though, and burying it in butter and sugar to make an apple crisp is low effort and totally counts. It’s cool if you want to snug and doze and eat the culinary equivalents of goose-down comforters, but try to introduce some newness (and nutrients) this season, too. If you hate it, just go back to your old standby. Do what you need to feel good this season, for all of our sakes—that case isn’t going to crack itself!!
Your relationships will benefit from a little extra attention right now, Aries—specifically, the sort where you provide for others without seeking any reward outside of making their days feel easier and more promising. A failsafe method for cheering yourself and others is expressed well by a gift I’ve named “ATTACK SANDWICH.” To make it, just surprise a proximal friend/roommate/coworker with a sandwich, out of nowhere and for no reason, to show them you think about them, appreciate them, and cognitively link them to the world’s greatest invention (up yours, Rome!!).
When at home, it’d be great to personalize your Attack Sandwich, seeing as you probably know a bit about your cohabitant’s preferences. But you can make them feel great with basics like grilled cheese, cold cuts, PB&J, brie and apples—whatever! It’s okay if it’s simple; Attack Sandwiches are priceless in their very nature, so you don’t have to go full Dagwood (… but you could, and it would rule).
In the outer world, like in your office or meeting a friend, pick up an extra caprese panino or BLT along with your lunch, and then strike! Your Attack Sandwich will persist in your target’s memory as evidence of life’s overall goodness, which is a really lovely, outsized outcome here, given the ease of the gesture. That’s who the heck you want to be this season, Aries. (Do this for me, and I will propose sans prenup, even if it meant potentially forfeiting my priceless Bloom County T-shirt collection or horribly surly, thirty-toed mutant of a cat someday.)
Your highly romantic ruling planet, Venus, is entering your relationship house, so you’re about to feel a little bit Pepé le Pew-ish about macking on your partner or chasing around your crushes with armloads of bouquets. You’re an excellent cook, so why not learn from your skunk counterpart’s parable about odor/love and draw your to be romanced close with an aromatic dinner?
Consider the scent of what you put together as much as the taste—neuromarketing, or using empirical sensory reactions to manipulate your marks’ brains into liking products, is real. In this case, the product is YOUR FINE BODY! So: What nice-smelling food befits a dreamboat such as yourself? Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies, baked working as a team with your honey, are definitely worthy. Roast chicken with rosemary and lemon is basically an aphrodisiac, scent- and taste-wise. Pick something adequately fragrant to feed the heart through the nose, then the stomach. A final life tenet to consider here: if love had its own natural stench it would smell like grilled onions and roasted garlic. I don’t know if I’d make the same decisions today, but I once frenched a hot blockhead after an amorous, aromatic-heavy dinner. At one point, he looked deep into my eyes, and said, “Girl…you got some kickin’ onion breath.” Somehow, we were still into it after this observation—bless you, neuromarketing; I owe you one, girl. Think like the reverse Pepé le Pew this season, Taurus.
Even if you’re not actively moving house, Gemini, it feels like the scenery around you is changing fast this season. I’m not just talking about reddening leaves or presidential clownishness, either: If you live in a metropolis, you’ll notice that old personal landmarks may have been recently shucked off and replaced by banks. If you’ve lived somewhere long enough to see the main avenues in your town reupholstered in different storefronts many times over, you’ll watch them turn over once again.
“A city changes more quickly, alas! than a mortal’s heart,” wrote Charles Baudelaire. Chinese food, however, is permanent in its goodness. Go out in town and order steaming plates of lo mein and orange slices to stay. I recommend Nom Wah Tea Parlor in New York City and the vast majority of San Francisco’s Chinatown, but especially Hunan Home’s Restaurant (If you happen to be in the city by the Bay, you can take part in one of my favorite sweetly melancholy autumn rituals afterward and walk around counting marquees for abandoned/renovated movie theaters in the city, beginning with the one next to Hunan Home’s. (If you’re not in San Francisco, you can look at some of them here—and the fast Chinese food is likely pretty good wherever you are. If it isn’t, here are other solid options. http://www.conradchavez.com/World/SF-Old-Mission-Theaters/ http://luckypeach.com/?s=101+easy+asian+recipes), which has pink and green diner booths, as though to first evince its perfection through decor. Anchor yourself to a combination platter in order to see how its contents come together in something familiar. You’ll feel right at home.
Given your keen sense of humor, I thought you might appreciate Tyler Kord’s recent, funny ode to the microwave, which is a Rome-level innovation if I ever saw one. He points out the ways in which it’s most valiantly time saving, which appeals to Libra: butter melts quicker and popcorn is done not just fast, but to its peak. Not everything you eat has to be meticulously rendered, Cancer. Get pizza delivered for dinner, or eat blueberries out of the container. A baking pan can double as a serving dish, as can a rice cooker. It’s good to make room for other things rather than breaking out a silver salver, dining room dress code–compliant suit jacket, or 104, 294 cooking utensils at each and every mealtime.
Also clever as hell about food, of late, was the Documentary Now! episode “Juan Likes Rice & Chicken.” It parodies Jiro Dreams of Sushi by following a (fictional) chef as he painstakingly crafts the same meal of guess what every day. Har dee har har—and it really is funny—but I wouldn’t actually knock regularly making such a killer basic combination, if you were so inclined. When there are so many different preparations for this one meal, it wouldn’t feel repetitious if you wanted to keep the process/shopping easy and still eat interestingly each night—I like Asha Gomez’s approach, korma, biryani, and burrito bowls all about the same (a lot), and each for their own reasons. What can you do to pare down your weekly ingredient list and your time expenditure this season? Efficiency is king for you this season, Cancer—you have new episodes of Documentary Now! to watch.
The season of Libra has you feeling like rubbing shoulders with the world entire, and since we’re in the waning portion of ice cream year that means “eaten on the sidewalk/the hood of a cutie’s car” and entering “hangin’ under two duvets with a spoon, a pint, and no other plans”–season, get yourself into the world and have a cone.
An ice cream socialite like you needs company on this mission, so bring a pal and have a dumb Seinfeld-ian conversation where you pretend to be appalled at some trite annoyance like having to insert the chip of your debit card nowadays (these times of ours!!) or going on a date you found while thumbing for a ride on the Information Highway (these durned old Tinder times!!!). Those are the best, because you’re not really peeved—you’re actually just kind of congratulating yourself for having urbane friends to get ice cream and “complain” with. I love that shit! I eat it up like a Salty Pimp, which, if you’re not in New York City, you have my full permission to get a transitional thing going on with this in-between ice cream weather and copycat at home. Just make sure you serve it to a few good friends.
It can be complicated to be as ambitious as you are in part because it involves a lot of measurement against the rest of the world. This habit is cool when people’s good impressions motivate you to learn from the parts of them you want to emulate, but it’s not quite as tight in the moments when seeing others succeed flagellates your opinion of your own quality as a person. Don’t wig out about how you’re an undisciplined beast-person if you notice that a coworker has packed a lunch that near to glows with what a TV chef might call the beauty and simplicity of the ingredients (aka the most borf-tastic phrase on earth—when someone says this, it makes me want to move to the moon with a suitcase full of Big Macs). Don’t wig out about how you don’t cook on a TV-chef level, for that matter! Other people are going to do their own right thing, but that doesn’t indicate that yours is wrong.
This season, you don’t need to engineer E=MC2-perfect meals in order to enjoy what you’ve made. Trust what you know! What recipes can you dominate by heart? Remind yourself of how skilled you are at getting stellar food together all on your own. Whether what you’re fluent in cooking is easy as homemade hummus or a more demanding multi-dish dinner, make it without checking it against an external reference or feeling pressured to improve upon what’s already good. You’re already good, Virgo. Show yourself that by making a killer pasta or butternut squash soup that you’ve long since mastered, and take heart in the beauty and simplicity of what you can get done based on your ace sense and taste.