Earth to space cadets! Hey!! Welcome to Stargrazing, an atlas determining what you should eat based on where the planets hang out in the sky. This month finds us in Virgo season, which began on the 23rd of August and lasts through most of September.
The overall mood during this piece of the Zodiac is very “back to school.” Virgo season asks us to finish up our summer reading, replenish our personal supplies of practicality as though we’re shopping for mechanical pencils at Staples, and critically prepare our lives and brains—and here, our plates—for whatever comes next.
That makes sense, since Virgos are diligent year-round. A notable Virgo you may have heard of, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, once pinpointed her sign’s characteristics this way in an interview:
I am a Virgo to the T! […] I don’t believe in the answer “no.” I am extremely driven and extremely critical—sometimes overly critical. Sometimes it is one of the things that I have to work on. I am a control freak. I pay attention to details. When I do something, I do it 100 percent. I have high expectations of myself and expect the exact same thing of everyone around me. I’ve always been that way. I am all or nothing.
Virgo may be all or nothing, personality-wise, but the second-largest constellation of the Zodiac is astrologically flexible: Virgo is a mutable sign, making this month an assistive segue between two seasons. Mutable signs are both supposed to sum up our past few months and take an editor’s red pen to their contents so that we can move on as slightly wiser versions of our lunatic selves.
Think of treating Virgo season like a psychic “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay, except here, our assignments detail what we ate—and what our next courses should be (of action and at restaurants). Accordingly, we’ll take a look at your past horoscopes, and then we’ll hasten into the kitchen to the tune of our Virgo-season soundtrack:
Send me your culinary schoolwork based on your fortune assignment this month with the hashtag #stargrazing (@amyrosary on Twitter; @verymuchso on Instagram), and you may find your galactic project tacked up on next month’s column with gold stars around your name. Now: let’s eat—and, per Virgo season/Beyoncé, let’s check our work as we do.
Happy birthday, Virgo! I bring you a dubious gift: your ruling planet, Mercury, is retrograde until the 21st. Mercury in retrograde is akin to a server going buck wild with a pepper grinder, but over your entire life, and the pepper grinder is filled with CHAOS. Mercury retrograde makes communication, forward motion, and many other things more complicated than usual. This is less than ideal for an exacting Virgo like you.
However: this is perfectly in keeping with Virgo season, especially as it applies to your past fortunes! Mercury retrograde asks us to double back and look at past goings-on in our lives, and so it befits our mission this month perfectly. Over the summer, the skies suggested you focus on unfussy, delicious produce. We’re quite literally going to put a lid on that: you love a project, so make your own preserves. Save the best fruits of this waning season in jars—glass habitats for summer, like children’s captured-firefly hotels. Some nice jams made from fruits sharing your birthday season: ginger pear, apple pie, blackberry. All the better if you can pick the fruit yourself out-of-doors. Maybe a birthday picnic is in order? (If so: please invite me; I will bring cake and prosecco flutes to hurl fresh fruit into.)
Did you know that Jacques Pépin, the second-most-venerated chef of the twentieth century after Julia Child (according to me), got his start in America making food at a Howard Johnson’s commissary kitchen? He spent a ten-year apprenticeship at one of the erstwhile fast-food titan’s franchises in Queens Village and called it, when the last of the chain’s New York restaurants closed in 2005, “the most valuable apprenticeship” he served in any restaurant. (Coincidentally, the second-to-last HoJo—of all, period—will close this month.)
Of course, JP went on to be a globally recognized culinary authority. So don’t be discouraged if things feel slow in developing right now (hey, Mercury retrograde!). You’re working toward something you consider more significant, but you should recognize how important the experiential woodshedding you’re doing now is, too. Pépin didn’t see his decade-long HoJo stint as a period of stasis, but as a lesson in expedient, economical cooking, shrewd entrepreneurship, and maintaining the love of the game above all else, as he once wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. What can you learn from what might feel like a stultifying period in your life but isn’t one, if you just cock your head at it from a different angle?
This summer you’ve been tasked with taking thoughtful inspiration from your instincts and refining and redefining your near-and-dear beliefs, so let’s continue to sharpen your attention to detail in a more technical sense. How are your knife skills? (Check yours with the man himself—Pépin—right here.) Do you know how best to cook in—and clean—a cast-iron skillet? Are you certain that the exact way you’re accustomed to seasoning your chicken/pasta water/fish/roasted vegetables is still actually the way you like it? Become the keenest possible audience to the most microscopic levels of your process, both in your food and the rest of what you do this season. Autopilot isn’t interesting. You are, though, so pay attention to how you approach minor-seeming culinary practices in order to appreciate and improve them.
I’m jealous of how your summer has gone, Scorpio. You crushed it on the energy-boosting breakfast, jelly-donut-level comfort food, and homemade dinner fronts alike. After all that heartiness, I bet it would feel nice to turn about-face and simplify and decorate your intake at once. My favorite tea in the world is jasmine because it smells like drugs, perfume, and flowers as it steeps. (Pro tip: Drink it from a clear mug to watch the jasmine stretch its hands. It makes me feel like I’m chugging the reincarnative properties of, like, a rose of Jericho.) Become your own cryptobiotic species this Virgo season—come back to life; have some tea! If you can’t get your hands on jasmine but still want to swoon, oolong and lemongrass are also headily scented, and nothing feels as equally frivolous and necessary as putting together a tea blend to your own specifications.
Quick, before you can rearrange it: What’s the expression naturally taking place on your face right now? I have a hunch it might mirror my recent resting scowl/barely masked crossness, fellow archer. We’ve been difficult as hell this summer, and it’s hard for us to hide how sour and/or bitter we feel, out of NOWHERE, lately. Unless … okay, I know prescribing sour and bitter food because we feel/look sour and bitter is one dumb-assed premise, Sagittarius, but what hasn’t seemed like a dumb-assed premise to us this not-fun hot bummer of a summertime? I thought so! We might as well commit to the look! Let’s proceed.
Some of my favorite sour foodstuffs, like grapefruits and Sour Patch Kids, are worthy reasons to pout, because they introduce a tempering sweetness to the overall concept. So, too, does a lemon-ricotta-crab-herb dressing for thick, ribbon-cut pasta, like pappardelle or tagliatelle. Whisk together the juice of a lemon, a tablespoon of butter, a small container of ricotta, whatever herbs you think will be good, and however much lump crabmeat feels sufficient, then grind mad pepper into the mixture. Throw that over hot, just-drained pasta and stir to incorporate everything, adding a little parmesan to finish the dish if you feel like it.
As a fellow Sagittarius, I promise this meal is the best and will readjust your mood, setting you off in a better, less-seething direction than the ones you may have followed this summer. If you’re especially interested in a far more purposeful feeling than directionless, inexplicable resentment? PULL YOUR OWN PASTA, SON! Have a lovely pre-fall.
One of my favorite Capricorns is receiving divine guidance from bubblegum this season. Each day, he unwraps a piece and discovers that “Strong words indicate a weak cause,” or some less-applicable-to-itself fortune. That got me thinking, though, that your causes this summer were anything but weak. Trying out pared-down and/or healthy approaches to food may have been an especially important one for them for you, in your practical fashion.
Under orderly Virgo and disorderly Mercury retrograde, it could be a worthy effort to bring the simplicity-based mind-set you’ve been prioritizing to the preparation of less nutritionally virtuous food than you may have chomped of late. I find this butter-cake ice cream to be a stirringly erotic vision, and the same is true of this Georgian cheese bread called khachapuri, these sensuous elote pierogi, and these perfect soup dumplings.
If you’re not inclined to seek your fortunes in all things melting, rich, and otherwise nap-inducing, another worthy Virgo direction for you has less to do with eating food and looks and instead with where you’re preparing it. When was the last time you blocked out two hours to deep-scrub your kitchen? If the answer is vague, I swear by this Real Simple guide to getting things in order. Whatever you cook, oozing or otherwise, will taste and feel better if you make it in a sterling kitchen.
You’re the type to rush and push forward through challenges, so a planetary phenomenon that’s all about doubling you back whenever possible—Mercury retrograde—feels like being on a plane where the pilot promises “just fifteen more minutes, folks” every fifteen minutes as you taxi and taxi and taxi for two and a half hours. Worse still: even after you finally take off, airplane food, as any 1980s bad-comedian trope will have you know, is not so very good! (I happen to love it, but I understand that this is my problem.)
However: there are always methods of making any interminable-feeling period in your life bearable, Aquarius, and—to crib a tactic that also applies to in-flight food woes—a big one of these is carrying a solid snack stock. Since this summer you’ve eaten extravagantly, let’s honor your erstwhile robust hunger and lighten/fance it up—make a vegetable-forward version of a junk food you love, like Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi’s buffalo-wing cucumbers, or peas “cacio e pepe.” Alternatively, hook up an herbed version of bar-nut mix from Christina Tosi. Maybe not at the same time, though—one Franken-flavor at a time is the move this season, since you’re already a little turned around.
Under the instruction of your ruling planet, the lunar eclipse on the 16th will have you feeling moony and/or moody. Everything appears to have a deeper shadow hung behind it than the one that may really be trailing it: Is your boss unhappy with you? Do these pants actually look all that great on your tush? Did the person you love/are crushed out upon mean to hurt your feelings with that innocuous comment about your “unique” choice of pizza toppings? Caramelized onion, pineapple, and olive go GREAT together; you should be CHARMED by my innovative approach to delivery!!
Calm DOWN, fish stick! Everything will be okay as long as you don’t kowtow to doubt. Prove it to yourself. Try a recipe you never have, pay attention to the details, and allow yourself to flood with pride when it comes out well. Maybe something like roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce, celery with meat sauce, or pork milanese with arugula salad would suit you this month? Elaborate, tart-leaning flavor combinations are encouraged for you this month, Pisces. Your self-assured belief in an occasionally mixed-up mouth will serve you well if you execute it with verve this Virgo season instead of getting all confused about whether it’s good. You know what’s good.
Your gastrological recent past stretched to the outer limits of the bell curve—you reveled in barely prepared dinners with a few well-chosen ingredients, and then you fucking gunned it and ate complicated, wild meals prepared mincingly and to extremes. Let’s find some middle ground, an expedition which tasteful Virgo’s influence is so helpful in leading. The most logical progression here is to combine the eating modes you’ve grown accustomed to in order to balance them. Prepare a protein and some vegetables with the least amount of effort you can muster, add steamed rice or pasta, and toss it in a bowl with one HELL of a sauce.
One delicious routine combining dummy and expert practices to this effect: if I were you, I’d pan-sear some chicken thighs—if you want to brine them first, do it up, but it’s not against the law if you don’t. (The way it is illegal not to coat them in at least salt and pepper, and I hope paprika, too.) I throw four of these in a pan—nonstick, cast-iron, whatever you have—and let them rock for twenty minutes per side (beginning with the skin-on side down if I’m not making skinless). Don’t touch them at all until you turn them—not that you’ll have time, anyway, because you’ll be using this interstice to throw your finishing sauce together. Peruvian green sauce is my yearlong Valentine, this odd flavor sauce would be ace here (and I’d even add a tiny bitta mirin!), and the mother sauces of Spain are currently making me rub my mitts together like a plotting super-villain dead set on taking over dinner just as she intends to the whole world.
After I flip the chicken thighs, I get my rice going, steaming it for exactly fifteen minutes, then fluffing it and returning it to a lidded pot as the chicken finishes crisping up. I use that downtime to steam or sauté whatever vegetable’s around, as well. Remove the chicken and dice it, then throw everything together in the rice pot/saucepan. You are a genius. Follow this practice three nights a week, varying your proteins, grains, and vegetables, and you’ll be very happy and well fed.
New moons like the one on the 16th, for you, can mean seeking out new people to mack on/befriend. No matter the nascent relationship(s) in question, you’ve got new dinner guests to hang with, so why not make it an occasion? It’s a rare and lovely feeling to admire someone. You can use every part of that animal by enjoying it for all it’s worth. Rather than playing it cool, bask in the luck of liking somebody and treat it as the mark of good fortune that it is. Make a nice reservation for the two of you—something you have to save up for a little in advance, whether that means the newest, toniest Critic’s Pick in your city or a higher-end pizza place, or both—if I were you, I’d bring my new friend to Emmy Squared, a recently opened, much-adulated cheeseburger and pepperoni-pie haven near where I live.
Even more impressive a move when it comes to someone who impresses you? If the dinner date in question is someone you like and/or respect so much that it makes you a little nervous—a stranger with the JUICE—you can and should make an extraordinary dinner for them at your house, as long as they’re not going to (maybe correctly) think it’s just because you want to put the moves on ’em. (Save this approach for platonic introductions.) Even if you’re across the world from Emmy Squared, you could always follow the recipe for one of the restaurant’s Detroit-style pizzas, the Roni Supreme. Cured meats are a surefire way to lock in a friendship (the reverse is true if you serve them to vegetarians—in that case, the recipe’s just as solid without its namesake).
I read an essay the other day and laughed because it made me think of you: you might be familiar with the incumbent child/Pépin-style food god Yotam Ottolenghi. He recently wrote a piece about others’ expectations that his food will always be mad jazzy, ingredient-wise—that it’ll include, like, freekeh-scented yuzu butt when he might just want plain ol’ baked cod. Here’s the intro:
“It’s not Ottolenghi enough,” my longtime colleague Cornelia said, popping into the test kitchen to see what was cooking.
“It needs something more; something exotic.” The dish in question was simple—a fillet of cod baked in a chili-tomato sauce—but it was one that I absolutely love. Not Ottolenghi enough? But I am Ottolenghi!
How Gemini is this splitting of selves?! “But I am Ottolenghi!” Twin soul, make sure you’re not performing yourself as others might (or might not!) see you—you’ve already got enough splintering of the spirit going on inside ya. When it comes to ingredients, allow yourself to go only as simple or complex as is necessary, as Ottolenghi wisely recommends. One idea: make the chef’s yellow-pepper-and-corn salad with something simple that you like, where, per another suggestion in this essay, you know exactly why every element included adds something essential, like @zoerose86 did for her Gemini roast chicken [EMBED] per a Stargrazing horoscope from earlier this summer. Or bake a friggin’ cod fillet!
Though you’re mostly even-keeled this season, many of the people in your life are going through something of an astral rigamarole right now and so will be throwing your goings-on a little askance—you feel too deeply not to absorb some of their nerves secondhand; it’s just your crustacean nature. You’ve spent so much of this summer following the astrological urge to take care of your people by cooking for them, so it might be the look to look after yourself for a change. It feels stellar to make a crowd-pleaser for just yourself. Bully for other members if they happen to be around to catch your leftovers, but I’d love for you to make some partied-out finger food intended, first, for one.
God love an empanada for these particular purposes. They’re substantial, minute, and optimized for customization, making them a perfect choice for an it’s-MY-time kitchen occasion like this one. Make a few different varieties, if that’s the filling you’re feeling. Whatever you stuff your empanadas with, make sure to put on the new Vince Staples release, the perfect-for-this Prima Donna, for optimal self-ownership braggadocio as you cook.
Leos intuit solar eclipses most impactfully since your sign is ruled by the sun. Since the first part of the month is dominated by exactly that planetary event: lay low for a little while, Leo. Though adverse to your usual nature, staying in and taking some private time to replenish your inner stores is paramount right now. You practiced hibernating for a minute earlier this summer before immediately starting to show the hell out again, and you’re probably eager to embark on another more private stint this season.
You think health is sumptuous—a nobler cousin of higher-end luxuries, like if diamonds were forged out of compressed carrot juice and omega-3 tablets. In these febrile-feeling times, it’s best to make yourself a hardy (if not hearty) soup. Use seasonal vegetables so you can feel “hip” and “with the times” (an important fiction when it comes to sustaining shut-ins’ longevity as they (you) hang out at home in, say, ill-fitting old promotional car-dealership T-shirts and underwear after work for two weeks running). The peak period for tomatoes is waning all the time—sob—so make a smoked tomato soup like your name is Blue Hill at Stone Barns (very hip and with the times of you). Recently, I also loved making this easy-as-nothing corn chowder, which I then ate emptied out over some roast chicken the next day. Go ahead and do the same. Dine in your chonies, if you want! No one’s looking.