Jeff Hiller likes his pizza with mushrooms and his yellow cake to have pink frosting.
Illustration: Margalit Cutler
After appearing all over television for the past last 20 years (30 Rock, Broad City, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), the comedian and actor Jeff Hiller is about to tackle his largest role yet, as Joel in HBO’s Somebody Somewhere, one of Vulture’s most-anticipated new shows. Set in Manhattan, Kansas, the show stars Bridgett Everett as Sam, who after returning to her hometown befriends Joel, her former high-school classmate. Both Hiller and Everett belong to the downtown-comedy scene. Comedy brought Hiller to New York, but his childhood in San Antonio instilled in him a deep appreciation for enchiladas. “I like Mexican food, but I really only like Tex-Mexican food, so it’s like the mayonnaise version of Mexican food, just so much cheese and sour cream and grease,” he says. “The thing that warms my heart is just, like, cheese wrapped in a tortilla and doused with sour cream.”
Thursday, December 30
It’s a holiday week, but my plans to travel home for a post-pandemic Christmas–slash–my dad’s 82nd birthday were postponed by a very-much-present pandemic, so what I’m trying to say is that I ate a lot of feelings this week.
I’m not much of a foodie to begin with, because my mom was more of a take-out queen, and she passed that along to me. It’s a shame she died before Postmates. She really would have loved it.
I never had breakfast before I moved in with my now husband, Neil, but he’s wild for it, so now I imbibe. I made him my one and only breakfast treat, which is French toast prepared with day-old challah. Something about its staleness soaks up the egg more and makes it really yummy. I like to show off for him, so I also put powdered sugar over blueberries for the presentation of it all. An unconventional thing I do (and if I’m being honest, I’m pretty sure my husband is not a fan) is I fry up the egg batter, which has some milk and cinnamon in it. It’s kind of like “dessert hummus” which is to say that it sounds bad, but it is technically edible.
For lunch, I had a “reduced guilt” mac ’n’ cheese from Trader Joe’s. Am I proud of this? No. But I challenge you to find a creamier pasta dish with less than 270 calories.
For dinner, we had Impossible burgers. Actually, the store was out of Impossible Meat™ so we went with a very generic, “Vegan Burgers From Pea Protein” substitute. It was pretty good. My husband is a strict ovo-lacto vegetarian, but I get tempted by bacon and chicken wings. There are people that are like, I don’t eat anything with a face. I’m like, I’ll eat a pig’s ass and a chicken’s arm. I try not to assign judgement to myself around this.
When I told my sister that I couldn’t make it home for Christmas without the very real threat of killing my father, her first words were a killer. “But your present was an experience!” I’m still not sure what it was, but she did a hard pivot and put an air fryer in the mail. So we fried up some potatoes in there and had ’em on the side.
Friday, December 31
Since I knew I would be staying up late (remember before the pandemic, when midnight wasn’t late? Me neither), I slept in until 10 a.m. I would have slept longer, but our cat was all, “Meow, meow, meow, meow.” Consequently, I just had a banana and iced coffee for breakfast. I’ve only been drinking coffee daily since I turned 40. It felt like a grown-up thing to do, so I just did. My husband discovered how to make cold brew, and I have it even in the winter when he moves on to hot stuff. Cold brew is SO EASY TO MAKE. Starbucks is charging you $5 a cup when all you have to do is put coffee in water the night before.
For lunch, I had my husband’s homemade yogurt. Yeah. You read that right. My husband makes his own yogurt. Is this a weird flex? I couldn’t tell you what goes into it, but it involves cultures he bought on the internet years ago and transferring them to new containers and some sort of cooking process where a tiny pot is in a bigger pot. He says, “It’s the easiest thing in the world to do.” He is absolutely lying. My husband does basically all of the cooking, and I just reap the benefits.
Since it was New Year’s Eve, we decided to go to … our living room. Everyone was there! Us! Our cat, Beverly! Some plants! Omicron has me partying like it’s April 2020! Since it was a holiday, I asked Neil to make his pandemic specialty, which is this pizza recipe from the New York Times that you have to massage inside a cast-iron skillet. It was delish. I made air-fryer Brussels sprouts on the side. Neil baked chocolate-chip cookies from a Jacque Torres recipe, and he nailed it — but, like, for real. We toasted the New Year with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot ’cause we are classy but also a little basic.
Saturday, January 1
Happy New Year! It’s gotta be better than last year, right? Wait… didn’t I say that in 2021 too? Gulp. Time to eat some feelings, so I made a cinnamon-s wirl coffee cake. I love it when you can have a dessert for breakfast and still conform to societally regulated standards of health. Don’t get me wrong. I love breakfast food. I just don’t like effort. It’s a pure laziness thing. I didn’t want to have to pick up a skillet in the morning. That’s why I didn’t drink coffee until I was 40, either. I didn’t want to make a mess in the morning, I just wanted to get out the door. What can I tell you? I’m complicated.
My dad’s birthday is January 1, so we had a little Zoom meet-up with him. I told my husband we always made black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day because they’re supposed to bring you good luck, so he made us something called Hoppin’ John. Growing up, we just had black-eyed peas with big ol’ pieces of bacon floating around in it, but Neil’s had chard. What can I tell you? We are a nice gay couple on the East Coast. Our Hoppin’ John reflects this.
For dinner, we took rapid tests and met up with our sweet friends Jim and Larry. New Year’s Double Date! It was shocking to see other faces. I came off a little manic. But baby, did we EAT! We were met with a cheese board of a soft, medium, and hard (probably better words for this, but my vocabulary is limited) and then Larry’s famous roll-ups. I’ve never seen the actual making of the roll-ups, but they consist of Wonder Bread rolled around cheddar cheese and then baked. They’re very ’50s, but you have to believe me that they’re to die for.
The main meal came from Jim, in what appeared to be an effortless feat of culinary magic — a deceptively simple-looking salad that had an earthy flavor from the fennel and a tang of green olive, along with homemade pesto pasta with chunks of garlic that was so delicious you would even eat it on a first date. For dessert, Larry wrapped phyllo dough around cheesecake. I mean, that is state-fair genius right there. And there was this Blue Marble salted-caramel ice cream where you could actually taste the salt. Yes, please!
We brought some wine. My friend Jennifer told me that if you ask anyone at a wine store for a wine made with a Nebbiolo grape, the clerk will get excited and point you to all sorts of options. In my experience, it’s true. We have a lovely biodynamic-wine store by us called VinVero, and the owner, Kevin, has told me that I prefer a high-tannin wine and even once said, “You like it chewy.” I don’t know what any of it means, but I really hold on to that Nebbiolo trick ’cause it always leads to a tasty bottle.
Sunday, January 2
We slept in again and ate more of the coffee cake. Are you impressed that we didn’t finish it all in one day? Well, don’t be, ’cause I made a second one.
For lunch, we had leftover Hoppin’ John. Wikipedia tells me that in some “southern states” Hoppin’ John leftovers are called “Skipping Jenny,” which is so camp I can barely stand it. Trust that I’ve been shouting “Skipping Jenny” whenever a lull in conversation comes up.
For dinner, we ordered take out from JaJaJa, which is a Mexican restaurant right by our apartment that is totally vegan. They have this vegan chorizo that tastes exactly like the real thing. I know there are a lot of people that don’t like the idea of fake meat. They say, “I’m a vegetarian because I don’t LIKE meat!,” but I love meat. I’m a vegetarian to try to reduce my carbon footprint, so if you can take some lentils and fry them up to seem like sausage, sign me UP!
Monday, January 3
For breakfast we woke up and had some of my husband’s homemade sourdough. I want to make it clear that Neil had a sourdough starter long before the pandemic. He experiments with all sorts of different grains and bakes, but around the holidays, he makes good ol’ sourdough with a crispy crust and chewy inner parts. It tastes like something you’d get at a restaurant. Oh, it’s so good.
For lunch, we had Skipping Jenny, Henny!
Leftovers for lunch meant we’d be ordering in for dinner. I know I should be focusing on my diet for the New Year, but I’m just not done eating those feelings, so I ordered in from Williamsburg Pizza. It seems like they would have to come across the bridge, but they don’t. There’s one a couple of blocks from us. I always switch it up between the Tartuffo and the Sofia Loren, but in this Omicron New Year, where the only parties are in petri dishes, I ordered both.