Emma Rosenblum’s Grub Street Diet

Rosenblum, who knows there are no rules on summer vacation: “It’s eight weeks of delicious, drunken chaos.”
Illustration: Margalit Cutler

In many ways, the novel Bad Summer People was designed to be a perfect beach read: a murder mystery, set in a fictional Fire Island town, with all the cheating and gossip a reader might want. The response has been overwhelmingly positive — the Times called it “addictive” and Amazon has optioned it for a series — but its author, Emma Rosenblum, says it’s not for everyone. “There’s not a good character,” she says, “and some people really want books where there’s a hero.” Regardless, Rosenblum, who is the Chief Content Officer at Bustle, is now working on her second novel while spending the summer on, yes, Fire Island — minus the murder and adultery, but with a fair amount of gossip (and some Aperol Spritzes).  

Saturday, July 29
I was up at 5:45 a.m. Whee. My 7 year-old son, Monty, is an early riser, and he shook me awake to show me a blister on his foot (it didn’t hurt; he just wanted me to “take a look”). I tried to go back to sleep after that. Our younger son, Sandy, who’s 5, was in our bed and was taking all the covers. But this is a food diary, not a once-you-have-children-you-never-sleep diary, so moving right along.

I went downstairs with Monty, who promptly turned on the Tennis Channel while I made coffee. We are in Fire Island for the summer, in a town called Saltaire. We live here in my parents’ house, and we all have different coffee rituals. My husband and I like drip coffee from the ancient Black & Decker maker, and my parents prefer Nespresso, which I hate. I only use Dunkin’ medium roast ground coffee. I love Dunkin’ as much as I hate Nespresso.

I drank my coffee and watched tennis while we waited for everyone else to trickle downstairs. My husband, Charles, is usually up before I am, and it felt nice to beat him for once. At 6:10, Monty and I were still alone. I heated up some pancakes for him (Charles makes large batches for the kid and we freeze them for the week). Then I decided to bake something while we waited for the world to come alive. My sister and brother and their families are also here, in different houses nearby. Between us all there are six children under the age of 10. So it’s not like I could bake anything highbrow, is my point. I am generally partial to the NYT Cooking app, but for basic baking, I’ve found that Google is a better source. Like, I’m sorry New York Times, it’s 6 a.m. I’m not making Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Muffins. SallysBakingAddiction.com it is.

Here is the thing about baking in Fire Island: It’s impossible. The ovens are weird, the air is too moist, nothing rises. The muffins tasted great — my 1 year-old nephew particularly liked them — but they were basically chocolate chip cupcakes, which was perfect, given the audience.

We had a lazy morning, the cousins playing on the boardwalk, racing their bikes, the grownups drinking coffee and chatting. It’s a very nice life out here, and my husband and I feel lucky that, post-COVID, we’re both able to work remotely for July and August.

Lunch today was a bit of a mishmash. My boys and I rode our bikes to the store for a snack at 11:30, but ended up getting more lunch-ish food instead. There is just one small food store in town, called, yes, “the store.” You charge purchases to your family account — no one carries around money. We bought curly fries, a quesadilla, and a plain hamburger. I ate some of the quesadilla and fries. I tend to think of lunch here more as fuel than anything else. I’ll have leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, or half a turkey sandwich or something like that. My mom orders groceries from Stop & Shop in Bay Shore, and they come over on the ferry. It’s all relatively primitive.

After lunch, I rode to the yacht club for a game of tennis — mixed doubles, with my sister on the opposing team. About halfway through, I realized I hadn’t eaten enough, so afterwards I finished the quesadilla and had a bowlful of Kirkland peanut butter pretzel nuggets. My mom gets the big plastic tubs.

Nearly every weekend in Saltaire there’s some sort of town “event.” On this night, it was karaoke at the yacht club, which is always quite a show. We’ll have 15-year-olds singing Taylor Swift, then a foursome of boomers crooning Otis Redding, then a group of elder millennials scream-singing the Spice Girls. For dinner, I finished Monty’s uneaten pasta, covered in Rao’s tomato and basil sauce. Then I made an Aperol Spritz, my summer drink of choice — I’m a 42 year-old mother; I’m allowed to be basic — in a red Solo cup to take as a roadie. Our friends Tom and Sara, who live across from the club, were having people over for drinks and food before karaoke kicked off. They’d gotten pizzas from the store, as well as an assortment of apps like guacamole, shrimp cocktail, and, yes, quesadillas. I had a slice of plain cheese pizza, which was delicious. After I finished my Aperol Spritz, I moved on to rosé, which I continued with over the course of the evening.

We got to the club around 9, right when karaoke was kicking off. My mom and sister and I sang a pretty pathetic version of “Summer Nights” from Grease, after which I was content to drink too many plastic cups of rosé and watch everyone else go for it.

Sunday, July 30
This morning, Charles got up with the boys and let me sleep in, bless him. I came downstairs at 8, and they’d been fed and were already playing tennis on the boardwalk outside. Our Dunkin’ drip coffee was made, so I poured a cup, put in an obscene amount of sugar, and topped it off with my parents’ Lactaid, which is the only kind of “milk” we have in the fridge here.

The bucketful of rosé I’d had the previous night was making me a bit bleary, so I decided to start off strong, and toast a half an everything bagel for breakfast. The store gets bagels delivered fresh on the ferry every morning, and my dad had already ridden over to get some. An everything bagel, scooped out, toasted, with cream cheese, is a cure all. I feel about bagels how my mom feels about the salt water. If anything is wrong — a cold, a cut, a broken bone — my mom’s advice is to soak it in salt water: “The ocean will fix that.” Bagels fix me.

The cousins all came over again, and I ate my bagel while gossiping with my sister and mom about the previous night. Like most small towns, Saltaire is a very gossipy place, which was partly the inspiration for Bad Summer People. I love that it’s intergenerational gossip, too. Like, I really do want to know the bridge drama amongst my mom’s friends, plus which teens are dating each other. Tell me everything.

Around 11 a.m., I rode over to the store with my sons, and they got Italian Ices. The amount of treats our kids get out here is ludicrous, but whatever. I got curly fries. There’s a line in Bad Summer People that goes, “But it was hard to feel like there were real-life consequences for his actions in this place. It wasn’t anything at all like real life,” and I stand by that. It’s eight weeks of delicious, drunken chaos.

I was still hungry after the fries, so I threw together a big salad with what we had in the fridge: romaine hearts, tomato, avocado, cucumber, and some cut up chicken cutlet. I made a quick dressing with olive oil, red wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard, which I will forevermore think of as the Harry Styles “special.” It was pretty good, with a nice crunch. I had about half and gave the rest to my dad.

At 1 p.m., our friends Christie and Charlie had a gathering at their house for their 8 year-old’s birthday. There were ice cream sundaes for the kids, plus an epic dance-off, and I finished off the dregs of the gummy bears from the spread. A few minutes later, a little one asked for gummy bears for her sundae, but it turned out that a mean grownup had eaten the last of them. Whoops.

We then went to the beach and hung there for the rest of the afternoon, watching the kids in the water and chatting with friends. Then we saw a humpback whale! Everyone on the beach lined up to watch, screaming with excitement each time the enormous animal jumped out of the water. This summer, we’ve seen dolphins, whales, and lots of sharks in the ocean, which is both delightful and disturbing at the same time. My mom has been coming out to Fire Island for over 60 years, and she’s never seen anything like it. The water has also been incredibly warm, and there’s a creepy, end-of-times feeling about it all.

My parents had a party to attend that evening, and so the rest of us went up to my sister’s house for dinner. My brother was in charge of grilling the meat, and we had dueling marinades going, one for the chicken thighs (beer, paprika, cumin, garlic, soy, coriander) and one for breasts (yogurt, dill, garlic, lemon).

I was tasked with sides, and I made a grilled corn, tomato, feta, and mint salad, as well as a classic Alison Roman herb-y salad, with arugula and lots of dill, parsley, and mint. My brother also grilled some sweet potato wedges and threw on a couple of zucchinis, which we’d had in the fridge. Apologies to my Aperols, but it was a red wine kind of Sunday night. My sister opened a bottle of Prisoner, and we ate outside on her rooftop deck, taking in the amazing ocean views. And, yes, gossiping.

Monday, July 31
The heat broke this weekend after a huge thunderstorm, and the bay breeze returned, providing relief. We finally turned off our air conditioning and opened the windows. I drank my Dunkin’ drip sitting on our front porch, the wind whipping into the house, and it was glorious.

For breakfast I had my scooped-out, half everything bagel, but with butter instead of cream cheese. I like my bagels toasted extra crispy, with the edges nearly burned. The bagels they import on the boat are decent, but obviously the best bagels in the world are from Tal.

I rode the boys over to the little day camp, which meets in the town field, and goes from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.. We have a wonderful babysitter who takes them home for lunch and then around to their various afternoon activities, so that Charles and I can work. I’m the Chief Content Officer at Bustle Digital Group, and I oversee our editorial, creative, and fashion teams. It’s relatively quiet right now, and I’ve been advising my team to take vacation before everything gets crazy again in September. I’m using any extra time to work on edits of my second novel, which is slated to come out next year.

I had an early lunch — half a turkey sandwich, with Swiss and mayo, on toasted white bread, with Cape Cod potato chips on the side. My family is very partial to Cape Cod, though my dad also loves Lay’s, so we usually have both types in the house. (Side note: I love Cape Cod’s, but when someone else is eating them near me, the crunchiness triggers my misophonia, and I have to leave the room.)

I then snuck away from calls to play tennis for an hour. I try to play as much as possible when I’m out here because it’s so much easier than playing in the city. My sister and I split a lesson with a nice tennis pro named Thanos, and he yelled at me the whole time about how bad my forehand is. (It’s very bad). Then I rode to the store and bought a Lime Cucumber Gatorade.

I continued on calls that afternoon while eating more peanut butter pretzels, and then planned dinner for Charles and my parents. I’m the resident chef of our house. I got into cooking during the pandemic, as it was something that helped separate my working days from my evenings. During lockdown, I’d walk over to our local C-Town on First Avenue nearly every day, all masked up, and would buy ingredients for that night’s dinner. The C-Town guys were basically my pandemic pod.

I decided to make Alison Roman’s sticky chili chicken with hot-and-sour pineapple, with a sesame cucumber salad on the side and plain white rice to soak up the sauce (the chicken is marinated in a combo of fish sauce, garlic, chili paste, brown sugar, vinegar, and lime juice, then roasted alongside the cut-up pineapple). Our dinner options are limited by my parents’ restrictions; my dad doesn’t eat pork, and doesn’t like pasta (I know), and my mom hates: cumin, coriander, anything too spicy, salmon, plus she’s one of the like 8 percent of the population to whom cilantro tastes like dirt. No offense, mom and dad, but that’s a lot of things off the table! Their house, their rules. The chicken was a crowd pleaser; I cooked it while drinking an Aperol Spritz, naturally. I love summer.

Tuesday, August 1
How is it already August? Everyone had a bit of a lie-in this morning, as my British husband would put it. The boys had heated-up pancakes and I had my Dunkin’ drip, plus my usual half everything bagel, toasted with butter. I was on calls until about noon, when Monty and Sandy came home for lunch. They had nuggets and pasta, and I had another half turkey sandwich, with Swiss and mayo. I didn’t want to eat too much, because I was playing tennis at 1, and it’s not ideal to run around in the heat with a full stomach.

I played tennis growing up, but then didn’t play for like 20 years. I got back into it recently and am continually frustrated that I’m not as good as I used to be. It’s honestly the dumbest feeling. Of course I will never be as good as when I was a literal teenager! I am old and my back creaks and my wrist hurts!

I played badly, again, and afterwards comforted myself with a combo bowl of Cape Cod potato chips and peanut butter pretzels.

Tuesdays are “movie night” at the yacht club; we basically live in Dirty Dancing over here. The kids watch a movie on a big screen in the back room, and the grownups hang and drink up front. We decided to bring our kids early and eat at the club with my sister and brother’s families. The yacht club is the only “restaurant” in town, and it has a limited menu of summery staples like flatbreads, burgers, and simple fish. I ordered the Saltaire Burger, which is the most reliably delicious item on the menu, and comes with melted Swiss, bacon, and a pickled onion slaw. Plus crispy seasoned fries.

Our boys bought some candy and popcorn from the little stand they set up by the movie screen, and I finished off Sandy’s popcorn for dessert. I could probably live off popcorn, potato chips, and French fries. Charles always needs a sweet to end his meal, while I’d be happy to take a shot glass full of salt.

Wednesday, August 2
Today I had to go into the city to film a segment about Bad Summer People for the local NBC show, New York Live. I was up at 6:30, had a quick cup of coffee, and took a 7:40 ferry off the island. I arrived back at my apartment on the Upper East Side around 9:45, and had an underwhelming reunion with my cats, who didn’t even get off the couch to greet me. (Over the summer, our nanny lives at our apartment with the cats. They’re not alone for two months!)

I’d placed a Seamless order for a Tal’s scooped out, everything bagel toasted with cream cheese while I was on the road, and it was there at my building by the time I arrived. Heaven. I ate it before the lovely hair and makeup team arrived, and was reminded that the Saltaire store bagels, while fine, are nothing compared to Tal’s.

We filmed the segment around the Upper East Side, shooting at locations I’d mentioned in Bad Summer People. The majority of the book takes place in Fire Island, but there’s a scene in which two women are having a glass of wine at Felice on 83rd Street. So we filmed while we had lunch at Felice on Columbus, which was really fun. I ordered the chicken Milanese, and the NBC correspondent, Joelle Garguilo, had the fusilli with burrata, which I tried and loved.

Then I Uber’d back to Bay Shore and got the 5 p.m. ferry back to Saltaire. Charles and the boys picked me up at the dock, and we walked to store, where I bought food to cook for dinner. My parents were out for the evening, and the kids had already eaten, so I was able to cook pork for me and Charles. That’s my kind of treat! I made a spicy sausage, broccoli rabe, and chickpea pasta from the New York Times. Then we sat and ate and gossiped over a nice bottle of cabernet.

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