Melissa Ben-Ishay Makes Bok Choy Toast for ‘Content Day’

Since 2004, Melissa Ben-Ishay’s name has been synonymous with bite-size cupcakes: The co-founder and CEO of Baked by Melissa kept a low profile at first; that changed after she began posting cooking videos to the company’s social-media accounts. Now, she’s as well known for her tie-dyed desserts as she is for her salads (especially a chopped green goddess with 25 million TikTok views) — so much so that her new book, Come Hungry: Salads, Meals, and Sweets for People Who Live to Eat, will be out next week. That means a book tour in addition to her usual routine: 5 a.m. workouts, meticulously scheduled back-to-back meetings, child care, and daily neighbor hangs in Hoboken. “I’ve been told by professionals,” Ben-Ishay says, “that I might be slightly addicted to productivity.”
 
Thursday, January 4
I woke up around five and drank my cold brew, like I do every morning. Then I had a small glass of room-temperature water with the juice of half a lemon and salt. I am a creature of habit and do this every morning. I usually start with the gym, but I was recovering from a delicious stomach bug, so I took the morning off.

I got my kids ready for school. Packed their lunch and told them to do each task multiple times: “Get dressed, get dressed, get dressed,” “Do your hair, do your hair, do your hair,” “Get your shoes on, shoes on, shoes on.” (If you’re a mom, you know.) In the midst of making their lunch (toasted sourdough with butter and salt, sliced red pepper, mozzarella balls, and dark-chocolate chips), I took my probiotic in water, followed by turmeric and black pepper in water, which makes me sound like an insane person.

My 7-year-old had Cheerios and milk for breakfast, and my youngest had maybe one bite of a Nutri-Grain bar she had been begging me to buy and then said she didn’t want anymore. I’m not a breakfast person, either. I love food, but I’ve been like this my whole life. We got out the door at 8:09 a.m., which is the very last minute we can leave for them to be on time for school.

One of my best mom friends told me she needed fresh air, and so did I, so we walked up Washington Street, the main street in Hoboken. I’ve lived here for eight years, and it’s the best-kept secret. I love how it’s one square mile; I walk everywhere, and I see and interact with people that I love wherever I go.

I came home to my social-media manager at my apartment to start Content Day. Every Thursday at my apartment, I film a bunch of recipes that will be posted on the @bakedbymelissa Instagram and TikTok pages. This takes the entire day, but even with 1,000 other things to do as CEO, I make it a priority. Now, everywhere I go, people recognize me.

It used to be that when we would post a picture of me on Instagram, it lowered engagement. My face was never on there, so it’s funny that now my marketing team is like, “Melissa, it works. Your face works.” Making the videos is also just so fun. I never use a recipe, and it’s just whatever I’m in the mood for at that moment, but it’s good to have a plan going into it to help with purchasing ingredients.

Here’s what we made: “Not Your Mom’s Brisket,” sautéed bok choy, date caramel (it’s not actually caramel, but it’s freakin’ delicious and took me a while to create the perfect recipe, so I’m excited to share it), snickerdoodle-y cinnamon chickpea cake, bok choy avocado toast, and healing chicken soup that I make all the time, but it’s just so good.

Pretty much everything you see me make on TikTok is a representation of my food philosophy; I believe if you get your nourishment from mealtime, you can enjoy dessert every day, just like I do. I usually eat everything I make for the end of each video, and normally a whole serving.

On Thursday afternoons, my parents pick my kids up from school and take them to dinner, which is great because my husband Adi and I just eat what I made for Content Day as our dinner. That wouldn’t fly for my kids. They’d never eat a salad. This night, we had the brisket and some of the soup for dinner. Adi picked the girls up from hip-hop dance and I had a handful of dark-chocolate chips with my 5-year-old, who ate them out of a bowl with some mini-marshmallows before bed.

Friday, January 5
I woke up at 4 a.m. Drank water, then cold brew, then my usual lemon-and-salt-water combo and waited on the staircase for my neighbor Jamie. We live in a condo building and literally share a wall; we were blessed with them, and they are the best. We meet at 4:38 a.m. every weekday morning to work out. It was her birthday, so I was waiting with a 25-pack of Baked by Melissa cupcakes. Birthdays are kind of my thing.

We walked up to the workout studio Project Sculpt for our training session with Dave, as we do every Friday. I got home by 6:20; the kids were still asleep. Showered and put on another pair of black leggings, but this time to conquer the day.

Friday was spelling-test day for my kids, so once they got 100 percent on their words, they could watch TV, which is otherwise off-limits before school because it’s already hard enough to get them out the door. My little one helped pack lunch for herself and her sister. She peeled hard-boiled eggs and broke the whites into little pieces. I made one kid breakfast, and the other ate a few pieces of the buttered sourdough from her lunch box. I told them to “get socks on” a million times until it happened. We were out the door at 8:09 once again.

With my Stanley cup in hand, we walked to school, two blocks away. We got there just as classes were going in. I met my friend Robin at the drop-off. We both had time to kill before our 9 a.m. meetings, so we went for a walk and she dropped me off at my cut-and-color. I took my 9 a.m., 10 a.m., and the beginning of my 11 a.m. meetings from the chair. While I appreciate the efficiency COVID provided working moms, now I am always doing at least two things at once while thinking about the next three things I need to get done.

I got home and was starving. I made myself a big bowl of chicken soup for lunch. I used to be appalled that people considered soup a meal: Why would I order a bowl with water in it? Ramen can be different; that’s substantial. Only recently did I start to appreciate soup. My soups are filling, not just hot liquid.

I ran out during my one-hour meeting break to get a facial, which I haven’t done in months. With my book tour coming up, I wanted to glow.

I got home, still starving, and fed myself immediately. I had toasted sourdough rubbed with garlic, salt, avocado, cottage cheese, and arugula dressed with lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Hit the spot. I’m not an egotistical person, but I do take a lot of credit for the moment that cottage cheese has been having. I’ve been eating Good Culture for at least two and a half years. We eat dinner early; we have small kids. But by seven or eight, I would need to eat another dinner because I was so hungry. When I started eating cottage cheese, I stopped needing that second dinner. I realized that I was probably missing protein in my diet. When you need something quick because maybe you’re on back-to-back calls all fucking day, cottage cheese is such a great thing to have. I also ate two pieces of the chickpea cake. Incredible.

The kids came home from school, and Adi made challah to have with Shabbat dinner. We had the brisket, challah, and broccoli. I snacked on dark-chocolate chips with my kids while they ate marshmallows, chocolate chips, and fruit for dessert.

I signed a million bookplates for the cookbook, ran to Walgreens and the UPS Store, cleaned out my closet, and unpacked all the Amazon packages. One of them was four large jars of tahini, which I use frequently. They always sell out on Amazon, so we stock up whenever we can.

Saturday, January 6
I woke up at 4:15. I had my water and cold brew and spent 45 minutes replying to comments on TikTok. I’ve learned so much from the comments on my video. If I’d never started reading them, I probably never would have taken the time to understand myself and what I wanted. TikTok provided me the opportunity to achieve a lifelong dream. I never thought it would be possible to write a book about salad — my other greatest love in this entire world — because I bake cupcakes for a living.

I met my friends Amy and Robin downstairs at 5:15 for a stroll. The morning walks fill my cup. It was 29 degrees, but didn’t feel that cold. We stopped for hazelnut coffee at JP’s Bagel Express. (I drink mine black); I love the smell. Then we stopped at the new 24-hour bodega that opened a block from our apartments on the walk home. It’s a big one; half of it is dedicated to Indian ingredients, which was so fun. I spent at least 20 minutes looking at all the different grains, flours, beans, and seasonings. The spot has been like seven different businesses over the past few years. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this bodega stays. The thing I miss most about living in the city is being able to go downstairs and get whatever you need.

I got home at 6:59 a.m. The kids were up watching TV in my bed. At 10:30, I took them to their Saturday morning class, and then Adi and I took a yoga class.

After yoga, we went to check out a new bakery that had opened in town, Otok Bakery. The owner was so sweet and inviting to us. Turns out we are neighbors and have kids close in age. We got a bunch of stuff to try. My favorites were the lemon-poppy scone and chocolate chip muffin. Adi loved their banana bread. The couple who owns the bakery is also opening a bar with a playground inside of it a few blocks away.

We picked up the kids and went home to eat lunch. I had my absolute favorite meal ever: sourdough toast with avocado, cottage cheese, and dilly cucumbers on top. The bread came from my favorite bakery Choc O Pain.

After, I took my 5-year-old to Girl Scouts and stayed to watch because they were learning how to sell their cookies. We talked about what she learned on the walk home. I explained more about selling cookies to her and how similar it is to what I do for a living, selling bite-size cupcakes. I posted a link to her Girl Scout cookie page on my Instagram, and all the moms were like, “Melissa’s going to sell more cookies.” But my daughter is the one asking to buy the cookies. I was just sending the message to friends and family and a few more.

When we came home, she made her first IRL cookie sale to Adi and her big sister. We then went to Amy’s to hang with her family and play games. We brought grapefruit High Noons, a 25-pack of cupcakes, and a chocolate babka that Adi and our oldest baked while we were at Girl Scouts. He’s the bread guy. I don’t have the patience. Who has the time to keep going back to it? Not me.

We hung out there for a few hours and had snacks that Amy served, some drinks, and the cupcakes I brought while the kids played and did magic tricks for us. At five, we all went to our neighborhood spot for dinner, Northern Soul. It’s steps away from home, and a table for eight with a bunch of kids is never a problem there. All the servers have known my kids their whole lives. It’s like our second kitchen, but we don’t have to cook or clean, and they make us pay for the food. All the kids had buttered pasta. Fine. My oldest ordered naked wings “as an appetizer,” and if I say she ate two of them, I’m being generous.

I ordered the kale Caesar, chopped (the way I make all my salads on social media) and with chicken fingers on top. It was incredible. We always get the s’mores for dessert.

Sunday, January 7
I woke up at 5:18. Is it weird that I always remember the exact time? I just open my eyes and I am awake. I’m not a snoozer. Sometimes, on the weekend, I’ll try to go back to sleep, but it’s rarely successful, and I love the quiet before everyone else is awake. I had my water, my cold brew. I spent an hour replying to TikTok comments.

After everyone else woke up, we drove into the city — it’s only two miles — for breakfast with my close friend and partner in Baked by Melissa at Bubby’s in Tribeca. I got huevos rancheros and black coffee. My kids got chocolate chip pancakes, wiped the whipped cream off of them, and ate maybe one of the three pancakes each. The kids don’t use maple syrup, something I will never understand.

If you live in New York and haven’t had the pancakes at Bubby’s, you should go as soon as you can. If you go for lunch or dinner, order a side for the table, have them for dessert, or even take them home for breakfast the next morning. You get what I’m saying: Have the pancakes. They sang me “Happy Birthday” with a chocolate chip cookie à la mode because I’ll be turning 40 on Wednesday. I feel nothing but pride and privilege to roll another one around the sun. I let my kids blow out the candle, and we all shared the cookie.

On the way home from breakfast, we stopped at Darke Pines Butcher. Adi ran in while we hung back in the car and got a big piece of filet mignon, beef merguez, and marrow bones. I was most excited for the bones and the filet. Merguez isn’t really my jam.

It’s rare for us that we eat dinner past five on a lazy winter Sunday. This was no different. Adi cooked up the steak and marrow (oven at 275 degrees for 20 minutes, then finish on the grilltop for the steak; perfect every time). I made a quick salad of little gem, two Persian cucumbers, pea shoots, arugula microgreens, a handful of cilantro, pumpkin seeds, and sliced almonds. The dressing was simple: olive oil, lemon juice, white vinegar, garlic, salt, pep, and nutritional yeast if you’ve got it. It’s life-changing. I always make my own dressing. I made a big jar of it to have on hand for the week ahead.

Adi thinly sliced some of the challah leftover from Friday’s dinner and put it in the toaster to make crackers for the bone marrow. I made egg noodles (kids) and sliced up red peppers, carrots, and cucumbers on a little cutting board. The board of raw veg always goes on the table when the kids likely won’t eat the main-event vegetable. (My kids don’t eat the salads. One day, they will.) They each eat a piece or three, rarely more than that. It’s better than nothing. The kids loved the filet mignon and noodles. Adi and I loved it all. We spent most of the dinner spooning the bone marrow across the homemade challah crackers with a sprinkle of salt. I ate the filet mignon sliced over the salad. It was a simple, quick dinner to throw together, yes, but oh my God, it was delicious. The kids don’t know how good they have it.