Rax King’s Grub Street Diet

Rax King’s Grub Street Diet

“I think every party should have a stripper coming out of a cake,” says Rax King.
Illustration: Margalit Cutler

“I find it very strange when people have an ironic appreciation of food,” says Rax King, the writer and co-host of the podcast Low Culture Boil. “It shouldn’t be possible for some foods to be high-end and others to be a can of Cheez Whiz, but we’ve managed to do that.” On Tuesday, King will release her debut book of essays, Tacky, which tackles Cheez Whiz–esque cultural artifacts like the band Creed, Guy Fieri, and Jersey Shore. The Boston Globe called Tacky one of the fall’s most-anticipated books, and Esquire already praised it as one of the year’s best. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, King spent the week eating chocolate-ganache-coated sponge off her friend, pairing Dune with a questionable hot dog, and grabbing huevos ahogados from a preferred spot.

Wednesday, October 20
Off to an inauspicious start as I realized I was out of coffee at home and, more pressing, running late for my appointment for a COVID-19 booster shot. I fed my 11-year-old Pekingese, Shug, who is much more of a breakfast gal than I am. Then I grabbed a dirty chai from Bushwick Public House and sprinted after a bus I’d missed. Oh, well — at least I spilled a bunch of chai on myself!

After my booster shot, I felt sleepy. Also headachy. Also still out of coffee. I was able to solve all three problems by grousing about them to my boyfriend, Sean, until he delivered me a fresh bag of Stumptown coffee beans, three packets of Tylenol, and a Snapple raspberry ice tea (the best Snapple flavor and weirdly one of the hardest to find in non-diet form). I made us lunch: soft-scrambled eggs sprinkled with Old Bay and Bottle Rocket habanero hot sauce. Most of the food I make is sprinkled with Old Bay and Bottle Rocket habanero hot sauce.

I’d already RSVP’d to a cocktail-and-dessert reception that my friend Liara Roux was throwing that night to celebrate her book, Whore of New York, and I always respect an RSVP. So I napped and grabbed some emergency enchiladas rojas from my favorite neighborhood Mexican spot, Paloma’s. I firmly believe Paloma’s is magic — its smoky, piquant enchiladas can dry any tears, neutralize any illness. In this case, they enabled me to rally enough to clamber into my bon temps rouler outfit (“Dress code: lingerie, fetishwear, black tie”) and schlep out to the Standard in Chelsea. There, I was pleasantly surprised to find my old friend lying naked and covered in petits fours on a table.

I selected an eerily warm chocolate-ganache-covered sponge from Liara’s right boob, and we chatted about our book releases in our respective stages of undress. It feels mean chatting to a human dessert tray because one too-hearty laugh can mean disaster for all those pretty cakes and cookies, so I decided to spare Liara and talk to my other friends.

It’s not quite the same, but this reminded me: Nobody ever has a stripper coming out of a cake at their bachelor party anymore. I think every party should have a stripper coming out of a cake. Anybody who looks at a cake — which is already something nobody really needs to eat — and their response is, A naked lady should be jumping out of that? I think that’s a real extravagant attitude, very opulent.

I felt so virtuous every time I didn’t accept someone’s invitation to do blow in the bathroom that I drank and ate much more. A pastry that’s gone in two bites doesn’t feel like actual eating. For a happy and Marie Antoinette–ish couple hours, I chugged Champagne in the company of hot women in lingerie and those men in kilts who proliferate at every kink event until it was time to bring my aching body back to Brooklyn.

Back at home, Shug watched me balefully as I choked down my nighttime kratom, which tastes evil but eases the symptoms of my Crohn’s disease. I gave her a pinch of crunched-up Cheez-It dust (her favorite treat), and she relaxed the mean-mugging in time for bed.

Thursday, October 21
I woke up groaning, so that’s two inauspicious starts in a row. That booster is serious business! Sean told me I was burning up and fed me more Tylenol. My left arm, where I’d gotten the shot, hurt like a son of a bitch. “Just amputate it,” I sobbed while Sean ignored me and made me coffee. He might end up as the protagonist of this particular Grub Street Diet.

Once the Tylenol made a dent in the pain and I no longer hoped for my boyfriend to cut off my arm, I began dreaming of a breakfast sandwich. I favor a classic bacon-egg-and-cheese plus avocado on an everything bagel, a sandwich I always loudly refer to as a BECA in case any cool tastemakers are looking for the next hot thing. Bushwick, where I live, is not great for bagels. But Black Seed Bagels is delicious even though I do feel fairly donkey-brained spending $11 on a bagel sandwich. Shug loves Black Seed Bagels delivery days because I gave her a piece of the pastrami-seasoned lox exactly one time and she’s been chasing the dragon ever since.

I’d just gotten a tub of the Gwyneth Paltrow–approved Sex Dust in the mail — I had to write about whether it really was an aphrodisiac for my weekly newsletter — so I stirred a spoonful of the gnarly stuff into my lukewarm coffee, which I’m sure is not how The Goopmaster drinks hers. It tasted like a fungal variety of Swiss Miss and sent choppy waves roiling all over my stomach. So not a great aphrodisiac.

It was my friend Tommy’s birthday and we had tickets to see Dune in Imax that night, so I sternly told my stomach to simmer the fuck down, dragging it and Sean up to the Lincoln Square AMC. Did you know that when you endeavor to buy a hot dog and Junior Mints at the movies, the poor overworked cashier is now required to greet you with “How can I make your day more AMC amazing?” That almost put me off my hot dog as did the sight of another employee sticking a meat thermometer into one of the hot dogs and just barely pronouncing it food safe, but by then it had been hours since my BECA — I badly needed to eat something.

Later, in bed, I found myself craving more of that nasty-ass Sex Dust. So that’s how they get you, I thought, coughing down my nightly kratom instead before snuggling with my dog.

Friday, October 22
Between the aphrodisiac sludge of the previous afternoon and the just-about-food-safe hot dog of the evening, I didn’t feel great the next morning. (Three inauspicious starts!) Sean and I decided on a light breakfast — toast and jam only.

I have a jam problem. I don’t actually like jam all that much, but I always think I’m going to love it because it comes in those beautiful jewel-like colors and pleasingly shaped little jars. I’ve been burned by every flavor of jam you can imagine. But wouldn’t you know it, I had just bought a jar of Georgia-peach jam from a vendor called Coyote Kitchen LLC at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival. This jam was straight up revelatory — big soft chunks of peach throughout and the perfect amount of sugar. I just opened the jar, and it’s already half gone.

I spent the rest of the day working on my newsletter and a couple of other assignments, snacking on the last of the garlic-focaccia bread I’d baked the week before and playing with Shug whenever I hit a task I wanted to procrastinate on.

I then unwisely began smoking weed before making dinner — unwisely because as soon as I got going, all I could think about was a mutherfucking double cheeseburger. One of the ways my Crohn’s disease manifests itself is in a dangerously unpredictable appetite, which weed helps me manage. Without it, I often go days without feeling any reasonable stirrings of hunger; with it, I’m a grease goblin, horny beyond belief for cholesterol. But I behaved myself and made a batch of Alexa Weibel’s Five-Ingredient Creamy Miso Pasta (sans furikake but plus peas because, by this point in my Grub Street Life, my body was screaming for a vegetable). God, I love this recipe. It’s as easy as a struggle meal, but it contains two ingredients I have to go to the “good store” for, so it doesn’t feel struggle-y. I also love any recipe where the sauce is made up of discrete ingredients that meld together as if by means of alchemy as opposed to a chunkier sauce that looks more or less like all the stuff that’s in it.

Sean was supposed to come over that evening with milkshakes in tow (me Black ’n White, him Cookies ’n Cream). But the harried cashier at the spot where we get our milkshakes — which I will not name because I don’t want him to lose his job — gave him the wrong order by mistake. And wouldn’t you know it, what should be inside but a double cheeseburger! I am patently not embarrassed to report I ate dinner all over again that night. It was like God was telling me to go ahead and eat the cheeseburger I couldn’t stop thinking about earlier.

After my second carbo-load of a dinner, I felt woozy and overfed for some reason. Weird! Fortunately, I had just the thing: beer. I could swill in beverage form the same thing I’d just eaten in bun and pasta form. Shug watched me chase a hefty pinch of kratom with Blue Moon, her little legs crossed judgmentally as usual. Don’t tell me how to live my life, dog!

Saturday, October 23
Shug and I slept late, and then I had lunch with my friend Josh Gondelman at Red Hook Lobster Pound. I love having lunch with Josh because he always pays. Red Hook is a schlep, to be sure, being two trains plus a 20-minute walk away, but it’s worth it because this is the only place I know where the lobster rolls don’t come with potato chips by default — you can sub in far superior sides like potato salad and fries without running into a surcharge. We both got ours Connecticut style with warm butter, scallions, and paprika plus an extra scoop of lobster meat. (A lobster roll feels too stingy without that extra scoop.) I picked a creamy, mayo-based potato salad as my side, but Josh’s side of fries was better, and he graciously let me eat most of them.

After walking Josh home (I’m a gentleman), I headed to my own apartment to play with Shug for a few hours and eat a pudding cup, which is what I eat when I’m going to an event later and don’t know whether there will be food. The potentially foodless event in question was the Beers for Fears movie-trivia night at Society of Illustrators. I think it should be illegal for an event to play coy about whether it plans to serve food. The answer should appear in every event description in red, 72-point letters.

Turns out the answer was sort of. The venue set out finger bowls of popcorn, two of which I’d ravaged before Fright Night even started. The popcorn was now gone and my hunger wasn’t, but I noticed that as long as I stayed attentive to my bourbon, the hunger stayed manageable. After the movie, our trivia team didn’t win, but I did know one obscure answer, which is always my trivia-night metric for whether I need to hunker down and learn more things before I embarrass myself.

Sean and I got off the F train one stop early in the hopes of grabbing a proper late-night feast at Punjabi Deli — but we were heartbroken to learn it now closes at 10 p.m. instead of never. (Don’t let anyone say New York is “back, baby” until this changes.) We decided to visit Peter’s Crunchy Red Tacos in Bushwick instead, insane with hunger for the entire train ride. By this point, we had been running on popcorn and fumes for several hours, fending off stumbling, drunk 20-year-olds the whole way back to Bushwick. With nothing substantial to cushion it, that bourbon was burning a hole in my stomach lining.

After a couple birria tortas — dipped in consommé as all sandwiches should be everywhere — we felt beefily better. That line is no joke on a Saturday night, but Peter’s deserves every customer: That birria is responsible for preventing my conversion to vegetarianism. I like to give Shug the babiest piece of it out of my sandwich, and I might as well admit that in order to prepare it for her delicate Pekingese tummy, I suck the sauce and seasoning off it first. She’s always grateful.

I smoked my usual Night Joint™ before bed, and I could tell I was truly exhausted because it didn’t even make me hungry — just sluggish. So I leaned into the sluggishness and passed out on Sean’s shoulder, listening to him watching The Wailing as I drifted off.

Sunday, October 24
We woke up later than usual, more enervated by our bourbon-fueled odyssey to and from the bowels of the Upper East Side than either of us cared to discuss. I decided it was time for some morale-boosting brunch-delivery from Claudia’s, a Guatemalan spot I adore. Sean ordered the huevos ahogados (eggs sunny-side-up with salsa, bacon, and black beans). While some Guatemalan dishes were calling my name, I couldn’t resist the fried-chicken sandwich, which is quietly the best one in the neighborhood. Add an egg on top and nothing beats it.

I also wanted a slice of Claudia’s banana bread for later. I was pleased to discover it comes in giant-wedge form with half-dollar-size slices of banana throughout. It may have been “for later,” but it didn’t survive our brunch assault.

I spent the rest of the day catching up on work and lavishing Shug with attention; I felt she’d been a little neglected by our all-night journey. When she was sufficiently sick of me, I headed to the Lower East Side for a nail appointment, stopping by the corner store near my salon. It’s the only one I know that still sells Nantucket Nectars Pineapple Orange Guava juice, which — now that I think about it — might be why I’m so attached to that nail salon.

After having a fresh set of talons put on, I still hadn’t stopped yearning for Punjabi Deli nearby. You have leftovers at home, I scolded myself as my feet walked me there. It was open this time! Lord, I went HAM — a large with three veg, two samosas, and a jar of the lemon pickles Sean likes. I reasoned that tonight was Succession night and it made sense to feast and fete a bit. But really, I was just so happy to see them.

For the rest of the evening, I smoked, kratomed, and munched my way around my three vegetable stews with rice until they were all gone. We watched what I found to be an uncharacteristically dull episode of Succession, and I happily gobbled down some passion-fruit caramels that had arrived in the mail from Casse-Cou Chocolate, a magnificent plant-based chocolate shop on the LES. The chocolatier there, Sebastian Brecht, is a character. He once taught me how to make truffles in his shop before it opened for the day. It went so smoothly there but so disastrously at home that I mostly just buy my treats from him now, especially because he’s very fun to talk to about things like Led Zeppelin and the drumming of the guy in Led Zeppelin. Plus you don’t miss the cream or butter!

It was getting late, and I still had no interest in going to sleep, so I decided to have one last beer, this brutally sour guava gose that’s been rattling around my fridge for weeks. One last beer, one last kratom pinch, half a Xanax for good luck, and it was bedtime.

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