‘Cake Zine’ Co-founder Tanya Bush’s ‘Grub Street Diet’
Tanya Bush is the co-founder and co-editor of Cake Zine.
Illustration: Lindsay Mound
Tanya Bush wants cake to make us happy. Currently, she’s gearing up to publish the second issue of Cake Zine, the sugarcentric magazine she co-founded with Aliza Abarbanel — the two became friends after Abarbanel came across Bush’s Instagram account, Anti-Depressant Confections. But while the first issue was all about the relationship between baking and sex, the upcoming edition, “Wicked Cake,” delves into darker topics, with an essay on siru-tteok (the Korean rice cake said to banish evil spirits) and thematically appropriate recipes such as Death by Chocolate. “We just thought it would be an interesting inversion to explore,” Bush says. “To explore something that’s so saccharin and sweet and normally thought of as just totally pleasurable and turn that on its head.”
Wednesday, October 19
I wake up to a barrage of apartment noises: hissing radiator, construction outside, and one of my cats, Solomon, frantically lapping water from the cup next to my bed. Despite my lofty aspiration to journal as soon as I’m awake, I hole up under the covers and scroll Instagram, which makes me hungry because my feed is full of cake. Prozac, then I stumble to the kitchen to turn on WNYC and eat a mini glazed doughnut with sprinkles. I’d baked it the night before for an event. Doughnuts are notoriously terrible the next day, so I zap it in the microwave, which makes the rainbow sprinkles molten. I take a picture for Instagram, then I eat a slice of cheddar cheese on its own because my boyfriend is out of town, so there’s no one but the cats to bear witness. Lately, coffee has been inducing plane-crash-level heart palpitations, so I boil water for genmaicha tea and settle down at the computer.
Lunch is a piece of milk bread from Lost Bread Co. with Cedar’s garlic hummus. I’ve been dealing with a stabbing pain in my tooth and have become increasingly convinced that it’s a cavity, as I’ve been overdoing it on the sugar lately, and as I also believe that karmic punishment comes in the form of the dentist. I make an emergency appointment.
My co-editor on Cake Zine, Aliza Abarbanel, is coming over for dinner so we can do a final pass together on the latest proof. We often have meetings over meals; I make something sweet and she handles savory.
We decide on pasta for the evening, so I pick up some paccheri, tomato paste, Parmesan, and pickled artichokes. Back home, I pull some leftover rye-orange shortbread dough from the freezer and roll it out into mini tart pans. “Are you aware you have a white handprint on your ass?” Aliza says when she arrives.
We do some work and then Aliza cooks: spicy pasta alla vodka because we need comfort food, and a shaved-fennel–and–apple salad because Aliza is very devoted to vegetables and concerned that I do not get enough of them. Then I mix cherry preserves I made over the summer with a splash of lemon, layer it into the bottom of the tart shells, and top with some mascarpone whipped cream mixed with honey and orange zest.
Aliza rolls us a pristine spliff while I set up the projector, then we climb up to the roof to smoke. It’s the kind of October evening that makes you realize winter is close, so we don’t stay very long before heading downstairs to eat the tarts and watch Spy Kids 2. It’s for Halloween costume research, I swear.
Thursday, October 20
Hissing, construction, Solomon drinking. For breakfast, the cats get a Fancy Feast (“Gravy lovers: Beef feast in beef gravy”) while I have a slice of leftover carrot cake. I panfry it on the stove in some Kerrygold butter like it’s French toast. Delightful.
It’s a nice day, so I decide to walk to the dentist in downtown Brooklyn. When I arrive, the waiting room smells suspiciously like burned sugar, which is jarring for the setting. Once I’m in the chair, the dental assistant hands me a cup of mouthwash and exits swiftly, but there is no sink in sight so I dutifully swallow the blue liquid. The dentist finally comes in to shove some cardboard in my mouth for X-rays, and I zone out to the drone footage of mountains playing on the TV. While I wait, I promise myself I’ll be brave if I need a root canal. We’re in the snow-capped Himalayas when the dentist tells me there is really nothing wrong with my mouth, only a “tiny” cut I could have contracted from a “brittle cracker” or “pizza burn.” I am relieved and embarrassed.
I go to our designer Noah Emrich’s house, where our team is meeting to see samples of the new cover. Aliza has picked up lunch from Saraghina Bakery on the way: olives, tangy onion focaccia, mozzarella that she tears up and tops, elegantly, with Lao Gan Ma chili crisp, and then, of course, there is cake, both vanilla and chocolate iterations. The first is dense and bland; the second is extremely plush and not too sweet. Noah shows us the cover samples. Ostensibly, they are “dramatically” different shades of green, but they look exactly the same to me. While I begin to panic that I’m color-blind, Noah makes us some espresso. This takes him a good 20 minutes: He methodically spritzes his coffee grounds with water to “reduce static electricity” and ensure he gets the precise amount of grinds.
I take the train uptown to go to my creative-writing grad-program class at Hunter. My piece is being workshopped today, so I buy a Diet Coke at a bong-filled bodega as a treat. I sit through an hour of people debating the merits of my writing. Everyone disagrees.
Afterward, I head farther uptown to Café Sabarsky to meet my friend Tatiana for dinner. We are the youngest people in the restaurant by 30 years. When I eat on my own, I prefer to eat dessert first, but I try not to subject my friends to this particular dietary preference so we order the smoked-trout crêpes; spaetzle with summer vegetables, which reminds me of baby food; and the southern Tyrolean cheese dumpling with brown butter, which is basically bread pounded into a ball. It is denser than a matzo ball but very pleasing.
At nine o’clock, the waiter comes by to inform us the kitchen is closing shortly. We get sachertorte and apfelstrudel. The “Moonlight” Sonata begins to play over the speakers, evidently a way of signaling to stragglers that the restaurant is closing. Beethoven gets increasingly loud until it’s hostile, so we pay the check hastily and walk down Madison for a while, where the Christmas lights have just recently gone up.
Friday, October 21
I’m not hungry, so I don’t bother with breakfast. Genmaicha with a splash of whole milk. The cats get ocean whitefish in gravy. I listen to the Taste podcast Aliza and I recorded a couple of weeks ago that’s just been released. I make it through four minutes before I become too mortified by my own voice to continue, then I head over to Aliza’s to co-work.
As I’m sitting on her stoop, Aliza pulls up with bags of takeout. She’s like my own personal Kiki’s Delivery Service except on a Citi Bike carrying suya. We eat the most savory, peanutty beef with jollof rice from Rodo, then work together for a while.
One of my oldest friends, Eliana, and her mother have invited me for dinner at Iris, followed by a musical. I haven’t seen her mother since I had cystic acne and hair to my waist, so she tells me I look very grown up. We order eggplant three ways, sourdough flatbread with squash and sage, Greek salad, and then, frantically, dessert (rice pudding like Kozy Shack’s, which I mean, very sincerely, as a compliment) because we are about to miss Into the Woods. I bring a bag of peanut M&M’s with me because one of the principal joys in life, I believe, is eating contraband candy in theaters.
Saturday, October 22
I wake up inexplicably exhausted and lunge for my preferred slow-morning breakfast: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I catch up on the reunion drama for a few hours, but when I find myself getting overly emotional about Lisa Rinna’s mother, I intuit that I need caffeine. Tea, cat food. I’m meeting my friends Sanaë and Forsyth for brunch at Cool World, which I’ve been meaning to try for a while.
It’s another outrageously idyllic day, so we sit outside. After the requisite catching up, we settle on an order. Sanaë worries that we’re not getting any vegetables, so we tack on a salad.
Amanda Perdomo is the pastry chef here, and fittingly, dessert is brought first: bread pudding with supple cream that’s barely sweet and beignets with maple-bacon syrup. I eat them to sickness. Then we have dirty rice with a poached egg, fried chicken, thick-cut bacon, and smashed potatoes. It’s so good I immediately make a dinner reservation for next week.
I take the train to Prospect Park to meet my best friend from college, Anna, for our weekly walk and whine. We stop for a drink at Winner in the Park (cold brew for her, iced tea for me) and complain about our addiction to stress, our insecure attachment styles, and the death of romance, in nonconsecutive order. I’m not hungry for dinner, so I eat a slice of cheddar cheese before heading out for the evening, first to see a friend in a play and then to a surprise party in Bushwick. I miss the surprise and show up just as the cake is being served. I’d been told it would be a Carvel ice-cream cake, but it turns out to be a matcha-cream cake that suffered some damage en route. Everyone compares it to guacamole. I have a couple of bites anyway and chase it with a few glasses of tequila and soda.
It’s after midnight, and I feel the sun moving into Scorpio. Finally, I can embody the intensity of my power. Just kidding. I’m feeling ambient anxiety and am vaguely nauseous from the tequila. It’s at this point that I start to take a mental inventory of the last few days, and begin to feel humiliated by the lack of greens I’ve consumed, juxtaposed against the sheer amount of refined sugar. I resolve to be better.