Author Alissa Nutting Prefers Two Hot Dogs on One Bun

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At Barrio in Cleveland. Photo: Dustin Franz

If there’s such a thing as the “book of the summer,” Made for Love by Alissa Nutting is a strong contender. The futuristic novel — which involves lifelike sex dolls, a terrifying tech billionaire, and romantic attachments to dolphins — has earned rave reviews. (Really, you’ve got to read it.) This week, Nutting, who’s also the author of the novel Tampa, and a creative-writing professor, enjoyed some downtime in a cabin in Minnesota before resuming her book tour, eating “almost anything coated in orange dust,” stacking McGriddles buns “like poker chips,” and drinking cheap beer (“my favorite food”). Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.

Thursday, July 27
I’m a beverage person. I love eating, but I can drink so much so fast. I’m a nightmare to share a drink with. One past boyfriend took it as a metaphor for my selfishness. Near the end, I think he would’ve preferred me to go cheat on him in the restaurant’s bathroom than to drink more than 50 percent of a shared soda. “You’re thoughtless,” he’d say, staring at the empty glass. Which, okay, but mainly I’m thirsty. All the time. I should probably see a doctor.

When I get up, I have a Diet Coke, and then a large coffee that I pour tap water into until it’s an okay temperature to chug. Taste isn’t a huge concern to me if I’m drinking in the service of a higher goal. I once read an interview with Gisele Bündchen where she talked about seeing models in magazines as a young girl and thinking, I could do that. Well, when the TV show Fear Factor was big, I used to watch people gagging on blended spider smoothies and have similar thoughts.

If I’m traveling, I often order food in exchange for Wi-Fi. Today’s lunch is from a café in rural northern Minnesota. I start with three more Diet Cokes, because they keep bringing refills. I get the turkey club, but when it arrives, it’s on a cranberry bread that has a disconcerting spotted-rash vibe. But the seasoned fries are good. I like to make a sort of “condiment volcano” on my plate to dunk them in: a ketchup mountain with hot-sauce lava in the center, all coated with a few layers of salt-and-ketchup topsoil.

We’re staying in a remote cabin for a few days, getting some R&R between readings for my new novel and work events, so dinner is hot dogs. Two dogs per bun is my preferred meat-to-bun ratio. I was vegetarian and vegan for over 15 years, until a Nathan’s hot dog in Las Vegas sent me into a fatal processed-meat-love spiral that I don’t ever predict recovering from. I love processed meats and prefer hot dogs to steak.

Friday, July 28
I have a lot of calls to do this morning, so I pour a cold sugar-free Red Bull into a hot large coffee and gulp it. It tastes like lawn fertilizer, but its effectiveness is undeniable.

Breakfast and lunch are snacks between calls, classic red-bag Doritos and Cheetos and (for my health!) Oven-Baked Cheddar & Sour Cream Ruffles. I will eat almost anything coated in orange dust. I feel bad for my internal organs, but also really curious about what they must look like. I’ll donate my body to science when I die; I’m kind of obligated to. How many people get 92 percent of their food from vending machines?

Cheap beer is probably my favorite food, so when I finish my work, I devote the rest of the evening to all the delicious lowbrow northern beers that are hard to find near our home base in Iowa. There’s Grain Belt, which seriously has a blueberry-ghost-syrup aftertaste, and not for craft-brew reasons. I think it just has so much grain that it makes my pancreas hallucinate in a synesthetic way. When insulin dies, my body’s grief is apparently very fruit-flavored. There’s Labatt Blue and Labatt Blue Light (different pleasures), Molson Canadian Lager, Moosehead, and Miller Golden Light, which I purchase in 16-ounce-aluminum-bottle form because it feels the most recreational. For dinner, I pilfer calories each time I go to the fridge for a new cold one: cold cuts, pepperoni, Kraft American-cheese slices with mayo and mustard, and lots of peanuts.

Saturday, July 29
Today’s morning Wi-Fi is courtesy of McDonald’s. I like to get a lot of different McGriddles and McMuffin sandwiches and do this ritual. First, disassemble them and discard the English muffins. The pancakeish McGriddles buns get stacked like poker chips. I set these to the side and eat all the protein first. I’m a fan of violent symmetry, and few things are more satisfying to me than the fluffy discus shape of the McMuffin egg. The eggs in the McGriddles look like tiny folded blankets, which should horrify me, but comforts me instead.

Next, I turn to the McGriddles-bun pile. McGriddles buns have all these little syrupy dots on them, and I meticulously eat all the brown dots out of each bun and toss the rest, which I tell myself is healthier than eating it all. I think psychologists call this pathological rationalization. I once attended a grant-writing conference where I sat next to a doctor who flirted with me mercilessly the first day, but the next morning, when he saw me eating a McGriddles, his face fell and he said, “You know how bad those are for you, right?” — and after that we were mutually dead to each other.

I accidentally work through lunch. Although, because I have unfettered access to a self-serve cola fountain, I probably drink about a dozen Diet Cokes. In high school, the restaurant I worked at let us drink free fountain refills during our shift, and I referred to this as my “second paycheck.”

For dinner back at the cabin, I eat a bunch of s’mores and a large bag of Old Dutch potato chips. It’s a Minnesota company. Cheap beer and potato chips are my favorite ways to be a tourist. Last week, I was in Ireland for the West Cork Literary Festival and I got addicted to both the Tayto and Hunky Dorys brands of crisps.

Sunday, July 30
It’s my last day at the cabin, and I’m going through serious Wi-Fi and cable-TV withdrawal. There are children everywhere, some of them probably my own, and zero recreational drugs. If I’m really bored, sometimes my brain does this thing where it tries to trick itself into feeling high by having me eat things that people would normally only eat when they’re high. I make several Jack’s frozen pepperoni pizzas and cut up thin slices, so I can try a lot of weird toppings. It brings me pleasure to place circular things atop the pieces of pepperoni, so on one I do dill-hamburger chips (sour), and another I top with unscrewed Oreo cookies (sweet). Then I do crumbled Doritos on one, and Goldfish crackers and sriracha hot sauce on another (savory). For dinner, I brown beef and make nachos. I like texture more than flavor, so I enjoy mine with an enormous pile of shredded iceberg lettuce on top.

Monday, July 31
Today, business takes me to Cleveland via Chicago. I’m in O’Hare a lot, and my favorite ORD convenience store is the CIBO Express in Terminal 2. I love eating things out of pouches because it makes me feel like an astronaut. I’m a fan of all the Oloves-olives packets, but my favorite is the Lemon & Rosemary. I also really like all the Plum Organics baby- and toddler-food packets that you can just unscrew and suck down while you’re walking to your gate. They’re one of the only things I can eat without staining my clothing. They’re probably also the healthiest food I eat.

For dinner, I go to Barrio, one of my favorite Cleveland taco joints. I was living in Cleveland when I met my now-husband, the novelist Dean Bakopoulos, at a writing festival in Cincinnati. A week later, I basically flew him to Ohio to sleep with me. I was so impatient that I had him meet me at the airport hotel because I could not wait 20 minutes longer to drive home. Afterward, we were both starving — neither of us had eaten all day due to first-time jitters and self-consciously wanting our stomachs to look flatter than usual when naked. So we went to Barrio and ate a postcoital victory meal of what felt like 100 tacos. Melted queso blanco is my dip of choice, and theirs is amazing; I dunk every taco I order in it in between every bite. My favorite is the spicy Carne Trozo, a crunchy shell filled with braised beef (I add the chipotle-honey sauce in addition to the secret sauce that comes with it).

Tuesday, August 1
Today, I go to Oxford, Ohio, where I’m fiction faculty in the Miami University low-residency M.F.A. On busy working travel days or book-tour events, I gravitate toward the multitasking ease of liquid nutrition. I really like Vanilla Bean Iconic Protein Drink because you can buy it at T.J. Maxx. I go there a lot for clean underwear and socks when I’m on the road. The drink tastes like gymnastic chalk and boxed-cake mix, but I’m in the fortunate position of liking the taste of both of those things.

I love hotel rooms with two beds: one for me and one for my delivered pizzas. I get Domino’s even when fancier pizza is available, because I’ve been in lots of small towns where Domino’s came through when no one else would, and I’m not the type to forget that. Also, their phone app lets you track the status of your order, which is great for my anxiety. I know when it’s in the oven, when it’s out for delivery, etc. And I make extensive use of the “saved addresses” and “favorite orders” features in my pizza profile, which is a time-saver.

I get two thin-crust pizzas with ham, pepperoni, green peppers, banana peppers, black olives, mushrooms, onions, and diced tomatoes. Sometimes, alongside the protein drinks, this can get me through two days; I just keep going back to it. I’m a big fan of the “accomplishment reward” system, so if I have to pull an all-nighter for a deadline, every few hours I’ll let myself heat up some slices if I’m on schedule. If I’m running behind, I have to eat them cold.

Author Alissa Nutting’s Grub Street Diet