The Year of Ayn Rand / Mini Chocolate Souffles

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This week’s recipe: Mini Chocolate Souffles

I read Atlas Shrugged a few years ago. I have a lot of opinions on it, which I had been known to forcefully express on first dates with anyone who indicates libertarian leanings, but one of the things that makes it so unbearable to slog through is how totally cartoonish the characters are. This applies to the heroes, all of whom are physically flawless geniuses, but even more so to the villains. In addition to having telltale signs of moral decay such as “weak chins” and “piggy eyes,” they all espouse crazy, illogical ideas with no intellectual, historical, or moral basis. They don’t bother hiding these ideas behind spin or marketing or really any form of subtlety, which makes the characters and action read as truly unbelievable. But in 2017, the unbelievable has become the quotidian, and I think that some recent events would strain credulity even in an Ayn Rand book. I don’t mean that she’d necessarily disapprove of the political implications of the below; I just mean that even she might look at, say, the Roy Moore situation and say, “Hey, that’s a little too broad, maybe you should tone it down.” Imagine you encountered any of the following scenarios in an Ayn Rand book, and tell me if you wouldn’t think that her editors really should have reined her polemical side:

-A Bible-thumping former judge who was twice removed from the bench for flouting the law runs for Senate on a platform of law-and-order, adherence to the Constitution, and family values. Despite being accused of child molestation by multiple women, he still retains the support of evangelical “values voters.”

-A coal baron who was sent to prison for conspiring to commit mine safety violations following the nation’s biggest mining disaster runs for Senate in West Virginia by accusing the government of paying insufficient attention to mine safety.

-Legislators write a tax bill that eliminates the $250 deduction for teachers who buy school supplies out of their own pockets but retains a tax break for golf course owners.

-The man nominated to lead the Census Bureau once wrote a book with the subtitle “Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.”

-The President’s lawyers argue that his own public statements can’t be taken as indication of his intent when trying to determine his intent in crafting executive orders, deciding to fire the FBI director, etc.

-The country suffers regular gun massacres, and Congress responds by making access to guns easier.

In other words, 2017 is garbage and needs to be over, stat.

So anyway, here’s a mini-cake/mini-souffle/mini-whatever you want to call it. Just don’t call it late for dinner! But if you are late for dinner, this is the perfect dessert. It comes together in no time, and you can just pop it into the oven 15 minutes before you need to serve it. Oh, and did I mention that it can be made pareve? It’s one of Mark’s favorites so I made it for his birthday dinner, and as always, it came out perfectly. Plus, I got to bake them in my cheery yellow mini-cocottes from Sur La Table and I will always take any opportunity to use them!

Mini Chocolate Souffles

From Kosher By Design: Short on Time by Susie Fishbein

Ingredients
4 ounces good-quality semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine
4 large eggs
1½ cups sugar, plus a little more for coating the ramekins
¾ cup flour
1 tsp. vanilla
Instructions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Generously coat 8 (6.8 ounce) ramekins with nonstick cooking spray and lightly cot them with granulated sugar. Hold a ramekin on its side. Tap the sides, turning the ramekin to coat the sides with sugar as well. Repeat with remaining ramekins.
Break the chocolate into small pieces; place it and the butter in a small microwave-safe dish. Microwave on medium power for 15-second intervals, stirring between, until the chocolate is completely melted.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the eggs on high speed until foamy. Slowly pour in the sugar, and continue beating until very fluffy and pale yellow. On low speed, stir in the flour and vanilla, until thoroughly combined.
Increase speed to high, and while beating, slowly drizzle in the melted chocolate mixture. Once added, beat until all the chocolate is incorporated, about 1 minute.
For ease of pouring, transfer the batter into a large measuring cup. Fill each ramekin halfway. Set the ramekins onto a baking sheet and bake for 14-15 minutes, or until the tops are brown and the centers are warm.
Alternatively, the filled ramekins can be refrigerated. Just leave at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking.
Serve immediately, being careful because the ramekins are hot!
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2017 Books, Pt. 2 / Butternut Squash, Apple, and Brie Galette

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This week’s recipe: Butternut Squash, Apple, and Brie Galette

A continuation of my wildly successful post, 2017 Books, Pt. I

The Run of His Life by Jeffrey Toobin

Like many people, I watched and loved FX’s OJ Simpson series last year. I was seven years old when the trial happened, and my understanding of it was limited to referring to orange juice as “OJ Simpson” (even back then, I had a rare facility with words). So it was especially illuminating to learn about the characters involved, the racial issues at play, and how the prosecutors’ arrogance and incompetence managed to allow an obviously guilty man to go free. I like Jeffrey Toobin’s writing and wanted to read the book behind the series, and I wasn’t disappointed. The case was so nuts that it would have made for a fascinating read even in the hands of a less gifted writer, and Toobin was given a high level of access to many of the principals early on, in addition to being the one to discover Mark Furhman’s near-cartoonish racism.

How the defense managed to make OJ, who had explicitly disassociated himself with blackness early and often and who had a cozy relationship with the starstruck LAPD, into a stand-in for every black man who had ever been mistreated by law enforcement is to my mind the most compelling (and crazy-making) part of the story. But there are many resonances with today: Marcia Clark and how she embodied the burdens faced by working mothers; Barry Scheck and the trial’s role in the rise of DNA evidence; the victim blaming of Nicole Brown Simpson that managed to turn a victim of murder and domestic violence into a trashy, promiscuous gold digger; and the never-ending press circus surrounding celebrity behavior that, in a curious postscript that no one could have imagined at the time, has reached its apotheosis in the children of OJ’s friend and lawyer Robert Kardashian. The facts of the case itself were obvious, and should have been a slam dunk. The Run of His Life is valuable not for shedding any new light on those facts, but for its forensic explanation of why the slam dunk wasn’t.

Stalin, Volume I by Stephen Kotkin

Another stab in my attempt to understand our new Russian overlords, but also an inherently interesting subject. Stalin was arguably the greatest monster in a century full of them. People keep writing and reading biographies of monsters because we want to know where that level of evil comes from. According to Kotkin, in this massive, heavily researched book..,well, you’ll just have to wait and find out. It covers Stalin’s early years, from his birth to the exile of Trotsky and the start of collectivization. The Stalin that Kotkin paints is a hard worker, talented administrator, and Soviet true believer with a definite ruthless streak and gift for consolidating power, but not necessarily the cruel dictator he would become. He had a typical childhood (Kotkin dismisses the theory that Stalin’s brutality arose from being beaten by his father; if that were the case, nearly every Georgian boy of the time would grow up to order the death of millions). Following a brief stint in seminary, he became an outlaw for the Communist cause and eventually rose to its highest office, dispatching rivals along the way and significantly helped along by luck and circumstance.

When looking back at evil leaders of highly ideological movements, it’s natural to wonder how much they actually bought into the ideology and how much they were just using it as a vehicle for their ambitions. According to Kotkin, Stalin was Lenin’s true heir, despite the fog placed around his succession by Lenin’s disputed testament; however, he also argues that Trotsky was far more essential to the revolution than Stalin was. Although Stalin is the title and subject of the book, Kotkin often pushes him aside for long (though necessary) contextualizations. And while the book is definitely meant for the general reader, I sometimes found it difficult to follow as someone who isn’t familiar with this period in Russian history (the fact that everyone has at least one name and one alias, sometimes more, doesn’t help). But it does help you get inside the mind of a man and a movement that sanctioned endless repression, torture, and murder in a quest to build a more just and equitable future.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

This was one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. It’s also a book about one man’s quest to reinstate slavery in the United States. That man is the book’s unnamed black narrator, who hails from a Los Angeles neighborhood called Dickens which has been “disappeared” from the map. The plot is quite dense to describe here; suffice to say that it involves the narrator’s father’s deranged sociological experiments that he performed on his son; the last black member of the Little Rascals who willingly volunteers himself for servitude; a donut shop that serves as the home of (a wicked sendup of) black intellectuals; the re-segregation of public schools and buses; and more. But mostly, it’s about the narrator’s attempts to show what a farce post-racial America is by, to use a phrase Stalin would have appreciated, heightening the contradictions to a truly absurd extent.

It’s no surprise that this hilarious satire was the first book ever by an American author to win the Man Booker Prize. Seriously, the book is worth it just for one character’s attempt to put out politically correct versions of classic books (sample titles: The Old Black Man and the Inflatable Winnie the Pooh Swimming Pool, The Pejorative-Free Adventures and Intellectual and Spiritual Journeys of African-American Jim and His Young Protégé, White Brother Huckleberry Finn, as They Go in Search of the Lost Black Family Unit). But it’s also about how we’re all still comfortable with black subordination, and the meaninglessness of the post-racial ideal. The Sellout was written during the Obama years, but in the Trump years, it resonates more than ever.

Quick review of other books I’ve read this year:

White Trash by Nancy Issenberg: timely study of poor white American identity, but not as groundbreaking as the author thinks

Wolf Boys by Dan Slater: thought-provoking exploration of why young people get into the drug trade, and what it means when teenagers become cartel murderers

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer: delightful portrait of a demographic not often examined by historians

Blitzed by Norman Ohler: definitely entertaining; the portion about Hitler’s drug use was more convincing than the part about that of the general German public

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman: a lot more boring than the show

Hitler: Ascent by Volker Ullrich: dude, I already wrote a whole post on this!

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken: oh Al, you’ve broken my heart

Devil’s Bargain by Joshua Green: I have to admit that I’m still only 2/3 of the way through this one but it’s equal parts illuminating, infuriating, and compulsively readable

So anyway, here’s a galette. This will definitely impress your guests when you bring it to the table, and impress their taste buds when they eat it. This is a visually beautiful dish that screams “fall.” Seriously, it will grab you by your lapels and scream, “FALL, MOTHERFUCKER!” Better eat it all up before it embarrasses you in public!

Butternut Squash, Brie, and Apple Galette

From Happy Yolks

For the pastry:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup ice water

In a bowl, mix the flour with the sugar and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in half of the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Cut in the remaining butter. Pour in water then begin to mix and knead the dough until a ball forms and the mixture is no longer shaggy looking. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

  • 3-ish lb butternut squash
  • 2 apples (honeycrisp, pink lady, or fuji)
  • 2 cups brie cheese, rind removed
  • olive oil
  • fresh thyme
  • salt/pepper
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 400.’ Peel the squash. Cut 1/4 inch vertical wedges up to the rind. Halve discs. Place on a baking sheet and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s okay if wedges overlap. Bake for 15-20 minutes until just softened and a little al dente in the thicker regions. Set aside and cool. With a mandolin or pairing knife, cut apples (with peel) into 1/4 inch slices. Set aside. Cut or tear brie into strips and chunks. Set aside.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Begin layering cooled squash, apples, cheese, and a bit of salt and pepper leaving a 1 1/2 inch border for folding it all up. Repeat until you run out of ingredients and can top with more cheese. Fold the border over your squash-apple-cheese tower pleating the edge to make it fit. Finish outside exposed dough with an egg wash. Bake for 30-40 minutes in the 400′ oven. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

2017 Books, Pt. 1 / Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

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This week’s recipe: Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

I’m not one to write, “Sorry I haven’t posted in a while” because I DON’T OWE YOU PEOPLE ANYTHING. But I haven’t posted in a while, and that’s because I’m doing NaNoWriMo and all of my writing efforts have been devoted to that. Still, I know you’ve all been thirsting for me to drop a new blog post, so I thought I’d do writeups of some of the books I’ve read this year so you can all entertain yourselves while I’m busy with my important novel-writing duties. Enjoy!

The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore

I actually started reading this one in late 2016, out of a desire to learn all that I could about our new Russian overlords. My knowledge of the Romanovs was limited to what I had learned in my Jewish education (that they endorsed and encouraged pogroms that caused many of our ancestors to flee to America) and during the brief mania for them surrounding the release of the 1997 animated film Anastasia (that they were an elegant, innocent, loving family, and that the entire Russian Revolution was the result of an evil curse placed on them by Rasputin). Surprise: turns out that the former was a lot more accurate than the latter. This comprehensive history hammers home the cruelty of the Romanovs; even the cultured ones were barbarians. They were excessive in every way–excessive drinking, excessive sex, excessive violence, and excessive piety on top of all of that–which makes them scads of fun to read about, though not much fun to live under. Yet live under them people did, for three centuries, until Rasputin sold his soul and cast his curse they got what was coming to them.

I know I made a joke about how this book helped me understand our new Russian overlords but, in all seriousness, it did illuminate how tightly authoritarianism and state power are woven into Russian life. Montefiore’s epilogue describes how Putin sees his own reign as a restoration of the czarist tradition after the Soviet era, and while I would never say that the people of some countries want to be dominated, it’s easy to see how 300 years of autocracy shaped Russian culture to a point where Putin is not only tolerated, but venerated.

Crazy Rich Asians / China Rich Girlfriend / Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Okay, I am kind of late to the Crazy Rich Asians train, though with the trilogy now complete and the movie coming out soon, there seems to be renewed interest. I read Crazy Rich Asians on the beach in Hawaii and let me tell you, it is the platonic ideal of a beach read. The first book is the story of Nick, the scion of an insanely wealthy Singapore family, who brings his American fiancee Rachel to meet his relatives while they are in Singapore for his (even more insanely wealthy) best friend’s wedding. They are not pleased with his choice, hi-jinks and intrigue ensue, etc. When I finished the first book I immediately wanted to read the other two, though I was disappointed in the second book, when Nick and Rachel travel to China to meet her relatives, encounter even more lavish wealth, blah blah blah. Luckily, the series redeemed itself with the third book, which revolved around the death of Nick’s grandmother and the jockeying for inheritance of her palatial estate.

Most of the characters, particularly Nick’s family, are just as crazy as the book’s title promises, to hilarious effect. Though they are richer than God, they are grasping about money, anxious about status, and especially among the older generation, weirdly cheap about certain things. Their shenanigans and outlandish displays of wealth make the books worth reading, even though the protagonists are two of the most boring characters in literature. The trilogy runs to nearly 1,500 pages yet I could not tell you a single thing about Nick’s personality, because he doesn’t have one, unless you define “having good cheekbones” as a personality trait. Rachel is so boring that when [spoiler alert] she gets poisoned and finds out who did it, she barely appears to register it. The reason I disliked the second book is because it revolves around Nick and Rachel, who I already didn’t care about, and then introduces a bunch of Rachel’s relatives and their friends, who I also don’t care about, all while mostly staying away from the antics of the family back in Singapore. Conversely, Rich People Problems was my favorite because it largely moved away from Nick and Rachel and the Chinese characters and refocused on the Singapore relatives.

Another aspect of these books that I enjoyed was getting a peek into the culture and customs of the new class of Asian billionaires. It’s only been a generation or two since such a level of wealth was even possible in China or Singapore, and Kwan, who grew up in this milieu, is an excellent guide. At times, especially in the second book, the plot exists solely as an excuse to describe lavish shopping trips, and you shouldn’t read these books unless you have a high tolerance for endless lists of designer brands. But they’re a lot of fun, and I for one am excited for the movie!

Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild

I didn’t feel like reading Hillbilly Elegy after last year’s election so I went with Strangers in Their Own Land instead. Hochschild, a Berkeley sociologist, spent years in a highly polluted, economically depressed, heavily Tea Party area of Louisiana, trying to understand why people who had suffered so much from environmental degradation support politicians who oppose regulation. She finds out–in a conclusion that will surprise absolutely no one who’s been paying attention over the past year–that their sense of grievance and resentment is stronger than their desire to make their own lives better. The central metaphor of the book is the line; that white working-class conservatives conceive of themselves as waiting patiently on a line for the American Dream, and their anger stems from their feeling that women, minorities, and immigrants are cutting in front of them.

Hochschild recognizes that most of this anger is coming from a place of emotion, not rationality, and she displays almost ostentatious level of empathy for her subjects and respect for their emotions. This can manifest in a faux-naivete that she lays on a little thick at times; i.e. she reads Ayn Rand to prepare for her time among the Tea Partiers, and then is shocked! when they turn out not to all be heartless sociopaths. Lady, you are an educated, sophisticated sociologist with tenure at one of the best universities in the country, don’t pretend to be amazed that people are not cartoons. But despite her best efforts to scale what she calls “the empathy wall,” it’s still a really frustrating read in this day and age. Not only rightwingers vote their values over their economic self-interest (there’s a saying the Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans, for instance). But I’ve long thought that the one thing that unites Trump voters is a desire to say, “Screw you” to liberals, no matter how badly they themselves get screwed in the process. This book did little to dispel that notion.

Shrill by Lindy West / Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling / You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

I grouped these together as “memoirs by funny women writers.” Kaling suggests that her book would be a great gift to your niece who you don’t know very well but want to connect with more. She’s being self-deprecating but it’s actually a pretty perfect description. West’s book would be a perfect gift for said niece if she is a budding feminist, and Klein’s book would be a perfect gift for said niece if said niece is me. Seriously,  I identified an almost embarrassing amount with many of the essays in Klein’s book, from the evils of barre class to the seductive tweeness of Anthropologie to the crazy-making process of waiting for your fucking boyfriend to just fucking propose already. Kaling’s book is like hanging out with a friend who, even if you don’t have much in common with her, is always super-entertaining to talk to. West’s book is definitely heavier in content but can be just as funny as the ones by professional comedians.

What was the interesting–though I suppose not surprising–unifying factor in all of these was the number of pages devoted to appearance. If you are a woman, it would appear that no matter how funny, successful, and interesting you are, at least 65 percent of your brainspace will be taken up by various appearance-related insecurities. This was especially true of Shrill. I think that West, who has been significantly overweight her whole life, would object to the term “insecurities,”since she is an activist for fat acceptance, and a significant percentage of the essays in her book are about how proud she is to be fat. In my experience, people who have truly accepted something don’t talk about it constantly. Nevertheless, I think her pride is awesome, but also kind of limiting. I understand that it’s a heavy lift (sorry) to convince the world that you are happy being fat, when everything and everyone in society tells you that that’s not possible. And hey, it’s her memoir, she can write about what she likes. But I was sad that West, who is a smart, insightful, and hilarious writer on so many topics, has decided that fat-shaming and misogynistic bullying deserve the first 212 pages of her 257-page book.

The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn

I read and loved Jeff Guinn’s book on Charles Manson. This one was just as good and, if anything, even more horrifying to read. As one of the Jonestown survivors points out near the end of the book, Jonestown has become something of a cultural punchline–“don’t drink the Kool-Aid” and all that–which has dulled some of the tragedy of what happened there. But listening to a description of hundreds of babies and young children being force-fed drops of cyanide from syringes as their parents watch brings back the reality of it real quick.

The other book that I thought of often while reading The Road to Jonestown was Lawrence Wright’s book on Scientology, Going Clear. It’s not a novel insight that all cults share certain characteristics, and that cult leaders tend to exhibit the same potent blend of charisma, charlatanism, and control that allows them to dole out physical punishment and psychological humiliation to their followers without repercussion. What makes Jones interesting is how, before his descent into full-on drug-fueled demagoguery and paranoia, he combined the best aspects of the Christian social justice tradition and the worst aspects of religious hucksterism and exploitation. Followers are attracted to Scientology because of what it can do for them; followers were attracted to the Peoples Temple because of what they could do for others, and they had to give up essentially all their material possessions and personal freedoms to join. As Guinn puts it, members of the Peoples Temple gave rather than got, and in the end, the things they gave included their lives.

So anyway, here’s cake. Isn’t she a beauty? Three amazing things to know about this cake: 1) It comes together extremely quickly and easily 2) It is vegan but doesn’t taste like it 3) It stays moist forever, even when you leave it out on the table for five days and most of the tinfoil covering it falls off. Plus it has olive oil in it, and olive oil is very good for you. Ergo, this cake is very good for you. So what are you doing, fools, go make this cake for your Shabbat dinner NOW!

Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

From Smitten Kitchen

CAKE
  • 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (60 grams) unsweetened cocoa, any variety, sifted if lumpy
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (145 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) water or coffee
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) cider vinegar or white vinegar
GLAZE
  • 3/4 cup (135 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons (10 grams) cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (20 grams) light corn syrup (for shine)
  • A pinch or two of flaky sea salt
Make cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of 9-inch round cake pan with a fitted round of parchment paper and coat the bottoms and sides with nonstick cooking spray.Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and granulated sugar in the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Add brown sugar and olive oil, and whisk to combine. Add water and vinegar and whisk until smooth.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is springy and a tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few sticky crumbs (but not wet or loose batter). Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then cut around it with a knife to ensure it is loosened and flip it out onto a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way.

Make glaze: Combine chocolate, cocoa powder, olive oil, corn syrup, and salt in a medium bowl and microwave to melt, in 15 to 30 second increments, stirring between each until just melted. Whisk until smooth. Pour over completely cooled cake and use spatula to gently nudge it down the sides.

Hocus Pocus / Funfetti Cookies

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This week’s recipe: Funfetti Cookies

Friendtopia/We nostalgically watch Hocus Pocus/Friendtopia/Awww, I love Hocus Pocus!
Friendtopia/All citizens must watch Hocus Pocus/Friendtopia/Or else they will be killed/Zigazow!

I came to Hocus Pocus relatively late in life. It came out in 1993, when I would have been too young to see it in theaters, though from what I understand basically no one saw it in theaters anyway. Instead, they were exposed to it through endless rebroadcasts on the Disney Channel and ABC Family, which I also missed, since I wasn’t allowed to watch TV. And anyway, it was a scary movie! About witches! And I was/continue to be a huge wimp about anything scary. I was so traumatized by the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyworld that for years afterward, I would only refer to it as “H.M.”, as if using the full name would summon the ghosts and goblins that populated what, in retrospect, was probably a deeply silly and cheesy ride. Oh, and I once had to be removed in tears from a South Street Seaport attraction called “William Shakespeare’s Haunted Ship.”

So yeah, scary movies are not my thing. But seemingly everyone in my generation has a real fondness for Hocus Pocus, plus it’s a goddamned children’s movie (sort of—more on that shortly). So when Mark suggested we watch it one October night a few years ago, I decided that my desire to fit in with my peers was stronger than my fear of a Disney Channel movie where the main witch was played by Bette Midler of all people.

It’s such a loony movie! I’m not surprised that it performed poorly in theaters but later became a nostalgia item among adolescents and young adults; it’s very hard to know who it was made for. Ostensibly it’s for children but when it airs on TV, it’s rated as TV -14, i.e. unsuitable for children under 14. This may be referring to:

-The odd obsession with virgins. Quick plot summary: Three witches are killed in 17th century Salem and only a virgin lighting a candle on Halloween night can bring them back to life. In present day (i.e. 1993) Salem, Main character Max doesn’t believe in the supernatural and lights the candle. He, his sister Dani, his crush Allison, and a 17th century Salemite named Thackeray Binx whose soul has been eternally trapped in the body of a black cat spend the rest of the night trying to prevent the witches from luring the children of Salem into their lair so they can suck out their youthful essence. He also spends the whole movie being teased about being a virgin, basically every five to 10 minutes. The last words of the movie are Thackeray telling the ghost of his sister, “I had to wait 300 years for a virgin to light a candle!”

-The teen romance, which though generally quite tame, does involve a scene where Max appears to be masturbating while moaning Allison’s name. All while his prepubescent sister watches from a closet. Later on, said sister informs Allison that Max likes her “yabbos” at a Halloween party.

-The unending horniness of Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, Sarah Sanderson. Seriously, she will hump ANYTHING. It gets to the point where, when she sings to the children of Salem, “The time’s come to play/Here in my garden of magic” you are like, lady, that is DISGUSTING, those are little kids! Luckily, she meets her match in an equally horny bus driver. First he tells them that he will use his bus to convey them to their “most forbidden desires” (whatever that means). Then, when one of the witches, in search of youthful essence to steal, tells the bus drive, “We desire children,” he not-at-all subtly implies that he would be happy to get all three of them pregnant. Cause it’s a kids’ movie!

-Max slipping his “number” to Allison and the paper just saying “555.” Okay, there’s nothing inappropriate there, I just wanted to bring it up because it’s so weird.

However, one thing that Hocus Pocus has going for it on the appropriateness front is Allison’s 90s-tastic loose-sweater-and-jeans combo. If this movie were made today, they would have put her in a borderline-slutty Halloween costume and kept her in it for the rest of the movie.

There’s seriously all kinds of crazy in this movie. For instance, Max is tormented by two bullies, Jay and Silent Bob Ice, who steal his sneakers. Jay wears a leather jacket and a kilt and Ice has the word “Ice” shaved into the back of his head, so you know they’re bad boys. The witches capture Jay and Ice and leave them in cages hanging above their cauldron, but when Max comes back to the witches’ house to save Dani, he just takes his sneakers off of Ice’s feet and leaves them there! Teaching bullies a lesson is one thing, but at this point the witches are still alive and likely to return home and do God knows what to Jay and Ice. It seems disproportionate to leave someone to the mercy of women who suck out children’s essences, imprison people’s souls in animal bodies, sew people’s lips shuts with a dull needle, etc., just because he stole your shoes. Then there’s the part where Max and friends trap the witches in the school kiln and turn it on. A scene passes, and then blammo, the witches emerge from the kiln looking a little charred but otherwise fine. No explanation, and also no explanation as to why hanging (the way they died back in the 17th century) apparently kills witches but fire doesn’t. And of course, there’s the famous dance scene where the power of Bette Midler singing “I Put a Spell On You” causes all involved to dance until they fall over dead. The movie is full of crazy shit like this. That’s what makes it such a fun Halloween classic for all ages (except kids)!

So anyway, here are some cookies. Who doesn’t love funfetti? Mark and I made these one night while getting thoroughly tipsy on NPR wine—yes it’s a real thing—and hatewatching a fine anti-evolution film called A Matter of Faith. (Okay, so I made them, and Mark ate them, which is how it usually goes in our house.) A Matter of Faith is about a Christian girl who goes to college and almost gets seduced into the evil science-believing lifestyle by her biology professor. Luckily, she is saved by her dad, who agrees to debate the biology professor about the origins of life, and her love interest, who sports a truly unfortunate late-90’s-boy-band soul patch. At one point, Soul Patch confronts another boy who says that the professor is going to wipe the floor with the dad, and they have the following exchange (roughly, can’t say I remember the exact wording):

Soul Patch: So, is your mom the monkey?
Other Guy: What?
Soul Patch: Or was it your grandma?
Other Guy: Watch it, man!
Soul Patch: So your grandma didn’t look like a monkey and neither does your mom. How about your great-grandmother?
Other Guy: What’s your deal, man?
Soul Patch: We’re descended from apes, right? So who in your family was the monkey?
Other Guy: Do you seriously think that evolution means that apes give birth to human babies? No, evolution is a process that takes place over millions of years through advantageous mutations. The fact that you can’t grasp that makes me wonder how you got into college in the first place.

Just kidding. Other Guy says “Whatever” and slinks away, defeated by Soul Patch’s brilliant riposte.

A bunch of other dumb stuff happens, and the movie ends with the debate, which the dad is about to lose to the biology professor when a wise old black man comes up to the podium and saves the day. No, really. That’s what kind of movie this.

Anyway, I’ve gotten kind of off-topic, but I just wanted to demonstrate that that’s how simple this recipe is—you can make it while drunkenly watching creationist straight-to-video claptrap on Netflix and it still comes out perfectly. The recipe calls for clear vanilla extract but I only had the regular kind, I don’t know if it made any difference. I brought these to a house party where they were feted both for their festive look and delicious taste.

Funfetti Cookies

From The Wood and Spoon

INGREDIENTS

  • 10 tablespoons (140 gm) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200 gm) sugar
  • ½ cup (100 gm) brown sugar
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons clear vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups (260 gm) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup (160 gm) rainbow sprinkles

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare sheet pans by lining them with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla and egg, beating on low until incorporated. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar, and beat on low speed just until the dry ingredients are combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the sprinkles. Beat just until combined.
  3. Scoop out 1-1/2 tablespoon sized scoops (I use a medium cookie scoop) and roll each dough ball briefly in your hands to smooth out the rough edges of dough. Place on the prepared baking sheets 2 inches apart. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies have just begun to crack and the edges are set. Allow to cool on the sheet pans for about 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to complete cooling.

The Transformed Wife / Duck Breasts with Apples and Maple Cider Sauce

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This week’s recipe: Duck Breasts with Apples and Maple Cider Sauce

Lori Alexander is an evangelical woman whose whole shtick is that wives ought to be submissive because the Bible tells us so. She posts neatly written, badly spelled notes on her Facebook page, castigating women who want to do controversial feminist things like go to college, work as doctors, work as real estate agents, work outside the home at all, watch This Is Us, divorce their emotionally abusive alcoholic husbands, remarry after divorce, choose who to vote for, cut their hair, follow their dreams, decide when they want to go out to dinner, or generally express any kind of opinion contrary to what her husband thinks. And that was only for the month of September! Instead of going to college, she recommends that young women can “babysit, nanny, teach music, voice, or ballet lessons, tudor [sic], photography, cooking school, dog grooming, become an NTP and teach people how to get healthier, housecleaning, helping the elderly, volunteer work, garden, serving at church, work at bakery, sell crafts, [and] take online herbal classes.” Too bad Alexander was never tudored on the importance of parallel construction, but you get the idea.

I could quote her lunatic blog and Facebook posts all day, but it’s shooting loaves and fishes in a barrel. Better to meet her on her own terms and debate her ideas there, I think. I have to admit that my knowledge of the New Testament is shamefully scanty, but at least judging from the Old Testament, I don’t know what the Gehenna she’s talking about. Here are some examples of submissive wives of the Bible:

-Abraham, the father of monotheism, had two sons: Isaac, by his wife Sarah, and Ishmael, by his slave Hagar. When Isaac and Ishmael began to fight, Sarah demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. Abraham understandably didn’t want to send his own son into the desert to die, but God explicitly told him, “Listen to whatever Sarah tells you.” (Incidentally, Alexander claimed that there was not a single verse in the Bible directly instructing a man to submit to his wife. Booyah, I suppose.)

-Isaac and his wife Rebecca also had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau was Isaac’s favorite and, as the oldest, the rightful recipient of his father’s blessing and inheritance. But Rebecca favored Jacob and helped him trick Isaac into delivering the blessing and inheritance to him. Because Rebecca had the foresight to go over her husband’s head, Jacob became the father of the Jewish people, to the extent that we are still known by his other name, Israel.

-In an (admittedly very confusing) incident, God comes to kill Moses, and his wife Zipporah saves his life by hastily circumcising their son. Moses had neglected to carry out this crucially important ritual, thereby incurring God’s anger, and disaster was averted only Zipporah’s through quick thinking to remedy her husband’s bad decision.

There are also women who defied their fathers—Rachel and Leah stealing Laban’s idols, Miriam denouncing Amram for refusing to sleep with his wife, Pharoah’s daughter disobeying his decree to save Moses’ life. And the litany of un-submissive women who are nevertheless held up as heroines doesn’t end there. There’s Tamar, a widow who dressed up as a prostitute, slept with her father-in-law, and was rewarded by giving birth to a son who was the ancestor of King David and the Messiah. Judith, Yael, and Rachav used their sexuality to accomplish what an army couldn’t. Deborah led the people in a war and ushered in 40 years of peace.

The Bible also teaches us that husbands are not necessarily righteous and wise and deserving of deference simply by virtue of being men. This seems like an obvious lesson, though apparently not to the likes of Lori Alexander. Sometimes there is no love in marriage, as in the case of Leah, whose husband loved her sister and continued to neglect her no matter how many sons she bore. Sometimes a husband is stupid and abusive, as in the case of Esther, whose husband’s actions were ruled by lust and greed. Sometimes a woman has no agency in her relationships, as in the case of Batsheva, whose second husband purposefully killed off her first one so he could have her. And whether in the realm of marriage or otherwise, even some of the great heroes of the Bible such as Jacob, Moses, and King David made bad decisions with tremendous negative consequences.

Men can be stupid, prideful, misguided, hypocritical. They can be driven by lust or anger, bigotry or self-aggrandizement, materialism or jealousy. So can women, of course, but it’s crazy to pretend that men are born with bigger brains, better hearts, and more discerning temperaments when both the Bible and history have shown that that’s not true. But apparently, the old Phyllis Schlafly game of “everyone should listen to this woman explain why women aren’t worth listening to” can be pursued endlessly, in new permutations, for fun and profit.

I would hope that most men want their spouse to be a true partner. I would hope that they want a relationship built on mutual respect instead of one person dominating and the other being a doormat. Guess I’ll never be a transformed wife!

So anyway, here’s some duck. Duck! Isn’t it amazing? It’s so tender and juicy, its fat makes everything taste better, and if you use it in the Name Game song (you know, the one with “bananafana”) as a child, it allows you to say the F word! It’s pretty hard to get your hands on kosher duck even in New York City but I snagged some from the amazing Grow and Behold. Mark loves duck so I made this for him because I am a submissive (future) wife who lives only to please her (future) husband. Hahahahaha jk. But yeah, it’s a really good recipe, give it a try.

Duck Breasts with Apples and Maple Cider Sauce

 

From The Community Table

Ingredients

  • 4 boned duck breasts, 6 to 8 ounces each
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the pan
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons pure dark maple syrup (Grade B)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 5 cloves
  • One 1/2-inch piece of cinnamon stick or 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons arrowroot, cornstarch, or potato starch
  • 3 tablespoons chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2 inch slices, and tossed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Instructions

At least 30 minutes before cooking, remove the breasts from the refrigerator. Remove any excess fat and score the skin lightly with a very sharp knife. Season with salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until it has begun to give off its aroma, about 3 minutes. Add the cider, wine, maple syrup, lemon juice, cloves, and cinnamon. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat immediately to low and simmer gently until slightly reduced, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the arrowroot and stock and whisk to blend. Whisk the mixture into the sauce and continue simmering until the sauce is clear and slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer 6 tablespoons of the sauce to a small bowl and keep the remaining sauce warm until serving.

Add the mustard, thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the sauce in bowl and combine. Brush this mixture on the breasts.

Lightly oil a grill pan or a large heavy skillet. Warm the pan over medium-low heat and add the apple slices in a single layer. Grill, turning once gently, until the slices are lightly browned. With a spatula, carefully transfer the slices to a plate and set aside.

Turn the heat under the pan to medium-high. Sear the duck breasts, skin side down, until the skin is crisp, 8 to 10 minutes, making sure not to cook all the way through. Turn the breasts and continue to cook to medium rare, 2 to 3 minutes (the breasts will be springy to the touch). Before you remove the duck from the grill, brown its edges, about 30 seconds each. Transfer the breasts on a rack to drain any fat and allow them to rest for five minutes before serving with the grilled apples.

Weddings, Luxury Living Style / Chocolate Zucchini Bread

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This week’s recipe: Chocolate Zucchini Bread

“It has an article in it about wedding trends,” my kindhearted future mother-in-law told Mark as she handed him the summer issue of Luxury Living magazine. “Maybe you’ll find some useful ideas!” Well, I did find some useful ideas – for a lazy blogpost when I can’t think of anything else to write about and I just feel like making fun of something. So thank you!

Luxury Living is everything that its title implies. It’s one of those magazines that exist mostly to sell ads to the demographic of people who summer in the Hamptons. I opened it to four random pages, and the ads were for Jaguar Land Rovers, pearl necklaces, Rolexes, and booking the yacht club for your next event. The articles are about a celebrity chef, the hottest restaurants in the Hamptons, an opportunity to purchase Grey Gardens now that it’s back on the market, a charity founded by Matt Damon, a resort in Dubai, and, of course, summer weddings. Mark and I had many a good laugh over this last article’s, uh, suggestions for what you need to make the ultimate wedding in 2017. First of all, the article writer’s name is Claudia Gryvatz Copquin, which is really just the best. And now, I invite you to enjoy these totally normal and reasonable wedding trends and recommendations:

-Invitations: make these from combinations of non-standard materials such as moss and acrylic or linen, silk, and branches. To make your invitation really stand out from those lame-o Minted ones, you can also include a pearlescent wax seal or have it engraved on a piece of slate.

-Menu: if you met at an Asian food restaurant, you had better have an Asian food station or an event planner from Bridgehampton will come and murder you. You may also consider having menus printed on rawhide and barnwood for that extra touch of rustic-ness at your $80,000 rustic wedding.

-Décor: a wedding wish tree is a “unique idea” that is also “trendy.” How can something be both unique and trendy? Shut up, that’s how. If you want something more high-tech, just hire a Tony-winning set designer to incorporate projection image mapping onto your venue.

-Leaving the wedding: sparkers, a horn section, fancy fiddling, doves.

-For the bride: every wedding photo you’ve ever seen has included a bride holding her purse, so go ahead and splurge on a $681 Swarovski-beaded opera clutch.

-For the groom: Why get fresh flowers when you could spend $250 on a flower pin made from burlap or “upcycled denim,” whatever that means. He’ll totally wear it again!

-For the bridal party: $158 cashmere and fox fur pom-pom slippers. Having been a bridesmaid, I’d really rather that you just give me the $158 to offset the $1000+ I am spending to be in your wedding, but I guess I’d rather have the slippers than the $85 “Birch Wood Meditation Box,” which is literally just a box filled with sand.

-For the newlyweds: a $240 butter churn. The perfect gift for the couple that just had an $80,000 rustic wedding.

So anyway, here’s some zucchini bread. I know it looks more chocolate-y than anything else, but trust me, it has zucchini in it, so it’s basically a salad. It’s so moist and rich and chocolate-y that you’ll never know it has vegetables in it! Eat your heart out, Jessica Seinfeld.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

From Two Peas and Their Pod

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1/4 cup canola, vegetable oil, or melted coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups packed shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, divided

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, add the eggs, melted butter, oil, vanilla extract, and brown sugar. Stir until smooth. You might have a few small brown sugar clumps and that is fine.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, don’t overmix. Stir in the shredded zucchini until just combined. Stir in 3/4 cup of the chocolate chips.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate chips over the top of the bread. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out mostly clean, you might have some melted chocolate chips on the toothpick and that is fine. You just don’t want a lot of gooey batter.
  6. Remove the pan from the oven and set on a wire cooling rack. Let the bread cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the bread and carefully remove from the pan. Let the bread cool on the wire cooling rack until slightly warm. Cut into slices and serve.

Jonah / Frozen Watermelon Lemonade Cocktail

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This week’s recipe: Frozen Watermelon Lemonade Cocktail

The story of Jonah is well-known. God commands Jonah to go to the city of Niniveh, where the people are sinning, and warn them that their city will be destroyed unless they repent. Jonah instead attempts to run away, boarding a ship to another city. When God sends a storm to toss the ship, Jonah reveals to his crewmates that the storm is punishment meant for him, and insists that they toss him overboard. God then sends a whale (technically, a large unspecified sea creature, but commonly translated as whale) to swallow Jonah. Jonah prays and repents for three days and three nights, at which point the whale spits Jonah out onto dry land and he goes to Niniveh to fulfill God’s commands. The people repent and everyone is saved. Yay!

Except the story doesn’t end there. There’s a lesser-known coda in which Jonah, angry that God forgave the people of Niniveh despite their many sins, is resting and waiting to see what will happen to the city. God causes a plant to grow over Jonah, giving him shelter and shade. When Jonah wakes up the next morning, he finds that God has sent a worm to kill the plant, leaving Jonah in the hot sun. Jonah is furious that God would allow the plant to die, and God essentially responds, “Look at how upset you are about the destruction of a plant that you didn’t tend or water, that only existed for one day. But you would ask me to destroy a city full of tens of thousands of people and animals, all of which I created?”

Yom Kippur, which begins tonight, is a holiday about reflection, repentance, and forgiveness. We are supposed to apologize for our sins against God and our sins against each other, and contemplate how we can do better in the next year. It’s always a powerful and meaningful day, but especially now, especially this year. There are so many people who are full of hate. There are so many people who are purposefully, even gleefully, hurting other people. There are so many people who want to deny the rights and the humanity of others. It’s hard to forgive that kind of behavior. But it’s especially hard when they’re so convinced that they’re right that it would never occur to them to ask for forgiveness. We live in a country where you can commit treason and start a bloody war over your right to own human beings, and 150 years later, people will (sometimes violently) argue that you deserve to be honored in perpetuity. There are plenty of Jonahs warning us about our sins, but too many people refuse to listen.

But then there’s the story of the plant. The sins of Nineveh aren’t specified, but clearly they were significant enough that God was willing to destroy an entire city. This was their last chance, and they took it—a rare instance of redemption in an Old Testament filled with ancient blood feuds, stiff-necked peoples, and implacable enemies. Every year, we get the same chance at redemption, even though there will be those, like Jonah, who feel we don’t deserve it. It’s easy to get carried away with your own righteousness when you’re sure you’re right, but it’s hard to know what’s actually in people’s minds and hearts, the circumstances of their lives that brought them to where they are, and whether or not they’re capable of change. Only God can know that, but people—including me—can try to be like God, instead of like Jonah, who couldn’t forgive. We can try to speak out against and, if necessary, punish evil and injustice wherever they exist, and also recognize that change and repentance are always a possibility. Chatimah tovah.

So anyway, here’s a cocktail. We’re now officially a week into fall but it’s still warm out, so if you want to celebrate the last of the summer weather, this cocktail is for you. It’s very easy to make and very tasty to drink. You can substitute vodka for the gin or, if you’d rather make it non-alcoholic, just use water instead.

Frozen Watermelon Lemonade Cocktail

Adapted from Delish Knowledge

Ingredients

  • 4 cups frozen watermelon cubes
  • 1/3 cup cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 bunch mint leaves, (plus more for garnish, if desired)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemonade juice
  • 3 tablespoons gin

Instructions

  1. Cube the watermelon and place in a single layer on a baking sheet to freeze, at least 2 hours. Keep frozen until ready to use.
  2. Place the sugar, water and mint in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, until reduced and sugar is completely absorbed. Let sit for at least 15 more minutes off heat so that mint can be infused into the syrup. Before using, remove the mint leaves.
  3. Place all of the ingredients in a high-powered blender (if you use a regular blender, you may need to add the frozen watermelon cubes in batches): frozen watermelon cubes, mint syrup (with mint leaves removed) and lemon juice. Puree until thick, then slowly add in gin until a thick and creamy texture develops. Depending on the strength of your blender, you may need less or more water.
  4. Divide into 4 glasses and serve!

Unetaneh Tokef / Honey Cake

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This week’s recipe: Honey Cake

2017 Unetaneh Tokef, aka the anxieties that keep me awake at night:

On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed:

How many will live and how many will die

Who by nuclear attack and who by conventional weapons

Who by rising sea levels and who by wildfires

Who by hurricanes and who by earthquakes

Who by being deprived of healthcare and who by corporate neglect

Who by lead-tainted water and who by pollution

Who by terrorist bombs and who by mass shooters

Who by gang killings and who by police brutality

But wisdom, leadership, and sheer dumb luck can avert the harshness of the decree.

Hopefully.

So anyway, here’s a honey cake. It is traditional to eat apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, in the hopes that the coming year will be sweet. This cake is definitely sweet (don’t look at how much sugar and honey are in it!) and also a little spicy, with a nice gingerbread-type flavor. It has a dense crumb but tastes relatively light, and while the original recipe calls for it to be served with grilled peaches, it would also go very nicely with a bit of whipped cream, if you’re in the mood.

Honey Cake

From The Community Table

Ingredients

  • 2¼ cups boiling water
  • 4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups honey
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 6 extra-large eggs
  • ¾ cup raisins (optional)
  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Instructions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil three 9- by 5-inch loaf pans and line their bottoms with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine ¼ cup of the boiling water with the baking soda (to eliminate any bitterness). In the bowl of a standing mixer or with hand beaters and a large bowl, combine the sugar, honey and oil and beat at medium speed until completely combined, 2 to 3 minutes. (Alternately, mix by hand in a large bowl.) Add the eggs, 1 at a time and beating after each addition. Add the dissolved baking soda and beat until combined. Add the raisins if using, and stir to incorporate.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, ginger, salt and zest and blend with a fork. With the mixer at low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the honey mixture. When combined, slowly add the remaining 2 cups boiling water. The batter will seem quite thin and a bit runny; this is normal.

Divide the batter among the pans. Bake the cakes on the center rack until a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean and the tops are springy to the touch, 45 to 50 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Ted Cruz / Whipped Goat Cheese Spread

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This week’s recipe: Whipped Goat Cheese and Honey Spread

Ted Cruz sucks.

This is not an original observation. I just finished Al Franken’s new book, and his chapter on how much he hates Ted Cruz alone is worth the price of admission. And I don’t think you need to be a dyed-in-the-wool liberal like Al Franken or me to believe that Ted Cruz is a mendacious, demagogic, showboating, power-hungry, cynical, smug, heartless, antisocial piece of shit. He is the dictionary definition of “unpleasant.” He is ugly inside and out. He is like the photo-negative of a good person. He’s kissed the ass of a man who publicly insulted his father and wife. He called the Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage “among the darkest hours of our nation” (take a hike, Pearl Harbor and 9/11!) He thinks that federal disaster relief is a boondoggle when New York is hit by a hurricane but necessary and proper when Texas is hit by a hurricane. He said, with no evidence, that the majority of violent criminals are Democrats. Almost all of his political positions are built on a foundation of lies.

So I am really relishing this moment when, if you look Cruz up on Google, all of top News stories and six of the 11 links that show up on the main search page are related to his Twitter account “heart”-ing a porn video. From what I’ve read about the video, it’s very standard-issue, vanilla stuff, just what you’d expect a respectable Republican to be into. But we all know that deep down, Ted Cruz is so much more twisted and perverse than your average Republican. Here is just some of the freaky shit I think you would find if you were able to find his porn history (and thanks to Cruz’s sponsorship of the bill that allows ISPs to sell individuals’ information, we may be able to do just that one day):

-The middle class getting fucked by high-income tax cuts

-Cancer patients getting fucked by Obamacare repeal

-Schoolchildren getting fucked by insanely permissive gun laws

-The earth getting fucked by oil pipelines and climate change (that one’s a gangbang, alas)

-Merrick Garland getting fucked by Senate Republicans

-American democracy getting fucked by limitless campaign spending

-American taxpayers getting fucked by unnecessary government shutdowns

-The memory of Dr. Seuss getting fucked by Ted Cruz attempting to wield Green Eggs and Ham as a political weapon

Keep on keepin’ on, Ted, and hopefully the only thing that will get fucked is your political career.

So anyway, here’s some cheese. Specifically, it’s a tasty, savory-sweet goat cheese spread with honey on top. I made this for friends of ours when they came over for a game night, and I am only mentioning this because we played Settlers of Catan and I managed to come from behind and WIN despite not being able to build any roads. It was my first time winning Catan other than when I played my nine-year-old nephew and my mom (who really wanted the game to end and so would give me whatever cards I wanted if it would make things go faster). My wonderful aunt and uncle gave Mark and me a cheese board for our engagement, so we decided to make it a cheese-and-whiskey-and-game night, making this recipe the perfect thing to serve. Heads up that this makes a LOT of cheese so unless you are feeding a large crowd (or Mark, who can eat unlimited amounts of cheese), you will probably want to halve or quarter the recipe. I halved it and it still was still too much for the four of us, even with Mark’s aforementioned Olympic-level cheese-eating abilities.

Whipped Goat Cheese and Honey Spread

Ingredients
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 cups goat cheese, softened
  • 1 cup cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Toasted sourdough or crusty French bread, for serving

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil, garlic and thyme. Cook slowly over low heat, being careful not to brown or fry the garlic, until the garlic becomes very soft, about 20 minutes.
  2. Drain the oil from the garlic, reserving the oil and placing the garlic in the bowl of a stand mixer; discard the thyme.
  3. Using the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the garlic until it starts to mash. Add the goat cheese and cream cheese and whip for about 15 minutes to reach a perfectly smooth texture.
  4. Slowly add the heavy cream, and then add 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil (reserve the remaining garlic oil for another use) and whip for another 2 minutes to incorporate.
  5. To serve, fill a glass jar or serving bowl with the whipped cheese and drizzle the honey over the top. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve the toasted bread on the side at room temperature.
  7. Any leftover whipped cheese may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Hitler / Pan Fried Gnocchi

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This week’s recipe: Pan Fried Gnocchi

I’m reading Volker Ullrich’s Hitler: Ascent, which covers Hitler’s life from his birth until the start of World War II. It was the subject of that famous Michiko Kakutani review before the election that none-too-subtly drew parallels between Hitler and Trump, though without ever using the latter’s name. it’s extremely good so far, and because it’s 2017 and God forbid Trump not occupy our minds for more than 90 seconds at a time, I am constantly thinking about the similarities and differences between the early years of the Third Reich and America today.

Fortunately, there are many more differences than similarities. For one thing, we are seven months into the Trump administration and he has yet to impose a totalitarian dictatorship or set the Capitol building on fire as a pretext for jailing his political enemies. It’s truly amazing how fast Hitler was able to consolidate absolute power—five months. Everyone in his way got bamboozled, co-opted, or forced out. As with Trump, there were plenty of politicians and power brokers who showed great distaste for Hitler, but who thought they could ride the wave and ultimately exploit this useful idiot for their own ends. As with Trump, they learned their lesson, though getting sent to Dachau is significantly worse than being humiliated on Twitter.

Another difference is the level at which street violence was considered an accepted part of life. I was pleasantly surprised at how Charlottesville dominated the headlines for days, considering that our news media typically has the attention span of me in third grade math class. But in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, that sort of violence was considered just another Tuesday. These things are definitely becoming more frequent in America but it’s good to know that we still find them shocking. (An obligatory note about Antifa: I’m no expert on it, but I can certainly see the danger of a bunch of masked vigilantes whom no one elected and who are accountable to no one, deciding—often on sight—who qualifies as a fascist and therefore deserves a violent beat down. A totalitarian worldview that disdains democracy and the democratic compact; using force to impose your version of acceptable speech and politics; declaring that people who don’t conform to your vision don’t have the right to, say, non-violently protest in a public space—all sounds pretty fascist to me.)

But the biggest difference is simply that Trump lacks Hitler’s canniness, discipline, and will to power. I know it’s been said a million times before, but it’s our nation’s one great fortune in these dark times that he is stupid and lazy, because if he had even one-tenth of Hitler’s ruthless vision and drive, we’d all be in even deeper doodoo than we are. The closest thing that his administration had to a Hitler-level strategic thinker/ideologue was Bannon, and I can’t overstate my relief that he’s gone. That doesn’t mean that Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller, Kris Kobach, and other ideologues in high places can’t do some serious damage—indeed, they already have—but reading this biography has been oddly reassuring. For now, we have government institutions, a free press, and a population all willing to push back, none of which existed in Nazi Germany. Whatever catastrophes the Trump presidency brings on us, at least they’ll be met with a fight.

So anyway, here’s some gnocchi. This was seriously one of the fastest, easiest dinners I’ve ever made, and so delicious too! I can’t believe I didn’t know about the wonder of pan-frying gnocchi until this recipe. The original recipe calls for mushrooms, which I of course left out—NEVER will you see a recipe calling for mushrooms on this blog—but if you feel like eating fungus, knock yourself out and add it back in. This is a great dinner to make for a crowd, because you can make multiple batches very quickly. I doubled the recipe, which was lucky because it was so yummy that everyone had two servings!

One Pan Gnocchi with White Beans, Sundried Tomato, and Spinach

Adapted from Sweet Peas and Saffron 

Ingredients
  • 500g/18 oz packaged gnocchi
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼-1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • ⅓ cup sundried tomatoes, diced
  • 4 cups loosely packed spinach
  • 540mL/19 oz white beans, drained and rinsed
  • Parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a medium pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the gnocchi and separate them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring occasionally for 8-10 minutes, or until golden and slightly crispy.
  3. Add the sundried tomatoes, spinach and white beans. Stir until spinach is wilted and everything is heated through.
  4. Add additional salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.
  5. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.